Perilous for Nixon, Protective for Trump

Then: When the Senate Watergate committee demanded the tapes on which, it would turn out, Nixon discussed the break-in and cover-up, he refused to turn them over. The committee sued — the first time that Congress tested its subpoena power in court against a president’s claim of executive privilege. In May 1974, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit backed up the president, ruling that lawmakers hadn’t shown that the tapes were critical for them to fulfill their investigative or legislative duties.

But Mr. Jaworski, the special prosecutor, also wanted the tapes for his criminal prosecution of White House officials. When his lawsuit reached the Supreme Court, the justices voted unanimously to order Nixon to turn over the tapes. The decision, United States v. Nixon, has become a high-water mark for judicial independence.

Now: The House Intelligence Committee, chaired by Representative Adam Schiff, did not go to court to challenge the president’s defiance of its subpoenas. “We are not willing to let the White House engage us in a lengthy game of rope-a-dope,” Mr. Schiff explained, referring to what undoubtedly would be a long legal battle.

Democrats may also worry about the answer they might get from the Supreme Court, with its five-justice conservative majority. After Mr. Trump nominated Brett Kavanaugh to the court in the summer of 2018, a transcript came to light of the nominee saying in 1999 that “maybe Nixon was wrongly decided.” At his confirmation hearing, Judge Kavanaugh reassured the Senate that the ruling was “one of the greatest moments in American judicial history.” But that view doesn’t bind him.