US Politics

What was Watergate and why has it been compared to Trump and Raffensperger’s call?

The “Trump Tape” leak over election results in Georgia have now been labelled "far worse" than the Watergate scandal almost 50 years ago. Why?

What was Watergate and why has it been compared to Trump and Raffensperger’s call?
JOSHUA ROBERTS REUTERS

Legendary journalist Carl Bernstein said yesterday that president Trump's call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger amounts to a criminal act and is "far worse" than the Watergate scandal that eventually ended Richard Nixon's presidency in 1974.

"It's not deja vu," Bernstein said on Sunday during an interview with CNN. "This is something far worse than occurred in Watergate. We have both a criminal president of the United States in Donald Trump and a subversive president of the United States."

The leaked “Trump Tape” consists of a recorded call in which lame-duck president Donald Trump pressured Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to ‘find votes’ to help him overturn Joe Biden’s victory. It is now being reported that the outgoing president is now looking to sue

What was the Watergate scandal?

At 2:30am on 17 June 1972, three and a half years into Richard Nixon’s first term as president of the United States, five men were arrested trying to bug the offices of the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate hotel and office complex.

On 10 October after months of investigations, FBI agents established that the Watergate break-in stemmed from a massive campaign of political spying and sabotage conducted on behalf of the Nixon re-election effort. After managing to maintain his innocence, Nixon won re-election by a historic 60% landslide the same November, but everything began to unravel in his second term.

From January 1973, former Nixon aides and confidants began to reveal that the president had been aware of the Watergate burglary, that Nixon had recorded all phone calls and in-person conversations that took place in his offices. Following a complex mess of Supreme Court subpoenas, erased segments of audio and eventual impeachment, on 8 August 1974 president Nixon became the first president ever to resign. His vice president Gerald R. Ford took office and pardoned Nixon of all charges related to Watergate.

Thirty years later in 2003, a key figure in the scandal claimed that Nixon had personally ordered the burglary of Democratic headquarters at the Watergate complex.

Why is Trump Georgia tape being compared with Watergate?

Carl Bernstein, along with Washington Post colleague Bob Woodward worked on the journalistic investigation into the Watergate affair during Nixon's presidency, called the recorded conversation between Trump and Raffensperger "the ultimate smoking gun."

Aside from the obvious similarities relating to leaked audio and widespread government cover-ups, both scandals centre around a desperate president, clinging on to power at all costs and constructing a false public image on a bed of lies.

"It is the tape of the evidence of what this president is willing to do to undermine the electoral system and illegally, improperly and immorally instigate a coup," Bernstein continued.

"In any other presidency, this tape would be enough to result in the impeachment of the president of the United States and really an immediate call by the members of Congress including of his own party that he resign immediately," Bernstein said.

In contrast, several Republican lawmakers have backed Trump's claims of a "rigged" election and indicated they will contest the election's result when Congress meets this week to formally certify the results.

Pointedly at the end of the interview Bernstein posits that in Watergate, the heroes were those Republicans who refused to tolerate Nixon’s behaviour. Bernstein also notably compared Trump’s actions to Nixon’s as he refused to hand over documents when asked, in his impeachment over the Russia probe in 2019.

Some congressional Democrats have also called for Trump's resignation or impeachment over the phone call.

Detailed fact check on key claims in the Trump / Raffensperger Georgia phone call.