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Posts Tagged ‘Watergate’

impeachmentEl actual proceso de residenciamiento del Presidente Donald J. Trump ha provocado una serie de interrogantes no sólo políticas, sino también históricas. Debe recordarse que en más de doscientos años de historia de la república estadounidense, esta es la tercera vez que un residente de la Casa Blanca es residenciado (el triste honor lo comparten Adrew Johnson y William J. (Bill) Clinton).

El residenciamento de Trump contiene un elemento innovador, pues las acusaciones en su contra provienen de un informe redactado por un agente de inteligencia, preocupado por el comportamiento del Presidente y sus implicancias para la seguridad nacional de los Estados Unidos. Las denuncias de este whistle-blower (informante) podrían costarle la presidencia al magnate neoyorquino.

En el siguiente texto, la periodista Olivia B. Waxman analiza el origen de esta frase y el papel que han jugado los informantes en la historia estadounidense.


Before the Trump Impeachment Inquiry, These Were American History’s Most Famous Whistle-Blowers

Olivia B. Waxman

The episode that now has President Donald Trump staring down a House impeachment inquiry began, as many important moments in American history have, with a whistle-blower.

A U.S. intelligence official has accused Trump of urging Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to seek out evidence of wrongdoing on the part of former Vice President Joe Biden, the frontrunner to face Trump in the 2020 presidential election. The claim relates to calls that took place in July and August, and the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community Michael Atkinson alerted House Intelligence Committee chair Adam Schiff about the complaint on Sept. 9.

Trump has called the conversation he had with Zelensky a “very friendly and totally appropriate call,” but as Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire testifies before the House Intelligence Committee on Thursday, the whistle-blower’s complaint has been made public — and it will be up to lawmakers to decide if they agree.

Trump-Zelensky

While the whistle-blower’s identity is still not publicly known, he or she has been praised in the court of public opinion. Former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe hailed the decision to bring the complaint as an act of “incredible courage.”

America’s history with whistle-blowers is as old as the country itself, but the popular idea that they are courageous hasn’t meant whistle-blowing isn’t still risky, says Tom Mueller, author of Crisis of Conscience: Whistleblowing in an Age of Fraud, out Oct. 1. And in the intelligence community, where sharing secrets is a loaded idea, whistle-blowing is even more complicated.

The origins of the term “whistle-blower” are murky — one theory holds that it’s a reference to the whistle blown by British policemen when they saw foul play, and another says it’s a sports reference to the whistles blown by referees — but the principle dates back to medieval England by way of Roman law. Central to the existence of whistle-blowers is the concept that sometimes individuals, not governments or law-enforcement, need to be the ones who raise the alarm about wrongdoing.

At a time when there was no national police force, people who noticed transgressions could report them to the King’s representatives, under what was known as the qui tam provision. (That name comes from the phrase Qui tam pro domino rege quam pro se ipso in hac parte sequitur, meaning “He who sues on behalf of our Lord the King and on his own behalf.”) To incentivize this kind of whistle-blowing, and in recognition of the negative social consequences that might come with it, the government made it a lucrative proposition: if a conviction followed, the person who did the reporting got some of the bounty. The earliest known example of the application of qui tam is King Wihtred of Kent’s 695 declaration: “If a freeman works during the forbidden time [i.e., the Sabbath], he shall forfeit his healsfang [i.e., pay a fine in lieu of imprisonment], and the man who informs against him shall have half the fine, and [the profits arising from] the labor.”

Esek Hopkins

Esek Hopkins

These English provisions about whistle-blowing carried over to the British colonies in North America. The federal government, even in its early stages, recognized whistle-blowing and the need to alert Congress as soon as possible about wrongdoings by people working with or for the government. On March 25, 1777, Marine captain John Grannis told the Continental Congress that he and nine other sailors saw the commander-in-chief of the continental navy, Esek Hopkins, treating British prisoners inhumanely aboard the USS Warren, and that the commander would refer to Congress as “a pack of damned fools.” On July 30, 1778, legislation was passed declaring that anyone who served the U.S. had the duty to tell Congress as soon as possible about any “misconduct, frauds or misdemeanors” committed by others in government service.

But the major case that shaped American whistle-blower law came during the Civil War. The rush to outfit the troops for war led to shortages of horses, wool and gunpowder — and a rush for companies to make money by selling shoddy goods to the needy Union Army. New York Congressman and abolitionist Charles H. Van Wyck questioned hundreds of witnesses to such fraud, putting together a report that led to the 1863 passage of the False Claims Act. The law established fines for contractors who cheated that system, and said that a whistle-blower who started a False Claims suit — the person this law termed “a relator” — would get 50% of the money if the case was successful.

