by Denis Smith
George Santayana, help us remind forgetful Americans that if we can’t remember the past, we’re doomed yet again to repeat it.
In the midst of all of the WikiLeaks buzz, it’s apparent we’ve forgotten our past history, and the amnesia Americans are suffering from needs an intervention to help clear our national memory. While so much has occurred in our country in the past four decades, here is a reminder that there are two constants in the present that seem alive and well from part of our sometimes inglorious past: election years and Republican win-at-all-costs tactics.
Let’s think back for a moment. The year is 1972, and a heated presidential campaign is underway between Richard M. Nixon, the incumbent Republican president, and his opponent, Senator George McGovern, a leading opponent of the Vietnam War. That conflict inflicted deep divisions in the country and colored many aspects of the 1972 presidential campaign.
The Nixon campaign operation sent a team of burglars to break into the offices of the Democratic National Committee in Washington at the Watergate office complex, an act that has been immortalized by the tendency of pundits to add the suffix gate to newly identified scandals. Back then, the country was horrified by the fact that operatives of a political party, representing the president’s re-election campaign, engaged in a series of criminal activities. The best known of these was the Watergate burglary, an entry into Democratic headquarters for the purpose of unlawfully acquiring information to damage a rival organization.
After two years of growing tension precipitated by the burglary, cover-up, and subsequent impeachment of the president, the country was somewhat mollified by Nixon’s resignation in August 1974 and the large Democratic victories that followed in the November elections.
Compare that period to the present. The offices of the Democratic National Committee were again penetrated this year, as in 1972, but this time the deed was done electronically by a foreign power, Russia, the former Soviet Union, or The Evil Empire, as Ronald Reagan famously christened that country in 1983.
But unlike 1972, we’re not seeing the widespread disgust with the practice of political thuggery and the “dirty tricks” of the Nixon campaign. No, in our time, the effect is quite the opposite.
“We’re witnessing another effort to steal private campaign documents in order to influence an election,” Glen Caplin, a Clinton spokesman wrote. “Only this time, instead of filing cabinets, it’s people’s emails they’re breaking into … and a foreign government is behind it.”
Rather than condemning WikiLeaks and its Russian partner in crime, the Trump campaign appears not only to be opportunistic in using the pilfered – and some say doctored – emails, but could also be colluding with the former – or is it current – evil empire.
The possibility that Donald Trump is the Manchurian Candidate or playing the role of “useful idiot” in assisting Russia, as we saw earlier in Plunderbund, is seen in this Washington Post story that featured a troubling lede:
“Former senior U.S. national security officials are dismayed at Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s repeated refusal to accept the judgment of intelligence professionals that Russia stole files from the Democratic National Committee computers in an effort to influence the U.S. election.”
If that weren’t enough, the same story went on to say that Trump “has a blind spot on Russia.”
We’ve come a long way since 1929, when Secretary of State Henry Stimson, in shutting down a deciphering project, said that “gentlemen do not read each other’s mail.” But then, based on its most violent history, from Ivan the Terrible through at least the Stalin era, maybe no one ever confused the Russians with being gentlemen in their conduct of public administration. Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, a former lieutenant colonel in the KGB, now renamed FSB, has never been mistaken for a Lord Grantham-type, nor has his admiring American friend, Donald Trump.
The disbelief felt by the intelligence community about Trump’s dismissal of Russian involvement in the DNC hacking speaks volumes.
In an article published more than a year ago, a former counterintelligence agent warned that WikiLeaks is a front for Russian intelligence. Moreover, former National Security Agency Director Michael Hayden has said of Trump that “It’s remarkable that he’s refused to say an unkind syllable about Vladimir Putin. He contorts himself not to criticize Putin.”
With the preponderance of evidence showing Russian intelligence as the orchestrator of the WikiLeaks campaign against the Democrats and their standard bearer, Hillary Clinton, what does it say that a major political party may be a silent partner in receiving the fruits of an illegal electronic break-in of its rival’s headquarters that, worse yet, was perpetrated by a hostile country’s intelligence service?
In a welcome development, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio said something useful on the dynamic duo of the Russian FSB and WikiLeaks:
“These leaks are an effort by a foreign government to interfere with our electoral process and I will not indulge it. Further, I want to warn my fellow Republicans who may want to capitalize politically on these leaks: Today it is the Democrats. Tomorrow it could be us.”
The hypocrisy of Republicans, who decried WikiLeaks when it released hundreds of thousands of documents of classified information earlier, but now are exultant with the release of information harmful to a rival political party, is there for all to see. In this case, Rubio’s warning is welcome, for in the end, this is above politics. It is an assault on our system of government.
One can only hope for a Democratic victory in November that would allow for an investigation by a congressional committee of the scary involvement, whether direct or indirect, of several Republican operatives with the Russians, including Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager. Worse yet, if a connection with Russian intelligence would be confirmed, the term treason would not be adequate enough to cover the depth of this shameless affront to the lifeblood of our republic.
In the meantime, let’s hope the American people will make the connection as well as appreciate the irony between Watergate and WikiLeaks. Any breaking and entering of the Democratic National Committee, whether in 1972 or 2016, whether physical or virtual, is criminal behavior.
If Donald Trump or his minions would ever admit this simple fact, Richard Nixon might say let me make this perfectly clear: Those who cheer on WikiLeaks to inflict harm on Hillary Clinton have also chosen to encourage a hostile foreign intelligence service to continue its activities against this country and its democratic (small d) institutions, and that, at the very least, is un-American.
Denis Smith is a retired school administrator and a former consultant in the Ohio Department of Education’s charter school office. He writes about education issues as well as politics and constitutional reform.