Nixon’s Tapes and Hillary’s E-Mails

March 30th, 2015
Here's someone who wished he could have hit "Delete."  (www.archives.gov)

Here’s someone who wished he could have hit “Delete.” (www.archives.gov)

Last week’s revelation that Hillary Clinton permanently deleted all the emails from her personal server for the time period while she was Secretary of State instantly conjured up an historical comparison.

As RNC Chairman Reince Priebus noted, “Even Nixon didn’t destroy the tapes.”

Factually, that’s true.  But that’s not the entire story.  While Richard Nixon didn’t actually destroy the tapes, it’s not because he didn’t want to.  In fact, on April 18, 1973, Nixon ordered his Chief of Staff, H.R. Haldeman, to do just that.  Perhaps “ordered” is too strong a word.  Actually, he asked Haldeman if he would destroy the tapes, and Haldeman dutifully said he would.

Unfortunately for Nixon, Haldeman never did carry out that task, and the rest, of course, is history.

In his post-presidency interview with David Frost, Nixon admitted as much.  He tried, however, to couch it in slightly less sinister terms by explaining that he’d asked Haldeman to save only the parts of the tapes relevant to the public record but to do away with family and personal information that might be contained therein.

Sound familiar?

In fairness, we don’t know what was really in all those emails Hillary deleted.  We don’t know and probably never will.  So while it’s easy to suggest that there was something potentially damaging contained in them, it’s also fine to note that there is absolutely no way to prove that and simply move on.

Reince Priebus’s Nixon comparison to Hillary isn’t the first one I’ve heard or seen and it’s likely not going to be the last.  For starters, given the fact that as a young lawyer, Hillary worked as a staff member on the House Judiciary Committee drafting Articles of Impeachment against Nixon, it’s at least interesting that she’s now being accused of potentially questionable behavior herself.  Also, Nixon himself was not known to be a particularly warm and fuzzy political figure.  He clearly distrusted the press and was contemptuous of those he deemed political enemies.  It’s hard not to argue that Hillary bears similar qualities, although last week she attempted to push the reset button on all of that.

If it goes anything like the Russian reset button she pushed as Secretary of State, don’t expect any real changes in that department.

So Nixon tried and failed to destroy the incriminating tapes.  And let me personally vouch for the fact that those tapes make Nixon look very bad indeed.  Years ago, as a college intern in Washington, D.C., I travelled to the National Archives to listen to a sample of those tapes that were housed there at the time.  If there was ever anything that could turn a young political idealist into a true blue cynic, it is those tapes.

One wonders if there was anything similar in the missing emails.  Granted, it’s much different to hear a person’s words versus reading something they wrote, but the printed word still has power.

Many historians question what would have happened if Nixon had successfully destroyed those tapes. Would his presidency have gone on with a minor historical blip called Watergate where a few of his aides ended up in prison but where the president continued on?  Would we now remember Nixon favorably and as a good president?

That sort of falls in line with the old adage, “What you don’t know can’t hurt you.”  So if no one outside of an inner circle ever knew about Nixon’s bad character, would or should that matter?

Today, Democrats are saying that Hillary’s email erasure is much ado about nothing.  They have a point in that we can’t prove what’s not there. But given what we know about what could potentially be in them, should we care about the fact that she went to the trouble to delete emails after they were requested (keeping in mind that the fact she had this arrangement in the first place is highly questionable).

Can we risk electing another person who seems bent on hiding information from the public?  Right now, it’s shame on Hillary for guarding and destroying her emails in this manner while working in the public domain. But if we ignore all this behavior and elect her President of the United States anyway, it’s shame on us for simply not caring.

After Richard Nixon, we can’t say we weren’t warned.



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