Guest post by Janice L Blixt.
We are warned that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. For most educated and open-minded people, that’s a dire warning. I would argue a much worse problem are those, without scruples, who do learn from history — but they learn corruptive lessons.
For the past 46 years, because of the quaternary “peaceful passage of power,” the overall policy of the Federal Government has been to let bygones be bygones. We have put all but the most egregious faults in the “difference of opinion” category — we agree to disagree. Even the worst of the worst crimes tend to end up pardoned and forgotten.
Part of the outrage on the left surrounding the 2016 election chant of “Lock Her Up” concerned the fact that Hilary Clinton had committed no crimes (cleared by a parade of partisan investigations). Even more troubling, however, was that fact that in the United States we do not take legal action against our political opponents. Political foes have traditionally been the “loyal opposition” (notwithstanding a few famous 18th and 19th century duels).
Instead, the current POTUS has made it clear that his political foes are actually America’s foes. If a person is an “enemy” to Mr. Trump, they are then deemed an enemy of the state, an enemy of the people, someone worthy of incarceration. This concept goes against our opinion of the US as being a strong country, of a piece of our American exceptionalism. We are not, like tin-pot dictators, in favor of putting our rivals on trial.
This rule is absolutely correct. With our Bill of Rights as the basis for acceptable action, having opposing political views and exercising our rights to run for office are not and should never be infringed or considered criminal. To say they are is to ignore the very soul of our democracy.
However — and this is a big however — the fact remains that over the past 50 years some of our top politicians have engaged in actual criminal actions and conspiracies against our system of government. While bothsidesismers ™ will bring up the Clinton Impeachment (valid impeachment hearings and punishment, no matter the pointlessness of the initial wrongdoing — couldn’t find anything real on Whitewater? Thank goodness the General Counsel had a limitless scope of inquiry and didn’t have Rod Rosenstein limiting the areas of inquiry) and endless pretend Fox News-created scandals against Mr. Obama (Benghazi and Tan Suitgate), neither engaged in the kind of institutionally criminal acts — and coverups — that the past six Republican administrations have, in a constantly escalating manner.
Republicans have learned from history. They’ve learned that rules don’t apply to them so long as they have enablers and the gentle swaddling of governmental “norms” and traditions that delay and deny actual justice.
Unsurprisingly, it begins with Nixon.
In an attempt to assure his reelection in 1972, President Nixon was involved in illegal schemes against his opponent and used the powers of the Presidency unjustly and for personal gain. During the subsequent investigation and hearings in Congress, he obstructed justice — fought tooth and nail against subpoenas — and was complicit in many aspects of the attempted cover-up.
Three official Articles of Impeachment were drawn up against him: Obstruction of Justice, Abuse of Presidential Power, and Contempt of Congress.
Two more were debated. One stated that Nixon had intentionally concealed from Congress “the facts concerning the War in Southeast Asia” and had submitted to Congress “false and misleading statements concerning the existence, scope and nature of American bombing in Cambodia.” Basically, his administration was altering the intelligence services’ reports for his own policy goals. The second was over violations of the emoluments clause through both personal tax malfeasance and enriching himself off the Presidency. These two were not brought to the floor — not for lack of evidence, but to keep the scope of the impeachment narrow and to keep Republican members of the House on board. Democrats in the House knew the Republicans would balk at impeachment over possible war crimes and over financial corruption. Think about that for a moment.
Also take a minute to google ousted Vice-President Spiro Agnew if you’re thinking Mr. Nixon was just one “bad apple.” Again, financial corruption was allowed to be swept under the rug in exchange for his resignation.
In August of 1974, Nixon resigned from office rather than be impeached.
In September of 1974, Gerald Ford, newly sworn in as President of the United States, issued Nixon a full pardon for all crimes he “committed or may have committed or taken part in” as president. The most blanket pardon possible — meaning every illegal act connected to Watergate and election interference, but also any acts concerning war crimes, his treason to get elected the first time by sabotaging the peace talks in Vietnam, and his financial misdeeds were all completely off the table for investigation. Accounts at the time said it was to save the United States from ugly trials and to stop “divisive politics.”
38% of Americans at the time believed Nixon should be pardoned. The rest felt he should stand trial.
Following Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter was President starting in 1977. Feel free to google “Jimmy Carter Presidential Scandals.” Outside the hostage crisis in Iran (not a scandal, per se), there were four judges he nominated to the Federal Bench who didn’t receive hearings and were not renominated by the following Administration, and a briefing book of Carter’s that was stolen and given to the opposition campaign in 1980. That’s it.
The next Republican elected President was Ronald Reagan. In 1981, his administration broke American law and a congressional arms embargo by secretly selling weapons to Iran (remember the hostage crisis?). Later justification of the sale was that it was part of a deal to free seven American hostages being held in Lebanon by Hezbollah, but the seven weren’t taken hostage until after the sales has commenced. This already-illegal program became even more problematic when the proceeds from the secret sales started being used in 1985 to fund the Contras, a right-wing military group fighting against the Socialist Nicaraguan government. This funding was, in itself, illegal as the Boland Amendments, passed by Congress and signed by Reagan, prohibited the federal government from providing military support “for the purpose of overthrowing the Government of Nicaragua.”
