Adrian Morrow summarizes key issues and players in the mounting scandal over possible collusion between President Donald Trump’s campaign personnel and Russian operatives during the 2016 campaign, relative to the release of Hillary Clinton’s emails and their possible effect on the outcome of the election. In an associated article Lessons from presidential scandals on February 21, Johanna Slater revisits lessons learned from presidential scandals over the decades, as they may apply to the current situation in the US.

Getting Started

Appropriate Subject Area(s):

Social studies, current events, history

Key Questions to Explore:

  • Why are US intelligence agencies investigating reports that Russian operatives may have colluded with the Trump presidential campaign to reduce Hillary Clinton’s chances of winning? What lessons could Mr. Trump learn from previous presidential scandals?

New Terminology:

Watergate, Iran-Contra, Lewinsky, Wikileaks, operative

Materials Needed:

Globe articles

Study and Discussion Activity

Introduction to lesson and task:

During the US presidential election campaign of 2016, Republican candidate (and now President) Donald Trump benefitted from leaked confidential emails from his opponent, Democrat Hillary Clinton. Seventeen US intelligence agencies confirmed that Russian operatives were the source of the leaks. Mr. Trump used this leaked information as ammunition against Ms Clinton, which many observers claim had significant negative effects on her campaign. At one point, Mr. Trump also encouraged Russians to hack her emails.

These issues have come to the fore during the early days of Mr. Trump’s presidency, as Democratic and Republican members of Congress and the Senate launch investigations into possible wrongdoing by members of the Trump campaign, and possible by Mr. Trump himself.  As scandals from previous presidencies show, issues that seem relatively small or unimportant initially can become sufficiently grave to provide grounds for censure or even impeachment.

Working in groups, students will review the two articles with the goal of becoming conversant in the key issues and facts around this unfolding investigation. Individual students will record answers to all the questions, as determined in their group.

Action (lesson plan and task):

Engage students in a brief discussion about media reports on the Russia-Trump controversy. Probe students’ beliefs about whether they think Mr. Trump and/or his campaign team was involved or not, and ask them for the reasons for their positions.

Organize your class into groups and provide each group with copies of the articles, as well as this task sheet:

Each member of your group will record the group’s answers to the questions, below. Answer these questions using Adrian Morrow’s article as your source.

  • Describe two key episodes that form the basis of the controversy. Taken together, how might they arouse suspicions about the timing of the email releases?
  • Which intelligence agencies are currently said to be investigating the possibility of Russian connections with the Trump campaign team?
  • Congressional investigations have already been launched. When they are concluded, will their findings be made public? Why might this be important?
  • Why did Mr. Flynn have to resign? How did the White House describe his resignation?
  • Which two laws may have been broken, and how serious are the offences?
  • During the election campaign, Mr. Trump openly called for Russia to hack Mr. Clinton’s emails. Do you think this is sufficient grounds for investigating his possible Russian connections, or do you think he was merely joking? Provide reasons for your answers.

Answer the following questions using Johanna Slater’s article as your source.

  • Describe the Watergate scandal in two sentences. How much time passed between the initial break-in crime and the eventual resignation of President Nixon? Compare the Watergate story with the current scandal. What advantages might Mr. Trump have that Mr. Nixon did not?
  • Describe the Iran-Contra affair in two sentences. Were legal charges made? Against whom? What happened to those charged?
  • What were the actual charges against President Clinton, relative to the “Lewinsky affair”?
  • What lessons should Mr. Trump learn from each of these scandals that might help him weather the current storm?
  • Poll your group to see how many believe Mr. Trump knew or did not know about Russian involvement in the election. Ask for reasons for their positions.
  • Have all your group members prepare to report to class on any of the questions and tasks.

Consolidation of Learning:

  • Individual students report their findings to class, followed by general discussion of the issues.
Success and Additional Learning

Success Criteria:

  • Students can describe, in general terms, the current scandal involving possible Russian involvement in the last US election. They can also list three other presidential scandals from previous administrations and describe them in general terms.

Confirming Activity:

  • Students report to class on the ongoing investigations.