Vermont journalists remember Watergate 45 years later - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Vermont journalists remember Watergate 45 years later

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It started with a break-in at the Democratic National Committee -- what the White House called a "3rd rate burglary."  It ended with the resignation of a president. Watergate. The name still resonates after 45 years.  Two Vermonters have a unique perspective.  Steve Terry, a Washington insider, and Bob Hager, a journalist who saw the crisis unfold from abroad.

"It was an incredible time, it really was," said Hager, who was then an NBC correspondent stationed in Berlin, Germany.  

Bob Hager: Europe was intensely interested in what was going on that's for sure.  

Reporter Joe Carroll: What were they thinking? 

Bob Hager: Oh they were thinking, how could this happen. 

President Richard Nixon, a man who easily won the presidency in 1972, was accused of obstruction of justice.  The smoking gun was the release of audio tapes plotting with his staff. "I welcome this kind of examination, because people have got to know whether or not their president is a crook. Well, I am not a crook," Nixon said in November of 1973. 

"The huge break was the discovery of the oval office tapes.  That really changed the whole thing," Hager said.

By 1973 the president and his staff were under siege by Congress and the press.  In Bonn, Germany Hager asked Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev what he thought of the investigation. "I think the Russians thought it was business as usual -- this Watergate stuff. Because listening to people and doing these dirty tricks that Nixon did, and they're thinking, this is a problem in America? what is the problem!" Hager said.

Fast forward to 2017 and it's the Russians who are accused of influencing the outcome of our election. 

"Those were lies, plain and simple," Former FBI Director James Comey recently told Congress.

But Hager says the U.S. public is more polarized than in the Watergate era, with the rise of 24 hour news, social media, and the distrust of the main stream media. "This isn't fake news. This is very, very serious business, and who knows where it's going, that's the important thing," Hager said.

Steve Terry, now a Democratic Analyst agrees.  "I do, in that the parallel is that a President is under siege," Terry said. "This is open-ended. It's going to last for several years at least."

August 9, 1974 the Rutland Herald headline screamed: "Nixon Resigns Office."  Terry worked for the Herald in the 60's, but during Watergate his boss was Vermont Senator George Aiken.  Terry had a prime seat watching  the political drama of the century unfold in the Senate hearings. "Washington was totally, totally focused on Watergate," he said.

But in the end it was a small group of Republican Senators, including Aiken, that convinced Nixon to resign before he got impeached. "Aiken was there and Nixon had already decided, but it was a very emotional meeting," Terry said.

With his signature victory sign, the defeated Nixon waved goodbye to the nation.  Bob Hager -- now stateside -- was getting public reaction 372 miles away in Cleveland. "There was a huge sigh of relief that our nation has survived this thing," Hager said. "I think it was a credit to our democracy that we could take that kind of shock and survive."

The country survived, proving our democracy is stronger than just one person.

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