Dan Rather: Russia Could Surpass Watergate as Biggest Political Scandal
"If a scriptwriter had approached Hollywood with what we are witnessing, he or she would probably have been told it was way too far-fetched for even a summer blockbuster. But this is not fiction. It is real and it is serious. Deadly serious."
"What did the president know, and when did he know it?"
Dan Rather, like many of President Donald Trump's critics in recent days, is invoking the question made famous from the 1973 Watergate hearings in response to the snowballing controversy facing the White House after National Security Advisor Michael Flynn's resignation.
"Watergate is the biggest political scandal of my lifetime, until maybe now," the former CBS Evening News anchor wrote on Tuesday in a lengthy Facebook post. "It was the closest we came to a debilitating Constitutional crisis, until maybe now."
Rather, who covered the Watergate investigation and impeachment proceedings against former President Richard Nixon for CBS in the 1970s, likened the "cascading intensity" of Trump's Russia scandal to the pre-avalanche of Watergate. He predicts that, in the end, it could become at least as big as Watergate, and possibly even dethrone Nixon's scandal as the barometer by which all future political scandals are judged.
"When we look back at Watergate, we remember the end of the Nixon Presidency," Rather wrote. "It came with an avalanche, but for most of the time my fellow reporters and I were chasing down the story as it rumbled along with a low-grade intensity. We never were quite sure how much we would find out about what really happened. In the end, the truth emerged into the light, and President Nixon descended into infamy."
He continued, "This Russia story started out with an avalanche and where we go from here no one really knows. Each piece of news demands new questions."
Rather penned the note after Flynn's resignation late Monday night. The White House claimed Flynn was fired for misleading Vice President Mike Pence and other White House officials about his communications with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during Trump's transition. His ouster has prompted questions as to why it took weeks for Trump to take action, as the Justice Department warned the White House of Flynn's recorded conversations last month.
On Tuesday, White House spokesman Sean Spicer said Trump asked for Flynn's resignation when the trust had "eroded," creating an "unsustainable situation."
"New reporting suggests that Mr. Trump knew for weeks," Rather wrote. The former newsman recalled Flynn's speech from the Republican National Convention — when the retired Army lieutenant general ignited a "lock her up!" chant about Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and said that he would be in jail if he had done "one-tenth" of what she had done — as an example of the White House's diminishing credibility. "And it isn't just Mr. Flynn, how far does this go?" he wrote.
Rather called for an independent investigation, accusing the Republican Congress of "excusing away" the Trump's administrations "assertions" for too long.
"Damn the lies, full throttle forward on the truth," said Rather. "If a scriptwriter had approached Hollywood with what we are witnessing, he or she would probably have been told it was way too far-fetched for even a summer blockbuster. But this is not fiction. It is real and it is serious. Deadly serious."
He concluded, "We deserve answers and those who are complicit in this scandal need to feel the full force of justice."
After Flynn's exit, U.S. intelligence agencies and Congress continue to investigate Russia’s involvement in the 2016 presidential election.
After Rather's Facebook post, The New York Times and CNN released reports claiming phone records and intercepted calls show Trump campaign members and associates having "repeated" contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year ahead of the 2016 election.