Russia Investigation Has Echoes Of Watergate Probe 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.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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...


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.


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.


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."


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

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


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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