On June 17, 1972, five burglars broke into the Democratic National Committee’s headquarters in the Watergate Office Building in Washington, D.C. The Watergate burglars were funded by the Nixon Re-Election Campaign Committee. Top officials of President Nixon’s administration, including the attorney general of the United States and the president’s chief of staff, were involved in planning the break-in. The “Watergate Scandal” that ensued led to thoroughly bipartisan House and Senate investigations, impeachment proceedings, and the ultimate resignation of President Nixon on Aug. 9, 1974. Beginning in January 1975, jail sentences were announced for 48 government officials who either planned, executed, or participated in the Watergate break-in or its coverup. Attorney General John Mitchell went to prison for 19 months, Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman and Presidential Counsel John Dean for 18 months, and G. Gordon Liddy, mastermind of the burglary, for 4 ½ years. Illegal activities ranged from robbery, wire tapping, destroying government documents, and lying under oath to constitutional abuse of power, specifically misusing the Justice Department, CIA, FBI and IRS to neutralize those on Nixon’s “enemies list.”

The forthright way many Republican senators and House of Representatives members responded to “Watergate” in the 1970s is truly a world apart from the “avoid at all costs” way current Republican senators and congresspersons, Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger excepted, have responded to the Jan. 6, 2021, mob attack on the U.S. Capitol Building. And yet the Watergate Scandal and Jan. 6 sacking of the Capitol are alike in the most profound ways. Both “break-ins” were extremely dangerous attacks on the basic institutions of democratic governance, the rule of law, and respect for the electoral process. Along with their Democratic colleagues in the 1970s, most Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee and Senate Special Investigative Committee sincerely sought to uncover the myriad criminal activities of the Watergate Scandal, pushing as far, wide and high as necessary to get at the facts and the truth. Not that it was easy for Republicans to go against their president and high-ranking officials of his administration. But their commitment to preserving democracy, their moral discomfiture and even outrage at the Nixon administration’s criminal activities drove them ever onward to do their constitutional duty and serve their country above all else.

Consider the example of M. Caldwell Butler (1925-2014). Born and raised in Roanoke, Caldwell Butler was a Republican of the highest order. A descendant of U.S. Chief Justice John Marshall (1755-1835), M. Caldwell Butler’s great-grandfather James A. Walker was also a Virginia lawyer and politician, as well as a Confederate general during the American Civil War. Butler represented Roanoke in the Virginia House of Delegates from 1962 to 1971, fighting corruption and helping to revitalize the two-party system in the state by working to strengthen the Republican Party as the once dominant Byrd Organization of Dixiecrats crumbled. Elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from our own 6th District in 1972, he initially supported President Nixon. However, as the U.S. House and Senate Watergate investigations revealed evermore criminal activities and “dirty tricks” on the part of the White House, he and others on the House Judiciary Committee, Republicans and Democrats alike, began to question Nixon’s conduct. Those who watched Butler and the proceedings on television at the time could tell it was a difficult, even painful experience for him to go against his own sitting president. Yet, on July 25, 1974, he voted for two of the three impeachment charges that the committee raised against Nixon: Article One (Obstruction of Justice) and Article Two (Abuse of Power). A man of strong moral principle, Caldwell Butler declared that for Republicans who had long fought against dishonest and criminal conduct in government, “Watergate is our shame.”

Voters apparently appreciated Butler’s courage and willingness to put the good of the country above party politics. He was reelected by a large margin in 1974 while many of his Republican colleagues went down to defeat due to voter anger over Watergate. He would serve with distinction through 1982 before retiring to resume law practice in Roanoke. M. Caldwell Butler will long be remembered and honored for his service to our democracy. If he were alive today, there can be little doubt that he would have viewed the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol and violent attempt to overthrow the 2020 election results as a scandal and horror even worse than Watergate. Where, when we so need them, are the M. Caldwell Butlers of today?

Bob Bersson lives in Bridgewater.

(4) comments

bootsielawson

Why is he ignoring "russiagate", a much closer comparison to watergate. Klinton, democratic party, fbi, justice, nsa, msm, and various klinton operatives incuding comey, and of course obiden! Not illegal to be feeding chineese top secret memos in suburban dc. Totally criminal and yet not a single person charged with insurrection. Trespass and riot sorry more dumokkkrat lies Don't worry justice is coming in 22! Trump 2024

DeftCurmudgeon

"sacking of the Capitol",,,

There you guys go, lying again.

newshound

And that was an actual petty crime. But for every Butler there are presently hundreds of crooked pandering politicians at work today led by the chief con—Biden—flouting our laws and constitution and actively working to destroy social order….much worse than a simple political snoop break-in back in the day.

prodigalson

I agree with you Newshound. The Demokkkrat heist of the 2020 presidential election makes the Watergate break in look like child's play.

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