“It has this qui tam provision that allows an individual, a private citizen, to become a private attorney general and actually prosecute the case on behalf of the ordinary people,” says Mueller.

The law was nicknamed “Lincoln’s Law” after President Abraham Lincoln said he hoped it would empower a different kind of army of “citizen soldiers,” or whistle-blowers, to keep a watchful eye. This law is still on the books.

Defense contractors succeeded in weakening the False Claims Act during World War II, claiming it would hold up the production of matériel — but during the 1960s and 1970s, as trust in government plummeted, several high-profile whistle-blowers, both within and outside government, reminded Americans just how much of a key role whistle-blowers could play.

Ernest Fitzgerald testified that Lockheed Martin was overcharging the government by billions of dollars. Frank Serpico exposed bribery in the NYPD. Karen Silkwood, who was killed in a car crash en route to deliver documents in the case, exposed hazardous conditions at the Kerr-McGee plutonium plant in Crescent, Okla. Daniel Ellsberg leaked the Pentagon Papers, secret documents revealing that the government was mismanaging the Vietnam War and lying about it, to the New York Times. And of course, the Watergate informant known as “Deep Throat,” Mark Felt, helped bring down Richard Nixon’s presidency.

Mark Felt

Mark Felt

Hollywood movies about whistle-blower cases, such as 1976’s All the President’s Men and Meryl Streep’s 1983 turn in Silkwood, further increased awareness and public respect for whistle-blowers.

Reacting to sweetheart deals being cut between the government and defense contractors at the height of the Cold War, Congress strengthened the False Claims Act in 1986. Penalties for making false claims were increased, requiring offenders to pay triple what they overcharged the Treasury. Since then, over $60 billion in ill-gotten tax dollars have been returned to the Treasury via whistle-blower complaints filed through the law.

While the False Claims Act mostly pertains to people in the private sector who work with the government, it’s been more complicated for people in the intelligence and national security field to come forward. The Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protections Act of 1998 established the process that the whistle-blower who raised concerns about Trump’s call with the Ukrainian president went through, in that he filed a complaint that was routed to the U.S. Inspector General’s office.

However, despite having “protections” in the name, people who work at national security agencies who have gone through this process have not always felt as if this process is a secure one for them. For example, in 2002, Tom Drake and Bill Binney were part of a group that reported to the Inspector General’s office concerns that government efforts to monitor Americans’ Internet activity would invade their privacy. When news came out related to their allegations, the FBI raided their houses.

Tom Mueller interviewed about 200 whistle-blowers for his book and found that the “overwhelming majority” haven’t been able to work again because they were blackballed in their industries; perhaps the most famous recent American whistle-blower, Edward Snowden, is still in exile in Moscow. “It’s career suicide,” he says, arguing the treatment of whistle-blowers in real life is more of how society views them, versus the praise they receive at a distance or on a screen. He argues there’s a two-faced attitude towards whistle-blowers in American society.

“We have a completely dual attitude,” he says. “We applaud them in the theater but we go home and allow industries and governments to destroy them, their careers, their health, their lives.”

And yet their influence is undeniable.

Cynthia Cooper

Cynthia Cooper

TIME made three whistle-blowers Person of the Year for 2002 — WorldCom accountant Cynthia Cooper and Enron executive Sherron Watkins for exposing corporate fraud, and FBI agent Coleen Rowley for her memo to then FBI Director Robert Mueller about the mishandling of security threat warnings before 9/11 — for risking everything “to bring us badly needed word of trouble inside crucial institutions” and because they believed that the truth is one thing that must not be moved off the books, and for stepping in to make sure that it wasn’t.”

“We shouldn’t need a special word, some weird legal status, for doing the right thing, for doing our jobs. The fact that we have that [term] is a bad sign. Whistle-blowing is democracy,” Tom Mueller says. “It’s freedom of speech. It’s independence of conscience — the kinds of things the framers had in mind.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Saturday Night Massacre

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The Most Dangerous Man in America” 
The Fall of Richard Nixon
By Tim Weiner

TomDisptach.com   July 14, 2015

[This essay has been adapted from chapters 1 and 22 of Tim Weiner’s new book, One Man Against the World: The Tragedy of Richard Nixon, with the kind permission of Henry Holt and Company.]

Richard Nixon saw himself as a great statesman, a giant for the ages, a general who could command the globe, a master of war, not merely the leader of the free world but “the world leader.” Yet he was addicted to the gutter politics that ruined him. He was — as an English earl once said of the warlord Oliver Cromwell — “a great, bad man.”

