Below is my column in USA Today on the striking similarities between Richard Nixon and Hillary Clinton, particularly with regard to the staffers surrounding them. Both tended to blame others about being, to paraphrase Nixon, “kicked around.” However, there are deeper and rather disturbing patterns emerging that are shared by the two leaders in my view.
It has taken almost 50 years, but the Democrats have finally found their inner Nixon. Make no mistake about it: Hillary Clinton is the most Nixonian figure in the post-Watergate period. Indeed, Democrats appear to have reached the type of moral compromise that Nixon waited, unsuccessfully, for Republicans to accept: Some 71% of Democrats want Clinton to run even if indicted.
While Obama could be criticized for embracing Nixon’s imperial presidency model, his personality could not be more different from his predecessor. Clinton however is the whole Nixonian package. On a policy level, her predilection for using executive and military power is even coupled with praise for (and from) Nixon’s secretary of State, Henry Kissinger. However, it is on a personality level that the comparison is so striking and so unnerving. Clinton, like Nixon, is known to be both secretive and evasive. She seems to have a compulsive resistance to simply acknowledging conflicting facts or changes in position. She only makes admissions against interest when there is no alternative to acknowledging the truth in a controversy.
Clinton’s history of changing positions and spinning facts is now legendary. Indeed, a video entitled “Hillary Clinton lying for 13 minutes straight” has become an Internet sensation with millions of viewers. Polls show Clinton with record lows for her perceived honesty and trustworthiness. (In fairness, Trump fares little better). Clinton seems entirely comfortable denying facially true facts. For example, she spent much of a year assuring the public that she was fully cooperating with investigators into her use of an unsecure server for her communications as secretary of State. Indeed, she used her claimed cooperation as the reason that she would not answer more questions. When the State Department Inspector General issued its highly critical report on the scandal, many were shocked to learn that Clinton not only refused to speak at all with investigators but so did her top aides. Where Clinton repeatedly said that her use was allowed by the State Department, the report said that the rule was clearly violated, she never received approval for such a security breach and that a personal server would never have been accepted.
Of course, politicians are not known for their allegiance to the truth, and Clinton may be a standout in that group, but she is hardly unique among her peers. However, that tendency is often checked by a staff that forces politicians to recognize reality and even the truth of controversy.
The problem is that Clinton has surrounded herself with aides who have demonstrated an unflagging loyalty and veneration. Take Huma Abedin, perhaps her most influential aide. Abedin described her first meeting on the “Call Your Girlfriend” podcast: “She walked by and she shook my hand and our eyes connected, and I just remember having this moment where I thought; ‘Wow, this is amazing. And … it just inspired me. You know, I still remember the look on her face. And it’s funny, and she would probably be so annoyed that I say this, but I remember thinking; ‘Oh my God, she’s so beautiful and she’s so little!'”
Adebin’s breathless account is similar to communications of other aides who fawn in emails to Clinton over her speeches, dress and demeanor. In the released emails, former National Security Council adviser Liz Sherwood-Randall asked that an aide pass along her praise of Clinton’s performance at a hearing:
“If you get a chance — please tell HRC that she was a ROCK STAR yesterday. Everything about her ‘performance’ was what makes her unique, beloved, and destined for even more greatness. She sets a standard that lesser mortals can only dream of emulating.”
(In 2014, Sherwood-Randall was made the U.S. Deputy Secretary of Energy.) Emails from other close aides like Lanny Davis and Sidney Blumenthal show the same level of constant stroking and exaltation.
It is certainly true that Washington’s powerful have always attracted a circle of sycophants. Indeed, the most powerful figures often seem to need continual stroking from underlings and there can be a race to the bottom as aides outdo each other in their adoring rhetoric.
What is so concerning is that Clinton seems to invite such expressions of absolute loyalty and reverence. The question is whether there is a John Dean willing to walk into her office and tell her of a cancer growing within the White House. After years of scandals and investigations, Clinton has distilled a team down to the truest believers who have little difficulty repeating truth-defying spins or refusing to cooperate with investigators.
Indeed, recently, top Clinton aides took the notable step of agreeing to be represented by the same lawyers in both the criminal and civil investigations into the email scandal. That is a move that can greatly assure a more uniform account in the testimony of Clinton aides. It is also a move that rejects potential conflicts between aides in both their recollections and interests. In the most recent depositions, that joint counsel instructed key aide Cheryl Mills to simply refuse to answer most of the questions about the reasons and arrangements made for the use of a personal server at the State Department. So far Clinton’s top aides have remained a uniform front.
It is hard not to think of Nixon aides like John Ehrlichman and H.R. Haldeman in the “palace guard” surrounding Nixon. They should be a cautionary tale for all of these aides. Ehrlichman would later look back and marvel at the loss of his own sense of self and independence: “I, in effect, abdicated my moral judgments and turned them over to somebody else.”
My greatest concern is not that a President Clinton will continue a pattern of false statements but that her aides will gradually forget the difference between what is true and what is not.
Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University and a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors.