President Trump and his critics actually agree on something. If a column he read in a magazine is correct, he wrote on Twitter on Thursday, “this is bigger than Watergate!”
Never mind that he was thinking of something different than his adversaries when they use the same phrase. Mr. Trump was referring to what he deems a deep-state conspiracy to get him. His detractors are referring to the various scandals swirling around Mr. Trump.
Watergate has long been the touchstone for modern American scandal, the mountain of misconduct against which all others are judged. In the 44 years since Richard M. Nixon resigned, virtually every political investigation has been likened to the one that brought down a president, the suffix “gate” applied to all sorts of public flaps, no matter how significant or trivial.
But rarely has the comparison been as intense and persistent as during the 16 months since Mr. Trump took office — a comparison deployed by both sides in hopes of shaping the narrative of wrongdoing. What started out as an inquiry into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election has mushroomed into questions of perjury, obstruction of justice, conspiracy, abuse of power, illicit spying, hush money, tax fraud, money laundering and influence peddling.
Depending on what is eventually proven, the core scandal could rival Watergate, in which a “third-rate burglary” of Democratic National Committee headquarters ultimately revealed a wide-ranging campaign of political sabotage and spying to influence the 1972 presidential election and undercut perceived rivals. In the current case, a hostile foreign power sought to sway the 2016 election and there is evidence that at least some people in Mr. Trump’s circle were willing to collaborate with it to do so.
Mr. Nixon ordered the firing of Archibald Cox, the Watergate special prosecutor, and was ultimately undone by a secret tape recording of him requesting that his aides use the C.I.A. to impede the F.B.I. investigation into the burglary. Mr. Trump fired James B. Comey, the F.B.I. director originally leading the investigation, and has repeatedly pressured the Justice Department and special counsel to shut down the inquiry and investigate his Democratic rivals instead.