In Nixon’s first State of the Union speech, he said that he was possessed by “an indefinable spirit — the lift of a driving dream which has made America, from its beginning, the hope of the world.” He promised the American people “the best chance since World War II to enjoy a generation of uninterrupted peace.”

But Richard Nixon was never at peace. A darker spirit animated him — malevolent and violent, driven by anger and an insatiable appetite for revenge. At his worst he stood on the brink of madness. He thought the world was against him. He saw enemies everywhere. His greatness became an arrogant grandeur.

By experience deeply suspicious, by instinct incurably deceptive, he was branded by an indelible epithet: Tricky Dick. No less a man than Martin Luther King Jr. saw a glimpse of the monster beneath the veneer the first time they met, when King was the rising leader of the civil rights movement. “Nixon has a genius for convincing one that he is sincere,” King wrote in 1958. “If Richard Nixon is not sincere, he is the most dangerous man in America.”

Unscrambling the Whole Omelet

That spring was a dark season for Richard Nixon. Each week brought deluges of bad news. The downpours turned to floods, and the rising torrents slowly eroded the stone wall surrounding the White House. The wars of Watergate consumed every waking moment.

Vietnam had found its successor,” Nixon wrote, underscoring every word.

Friday, April 13, 1973: The president’s legal counsel John Dean relayed inside information from federal prosecutors to the White House, and his news was dismal, befitting the day. Dean had served as a kind of human switchboard in the cover-up, conferring with every central participant. Now he was using his lawyers to winkle information out of federal investigators, even as he dangled a promise of becoming a witness for the prosecutors.

Watergate burglary overseer Howard Hunt was set to appear Monday afternoon before the Watergate grand jury; he had blackmailed the White House by threatening to reveal “seamy stories,” and he knew several. Up next was deputy director of the Committee for the Re-Election of the President Jeb Stuart Magruder, whose will to continue committing perjury was weakening. If Magruder testified truthfully, he could incriminate John Mitchell — the “Big Enchilada,” as adviser John Ehrlichman called him, the nation’s chief law enforcement officer from 1969 to 1972, and of late the president’s raiser of hush money. And if Mitchell were indicted, “that’s the ball game,” Nixon said.

Saturday, April 14: Nixon spent seven hours strategizing with key advisers H.R. Haldeman and Ehrlichman, talking until midnight. They started by speculating about what Hunt might say to the prosecutors. “Question: Is Hunt prepared to talk on other activities he engaged in?” Nixon asked. These included breaking into Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office, forging diplomatic cables implicating JFK in the assassination of South Vietnam’s president, and being paid for his silence at trial. The demands for money in exchange for silence had not ceased; Nixon, Haldeman, and Ehrlichman discussed how to smuggle more than $300,000 in cash out of the White House and into the hands of the convicted burglars.

“Hunt’s testimony on hush money,” Nixon said, could lead prosecutors to the president’s doorstep. They wrestled with the implications of Magruder’s testimony. Ehrlichman composed an imaginary magazine story: “The White House’s main effort to cover up finally collapsed last week when the grand jury indicted John Mitchell and Jeb Magruder… The White House press secretary, Ron Ziegler, said the White House would have no comment.” The president moaned like a wounded man.

Magruder had just pointed a dagger close to the heart of the White House. “I’m going to plead guilty” and testify for the prosecution, he told Haldeman, who taped their telephone conversation. Magruder had implicated John Mitchell that day in an informal conversation with federal investigators. “I am in a terrible position because I committed perjury so many times” in the Watergate case and the cover-up. He couldn’t take it anymore, he said, and he had to seek absolution. Nixon, Haldeman, and Ehrlichman had arrived at a moment of truth — or falsehood. The Watergate break-in was one problem. The greater danger was the cover-up and the peril it posed to the president if it began coming apart.

“There were eight or ten people around here who knew about this,” Ehrlichman said. “Bob knew. I knew.”

Then Nixon said — as if unconscious of his rolling tapes — “Well, I knew.” He was acutely aware that he was doomed if Dean testified about the cancer on his presidency and the million-dollar cure.

Haldeman: “If Dean testifies, it’s going to unscramble the whole omelet.”

Ehrlichman: “Dean seems to think that everybody in the place is going to get indicted” — referring to himself as well as Mitchell, Haldeman, Colson, and 10 more prominent presidential appointees — on charges including “paying the defendants for the purposes of keeping them, quote, on the reservation, unquote.”

Nixon: “They could try to tie you and Bob into a conspiracy to obstruct justice.”

