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Nixon’s decisions during Watergate may help us understand the legal trouble Trump is in now

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Washington, a town loaded with lawyers, is talking about how President Donald Trump can’t seem to find even one.

The Russia probe has put Trump in desperate need of a first-rate attorney. But one key reason he is unable to hire good counsel, Washington legal analysts say, is that he’s a terrible client. In lawyer lingo, this usually means that a client won’t do what his attorneys advise. (Here, Trump’s critics also mean that Trump doesn’t pay his bills, but that’s another story.)

Certainly, that’s what John Dowd, Trump’s former lead attorney on the Muller investigation, meant. After Dowd resigned, The Washington Post reported that he had been complaining about how Trump ignored his advice.

This problem is not new. During Watergate, President Richard M. Nixon wouldn’t listen to his lawyers either — as my late husband, Leonard Garment, found out while he was working in the White House as Nixon’s legal counsel at the time of Watergate. True, Nixon was himself a skillful lawyer, so he was ignoring his lawyers’ legal advice on a far more sophisticated level. But what played out during the Watergate scandal may help us predict what could happen now.

During Watergate, Nixon wouldn’t listen to his lawyers either — as my late husband, Leonard Garment, found out while he was working in the White House

To begin with, Nixon never really told his lawyers what was going on — violating a cardinal rule of the lawyer-client relationship. It meant that his lawyers couldn’t give him sound advice based on the facts of his situation. Garbage in, garbage out.

In fact, Nixon’s lawyers were often the last to know. They would hold earnest meetings, trying to piece together the facts of the case. Meanwhile Nixon would be conferring separately with political advisers like John Ehrlichman, then-Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman and White House Counsel John Dean in the Oval Office.

Among other missing details, Nixon never shared with his lawyers what turned out to be the fact most critical of his case: There was a taping system in the Oval Office.

Nixon made the situation even more abnormal by deciding to manage his own legal defense. In May of 1973, for example, the White House decided it had to issue a statement about Watergate that offered something more than the repeated boilerplate denials it had been providing. Nixon told his lawyers to draft the statement without any input from him. Then, the president said, they should send him their drafts, and he would revise them on the basis of his “recollections.” In other words, the lawyers didn’t have control of the product — the client did.

In 1973, Nixon appointed a new chief of staff, Alexander Haig, who often carried drafts of the statement between the lawyers and the president. Haig knew there was a taping system — but the lawyers didn’t. Some of Nixon’s “recollections” that he added to the legal statements were so detailed that my husband and the other lawyers thought there had to be a taping system. But they didn’t hear it from their client.

After Watergate, Nixon wrote that he was shocked when the tapes’ existence became public. He had expected White House staffers to invoke executive privilege when asked about them. Yet he had never even talked with his lawyers about whether an assertion of executive privilege would be justified, likely or successful. (It wasn’t; it wasn’t; and it wouldn’t have been.)

In fact, like Trump’s, Nixon’s legal defense team was quite small — fewer than a half-dozen attorneys. This may have been because hiring an outside lawyer to do personal legal work was viewed as an admission of guilt. But Nixon’s personal tics also kept the numbers small. He looked at the plausible candidates for the outside lawyer job and didn’t trust most of them — Joe Califano! Ed Williams! Experienced lawyers, yes, but Democrats! — with his political secrets. He would have trusted Bill Rogers, an old friend who was about to leave his job as secretary of state. But Rogers was too smart to bite.

 President Richard Nixon speaks near Orlando, Florida, on Nov. 17, 1973. AP file

The small size of the defense team was one factor that kept Nixon’s lawyers from being able to push back effectively against the hundreds of lawyers (literally) who had arrived in Washington to work for Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox, for Sam Dash of the Senate Watergate Committee, for John Doar of the House Judiciary Committee — among others — to investigate and prosecute Watergate.

The final straw for Nixon’s legal team was also the starkest example of Nixon’s arrogance — and perhaps a warning for Trump.

Nixon remarked early in the Watergate scandal that he had John Dean “on tape.” When Archibald Cox heard about the remark, he asked what it meant. Nixon told his lawyers, who didn’t yet know about the taping system, that he was referring to a tape cassette (remember those?). So the lawyers wrote Cox a letter, saying just this.

