Saturday May 18, 2019
BY CHARLES P. PIERCE
"And when Don Sanders, the deputy minority counsel . . . asked the $64,000 question, clearly and directly, I felt I had no choice but to respond in like manner.”
—Alexander Butterfield to the Washington Post, June 14, 2012
It was Butterfield, of course, who gave up the goods to Sam Ervin's Watergate committee, revealing the fact that Richard Nixon had bugged practically every office in which he performed both his official duties and his criminal enterprises. That was the moment that Watergate became WATERGATE. There were tapes. It was no longer He-Said-He-Said between Nixon and John Dean. It was now He-Said-He-Said with Nixon doing a solo. Outside of watching Lee Harvey Oswald get shot live and on camera, and Neil Armstrong stepping onto the moon, that one moment is the most galvanizing bit of television I've ever seen. Watch it again. You can see that Butterfield knew exactly what was going to happen when he told the committee the truth, and the members of the committee have a brief but obvious moment of profound surprise.
It makes a difference if there are tapes. From NBC News:
Former national security adviser Michael Flynn told investigators that people linked to the Trump administration and Congress reached out to him in an effort to interfere in the Russia probe, according to newly-unredacted court papers filed Thursday. The communications could have "affected both his willingness to cooperate and the completeness of that cooperation," special counsel Robert Mueller wrote in the court filings. Flynn even provided a voicemail recording of one such communication, the court papers say. "In some instances, the (special counsel's office) was unaware of the outreach until being alerted to it by the defendant," Mueller wrote.
The "Congress" element is a lovely bit of business. (Lindsey Graham? Tom Cotton? Devin Nunes? Some as-yet-unknown administration* tool on someone's staff? The mind reels.) But the important thing in this report is that there is a tape. Someone wanted to obstruct justice in the case of Michael Flynn and is now in that Nixonian He-Said-He-Said bind. And the judge in this case clearly knows it.
In a separate court filing, Judge Emmet Sullivan ordered federal prosecutors to file a transcript of the voicemail message, as well as transcripts of any other recordings of Flynn including his conversations with Russian officials.
Tape makes a difference. We may now be in a very different place. Later in that Watergate hearing, committee majority counsel Sam Dash had a question for Butterfield.
“If one were, therefore, to reconstruct the conversations at any particular date,” Mr Dash asked, “what would be the best way to reconstruct these conversations, Mr. Butterfield, in the President's Oval Office?”
“Well, in the obvious manner, Mr. Dash,” Mr. Butterfield answered. “To obtain the tape and play it.”
A very different place.