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Taiwan 'Watergate' analogy unsubstantiated: U.S. expert

2013/09/21 15:18:39

Washington, Sept. 21 (CNA) Comparisons between Taiwan's Special Investigation Division (SID) of the Supreme Prosecutors Office probe into alleged influence peddling and the Watergate scandal that erupted around then-U.S. President Richard Nixon are baseless, unsubstantiated and could unnecessarily damage Taiwan's global reputation as a robust democracy, according to longtime Asia hand Dennis Halpin.

The analogy cannot describe Taiwan SID's independent investigation into two senior lawmakers because the government has not broken the law or violated human rights, wrote Halpin, now a visiting scholar at SAIS, Johns Hopkins University and former senior congressional staff member advising on Asian affairs, in a letter to the editor.

It has become quite common for political figures subject to criminal investigations to invoke the Watergate analogy as a means of deflecting attention away from their own potential misdeeds. Former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, just before his arrest in December 2008 on influence peddling charges that involved the selling of President Obama's former Senate seat, invoked the Watergate analogy. U.S. Federal Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald had been granted court authority to tape Blagojevich's conversations. The evidence obtained from these wiretaps was critical in the conviction of the former governor on seventeen charges of corruption in 2001, Halpin recalled.

Using a wiretap to investigate a criminal case, Taiwan's investigators were able to accidentally overhear a conversation between lawmaker Ker Chien-ming and the Legislature's speaker Wang Jin-pyng over lobbying two senior justice officials to stop an appeal against Ker's recent acquittal in a court case.

As Blagojevich mistakenly suggested, Ker likened the investigation into two senior lawmakers over their alleged role in the case to the 1972 scandal that rocked Washington, an analogy that even the Washington Post quoted from him and other Taiwan critics in a Sept. 14 article.

Halpin stressed that the SID wiretaps on Ker carried out as part of the ongoing investigation into potential malfeasance, were conducted under a warrant granted by judges of the Taipei District Court, and, therefore, were legal. It should be noted that the wiretapping conducted in connection with the Watergate scandal was done without involvement of the judiciary and without warrant.

"The infamous Watergate tapes involved an internal White House taping system implemented on the instructions of President Nixon himself. They are thus in no way comparable to court-sanctioned wire -tapping procedures," he noted.

Moreover, the articles of impeachment brought by the U.S. House Judiciary Committee against Nixon included the very type of criminal activity that Taiwan's investigators were examining.

Article One, for example, accused Nixon of "interfering or endeavoring to interfere with the conduct of investigations by the Department of Justice of the United States, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the office of Watergate Special Prosecution Force, and Congressional Committees," Halpin wrote.

"It is just such interference which is the subject of the current investigation in Taiwan," he concluded.

(By Sofia Wu)