Whitewater vs. Watergate.

Whitewater vs. Watergate. Both are political sandals that have rocked the nation. As Watergate unraveled, many of Nixon's dirty tactics were learned, including assorted lists of enemies (a number of which became targets of IRS tax audits), wiretapping, political sabotage, burglary, blackballing, and smear campaigns. Similarly, as Whitewater unfolded, the scandal appeared to involve more than just an illegal loan. It touched on possible hush money paid to witnesses and includes the acquisition of more than 900 confidential FBI files on Bush and Reagan appointees. In many aspects, the two are very similar. They are alike in the cover-ups they both produced. But they still are about two totally different events. Each of these scandals is associated with a central criminal event and both involved a web of political intrigue.1

First, what were Whitewater and Watergate? Whitewater started as a land development of riverfront property in Arkansas in the 1980s. The Clintons received a large share of the development without putting up any money. The development went bad, so additional capital was needed. There is evidence and testimony suggesting that this cash was obtained illegally from the federal government and never paid back. As for Watergate - though it was revealed by the Senate Watergate committee as an unprecedented abuse of presidential power that was extremely dangerous to the country, it is remembered 25 years later as a strange and unsuccessful burglary in the Watergate office building by people linked to the reelection committee of Nixon. But Watergate was so much more than a political burglary. The Senate hearings showed Watergate was composed of constant criminality by the Nixon White House, and was driven by an extreme commitment to maintain control of power by any means, including criminal conduct. It included the break-in of a psychiatrist's office for the purpose of smearing Daniel Elsberg - the leaker of the Pentagon Papers; the misuse of the IRS and other federal agencies to punish those on the president's "enemies list"; the illegal wiretapping of journalists and members of Nixon's own administration; and the purposeful editing of government documents to enhance a political agenda.2

Many similarities come up when discussing Whitewater and Watergate. The scandals may be separated by two decades, but much irony is evident when they are compared. For example, in 1974, Hillary Rodham was employed as a lawyer by the House Judiciary Committee's impeachment inquiry, along with Bernard Nussbaum, former chief counsel at the Clinton White House. Now the first lady is a central figure in the Whitewater affair, and Sam Dash, the Senate Watergate Committee's chief counsel, is serving as ethics adviser to Whitewater Independent Counsel Kenneth W. Starr.3

Nixon biographer Roger Morris states that the tragedy in both cases is tied in silence. Both scandals have unindicted co-conspirators - Clinton's Deputy White House Counsel Bruce Lindsey in Whitewater, and Nixon himself for the Watergate cover-up. Both contain allegations of hush money. Watergate burglar and Nixon adviser Howard Hunt supposedly demanded one million dollars up front to keep quiet, and Webster Hubbell is being investigated for allegedly receiving more than $560,000 for his silence on Whitewater.

Both of the administrations have seen many of their closest people indicted. Watergate started out as five clumsy burglars linked to a CIA bust in the Watergate offices of the Democratic National Committee, and ended in 40 government officials and Nixon associates being charged with 19 imprisoned. It also included President Richard Nixon's resignation. Clinton's scandal-ridden presidency has seen its share of convictions, too. The Whitewater real-estate deal and campaign-finance irregularities of Whitewater forced the resignation of Clinton's first deputy Treasury secretary, Roger Altman, and led to convictions of former Associate Attorney General Webster Hubbell, Arkansas Governor Jim Guy Tucker, and James and Susan McDougal. There was also a Whitewater-connected investigation into the alleged cover-up of the death of Deputy White House Counsel Vince Foster.

One political issue that connects Watergate and Whitewater is the destructive effect of increasing amounts of money for major political campaigns. People seeking loopholes and the competitive advantage have abolished the Watergate-inspired legislation created to reform campaign financing. There is no question that violations by people identified with both major parties are justifiable targets of congressional investigation.

Another serious allegation is what Bill Hogan, director of investigative projects for the Center for Public Integrity, a nonpartisan Washington group, calls "the evils of secret money" in both the Nixon and Clinton