As night fell, Dean returned from the Justice Department to deliver more startling news to the White House: that afternoon, Haldeman and Ehrlichman had become targets of the federal grand jury. Now no one could predict how far up the chain of command the criminal case could climb.

Ehrlichman, who recently had started taping his own telephone conversations, called Mitchell’s successor, Attorney General Richard Kleindienst. He began by saying he had spent the day with the president and had made some phone calls on his behalf.

“Ehrlichman: The first one I talked to was your predecessor. Then I talked to Magruder… He has decided to come clean.

Kleindienst: No kidding?… Inconsistent with his testimony before the grand jury?

Ehrlichman: Dramatically inconsistent.

Kleindienst: Holy shit!

Ehrlichman: And he implicates everybody in all directions up and down the Committee to Re-Elect.

Kleindienst: Mitchell?

Ehrlichman: Yep, cold turkey.”

“John,” the attorney general said, giving truly gratuitous legal advice, “it seems to me that you are going to have to be very careful.”

“He Reveled in It, He Groveled in It” 

The mercurial Al Haig, promoted from colonel to four-star general by Nixon, was the new Haldeman and Ehrlichman — the president’s chief of staff and palace guard. He was the only man Nixon could depend upon in his time of crisis. The Senate Watergate Hearings were set to begin in 17 days — and the president had no counsel, no one in official command at the FBI or the Justice Department, and only Haig to trust.

Then another general — Vernon Walters, the president’s handpicked deputy director of central intelligence, a man of impeccable discretion who had worked with Nixon since 1958 — delivered a set of documents to Haig. Copies would soon be in the hands of senators and Watergate investigators.

These scrupulously maintained memoranda of conversations, memcons for short, detailed the meetings among Walters, Haldeman, and Ehrlichman during the days immediately after the Watergate break-in. They described the orders from the White House to use the CIA to turn off the FBI’s investigation with a spurious assertion of national security.

May 11th became judgment day at the White House. First Haig read the memcons. They were devastating. One passage said: “It was the President’s wish that Walters call on Acting FBI Director Gray and… suggest that the investigation not be pushed further.”

Haig immediately called Nixon at Camp David. “It will be very embarrassing,” Nixon said. “It’ll indicate that we tried to cover up with the CIA.” In a second telephone call, the president put it more bluntly: “If you read the cold print it looks terrible… I just don’t want him to go in and say look, they called us in and tried to fix the case and we wouldn’t do it.” Nixon wrote in his memoirs: “One of the things that made the memcons so troublesome was that Walters was one of my old friends; he would not have contrived them to hurt me. In addition, his photographic memory was renowned, and he was universally respected as a scrupulous and honest man.”

That same morning, page-one stories described the White House wiretaps Nixon and Kissinger had placed on presidential aides and prominent reporters starting in 1969. Kissinger, who was expecting to be appointed secretary of state, brazenly denied that he had chosen the wiretap targets among his NSC staff and national security reporters; he implied he was only following orders. Nixon shouted: “Henry ordered the whole goddamn thing… He read every one of those taps… he reveled in it, he groveled it, he wallowed in it.

That same day’s newspapers reported that the federal judge presiding over the espionage trial of Daniel Ellsberg in the Pentagon Papers case had dismissed the charges on grounds of government misconduct. Belatedly, the Justice Department, as required under law, had disclosed the misconduct — a warrantless White House wiretap recording Ellsberg, and the Plumbers’ break-in at Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office.

The Pentagon Papers case was a total loss for the president: Ellsberg went free and the New York Times won a Pulitzer Prize. Nixon was embittered.

“Doesn’t the president of the United States have the responsibility to conduct an investigation with regard to leaks in the goddamn place?” Nixon argued to Haig on May 11th, regarding the wiretaps. “I got to go to the court to ask them? Screw the court.” The court begged to differ.

John Mitchell publicly denied signing the wiretap authorizations. Nixon had a one-word response to that: “Bullshit.” He was right about that. But that same afternoon, FBI agents had wrung a modicum of truth from Mitchell.

He confessed that the taps were part of “a dangerous game we were playing.” He also told them where transcripts of the wiretaps might be found: in the White House safe of John Ehrlichman. The acting FBI director William Ruckelshaus recalled: “An FBI agent, sent by me to the White House to guard those records and others in Ehrlichman’s office, was badly shaken when the president of the United States seized his lapels and asked him what he was doing there.” He was upholding the law of the land — and helping to make a case against the president of the United States.

