(CNN)When Michael Flynn quit under pressure as national security adviser, he became the second high-ranking official in Donald Trump’s inner circle to step down over investigations of the campaign’s alleged ties to Russia.

In classic Washington fashion, some dubbed the scandal “Russiagate,” harking back to the epochal Watergate scandal that ousted a president in 1974, but it’s far too early to know how this scandal will rank compared to the presidential scandals of recent decades.
The White House portrayed Flynn’s ouster as a result of his denying to Vice President Mike Pence that he had discussed sanctions in a phone call with the Russian ambassador when, in fact, he had. After he resigned, CNN and The New York Times broke stories detailing frequent contact between the Trump campaign and the Russians.


    Then there are the big scandals like Watergate that have the potential to bring down a president. The scandal started with evidence Nixon’sreelection campaign had been involved in a break-in at the Democratic headquarters at the Watergate complex.
    The president then was thin-skinned and paranoid, lashing out at every part of the establishment which, in his mind, was stacked against him. The scandal kept getting bigger and bigger until there was clear evidence that Nixon had tried to obstruct the investigation.
    The journalistic community, led by The Washington Post, was fully mobilized to find out what happened and produced some of the most-hard hitting coverage that Americans had ever seen. Not only did Democrats then control the Congress and lead the charge against Nixon, but a significant number of Republicans, including Barry Goldwater, told him it was time to resign.
    In that case, the evidence and the scandal resulted in his presidency coming to a dramatic end in August 1974. As the comedian Louis CK says in a bit on the subject, “We saw the president of America cry and then quit being the president. That s— was crazy!”

    New scandal environment?

    It is too early to tell in which direction this unfolding scandal will head. If there is clear evidence of a direct connection between the Trump campaign, or Trump’s personal economic interests, and the Russian cyber-intervention into the election, this could get worse than Watergate, becoming a trauma for the nation.
    But Trump can survive this. If there is no evidence that he was directly involved in these communications, the public might be forgiving. And partisanship plays to his advantage. If most congressional Republicans hold the line against any serious investigation, Democrats will be stymied.

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    While Washington focuses on this scandal, the administration has been moving ahead with some pretty big initiatives — including deregulating huge swaths of the economy — that bring Republicans great delight. Trump’s opponents might want to note that his job approval has remained strong among his supporters.
    As The New York Times reported, Americans are following this scandal through a divided media. The conservative press has focused on the leaks, not the Trump team contacts with Russia, and it is possible that a critical part of the electorate understands the story through a sympathetic lens.
    In other words, there might no longer be a common national media platform through which today’s “Woodward and Bernstein” can have maximum impact with their reporting on this story.
    Trump could survive the scandal while Democrats get consumed with it, taking their eye off the ball and letting the Trump administration hand Republicans big wins that shore up his political standing. Trump’s ability to distract the press and perpetually shift the conversation might prevent the kind of sustained journalistic focus that broke Watergate.
    One thing is for surethe whole world is watching, and President Trump is facing a test unlike anything that he has confronted before.

    Read more: http://www.cnn.com/2017/02/19/opinions/russiagate-scandal-zelizer-opinion/index.html

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