Trump Ukraine Transcript Gaps Reminiscent of Nixon's Infamous Missing Watergate Tapes, Professor Suggests

If the impeachment investigation into President Donald Trump produces a successful vote in the House, the divisive commander in chief would become only the third president to be impeached.

The current scandal surrounds Trump's apparent efforts to procure a quid pro quo with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, allegedly offering to release military aid earmarked for Kyiv in exchange for an investigation into Trump's 2020 rival Joe Biden.

Some observers have noted that disgraced President Richard Nixon's travails may hold lessons for Trump. Nixon avoided imminent impeachment by resigning the presidency after secret tapes emerged detailing his involvement in the Watergate scandal.

Trump may yet be hoisted by his own incriminating phone calls. The White House released a memo partially detailing the president's July call with Zelenskiy, but this only raised more questions as to his conduct.

The memo is not a direct transcript of the call. At some points, speech is broken up by ellipses with no indication of what was said in the gaps. As Axios noted, the ellipses could indicate that passages were intentionally omitted, that the passages were lost or that there was disagreement among note-takes as to what was actually said.

Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman—the top Ukraine expert on the National Security Council, who listened in on the call—testified to House impeachment investigators Tuesday, providing details of what was omitted from the memo.

He said that Trump mentioned recordings of Joe Biden discussing corruption in Ukraine, while Zelenskiy mentioned Burisma Holdings—the natural gas company for whom Biden's son Hunter worked—in reference to the unproven corruption allegations against the Bidens.

According to The New York Times, Vindman said he pushed to have the passages included in the memo, but that he was unsuccessful. The White House, meanwhile, said the ellipses indicated where voices had trailed off.

Reacting to the reports, Harvard Law School professor Laurence Tribe drew a comparison to Nixon's infamous secret tapes and his apparent efforts to hide the most incriminating parts.

"Remind anyone of that 18-minute gap on the Nixon tape?" Tribe asked on Twitter.

While battling Watergate Special Counsel Archibald Cox's subpoena for the White House's phone call recordings, Nixon's lawyers found an 18.5-minute gap. Nixon's personal secretary—Rose Mary Woods—took responsibility for the missing portion, claiming to have accidentally wiped it.

The claim was widely dismissed, and though it did not prove that Nixon had ordered the destruction of that portion of the recordings, the furor cast doubt on the president's claim he was not aware of any cover-up.

This is not the first time that Rose Mary Woods has come up in the Ukraine scandal. Earlier this month, Watergate prosecutor Jill Wine-Banks said "I love the analogy" between Nixon's missing 18.5 minutes and Trump's Ukraine ellipses.

Following reports of Vindman's testimony, other Twitter users also involved Nixon's former secretary. Physicist Chad Orzel wrote, "The ghost of Rose Mary Woods shakes her head sadly," while New York Times editorial board member Jesse Wegman asked, "Where's Rose Mary Woods when you need her?"

Donald Trump, Richard Nixon, impeachment, Ukraine, call
President Donald Trump is pictured while speaking at the McCormick Place Convention Center on October 28, 2019, in Chicago, Illinois. BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images/Getty