(c) 2017 by Paul Duginski Used only with express written permission
Remember President Richard Nixon’s infamous White House Plumbers? They were a special unit set up in 1971 to investigate and plug leaks of classified information such as the Pentagon Papers.
The Pentagon Papers were documents that revealed embarrassing top-secret government decision-making in the Vietnam War, and how the government systematically misled the Congress and the American public. They were released to the New York Times and other newspapers by Daniel Ellsberg, a former military analyst for the RAND Corporation.
The first job undertaken by the White House Plumbers was the burglary of the office of Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist, Lewis J. Fielding, in Los Angeles.
Nixon was also especially paranoid about the prospect of running against Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy, so the Plumbers looked into the 1969 Chappaquiddick incident. They tried to dig up dirt on John F. Kennedy, looking into his administration’s involvement in the November 1963 assassination of President Ngo Dinh Diem of South Vietnam.
The members of the Plumbers Unit then moved into illegal activities for the Committee to Re-Elect the President (CREEP), which included the break-in at the Democratic National Committee (DNC) headquarters in the Watergate complex in June 1972.
The ensuing Watergate scandal began to unravel mainly because of the dogged work of two young reporters for the Washington Post, Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward. Soon, the investigation was joined by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and other print and broadcast news organizations. But if it hadn’t been for the tireless work of the two Post reporters, especially in the early days of the investigation when the Post was largely all alone on the story, we might never have gotten the truth. “Woodstein" enjoyed the courageous and unflagging support of the Post’s editor and publisher, Ben Bradlee, and Katharine Graham, respectively.
Watergate is precisely why the Fourth Estate is so important to our democracy. I firmly believe in the inexorability of the truth, as long as we have an independent press in this country. In Shakespeare’s words, the truth will out. And that’s just what the Founding Fathers had in mind.
In the Watergate scandal, Woodward’s secret source known as “Deep Throat” later turned out to be W. Mark Felt, who retired as the deputy director of the FBI in 1973. Felt’s motivation for leaking may have included loyalty to the institution of the FBI and a rejection of efforts by Nixon to politicize it.
There will always be someone inside the government who knows the truth when there are shenanigans, and who will be motivated to get it out — at least as long as we have people of integrity who genuinely love their country. These are people who put their country first, ahead of politics or party.
Conversely, I feel that some of the great conspiracy theories, such as the Kennedy assassination, will continue to be just that. If there were more to it than we now know, it probably would have come tumbling out by now, after 54 years. Maybe that’s naive, but a conspiracy like the ones contemplated in some of the popular theories would have to involve so many people, I think there would have been a slip or someone would have decided to blow the whistle after a half-century.
Having patriots inside of government who are willing to blow the whistle would, however, be useless without a a free and independent press. If the press were restrained or controlled by the government as it is in authoritarian countries, or if the press were controlled by a very few plutocrats or corporations who extinguish competition or are allied with government, leaking might be suicidal.
In America, the biggest danger, at least until now, has been a corporate press.
Interestingly, for all the attacks on the integrity of the press being spewed by the White House, Bob Woodward proved to be one of the few in Washington who could actually keep a secret. He kept the name of his source, Deep Throat, secret until Felt revealed it himself.
Which brings us to our current situation: Our insecure so-called president, Donald Trump, is a narcissistic paranoid who presides over a monumentally dysfunctional White House. Worse than Nixon in some respects, he places himself and his image ahead of party, politics and country. I think Nixon was still loyal to his party and thought that leaks of the Pentagon Papers, which embarrassed the Johnson Administration, damaged the country.
Trump’s in it for himself, and his whacky agenda and erratic behavior have sparked infighting among various factions in the government and administration. Trump has severely damaged his relationship with intelligence agencies and is far outside the mainstream of his own party. What could go wrong?
His bizarre antics are likely to generate enmity, but people are afraid of him for the time being. One way to resist his weird, un-American agenda is to leak, and the Trump White House has become a sieve.
Press Secretary Sean Spicer has called aides into his office and demanded to check their cell phones in an aggressive effort to find the leaks.
Trump, who tends toward authoritarianism, blames the press for the leaks, calling them dishonest and “the enemy of the people.” His tin ear apparently doesn’t register the Stalinist echoes in that.
Trump is busily trying to delegitimize the press in much the same way as he attempted to delegitimize our first African American president with his persistent lies in the “birther” movement.
But the problem is not the leakers, it’s the truth that is inexorably trying to get out. Trump can try to plug the dike like the little Dutch boy, but once one hole is stanched, the truth will pop out somewhere else.
That’s why I’m confident that we will eventually get to the bottom of Putingate and we will eventually find out what Trump is hiding by not releasing his tax returns. Just look at Richard Nixon. He had perverted huge portions of the U.S. intelligence community to cover up his illegal activity, and the truth still got out, partly through a source in one of the highest levels of an intelligence and law enforcement agency. Someone knows the answers about Trump, and eventually, like water, it will find its way out.