In the fall of 1973, Judge John Sirica, who was in charge of Watergate prosecutions at the time, asked one of the Nixon lawyers where the cassette was. The lawyers asked Nixon about it. No problem, Nixon said: His lawyers could create a cassette from notes that Nixon had made.

Nixon, in other words, was asking — or telling — his lawyers to lie to the court. Within days, they began to make arrangements to leave the case quietly. Nixon’s defense continued to collapse until, nine months later in the summer of 1974, Nixon resigned rather than face impeachment.

Some of the troubles that Trump’s lawyers have had reflect the general problem of representing a president. But they also reflect personality.

Some of the collapse of Nixon’s Watergate defense reflects the difficulty of representing a president, any president. Presidents have political imperatives, president-sized egos and high-level secrets. In that sense, the legal representation of a president can barely be called a legal representation — it belongs to an oxymoronic category you might label “political litigation.”

But in other respects, Nixon sabotaged his own legal defense and made it almost impossible for his lawyers to do their jobs properly.

In the same way, some of the troubles that Trump’s lawyers have had reflect the general problem of representing a president. But they also reflect personality — and not just in the narrow sense that Trump is a “bad client.”

Even if Trump could become a “better client,” it’s unlikely he would be able to attract the superior lawyers who could save him from Special Counsel Robert Muller. They know that the Trump White House is simply not conducive to superior lawyering

“This is turmoil,” Theodore Olson, one of the lawyers who turned down the Trump defense, told NBC’s Andrea Mitchell. “It’s chaos, it’s confusion. It’s not good for anything.”

This is not the Nixon White House — but it could be another kind of graveyard for the reputations of even the best lawyers.

Suzanne Garment, a lawyer, is the author of “Scandal: The Culture of Mistrust in American Politics.”

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Australia mice plague sees rodents biting people’s feet and crawling over their faces | World News

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A persisting plague of mice in a part of Australia is making life a misery for many with people woken up by the rodents biting their feet – or crawling across their faces.

The infestation in a rural area of New South Wales, triggered after a bumper grain harvest led to a mass breeding season, has caused tens of thousands of dollars worth of damage and sparked warnings that hard-hit residents face “meltdown”.

The pest invasion comes on the back of one of the worst droughts on record and bushfires.

Residents in the small town of Tottenham have been left exhausted as they struggle to deal with the swarm.

They have spent every morning since February sweeping away thousands of dead mice before laying out fresh bait and traps to kill more.

The onslaught did start to improve a few weeks ago with colder and wetter conditions.

But drier weather has caused the plague to ramp back up.

Tonnes of grain cannot be sold because it’s been contaminated by mice droppings and truckloads of hay will be burnt because of the damage.

The local school has also been inundated.

Principal John Southon said “kids don’t blink” when mice regularly scurry across their desk.

He has told students to bring their lunch in sealed containers.

Mr Southon said: “They are in every aspect of our lives, our homes our cars, washing basket.

“Eventually people are going to have a meltdown because it’s constant and wears you down.”

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Ireland’s health service shuts down IT systems over ‘significant ransomware attack’ | World News

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Ireland’s health service has closed down its computer systems after what it described as a “significant ransomware attack”.

The Republic’s Health Service Executive (HSE) said it had shut down its entire IT network as a “precaution.”

It said COVID-19 vaccinations were not affected by the attack.

“There is a significant ransomware attack on the HSE IT systems,” the HSE said on Twitter.

“We have taken the precaution of shutting down all our IT systems in order to protect them from this attack and to allow us fully assess the situation with our own security partners.”

It added: “We apologise for inconvenience caused to patients and to the public and will give further information as it becomes available.

“Vaccinations not affected are going ahead as planned.”

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Israeli ground forces launch attacks on Gaza as fighting worsens | World News

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Israeli ground forces began launching attacks on Gaza in a widening of hostilities as Israel braced for more internal strife between its Arab and Jewish citizens following Friday prayers.

