Russiagate, the Senator Who Makes President Trump Tremble with Fear

Richard Burr, a Republican Trump supporter, is the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee investigating the case that is shaking the White House to its core. He will have to follow in the footsteps of Sam Ervin, the man who was tasked with saving democracy from Nixon’s lies.

Almost half a century since the fiery days of the Watergate scandal that forced a president to step down from office, another son of the Deep South happens to be appointed as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. He is a senator from North Carolina, just like Sen. Sam Ervin, who, while occupying that same position, led the hearings that destroyed Nixon’s alibis and lies. His name is Richard Burr, just like the actor who played Perry Mason.* Up to this point, few people have known him outside of the political world and his own state. Soon we will get to know him better, because he is handling the “Russiagate” investigation concerning possible secret relations, collusion and complicity between Putin’s agents and Trump’s men, as well as the efforts of Russian cybermoles to make their way inside American institutions and erode them.

Burr, a stout 61-year-old with a background as a college football player, does not simply have the unenviable task of rummaging in the closet of a president for whom he voted, not to mention for whom he served as an adviser. The job before him is far more formidable. It consists of restoring the credibility of America’s democratic institutions that were shaken by a candidate elected with barely 46 percent of the vote, by the brazen conflicts of interest of a president who has nontransparent relations with banks and businesspeople all over the world and relations in the world that lies in between Russian bankers and Atlantic City casinos. Ironically, a son of the same South that desperately tried to demolish the Union has to save the North and national unity, not to mention scare the president he elected to that unstable throne.

In 1973, Burr’s distant predecessor Ervin managed to get to the truth behind the crimes the White House committed or allowed without being perceived as biased, to the point where people forgot he belonged to the Democratic Party, the adversary of Nixon’s Republicans. The truths that Ervin’s committee managed to uncover by peeling the rotten apples within the Nixon administration were far too obvious, clear and convincing to lend themselves to the accusation of a political trial, a partisan witch hunt.

Burr has the opposite problem. He is a Republican and a declared Trump supporter. Should the investigations, the depositions and the material he will examine for weeks exonerate the president, his political acquittal will have to appear above suspicion, just like Ervin’s judgment of guilt 44 years ago. Even a “guilty” verdict will have to convince Trump voters that the senator only fulfilled his duty properly in the name, and on behalf, of the nation.

There is not just a president’s future at stake. No matter how much damage Trump deals out, or whether he accomplishes the miracles he promised, he will have to leave in eight years. The same goes for his most dubious collaborators and assistants, who would simply end up in jail like others before them and be replaced.

What is truly at stake is the credibility of an institutional system that has not collapsed despite many hardships; not under the fratricidal massacre of the Civil War, an economic depression that gave rise to the monsters of fascism and Nazism in Europe, and the senseless Vietnam War; not even after a president stepped down in disgrace and a terrorist attack stabbed at the very heart of the nation’s symbols in 2001. However, this credibility may not survive suspicion that the country’s own democratic institutions, celebrated every four years during the rite of presidential elections, may be tainted by foreign agents and that the people who were supposed to cleanse the country of them carried out a cover-up instead.

“I am here to do my job regardless of where or to whom our conclusions may lead,” the Republican Burr said, while his vice chairman, Democratic Sen. Mark Warner, put a hand on his shoulder to symbolize their bipartisan camaraderie. If he does keep his promise, if he manages to be as credible as his predecessor from the Deep South back in 1973, American democracy will weather this storm as well.

*Editor’s note: The actor who portrayed Perry Mason was named Raymond Burr.

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