Not long after Richard Nixon's operatives were arrested for the Watergate burglary, the Democratic National Committee launched a civil suit against the Republican president. Last week, in a remarkable historical echo, the DNC filed a similar lawsuit against the Russian government, Donald Trump's campaign, and WikiLeaks, alleging they coordinated to disrupt the 2016 campaign.
The judge in the case, as luck would have it, was a former Watergate prosecutor.
Not surprisingly, the president, who's already the subject of a criminal investigation, heard about the civil case, and on Friday afternoon, Trump shared his initial reaction:
"Just heard the Campaign was sued by the Obstructionist Democrats. This can be good news in that we will now counter for the DNC Server that they refused to give to the FBI, the Debbie Wasserman Schultz Servers and Documents held by the Pakistani mystery man and Clinton Emails."
To the extent that reality still has any meaning, nearly all of this was nonsense. The DNC, for example, didn't refuse to cooperate with the FBI. For that matter, DNC officials aren't in Congress, and therefore can't be "obstructionists." (The original version of Trump's tweet also referred to Wendy Wasserman Schultz, instead of Debbie.)
But the words that stood out were, "we will now counter."
Indeed, over the weekend, Trump added, "So funny, the Democrats have sued the Republicans for Winning. Now he R's counter and force them to turn over a treasure trove of material, including Servers and Emails!"
Obviously, the president doesn't write well, and at face value, much of his missive may seem like gibberish, but what he seemed to be trying to say is that he and his party will file some kind of counter-suit, which in turn will lead to a "treasure trove" of materials for the GOP, all of which Trump considers "funny."
It's true that civil suits can produce important materials -- I imagine that's one of the key reasons the DNC filed its case in the first place -- though it's unclear what the president would hope to get out of Democrats. Indeed, I haven't the foggiest idea what he'd consider grounds for such a lawsuit.
More to the point, however, there's no reason to accept Trump's promises about a counter-suit at face value.
Remember when Trump vowed to file lawsuits against the many women who accused him of sexual misconduct? His rhetoric proved hollow. Remember when Trump's lawyers threatened a case against the publisher of "Fire and Fury"? Or when they were prepared to sue CBS News over a Stormy Daniels interview?
Those suits never materialized, either.
Trump and his team have an unfortunate habit of threatening all kinds of litigation, which they have no intention of ever filing. FiveThirtyEight counted the number of times during the 2016 presidential campaign that the Republican threatened to sue various people or organizations, and found 20 separate incidents -- nearly all of which amounted to nothing.
It's possible this time will be different, and the president's lawyers will think of some kind of reason to counter-sue the DNC, but given recent history, it's more likely Trump is just casually throwing around empty threats for no reason -- again.