OPINION: ‘What did the (former) president know?’

A column by retired Vidette reporter Tommi Halvorsen-Gatlin.

n June 1972, James McCord, Virgilio Gonzales, Frank Sturgis, Eugenio Martinez and Bernard Barker were caught rifling through the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Washington, D.C., Watergate complex. Charged with attempted burglary and attempted interception of telephone and other communications, they were later indicted by a grand jury.

Two others were also indicted: G. Gordon Liddy, lawyer for the Finance Committee to Re-elect (Republican) President Richard Nixon, former FBI agent, Treasury official and White House staff member; and E. Howard Hunt Jr., a former White House consultant and Central Intelligence Agency employee. Liddy and McCord were convicted of conspiracy, burglary and bugging the headquarters. The others pleaded guilty.

The question during those dark days echoed a Tennessee senator, Howard Baker: “What did the president know, and when did he know it?”

The Watergate scandal raged for two years, severely eroding the public’s confidence in the country’s leadership. Through two Washington Post journalists, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, it came to light that Nixon had also been involved. He resigned in August 1974, avoiding likely impeachment.


Forty-five years later, grave concerns are swirling about the actions of some governmental officials, some still in their positions after the end of the Barack Obama presidency. In what seems almost like a photo negative effect of the Nixon era scandal, officials “left over” from the previous administration are said to be hard at work, possibly with Obama leading, wreaking deliberate havoc for the new commander in chief, Donald Trump.

Within weeks of his inauguration, Trump expressed concerns that his offices had been “wiretapped” by former Obama administration members. Many laughed him to scorn.

Ridiculous … paranoid?

Maybe not.

Some believe a currently breaking scandal could potentially be more damaging than Watergate — a possible “shadow government,” actively working to destroy the Trump presidency.

Devin Nunes, House Intelligence Committee chair, said in March he’d learned that Trump transition team members had been under surveillance by the Obama administration, possibly “incidentally,” that American citizens had been “unmasked” (named) by intelligence officials and subsequently leaked to media.

“Incidental” collection is when someone not under surveillance appears with another who is. Leaking the names to media would be a felony.

Nunes alerted President Trump to what he’d learned, then briefed the White House before communicating with his fellow committee members.

Obama’s former national security advisor, Susan Rice, initially said she didn’t know what Nunes was talking about. “I know nothing about this,” she said. “I really don’t know to what Chairman Nunes was referring.”

It would’ve been “potentially incidental collection on American citizens, and I was not aware of any orders given to disseminate that kind of information,” she added.

But as more information surfaces, that appears not to be accurate. Rice told NBC’s Andrea Mitchell on April 4 that she’d leaked “nothing to nobody.” That may be true, though she has said she “might have” unmasked some.

Trump and his team were under surveillance as far back, perhaps, as last June, before Trump became the GOP nominee, according to Jay Sekulow, lead counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice.

In his last days in office, Obama “changed the rules in order to widely disseminate this information,” Sekulow wrote on the ACLJ website, adding the “deep state bureaucracy” (shadow government) leaked the unmasked information to the media.

The ACLJ is calling for an “immediate, independent investigation into Susan Rice” and has filed various legal actions in federal court. Many also hope a grand jury will be impaneled.

GOP lawmakers, including House Speaker Mitch McConnell, suggest the House Intelligence Committee investigate what Rice, and likely others, were up to when a presidential candidate and his team were surveilled during an election campaign.


“Do you solemnly swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you God?” witnesses sworn in at American court proceedings are asked.

I hope Rice, who doesn’t have a reputation for honesty, takes that seriously. When she was our ambassador to the United Nations, she spread the word that the fatal 2012 Benghazi terrorist attack was ignited by an anti-Islam video. A couple years later, she said U.S. Army deserter, Bowe Bergdahl, had served with “honor and distinction.”

Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary says something that’s true is “in accordance with fact or reality” … “with the actual state of affairs.” And that truth is “the state of being the case” … “the body of real things, events and facts.”

It also says that fact is “something that has actual existence.”

The opposite of truth, of course, is a lie, a noun Merriam-Webster defines as “something that misleads or deceives,” and the verb, “to lie, as “to create a false or misleading impression.”

I just pray that everyone involved in any investigations and other proceedings regarding a possible shadow government will dig — and care — deeply enough to reach the truth.