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Boom time for Watergate era specialists as impeachment inquiry barrels forward


New York: Watergate era specialists enjoying boom time on US news networks, as Opposition Democrats barrel towards an impeachment vote, are headlining multiple parallels between the end of the Richard Nixon presidency in 1974 and the current political moment after a stunning 10 hour testimony by a war veteran and serving Army officer who listened in to a July 25, 2019 phone call between Donald Trump and Ukraines President Volodymr Zelenskiy that now sits at the centre of the ongoing impeachment inquiry against the US president.

For only the fourth time in US history, the US House of Representatives has started a presidential impeachment inquiry. The Democrat led House will vote Thursday to formalise the rules of the impeachment inquiry and douse Trump's criticism that the probe is "illegitimate".

The comparison between an 18.5 minute gap in the Watergate era tapes and missing portions in the Trump White House transcript of Trump-Zelenskiy call is the latest bling in wall to wall news coverage of the impeachment inquiry that heads into a House vote Thursday. During investigations into the 1970s scandal that led to then US president Richard Nixon's resignation, one of the peak moments was the discovery of an 18.5-minute gap in the recordings.

"Love the comparison between the 18 1/2 minute gap in a Nixon White House tape recording and the deletion of at least one reference by 45 (Trump) to Biden that Vindman testified about. Cover-up repeats", Jill Wine Banks, Watergate prosecutor and author a forthcoming book, eThe Watergate Girl', tweeted.

Lawrence Tribe, Carl M. Loeb University Professor and Professor of Constitutional Law at Harvard feels the same way: "Remind anyone of that 18-minute gap on the Nixon tape?".

The so-called "transcript" from the White House of the Trump-Zelensky call has many ellipses. Those "gaps" that have now been called out by war veteran and serving Army officer Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman have completely blindsided the Trump White House.

Vindman, a Soviet-era immigrant who came to the US as a toddler, said it is his "sacred duty" to speak up. Others who are testifying against the Trump White House are bureaucrats who either have long careers ahead of them or want to go on to the private sector without being "sullied" by a political scandal.

The ellipses have long been a question mark: What did Trump to Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelenskiy that the White House omitted on the transcript released to the public?

For the second time in the Trump presidency -- the first time being during the Robert Mueller led Russia probe -- damning testimonies by American heroes and government functionaries are drawing a straight line between Trump's actions and his legal peril. There's also the larger narrative that's building about the US president selling America short.

Despite the Watergate parallels, some Watergate era experts are also pointing to the lack of "hard evidence" as a big differentiator this time. Tom Brokaw who covered the Watergate scandal as a White House correspondent in the early 1970s told MSNBC that Democrats "don't have the goods" on Trump "with the same kind of clarity" as they did when Richard Nixon was president. Brokaw's eighth book, expertly timed, has just launched this week: eThe Fall of Richard Nixon: A Reporter Remembers Watergate'.

Former US Attorney and former FBI senior official Chuck Rosenberg says the transcript is important and has some "damning" stuff in it but adds that "if there was an unaltered audio tape, that would be more valuable than the transcript."

There is no recording of the July 25 Trump call to Zelenskiy. The White House stopped taping presidential calls in the 1970s.

Elizabeth Holtzman - who sat on the House Judiciary Committee during Watergate - says the drip-drip of the present case is not just a stark contrast with the Watergate era but builds the case against Trump, on the go.

"We didn't know many things when we started prosecuting during Watergate. We proceeded in a methodical way. We didn't know there was a smoking gun."

This time is different, Holtzman told Chistiane Amanpour.

"At this point, I'll be surprised if he (Trump) isn't impeached," David Corn of Mother Jones told MSNBC.

Impeachment is not the same thing as removal of a US president from office. No US president has been removed from office. Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998 were impeached but both won acquittal in the Senate. Richard Nixon resigned before the impeachment stage. Two thirds of the Senate will have to vote to convict and remove the US president from office. That means 67 out of 100 Senators if everyone is present. Republicans now hold a Senate majority, with 53 seats. At least 20 Republican senators need to switch camps for Democrats to remove Trump from office. That presupposes that all 45 Democratic senators and two Democratic-allied independents vote against Trump. Tall order.

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News Summary - Boom time for Watergate era specialists as impeachment inquiry barrels forward
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