Joanna Slater summarizes developments in the US Justice Department’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 American election.

Getting Started

Appropriate Subject Area(s):

History, social studies, current events

Key Questions to Explore:

  • How is the current US Justice Department investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 US election similar to and different from the Watergate investigation of 1973-74?

New Terminology:

Collusion, incriminating, obstructing, Watergate

Materials Needed:

Globe article, the Internet


Study and Discussion Activity

Introduction to lesson and task:

As news reports from Washington emerge about the current US Justice Department’s investigation into Russian interference in the last election, references are often made to the Watergate scandal of 1972-74. The former now involves high level persons in the Trump Administration, while the president himself has yet to be named as having done anything illegal or wrong. The latter led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon in 1974, halfway through his second term in office.

For a homework assignment, using the task-sheet below, students will produce a two-page report that compares the two investigations. Students can use the article, attached, as an information sheet about the current investigation. You may have a preferred link to information about the Watergate investigation. Wikipedia is recommended, in this case:

Action (lesson plan and task):

Engage students in a short discussion about the current investigation in Washington and about Watergate, from 1972-74. Find out what they know about each investigation, before providing the following assignment.

Task Sheet

  • Write a two-page report, comparing the current investigation into Russian meddling in the recent US election with the Watergate investigation of 1972-74. Address the following questions and tasks:
  • Regarding the current investigation:
    • Who is the chief prosecutor, and what is his mandate and his title?
    • In one paragraph, describe the key concern about the Russian involvement; who has been interviewed by the investigation to date, their position in the Trump Administration to date, and the subject of the interview.
    • Has the president been implicated in the investigation to this point? List reasons, if any, why he might be implicated, given what is known at this point.
    • If collusion is not a crime, what kinds of crimes might have been committed if the allegations of interference are proved to be true? For example, what circumstances could produce a charge of obstruction of justice?
  • Regarding Watergate:
    • Describe the event that set the scandal and subsequent investigation in motion.
    • Did the original Watergate scandal take place before or after Nixon was re-elected in 1972? How large was Nixon’s win that year?
    • Which party controlled the House of Representatives following the 1972 election? Why is this significant relative to the ultimate outcome of the investigation?
    • Who was John Dean and how might he be compared to George Papadopoulos in the current Russian-interference investigation?
    • With what crime was Richard Nixon ultimately to be charged? Was he charged? What happened after the investigation was completed?
  • Compare:
    • List two ways in which the investigations are similar and two in which they are different from each other.
    • If the current investigation reveals that Russia influenced the outcome of the election in favour of Mr. Trump, which of the two investigations would have constituted the greatest potential harm to the US? Give reasons.
    • List two ways Mr. Trump is similar to Mr. Nixon and two ways in which they differ.
    • In your opinion, is the Russia investigation based on “fake news,” or has it been rightfully based on compelling evidence?

Consolidation of Learning:

  • When students have submitted their assignments, discuss their reports with the class.
Success and Additional Learning

Success Criteria:

  • Students can describe key aspects of both investigations.

Confirming Activity:

  • Students report on news about the current investigation underway in Washington.