In 1986, an investigation began into what became known as “Iran-Contra” — which was greatly impeded when a large portion of the internal government documents and communications between the CIA and members of the administration related to the affair, after having been requested, were destroyed by the Administration before they could be reviewed.
The Tower Report, commissioned by President Reagan, concluded that “Using the Contras as a front, and against international law, and US law, weapons were sold, using Israel as an intermediary, to Iran during the brutal Iran-Iraq War. The US was also supplying weapons to Iraq, including ingredients for nerve gas, mustard gas, and other chemical weapons.”
What Reagan actually knew about this is a subject of debate. The Tower Commission concluded Reagan may have known it was going on, but not that it was illegal (?!) or that he didn’t really know much about it at all. There were also many reports that he was already ailing in his second term, he officially came out with his Alzheimer’s diagnosis in 1994, and that led to the Commission’s odd finding. Investigations did show that, like the Nixon Administration, the Reagan Administration broke American law for the ideology of their policy, ignored Congress when it attempted to curtail their activities, and obstructed justice by destroying documents and ignoring investigative requests and subpoenas.
There were 14 indictments over the crimes of Iran-Contra, 11 convictions. Some were vacated on appeal when the convicts pointed the finger at Reagan. All of the rest were pardoned by the next Republican President, George H.W. Bush, who had been a director of the CIA and, of course, had been Vice President under Reagan. While running for the Presidency in 1988, Bush repeatedly said he was “out of the loop” and knew nothing about Iran-Contra, while, in his diaries, he had written that he was “one of the few people that know fully the details.” Then-Attorney General William P. Barr was the advisor on these pardons.
The Clinton Administration was investigated relentlessly, and in the end there was no evidence of financial malfeasance or governmental corruption. The president lied under oath about having sex with a subordinate — a heinous act for which he was rightly impeached, but one that required no pardons. The only pardon he issued that could be seen as a cover-up of sorts was for Susan McDougal for her role in the Whitewater scandal, which preceded Clinton’s time in the White House. She also had already served her full sentence.
The next Republican presidency was that of George W. Bush. Somehow, perhaps because the current occupant of the Oval Office is so unmitigatingly criminal and disrespectful, there are many who are actually looking back on the GWB Administration as halcyon days. But let’s remember what went on.
We’ll ignore (for brevity’s sake) the behavior of his campaign and lawyers and the Bush v Gore Supreme Court decision to stop counting citizen’s ballots — and that future Chief Justice John Roberts was part of Bush’s Florida team. We’ll likewise forget the close ties GWB had to people like Ken Lay (Enron) and Jack Abramoff (lobbyist) — who were members of the transition team. We won’t dwell on how he pushed through a $1.3 trillion tax cut that vastly favored the wealthy and corporate America, including his own family and cronies.
We’ll instead begin with the world-changing events and how his Administration escalated the Republican habit of ignoring laws that impede their policy goals, ignoring Congress in its Constitutionally-mandated oversight role, ignoring the Constitution itself when it was deemed inconvenient, and bowed to the vast and dreadful, financial and political, “unwarranted influence” of the military industrial complex warned of by President Eisenhower in his farewell address.
Following the terrorist attacks on September 11, Bush immediately asked Richard Clarke, his “Counterterror Czar” to find “any shred of evidence that Iraq was involved.” Odd, since none of the hijackers were Iraqi, while the majority were Saudi. We know now that there were no shreds, but within three weeks of the attack, Kissinger (top advisor to both Nixon and Reagan), Vice President Cheney, and former Speaker Newt Gingrich were demanding the US invade Iraq. Bush was repeatedly briefed by the intel community that Iraq was not involved. Before the end of that September, Bush’s Justice Department lawyer John Yoo declared the Fourth Amendment (the one about probable cause for searches and arrests) “flexible,” writing briefs on how the Bush Administration can use “War Powers” to justify the seizure of American citizens even if it would be “difficult to establish [that they] have been or may be implicated in attacks.”
On October 7th the US and its allies invaded Afghanistan. On October 8th the Department of Homeland Security was established — a rushed and non-transparent attempt to combine all intelligence gathering units under one umbrella and tie them even tighter to the White House and their policy shops. On October 25th, after very little debate and with most Senators later admitting to not actually reading the bill, the USAPATRIOT ACT was passed. Filled with cutbacks to privacy protections guaranteed by the 4thAmendment and due process measures guaranteed by the 5th, 6th, and 14th Amendments, it gave additional powers of surveillance and detention to the Executive Branch while depriving the Judicial Branch of oversight.