Nixon saw no alternative but to fight to keep these documents secret. “Good god, if we were going to stonewall executive privilege and a lot of other things we can sure as hell stonewall this,” he told Haig on May 12th.

How they were going to stonewall the Huston Plan was another question. Nixon had endorsed every kind of government spying on Americans — opening their mail, bugging their phones, breaking into their homes and offices — until J. Edgar Hoover himself killed the program. John Dean had placed a copy of the incendiary plan in a safe-deposit box and given the key to Judge Sirica. He intended to turn the copy over to the Senate Watergate Committee.

Nixon’s constant refrain had been contempt for court rulings on wiretapping, break-ins, any aspect of “the national security thing.” Nixon insisted: “I’m going to defend the bugging. I’m going to defend the Plumbers [and] fight right through to the finish on the son of a bitch.” But when he thought about people actually reading the patently illegal Huston Plan, he changed his tune. “The bad thing is that the president approved burglaries,” Nixon said on May 17th; he could be perceived as “a repressive fascist.”

The tension at the White House was unbearable. With the Watergate hearings days away, Nixon screamed at his underlings as he schemed to save his presidency. Ziegler cautioned him to stay calm: “If we allow ourselves to be consumed by this — ”

“– We’ll destroy ourselves,” the president said.

Tim Weiner is the author of five books. Legacy of Ashes, his history of the CIA, won the National Book Award. His journalism on secret government programs received the Pulitzer Prize for national reporting. He directs the Carey Institute’s nonfiction residency program and teaches as an Anschutz Distinguished Fellow in American Studies at Princeton. This essay is adapted from his new book, One Man Against the World: The Tragedy of Richard Nixon (Henry Holt and Company). 

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America’s conspiracy mania: Why Ebola and 9/11 truthers reflect a tortured history

From 9/11 to McCarthyism, we have a long history of conspiracy theories — and government acts have encouraged them

Salon. com  November 3, 2014

America's conspiracy mania: Why Ebola and 9/11 truthers reflect a tortured history

(Credit: AP/Seth Wenig/Bridget Besaw Gorman)

Hey, did you hear that President Obama purposefully allowed Ebola to enter the United States so America will be more like Africa?

That’s what conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly said earlier this month, after the first Ebola case reached our shores. In the darker corners of the Internet, others suggested that Obama was spreading Ebola to justify the imposition of martial law; still others charged that government health officials had conspired with pharmaceutical companies to foster the disease and then to hawk a vaccine to cure it.

How could anyone believe that our government would plot to harm its own citizens? Because it’s happened before. Over the past century, the American federal government has repeatedly conspired against the people who elect it. And that’s why so many people suspect that the same thing is happening now.

From 1932 until 1972, the U.S. Public Health Service denied potentially lifesaving treatment to syphilitic African-American men as part of a study of their disease. And starting in the 1950s, the Central Intelligence Agency secretly tested LSD and other drugs on psychiatric patients. It also hired prostitutes to lure unwitting patrons to CIA safe houses, where the agency slipped LSD into their drinks and observed their reactions.

Meanwhile, the CIA and the Federal Bureau of Investigation illegally wiretapped and harassed thousands of civil rights and antiwar activists, including Martin Luther King Jr. The FBI even sent a tape recording of King making love with one of his mistresses to his office, where the package was opened by his wife.

Then came Watergate, when President Richard Nixon and his aides conspired to spy on their political enemies and then conspired to cover all of it up. And the 1980s brought the Iran-Contra conspiracy, in which federal officials sold arms to Iran and illegally funneled the profits to rebels in Nicaragua.

And when the government wasn’t conspiring against Americans, it was spreading false conspiracy theories of its own. The great master of the genre was Sen. Joseph McCarthy, who blamed the Yalta accords, the Soviet hydrogen bomb, and the Communist takeover of China on “Reds” inside America. Indeed, McCarthy charged, the so-called fall of China reflected “a conspiracy so immense as to dwarf any previous such venture in the history of man.”

Yes, a small handful of duplicitous Americans passed atomic secrets to the Soviet Union. But the idea of a vast Communist conspiracy within the United States was itself a lie, hatched by McCarthy and others to whip Americans into a frenzy of fear.

To combat accusations of his own conspiratorial activities, meanwhile, Nixon spread false conspiracies about his predecessors. One Nixon aide faked a cable implicating John F. Kennedy in the murder of South Vietnamese leader Ngo Dinh Diem, then leaked it to the press.

