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Russia Investigation Has Echoes Of Watergate Probe

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Russia Investigation Has Echoes Of Watergate Probe

Russia Investigation Has Echoes Of Watergate Probe

Russia Investigation Has Echoes Of Watergate Probe

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Getting Republicans and Democrats to cooperate in investigations that could be damaging to a president has long been a challenge. It happened in Watergate, but it seems unlikely now.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Those hearings on Russian meddling in U.S. election process summon memories of another era and another congressional investigation. NPR's David Welna has the report.

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DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: As he gaveled in the Senate Intelligence panel's first open hearing on Russia's role in the presidential campaign on Thursday, Chairman Richard Burr, a North Carolina Republican and a campaign adviser to President Trump, was at pains to take his perch above the partisan fray.

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RICHARD BURR: The vice chairman and I realize that if we politicize this process, our efforts will likely fail.

WELNA: Mark Warner, the Democratic vice chairman from Virginia, praised his chairman while slipping in a dig at their House counterparts.

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MARK WARNER: I thank you for your commitment to the serious work and your commitment to keeping this bipartisan cooperation at least, if not all across the Hill, alive in this committee.

WELNA: The target of Warner's snark about not all across the Hill was unmistakable - the political fistfighting that's brought the House committee to a virtual halt. Presidential historian Robert Dallek says that can easily happen in a congressional probe with high political stakes.

ROBERT DALLEK: There is reason why there is great appeal in the idea of having an independent committee or an independent investigator to avoid just that kind of partisanship.

WELNA: But 44 years ago, a congressional panel did succeed in carrying out one politically explosive inquiry. Reporter Josh Darsa covered it for All Things Considered.

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JOSH DARSA, BYLINE: An expectant standing-room-only crowd at the historic caucus room of the old Senate Office Building, witnessing day one of the Watergate investigation.

WELNA: Presiding over the Watergate select committee was a North Carolina Democrat, Senator Sam Ervin.

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SAM ERVIN: If the allegations that have been made in the wake of the Watergate affair are substantiated, there has been a very serious subversion of the integrity of the electoral process.

WELNA: At Ervin's side was Tennessee's Howard Baker, a Republican, the party of newly re-elected president Richard Nixon, whose campaign shenanigans and their cover-up were being investigated. As Baker put it...

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HOWARD BAKER: The very integrity of our political process itself has been called into question.

WELNA: The Democratic-run Congress had only that one special committee investigating Watergate. The aim, says Princeton political historian Julian Zelizer, was to keep it credible.

JULIAN ZELIZER: Congress was very concerned about making sure that this investigation looked both legitimate and bipartisan because the administration was suggesting that the whole Watergate affair was simply a partisan effort to get this president, that it was a witch hunt.

WELNA: Presidential historian Dallek says even fellow Republicans had doubts about Nixon.

DALLEK: There were suspicions about him. They had dubbed him Tricky Dick. And so it was the inclination to think that wrongdoing was something which could be entirely possible.

WELNA: Though he eventually resigned, Nixon did try to defend himself.

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RICHARD NIXON: People have got to know whether or not their president's a crook. Well, I'm not a crook.

WELNA: Like Nixon, Trump recently declared at a White House podium what he was not.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The tone is such hatred. I'm really not a bad person, by the way.

WELNA: There are other parallels. This was the famous advice given the actor playing reporter Bob Woodward in the Watergate movie "All The President's Men."

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HAL HOLBROOK: (As Deep Throat) Follow the money.

WELNA: And here's Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden at Thursday's Senate hearing.

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RON WYDEN: I believe a key to a successful investigation is following the money.

WELNA: Still, Princeton's Zelizer says a lot has changed since the Watergate hearings.

ZELIZER: Today, we have a Republican Congress investigating a Republican president and a much more polarized Congress where there are fewer people in the center like a Sam Ervin, and there are much more political incentives for everyone to remain loyal to the party.

WELNA: How will it all end? Follow the news. David Welna, NPR News, Washington.

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