50 years later, the echo of Watergate resounds in the corridors of the Capitol

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On the night of June 16 to 17, 1972, the Watergate scandal began. Five men were arrested as they broke into Democratic Party offices in Washington. The case would eventually lead to the resignation of President Nixon, the origin of this intrusion according to both journalistic and parliamentary investigations. This anniversary resonates with American political news and the investigation into the assault on the Capitol on January 6, 2021.

With our correspondent in Washington, Guillaume Naudin

A president looking for a way to stay in power, journalists looking for and publishing facts, and a parliamentary committee working live on television. Between Watergate and January 6, there are similarities.

There are also differences. The main one is undoubtedly the Republican Party. In 1972, the elected representatives of the presidential party were in the majority to request a senatorial commission of inquiry. A truly bipartisan commission while that of January 6 was approved by the majority according to the political divide in the House of Representatives. Of nine members, only two are Republicans and they are treated like pariahs in their own party. If in 1972, Richard Nixon had ended up resigning, it was because he knew that the elected Republicans would end up condemning him. None of this for a year and a half. The party’s elected officials do not want or dare to attack Donald Trump, who is still very influential. Thus, among the channels preferred by conservatives, many of them still espouse, like Donald Trump, the idea that the 2020 presidential election would have been ” stolen “, and they even made the choice not to broadcast these hearings.

Public reaction is another difference. By the 1970s, the hearings had finally convinced the majority of Americans of the president’s guilt. The January 6 commission premiere was watched by twenty million people; They had been 80 million to follow the spectacular testimony before the Congress of John Dean, then chief of the legal services of the White House, when he had implicated Richard Nixon in the scandal. That is to say a correct score, but not a record. In the fractured American society, everything happens as if each camp stuck to an opinion already made.

A vice-president under pressure

This Thursday was therefore the third public hearing of the commission on the attack on the Capitol, on January 6, 2021. The members of the commission were interested in the pressures suffered by Vice President Mike Pence not to certify the presidential election. of 2020.

The chairman of the commission, Bennie Thomson, Democratic representative of Mississippi, says it: he does not often agree with Mike Pence, but he salutes his courage on January 6th. Because the vice-president resisted the pressure. Pressure came before, on an idea from a lawyer close to Donald Trump, John Eastman, who explained that he could not certify the results of the presidential election of 2020. An illegal idea and John Eastman knew it, according to the adviser Vice-Presidency’s legal position. That didn’t stop Donald Trump from continuing to pressure Mike Pence that very day to go through with this plan which he knew violated the law during a strained phone call during which, according to a witness , he called the vice-president “ wimp “. Pressure still in his speech delivered before the attack and also, via social networks, after the entry into the Capitol of the rioters. By then, the security services had taken Mike Pence to safety, not far from those who wanted his life. Pressure still a few hours after the insurrection to try to obtain a suspension of the process which had resumed, in an email from John Eastman. The latter then asked for a presidential pardon which he did not obtain. Summoned and questioned by the commission, he preferred to remain silent.

It was an informative hearing, a powerful hearing, responded California Democratic Representative Pete Aguilar who was leading the day’s hearing. Donald Trump knew he had lost the 2020 election. But he couldn’t bring himself to participate in the peaceful transfer of power. So he relied on a plan, which he once again knew was illegal. And when the vice president refused to participate, he unleashed a violent mob after him. I asked how we got here. And I believe the answer to that question begins with people in positions of power putting their party before their country. And we can’t let this continue. »

► To read also: Capitol storming was an ‘attempted coup’ and ‘encouraged’ by Trump, says House inquiry

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