In the wake of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, finally, the George W. Bush administration invented a conspiracy between the hijackers and Saddam Hussein. Just hours after the attacks Bush instructed counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke to investigate Saddam’s role in them, turning aside Clarke’s protests that “al Qaeda did this.” Then Vice President Dick Cheney went on television to declare that 9/11 ringleader Mohammed Atta had met with Iraqi intelligence officials in Prague several months before the attack, even though FBI agents found records indicating that Atta was in the United States around that time.

No wonder that over one-third of surveyed Americans in 2006 said that the Bush administration had either planned the 9/11 attacks or knew about them beforehand and did nothing to stop them. And after so many years of government conspiracies, real and invented, no one should be surprised when Americans announce that Ebola, too, is a plot by their government.

Let’s be clear: There is no evidence whatsoever for the claims about President Obama spreading Ebola. The people who spread these lies are reprehensible demagogues, and we should do everything that we can to expose them as such.

But we should also keep challenging government secrecy and duplicity, which provide a fertile ground for conspiracy theorists of every stripe. After last year’s revelations that the government was secretly collecting phone records of millions of Americans, whether they were suspected of a crime or not, many Americans got a bit more suspicious of their government. Didn’t you?

When the government creates conspiracies, it encourages the rest of us to do the same. But if it’s transparent, we’re more likely to trust it.

Jonathan Zimmerman is a professor of education and history at New York University. He is the author of Small Wonder: The Little Red Schoolhouse in History and Memory and three other books.

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Watergate’s most lasting sin: Gerald Ford, Richard Nixon, and the pardon that made us all cynics

Rick Perlstein

Salon.com   September 8, 2014

Ronald Reagan, left, Richard Nixon, and Gerald Ford, far right, pose with George Bush in the Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace in 1990. (AP Photo/Barry Thumma) (Credit: Associated Press)

Ronald Reagan, left, Richard Nixon, and Gerald Ford, far right, pose with George Bush in the Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace in 1990. (AP Photo/Barry Thumma) (Credit: Associated Press)

When you’ve published a book about Watergate, your phone rings off the hook in the days leading up to Aug. 9, 2014, the 40th anniversary of Richard Nixon’s resignation. But my phone’s been quiet this week — even though the event that took place almost exactly one month later, on Sept. 8, 1974, is the one that really changed the world. It’s still changing the world 40 years later.

Gerald Ford had announced upon acceding to the highest office in the land, “Our Constitution works; our great republic is a government of laws and not men. Here the people rule.” For the sentiment, he reaped a harvest of gratitude. The very existence of this new presidency, everyone said, proved that “the system worked.”

Then, four Sundays later, 11:05 a.m., when many Americans would have, like Ford, just returned from church — in the mood, he hoped, for mercy — Ford proceeded to read, then sign, a proclamation announcing that pursuant to Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution, he was granting “a full, free, and absolute pardon unto Richard Nixon for all offenses against the United States which he, Richard Nixon, committed or may have committed or taken part in during the period from January 20 through August 9, 1974.”

It was an enormously unpopular act. Ford’s approval rating declined from 71 to 49 percent, the most precipitous in history. This pardon was proof, the people said, that the system didn’t work — America was still crooked. Suspicions were widespread that it was the fruit of a dirty deal between Nixon and Ford: the presidency in exchange for the pardon. “The son of a bitch pardoned the son of a bitch,” was how Carl Bernstein broke the news Bob Woodward on the phone.

Since then, judgment on the pardon has reversed 180 degrees. First Woodward, then Bernstein, came to conclude there had been no deal, and that this was instead an extraordinarily noble act: Ford “realized intuitively that the country had to get beyond Nixon.” After Ford died in 2006, Peggy Noonan went even further. She said Ford “threw himself on a grenade to protect the country from shame.”

They’re wrong. For political elites took away a dangerous lesson from the Ford pardon — our true shame: All it takes is the incantation of magic words like “stability” and “confidence” and “consensus” in order to inure yourself from accountability for just about any malfeasance

In 1975 the Senate and House empaneled committees to investigate the CIA, FBI and, later, the NSA after it was discovered these agencies had operated unethically and illegally. The House committee, under Rep. Otis Pike, who died last year in obscurity, discovered not merely that the CIA was out of control, but that it was incompetent — for instance, predicting Mideast peace the week before the Yom Kippur War broke out. Frank Church’s Senate committee, meanwhile, proved the NSA was illegally gathering the telegraph traffic of American citizens, without even top executives of the telegraph companies being aware of it.

