The Watergate hearings were Nixon's undoing — now Michael Cohen gets his shot at Trump


Coming off a landslide re-election victory in 1972, President Richard Nixon entered his second term with soaring approval ratings just shy of 70 percent. But by August 1973, Nixon would be even less popular than the current occupant of the Oval Office, with his approval ratings tumbling to an anemic 31 percent. What precipitated that nearly 40-point fall from grace was several months of congressional hearings in which the details of the Watergate burglary and Nixon's full involvement in it spilled out into public view.

The differences between Nixon’s situation and Donald Trump’s today are numerous. Trump hasn't won a single landslide election, and his approval ratings have never even topped 45 percent. Trump and his presidency have also been immersed in scandal since day 1, not to mention the fact that Trump isn't facing just one distinct investigation but rather multiple probes into numerous areas of both his private and professional life.

In that sense, one day of public testimony from Trump's former fixer/lawyer Michael Cohen can't possibly train the kind of granular focus that several months of testimony from multiple insiders did on Nixon and Watergate. Nonetheless, after he spent a decade doing some of Trump's dirtiest deeds, Cohen's testimony could absolutely reveal a dagger that ultimately deals a deadly blow to Trump’s presidency.

In anticipation of Wednesday’s hearing, many people have suggested Cohen's testimony will be his "John Dean moment," invoking Nixon's former White House counsel, who famously testified that he had warned the president there was "a cancer growing on the presidency." But Nixon's ultimate undoing really came from Alexander Butterfield, a deputy assistant to the president, who revealed that a recording systemhad been installed at the White House. When Butterfield was asked on July 16, 1973, if he was "aware" of such a system, he finally responded, at the tail end of a pregnant pause, "I was aware of listening devices, yes, sir."

Lordy, there were tapes, and those tapes became the subject of both a whopper of a legal dispute and a test of constitutional powers between the Congress (which subpoenaed the tapes), the president (who refused to release them), and the Supreme Court (which finally forced Nixon's hand by ordering him to turn them over to special prosecutor Leon Jaworski). The Supreme Court's unanimous decision against Nixon came on July 24, 1974, a little over a year after Butterfield's bombshell, which in turn led to disclosure of the "smoking gun" conversation between Nixon and his chief of staff, Bob Haldeman, in which the two discussed the break-in and ways to cover it up. Nixon resigned on Aug. 9, 1974.

While it's almost impossible to imagine Trump resigning, it's entirely likely that Cohen's testimony will yield a nugget that, once dropped, turns a legal ripple into a tsunami. As we know from reporting, Cohen plans to reveal in plain English Trump's racism, his lies, and his direct role in criminal acts. In fact, the Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday evening that Trump personally signed checks to reimburse Cohen for the hush money payments he made to two women. Cohen quite literally has the receipts and he's bringing them.

Mr. Trump signed some of the checks reimbursing Mr. Cohen, which Mr. Cohen began receiving after Mr. Trump took office, according to another person familiar with the payments.

In his few hours of testimony Wednesday, Cohen can't possibly touch on every aspect of Trump's wide-ranging criminal enterprise. But he will give America a first look at Trump's malfeasance told directly from the perspective of someone who experienced it firsthand. Even better, Cohen, who has already been sentenced to three years of jail time, has nothing left to hide and zero incentive to lie.

It promises to be must-see reality TV that even Trump plans to stay up and watch in real time from Hanoi, where he's attending a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Donald Trump has feared this day from the moment last April when the FBI executed a search warrant on Cohen’s premises. We’re about to find out why.

Watch the testimony that helped seal Nixon’s fate below.

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