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50th Anniversary of Watergate: Inside the Case

With Richard Ben-Veniste & William Cohen

William Cohen & Richard Ben-Veniste join Washington Post Live (Video: The Washington Post)
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They were key players investigating the political scandal of the 20th century. Join Washington Post Live to hear from former House Judiciary Committee member William Cohen (R-Maine) and Richard Ben-Veniste, former chief of the Watergate Task Force, as they reflect on the 50th anniversary of the Watergate break-in, which eventually led to Richard Nixon becoming the only U.S. president to resign from office.

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“We didn’t know how we would be able to go forward. In fact, while Archibald Cox was fired, we were not because we were Justice Department employees and Nixon didn’t have the right to fire us. But he said that our office was disbanded, the FBI showed up in force, therefore trumping the rule of law with force. We’d never seen anything like this in this country and we never expected to see anything like it again, until January 6th.”- Richard Ben-Veniste (Video: Washington Post Live)
“Once Elliot Richardson resigned and a new prosecutor had to be appointed, Leon Jaworski was appointed by Richard Nixon. The Democrats…were opposed to having Jaworski appointed, that Nixon should not have the right to appoint a special prosecutor…The Washington Post, by the way, was opposed at that time to having Jaworski appointed. And on a personal level, it was the very first op-ed I had ever authored to The Washington Post…Saying that the Democrats were wrong, they should not interfere with Jaworski being appointed because…the staff was not dismissed…and Jaworski would be beholden to that staff…And The Washington Post, I guess for one of the first times, reversed its editorial position and supported the recommendation I had made.”- William Cohen (Video: Washington Post Live)
“We didn’t know what would be on those tapes, if anything, it could’ve all been a plot to get rid of Cox and there would’ve been nothing there…But the March 21 conversation was so explosive. It had Nixon saying, ‘You need to continue paying hush money to the burglars,’ so they don’t give up who was behind ordering the break-in in the first place and reveal all the other untoward things, illegal things that they had done. That night a final payment to Howard Hunt, one of the burglars, in the amount of $120,000, I believe, was made...Nothing approached the fact that here is Richard Nixon, the President of the United States, ordering the continuation of an illegal obstruction of justice.”- Richard Ben-Veniste (Video: Washington Post Live)
“If the tapes hadn’t been released, we would’ve been left with the edited transcripts. And so, you had not only expletives deleted…but also irrelevant portions being omitted. So, who is to decide what’s irrelevant? … Once the tapes came through, I think that pushed, even the most conservative of the Republicans, to say that there were impeachable offenses that we believe needed to be brought to the full House and then to the Senate.”- William Cohen (Video: Washington Post Live)
“I think the impeachment process itself is being invoked too frequently…I think that when we start talking about Bill Clinton or the attempt to impeach Donald Trump, it’s just being used too frequently and not on great occasions. I think today, for example, the investigation underway against former President Trump is different. Ultimately, it comes down to the rule we tried to follow during the Nixon impeachment. The notion is, power has to be entrusted to someone, but no one can be trusted with power...That was the lesson coming out of Watergate…So the notion we have gotten away from is the commitment to the Constitution as opposed to the individual. And that I think is the lesson of Watergate, I think it’s the lesson we could derive throughout, but really impeachment has to be used on great occasions…as we saw with the assault on January 6th.”- William Cohen (Video: Washington Post Live)

Richard Ben-Veniste

Former Chief, Watergate Task Force

William Cohen

Former Congressman (R-Maine)