The Israeli military said air and ground forces were firing at the Hamas-run enclave, though it does not appear to mean the start of a ground invasion, with Sky News witnessing troops launching artillery and tank rounds from Israel’s side of the border.

“I said we would extract a very heavy price from Hamas,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a videotaped statement. “We are doing that, and we will continue to do that with heavy force.”

Streaks of light are seen as Israel's Iron Dome anti-missile system intercept rockets launched from the Gaza Strip towards Israel, as seen from Ashkelon, Israel May 12, 2021. REUTERS/Amir Cohen
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Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system has intercepted many of the rockets launched from the Gaza Strip

Thousands of Israeli forces along with tanks, armoured vehicles and artillery are massing along the frontier with Gaza, preparing to push inside if given the order, in what would be a hugely significant escalation.

Unperturbed, Palestinian militants continued to launch rockets from the strip towards Israel into Friday morning.

At least 109 Palestinians have died since the exchanges began on Monday, including 28 children and 15 women, according to Gaza’s health ministry. Palestinian militants have said 20 of their fighters are among the dead, though Israeli officials said this figure is much higher.

Almost half of the deaths happened on Thursday – the deadliest day so far.

On the Israeli side, seven people have been killed, including two children and a soldier.

But this is a crisis on many fronts, as decades of Israeli-Palestinian trauma erupt into clashes on the streets of many towns and cities inside Israel – with Arabs and Jews, who had lived together peacefully, turning on each other, prompting warnings of a risk of civil war.

Synagogues have been attacked, cars torched and individuals beaten up by mobs in the worst internal violence in decades.

New protests could erupt following Friday prayers, with al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem’s Old City a potential flashpoint.

It was at this walled compound – one of the most sacred sites in Islam, which is also revered by Jews and Christians – that violence between Israeli police and Palestinian protesters on Monday sparked the first volley of rockets from Gaza into Israel that ignited the wider crisis.

A Palestinian boy looks at ruins of buildings which were destroyed in Israeli air strikes in the northern Gaza Strip. Pic:  Majdi Fathi/NurPhoto/Shutterstock
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The blockaded strip is home to some two million Palestinians who have no means to flee. Pic: Majdi Fathi/NurPhoto/Shutterstock

There is of course a regional dimension as well.

On Thursday night, three rockets were fired towards Israel from Lebanon. They landed harmlessly in the Mediterranean Sea in what appears to have been a show of solidarity with Gaza by Palestinian groups in Lebanon rather than the start of a separate offensive.

With so much at stake, frantic diplomatic efforts are underway to try to broker a ceasefire.

Egyptian officials have been speaking with both sides as have officials from the United Nations. The US has dispatched a senior diplomat to the region and Russian President Vladimir Putin has added his voice to those calling for both sides to de-escalate.

In Washington, President Joe Biden said he spoke with Prime Minister Netanyahu about calming the fighting but also backed the Israeli leader by saying “there has not been a significant overreaction”.

He said the goal is to “get to a point where there is a significant reduction in attacks, particularly rocket attacks that are indiscriminately fired into population centres”, and called the effort “a work in progress”.

The UN Security Council is due to hold its first public session on the situation on Sunday after the US objected to an open session on Friday, apparently wanting to give diplomacy a little longer to have an effect.

However, with bombardments between the two sides – unprecedented in their intensity – entering their fifth day, there is no obvious sign that diplomacy is cooling heads.

The Israel Defence Forces has hit close to 1,000 targets in Gaza, including multi-storey buildings, rocket launch sites and individual Hamas military commanders. But this blockaded strip of territory is also home to some two million Palestinians who have no means to flee.

Overnight, masses of red flames illuminated the skies as deafening blasts from the outskirts of Gaza City jolted people awake.

The strikes were so strong that people inside the city, several miles away, could be heard screaming in fear, according to the AP news agency.

At the same time, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, a fellow Palestinian militant group, have fired close to 2,000 rockets towards Israel. Many were shot down by the country’s air defence system but some have penetrated deep into Israeli territory, including the commercial capital of Tel Aviv, sending families racing into shelters.

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