But, in the spirit of the Nixon pardon, the idea of holding elite institutions to reckoning had fallen out of favor. At the height of the intelligence investigations Washington Post’s publisher Katharine Graham complained of the media’s tendency to “see a conspiracy and cover-up in everything.” Sen. J. William Fulbright said “these are not the kind of truths we need most right now,” that the nation demanded “restored stability and confidence” instead. The CIA had no trouble promptly drumming up a disingenuous propaganda campaign that all but neutered reform. And, 39 years later, these institutions are still largely broken, and still almost entirely unaccountable.

Follow the thread a little more than a decade later. Ronald Reagan’s administration contravened law and its own solemn pledges by selling hundreds of thousands of missiles to Iran in an attempt to free hostages held in Lebanon. The president’s own diaries revealed that he approved the action; he lied about that in a press conference. The deal didn’t even work; Hezbollah just took more hostages. Then profits were diverted to the Nicaraguan Contras in direct violation of congressional statute. But instead of a Watergate-style Senate investigation (the one in 1973 heard witnesses live on TV for over five months and produced 26 volumes of reports), Iran-Contra was investigated by a panel convened by Reagan himself and led by a political ally, Sen. John Tower; at subsequent congressional hearings, deliberately limited in scope, the star witness, Oliver North, testifying under immunity, bragged of destroying thousands of pages of evidence.

Six administration officials, including former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, were indicted by a special prosecutor. But one month before leaving office, President George H.W. Bush — who did not testify in congressional hearings about his own involvement in the affair as vice president, because the Democratic chairman, Sen. Daniel Inouye, wished to spare him embarrassment — pardoned them all.

Just like 40 years ago today, a longing for consensus over messy conflict, for elite comity instead of accountability, “stability and confidence” instead of justice, trumped all.

Meanwhile, the congressional minority report on Iran-Contra, drafted by then-Rep. Richard Cheney, all but rejected the very notion of congressional oversight over the executive branch — and Cheney, as George W. Bush’s vice president, literally took Iran-Contra as the subject for a “lessons learned” workshop on how to put such a foreign policy into practice.

Note, of course, that Cheney had once been top deputy in Gerald Ford’s White House. The Nixon pardon had to have been a lesson learned for him, too — future administrations would let the Bush administration get away with things like illegally spying on Americans, and starting a war on false pretenses, scot-free. And he was right: Following his 2008 election, President Obama announced “that we need to look forward as opposed to looking backward.”

Comity over accountability. Denialism instead of risking national “shame.” In 2001, the John F. Kennedy Library awarded Ford its Profile in Courage award for the pardon decision. But the idea that “too big to fail” institutions are too fragile to handle honest reckoning with the truth is not courage. It is civic cowardice. Better, much better, that we keep the faith: that our Constitution can work, that our great republic is a government of laws and not men, and that here, the people rule.

Rick Perlstein is the author of “The Invisible Bridge,” “Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America” and “Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus”

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The Two Legacies of Richard Nixon that Shaped the Modern Republican Party

HNN    August 17, 2014

 

The fortieth anniversary of Richard Nixon’s resignation from the presidency last week passed without much attention to the question of the former president’s historical significance and his role in the history of the modern Republican party. Twenty years after his death, it is apparent that Nixon shaped the political world in which we now live, and the last fifty years of the twentieth century are properly seen as The Age of Nixon. In race relations and the fundamental beliefs of the modern Republican party, Nixon was a more consequential historical figure than Ronald Reagan.

In the 1950s, Nixon was sympathetic to African-American aspirations and was someone who impressed Martin Luther King with his understanding of the civil rights impulse. The 1960 election changed all that as black voters helped put John Kennedy in the White House. Convinced that the election had been stolen from him, Nixon said of African-American support of Democrats, “it’s a bought vote and it isn’t bought by civil rights.” From there, even though his administration enforced civil rights laws, it was a short step to the Southern Strategy that turned the states of the Confederacy from Democratic to Republican over the next three decades.  Nixon, through aides like Pat Buchanan, reinforced the Republican commitment to white voters that underpins so much of the Republican opposition to President Obama.

As Nixon told a friend after the 1960 election, “we won, but they stole it from us.”  Contrary to the portrait of patriotic self-denial and deference to the election of John F. Kennedy that Nixon later proffered, he and the Republicans were quite prepared to contest Kennedy’s success until they knew there was no case that would withstand scrutiny. Yet the lesson that Nixon took away from 1960 was not that politics was like war, in which victory justifies all.

In that insight lay the roots of Watergate. Presidents could not, in Nixon’s mind commit illegal acts. Faced with a Democratic Party whose tactics impaired its dubious legitimacy, the Republicans should stop at nothing to achieve and maintain power. Entering the White House in January 1969, Nixon saw himself surrounded by enemies bent on his political annihilation. It was only right in such a dangerous political environment to meet fire with fire, criminality with criminality, dirty tricks with similar tactics.

