Everything Is Always Watergate: Clinton Email Edition

Conservatives are using the ongoing examination of Hillary Clinton's State Department emails to once again make a series of over-the-top accusations that compare her behavior to former President Richard Nixon and the Watergate scandal. This is the latest in a pattern of distortions which aim to elevate the email story to the same level as the worst political scandal in American history.

The latest round of faulty Watergate comparisons appears to have been sparked by Washington Post Associate Editor Bob Woodward, who, along with fellow Washington Post journalist Carl Bernstein, famously broke the story of the 1972 Nixon-sanctioned break-in at the Watergate hotel.

Appearing on MSNBC's Morning Joe on August 18, Woodward said the controversy over Clinton's emails, and the latest development involving Clinton handing over her private server to investigators, “reminds me of the Nixon tapes” which “Nixon thought were exclusively his.” He went on to claim: “Hillary Clinton initially took that position: 'I'm not turning this over, there's gonna be no cooperation.' Now they're cooperating.”

Woodward is perpetuating a falsehood here. As Clinton said in a March 10 press conference: “After I left office, the State Department asked former secretaries of state for our assistance in providing copies of work-related emails from our personal accounts. I responded right away and provided all my emails that could possibly be work-related, which totaled roughly 55,000 printed pages, even though I knew that the State Department already had the vast majority of them.” This month, Clinton also gave her private server to the Justice Department, in response to concerns that it might contain information now deemed classified.

In the last few years, Woodward has developed a habit of drawing parallels between modern events and Watergate, even if the facts don't always fit. He has compared the Watergate scandal to the Internal Revenue Service after its questionable scrutiny of non-profits first came to light, and to the Obama administration's response to the terrorist attacks in Benghazi.

In fact, while discussing the bizarrely-scandalized “talking points” the administration used to discuss Benghazi in the press, Woodward launched a nearly identical line of attack to his current argument; he said that editing the Benghazi talking points could be compared to Watergate “when Nixon put out his edited transcripts to the conversations, and he personally went through them and said, 'Oh, let's not tell this, let's not show this.'” In both instances, it is not clear that Woodward was aware of the facts before using his Watergate legacy to draw inappropriate parallels.

In a segment on the August 18 Fox & Friends, co-host Steve Doocy and Fox senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano used Woodward's comments as a springboard into a baseless and factually inaccurate discussion about the emails Clinton has released to the State Department.

Napolitano compared Clinton's personal emails to Nixon's secret recording system that he set up in the White House, with Doocy noting that “with Nixon, they had the 18-minute gap” and “with Hillary Rodham Clinton, you've got what, 30,000 missing emails?”

Neither man told viewers that the supposedly “missing” emails have been described as containing “personal and private” information.

Napolitano also asserted that Clinton's emails contained “satellite photographs of a Middle Eastern country and intercepts of foreign agents,” but an Associated Press report already debunked this claim, with sources close to the investigation noting that “nothing in the emails she received makes clear reference to communications intercepts, confidential intelligence methods or any other form of sensitive sourcing.”

Doocy also repeated the claim that “perhaps one of her underlings stripped” classified markings from emails Clinton received, but the State Department has already said there was “no indications” of any such behavior.

Finally, Napolitano promoted a fantasy scenario about criminal charges against Clinton, speculating that she could be “indicted for conspiracy to violate the espionage laws of the United States.”

He concluded that whether or not “there is enough evidence to bring criminal charges against her,” the FBI would “reveal it right around the time of the New Hampshire primary about five or six months from now.” He added, “You can't make this stuff up.”

But clearly you can.

Later in the day, Fox contributor and former UN Ambassador John Bolton appeared on America's Newsroom and called Woodward's comparison “a very apt analogy.” He added that “it may be significant” that when Clinton graduated from Yale Law School, “her first job was on the Democratic staff” investigating Nixon, where the speculation that he should have burned his tapes “may be a lesson she learned back then.”

These specious Watergate parallels are part of a pattern of behavior by the conservative media.

Over the years, Media Matters has cataloged at least 16 separate “Watergates” the right has accused the Obama administration of. They include Benghazi, the IRS, Obamacare, the BP oil spill, immigration policy, and Obama's birth certificate, among others.

Watergate involved the president of the United States soliciting a break-in of a political party's headquarters, suggesting payment of up to $1 million in hush money to bribe the burglars, being ordered by the Supreme Court to produce secret recordings of the planning for the cover-up of the burglary, and the resignation of a president for the first time in U.S. history.

Unless the discussion is about events of that magnitude, it isn't Watergate.