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A Watergate Moment? The Fusion GPS Testimony Could Change History

January 11, 2018 in Blogs

By Heather Digby Parton, Salon

Dianne Feinstein’s decision to release Glenn Simpson’s testimony has a long history, and could have a huge impact.

One of the most misunderstood quotes from the Watergate scandal is also one of the most famous: “What did the president know and when did he know it?” That was uttered by Sen. Howard Baker, a Tennessee Republican, and it's often assumed it was a tough question hurled at a recalcitrant witness, seeking to implicate Richard Nixon. In fact, it was the opposite. Baker asked that question repeatedly, early in the Watergate hearings, in an attempt to wall off the president from the suspected criminality of his staff. Of course, Nixon actually ran the coverup, as the committee holding those hearings was about to find out.

Baker has always been seen as something of a hero in the Watergate story, and it's really overblown. In the beginning, he met secretly with Nixon to keep him informed about the course of the Watergate committee's investigation. Baker told the president that the plan was to start with public testimony by the smaller fry and move up to high-ranking White House staff. Nixon wanted to make a deal with the committee to have the witnesses testify in private. Since the Democratic majority controlled the committee, that was a non-starter anyway. But much as Baker wanted to help out his president, and may have even believed in the beginning that Nixon was not implicated in criminal misdeeds, Baker was also smart enough not to help Nixon obstruct justice.

Those hearings, held by what was officially called the Senate Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities, where Baker was the ranking Republican under Sen. Sam Ervin, D-N.C., the chair, were vastly important in unraveling the scandal. First came former White House counsel John Dean's dramatic testimony that implicated the president, and then the revelation by former presidential aide Alexander Butterfield that Nixon had extensive tape recordings of everything that happened in the Oval Office. Presidential aides H.R. Haldeman, John Ehrlichman and Charles Colson all testified, lied to the committee under oath and were subsequently convicted and went to prison. The …read more


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