The Watergate generation saw in Nixon’s methods violations of the Constitution that led to his resignation. But in time the assumption grew among Republicans that Nixon had been right all along. Nixon might believe that Democrats had more fun than Republicans did, and for a time he toyed with the idea of a new political party. In that he emulated Dwight D. Eisenhower and Modern Republicanism. Yet in his heart of hearts Nixon believed that the Democrats were the Other in American politics, a criminal enterprise that abused the rules of partisan behavior for selfish ends. They did not deserve fair play, which was only for suckers in public life.

The lesson stuck. Watergate had not been a moment of constitutional truth. Impeachment was a tactic that Republicans could deploy, first against Bill Clinton, and now against President Obama. Nixon taught that only Republicans had a true commitment to American values and therefore the only viable and defensive claim on fundamental legitimacy in American life. In the universe of Richard Nixon, only the winning side had the luxury of moral values. Commitment to democratic practices was only a sham that the true political sophisticates adhered to only at their peril. His disciples abound. They restrict voting of minorities, they filibuster everything, they gerrymander with abandon, they deny medical care even though people die as a result.

Nixon famously invoked a sign he had seen while campaigning, “Bring us together,” it read. It made for good rhetoric, but in his career he was the architect of two policies that are still tearing the country apart. His belief that politics is actually war demands perpetual battle with unconditional surrender as the only sensible goal at hand, whereas his fealty to the southern strategy, which dictates the exclusion of fast-growing minorities, questions the very survivability of his own party. These are the dilemmas that the United States now contemplates as it ponders the legacy of Richard Milhous Nixon.

Lewis L. Gould, visiting distinguished professor at Monmouth College, is the author of “The Republicans: A History of the Grand Old Party,” which the Oxford University Press will publish next month.

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Why Pardoning Nixon Wasn’t Good for America

HNN  August 8, 2014

This excerpt was adapted from the foreword to Smoking Gun, The Nation on Watergate, 1952 – 2010 (eBookNation, August 4, 2014), written by former US Representative Elizabeth Holtzman. The former Congresswoman served on the House Judiciary Committee and voted to impeach Nixon; you can download the new e-book, a unique real-time history from the pages of The Nation magazine on the rise and fall of Richard Nixon — and the consequences for American democracy — to read instantly on your tablet, e-reader, smartphone or computer. It is also available as a paperback (coming October 2014).

 

If Watergate is a story of accountability, President Gerald Ford’s pardon of Nixon is a story of presidential immunity. Here The Nation was especially spot-on, comprehending the sinister significance of the pardon right from the start.

Issued before any prosecution of Nixon had commenced, and without any acknowledgment of guilt on Nixon’s part, Ford’s pardon created a dual system of justice—one for ordinary Americans and another for the President. (Ford’s excuse that Nixon had “suffered enough” could have been applied, of course, to any person whose criminal activities had been exposed.) Unlike its persistence in tackling Watergate, Congress backed away from any serious investigation of the pardon. We will thus probably never know whether Nixon and his lieutenant Ford made a secret deal over the pardon—-in which Nixon would resign promptly and Ford would pardon him, not only shielding the President from prosecution, but limiting the Republican Party’s electoral losses at the polls in November.

Sadly, Watergate did not deter other Presidents from abusing their power. From Ronald Reagan and the Iran/Contra scandal to the present, Presidents have used the mantra of national security to ignore the Constitution. Worse, Ford’s pardon has grown into a principle of impunity for Presidents. It is not simply that Presidents are now viewed as safe from prosecution; they cannot even be investigated. No investigation has examined the presidential deceptions that drove us into the Iraq War, or the presidential authorizations of warrantless wiretapping in violation of law, or the possible criminal liability of former President George W. Bush and other top administration officials for violating laws on torture. Neither Congress nor the courts have taken the Watergate example to heart and stood firmly against presidential crimes or serious misconduct. Instead of remembering that Nixon cynically invoked “national security” to conceal ordinary crimes having nothing to do with the country’s welfare, they cower at the term, allowing Presidents to broaden their powers enormously.

Lack of government accountability runs directly contrary to the Constitution. The framers understood the threat that a strong executive would pose to our democracy; they knew because they had themselves overthrown a king and were careful students of history. To preserve our democracy, we need to rediscover the meaning of presidential accountability. One good way to start is to understand what went right—and wrong—in Watergate. For that effort, this volume of The Nation’s coverage of the subject is a useful resource.

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