Smoking gun

Arrests: What’s missing from Trumpgate

It unfolded so differently. The first that we heard about it was the announcement of the arrests, not rumors. Watergate began with the weird story that five men had been arrested for an overnight break-in at the Democratic National Headquarters at the Watergate Complex in the early hours of Saturday, June 17, 1972. It didn’t take the press long to be on top of the story. The Washington Post’s Robert Woodward was at the arraignment that very morning. He quickly learned enough to ask the high-priced attorney of the “street burglars” why one of them had an address book that included names from the White House.

From that point on, no sooner did new actors appear on the stage than they began to fall, one by one. No matter how fine a job Woodward and Bernstein and other investigative reporters had done (don’t forget Daniel Schorr from CBS), the story might have died quickly had it not quickly entered the judicial system. Even the Congressional hearings conducted by the Senate Watergate Committee might have discovered very little had it not had the benefit of the subpoena powers of the judiciary.

This is what’s missing in the story about Donald Trump, his candidacy, his presidency, his family, his advisors, and Russia. As former Watergate criminal (turned state’s best witness) John Dean recently said on Chris Hayes’ MSNBC program, all that we have now with Trump is circumstantial evidence. But that evidence can be pretty strong. Dean reminded us that if we go to bed at night with no snow on the ground but wake up in the morning with a snow-covered lawn, we can conclusively determine that it snowed overnight.

But circumstantial evidence rarely stands up in court alone. What’s missing in the Trump – Russia case is a “smoking gun.” As we learned from the anonymous source “Deep Throat” in Watergate, don’t aim too high at first. If you were ever a viewer of crime shows like “Law & Order,” you learned the same thing.

So, what we need is for someone who happened to be near Trump or anyone in his entourage to come forward and tell us about a factual, non-disputable connection. The sweetest justice would be if it would be a Russian who decided to spill his or her side of the beans. If someone could tell us that words to the effect that they heard retired General Michael Flynn telling someone in Russian intelligence that if Trump was elected, he would repeal the Obama political and economic sanctions on Russia. Or maybe it could be a scrap of paper that came out of Paul Manafort’s pocket that essentially said the same thing.

Then it becomes a matter of each person doing whatever is necessary to save his or her own skin. If that means pointing the finger at someone higher up the chain in order to get a reduced sentence, then the unraveling of the mystery and falsehood accelerates.

If you’re a Trump supporter, you want to believe that currently it’s all smoke, and there’s no fire. If you’re skeptical of Trump, you are convinced that there is a critical mass of coincidences which must be related by cause and effect.

Once a firm connection is made that involves clear illegality, then Democrats (and the few inquisitive Republicans) in Congress have ammunition with which to work. The media that Trump re-invigorated from its post-Watergate doldrums will be all over the story.

It’s frustrating to have to wait this out; it will be even more frustrating if you’re not a Trump fan if the story never reaches our criminal justice system. But logic dictates that it will happen. Let’s just hope that too much damage to innocent American people and global citizens is not done while we wait.

Arthur Lieber Arthur Lieber (451 Posts)

Since 1969, Arthur Lieber has been teaching and working in non-profit educational organizations. His focus has been on promoting critical, creative, and enjoyable learning for students in informal settings. In the 2010 mid-term elections, he was the Democratic nominee for US Congress from Missouri’s 2nd Congressional District.


  • Stacy Mergenthal

    Arthur, do you know what happens after this has run its course through the justice system? I think you are right that logic dictates it will eventually get to that point and waiting is incredibly difficult to cope with because he’s doing so much damage in the mean time. But I am wildly curious about a rigged election. Can the election be declared illegitimate and would there then be another election? Another primary? Do we even have an instruction manual for this type of situation? If Trump was NOT elected in a fair and legal process, if he/his campaign was colluding with the Russians, then neither was Pence or any of their appointees. Such an ousting would be epic, historic. Like you, I am hoping this administration doesn’t do more damage than we can control, that the pain is minimal for all.

  • Arthur Lieber

    Stacy, as far as I know, there’s no way that the election could be called invalid. That’s one of the reasons why we wanted to pressure on the electors to think this thing through. However, Trump could be removed by the 25th Amendment or impeachment and conviction. Considering who is in power, neither seems likely now, but you never know. If criminal proceedings evolve against Trump and/or those close to him, there may be political will to remove him and Republicans would be somewhat hampered. My big concern now is for Democrats to spell out a clear vision. I don’t know if you saw Bernie in West Virginia last week with Chris Hayes on MSNBC, but that seems to be the way to reach people with a clear message that can motivate action. Let’s keep an eye on Adam Schiff in the House.