Nearly 45 years ago, the House Judiciary Committee concluded that President Richard Nixon’s contact with high-level Justice Department officials overseeing the Watergate investigation, detailed in a 62-page “road map” of evidence collected by prosecutors in 1972–73, amounted to an impeachable misuse of executive power.
A half century later, the FBI’s former top lawyer, Jim Baker—a close friend and associate of fired FBI Director James Comey—is laying out parallels, albeit subtly, to President Donald Trump’s interactions with the law-enforcement officials who have been investigating him and his campaign team since July 2016.
In a piece for Lawfare published on Monday, Baker and co-author Sarah Grant, a student at Harvard Law School, used the newly unsealed Watergate road map to show how one president’s attempts to control an investigation targeting him and his associates were quickly exposed and, ultimately, used against him. As the road map laid out, Nixon interacted regularly with the man supervising the Watergate investigation—Henry Petersen, then the assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Criminal Division—and pumped him for information.
“The president, in short, was using a senior Justice Department official to gather intelligence about an ongoing criminal investigation in which he was personally implicated,” Baker and Grant wrote, pointing out that Nixon repeatedly asked Petersen whether he himself was being investigated. Their interactions, moreover, “must be understood within the larger context of the president’s knowledge of the facts regarding Watergate at the time.” In other words, what did the president know, and when did he know it?