Russia, Trump, Comey, and Records

I watched, along with millions of others, former FBI director James Comey’s testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee. I was interested in hearing just what role records might play in all this, and I was not disappointed. There were ample references to Comey’s memos and his leaking of them, his written testimony provided before hand to the Committee, and the possibility that there might be recordings of Comey’s meetings with President Trump (although, personally, like many others, I doubt there are recordings).

I also made note of one surreal aspect of the discussions following Comey’s testimony. As I watched various CNN commentators, I noticed that at times, the background in reports from Washington, D.C. featured a view looking down on the U.S. National Archives. So, even if we have not heard from leadership of that institution or seen references to it in the news coverage, the National Archives nevertheless loomed in the background of the present scandal. Repeated references by reporters and commentators to the Watergate crisis of forty years ago (and it is amazing to me how many individuals involved in that earlier investigation are still around) and the matter of those tapes nevertheless affirmed why the citizenry ought to be more aware of the importance of federal records laws and practices. And none of this makes any difference, or ought to, because of how you personally view President Trump and his administration.

It was a bit surreal. It got more so for me, as I finally got around that evening to watching the 2016 film Denial about the Irving v. Penguin Books Ltd case that played out in the British courts about historian Deborah Lipstadt’s characterization of Irving as a Holocaust denier. It was riveting cinematic interpretation, even if you get a much more complex sense of the case and the individuals involved by reading books about the case by Lipstadt, historian Richard Evans, and others. What I was struck by was the sometimes-eerie similarities (notably, the accusations of lies) between this case and what was happening yesterday and in the daily coverage of the investigations about possible Trump campaign collusion with Russians in the 2016 elections. Now, I didn’t go looking for this – I was merely taking a break from watching the hapless Pittsburgh Pirates blow games. But the constant reference in the film to lies and documentation almost seemed like it could apply to contemporary political news.

Now I need to go back and watch the 1976 movie All the President’s Men about the Watergate crisis. Former Director of U.S. National Intelligence James Clapper recently stated in a talk in Australia that “Watergate pales” in comparison with what is now going on in the Trump-Russia investigation. History will determine this, provided we have the adequate documentation held by archivists and their allies. What archivists do is important.

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