By December, VP Cheney was appearing on news shows talking about how there was conclusive evidence Saddam has harbored al-Quada and that one of the hijackers was a known connection to Iraqi intelligence — neither of which were true. By January of 2002, the US was engaged in torture of suspects under the guise of a John Yoo memo citing that the Geneva Convention does not apply to Afghanistan, and Guantanamo Bay was being opened for suspects, untried, to be brought in. Senator Bob Graham testified he was told by a senior commander of Central Command that “we have stopped fighting the war on terror in Afghanistan. We are moving military and intelligence personnel and resources out of Afghanistan to get ready for a future war in Iraq.”
By March we heard yellow-cake lies, centrifuge lies, “Curveball” lies, with Cheney telling CNN that there was proof Saddam Hussein was actively acquiring nuclear weapons. That month the National Terror Alert color-coding system went into effect. The Administration was effectively deciding to not finish the war in Afghanistan — approved and funded by Congress, supported by the American people, and based on unequivocal evidence that Al Quaeda trained and was supported by the repressive Taliban Government. Instead they chose to move on to their war of choice (and Republican policy) to depose Saddam Hussein in Iraq.
In July the Bush Administration took $700 million allocated by Congress to the Afghanistan War and “repurposed” it for an invasion of Iraq. Memos were written (and leaked) about how the war would be paid for by the Iraqi oil revenues and US troops would be greeted as “liberators.” Actual intelligence (and international law) argued these two points were demonstrably untrue. By August, the Administration had hired a full-time “spin team” to gin up the case for war with Iraq in the press, at the same time quashing all intelligence arguing the dishonesty of the “evidence” against Iraq.
Throughout September, White House staffers repeatedly lied to the UN General Assembly, the US Congress, the US Senate, and the American people, faking and misrepresenting intelligence reports to fit their narrative. They succeeded through the help of falsified information, straight out lies, and politicians fearing their positions for reelection if they argued against the Administration’s call for any and all actions to “keep America safe.”
On October 10th, Congress voted to grant Bush the power to go to war. On November 5th, with the Administration trumpeting lies about homegrown Islamic Terrorists and mushroom clouds and sleeper cells, the GOP regained control of Congress.
Each month, from March 2002 to November 2002, the “cost” of the war, according to the Administration, was lowered. By December, the White House was saying between $50 and $60 million dollars. The Iraq War is now estimated to have cost $1.92 trillion dollars. Accurate statistics are hard to find, but at least 20% of that money ($384,000,000,000) went to private military contractors like Halliburton, VP Cheney’s former firm.
While weapons inspectors released their report saying they had no evidence of weapons of mass destruction, throughout January, February, and March of 2003, the Administration continued to lie, upping the stakes for “bioweapons on drones,” ”credible threats to American cities,” and “mobile factories for germ warefare.” In March Joe Wilson, a respected American Diplomat, told CNN that his investigations in Niger about Saddam Hussein trying to buy yellowcake uranium found absolutely nothing and that the White House knew this — at which time the Administration began a campaign to discredit Wilson (led by VP Cheney, Scooter Libby, and Karl Rove) and to out his wife, Valerie Plame, as a CIA Agent, thereby burning an important intelligence asset of the US.
On March 20th, the US started a war with Iraq.
To make the Iraq War happen, the Bush Administration committed constant acts of Abuse of Presidential Power (altering intelligence reports, firing analysts who disagreed with their conclusions, and taking the US to war for a policy choice), lying to Congress, and Obstruction of Justice — derailing any and all fact-finding investigations into Iraq War intelligence.
Estimates range from 650,000 to a million Iraqi deaths during the war and its violent aftermath.
The criminality and conscious deceit continued in the “Homeland” throughout the Iraq War and the rest of the Administration of G.W. Bush. In August of 2005, Hurricane Katrina struck the city of New Orleans, one of the most damaging storms in US History. Having appointed a completely unqualified crony to the position of Head of FEMA, and his Department of Homeland Security being an overblown mess of departments at odds with each other over jurisdiction partially due to the rushed nature of its forming and partially due to a now too-large to work smoothly bureaucracy, Bush received criticism not only for his handling of the situation but for his Administration’s lies and cover-ups over the destruction.
In 2006, the Bush Administration fired seven US Attorneys. A report from the Justice Department’s Inspector General found that the firings were “arbitrary” and the process flawed, while the purpose of the firings was to prevent investigations into Republican politicians and donors and, in two cases, to punish two attorneys who refused warrantless investigations into Democrats in tight races. These firings seem to have opened a new level of corruption for the Bush Administration as they were suddenly able to pick and choose which politicians, donors, and organizations might face criminal charges for illegal acts and which ones would not.
Even worse, the legal system began being used overtly as a weapon against political opponents. Under Bush’s Attorney General Michael Mukasey, DOJ investigators found that the firings were “inappropriately political” but not “inherently criminal” and stopped the investigation after only looking into one of the seven cases, presumably hoping to brush the matter under the proverbial rug. Members of Congress, then investigating the investigation, found that sworn testimony from members of the DOJ was contradicted by internal documents and emails and that Congress was “misled.” On March 20 of 2007, Bush gave a press conference where he said members of his administration would not honor Congressional subpoenas and would not testify. Congress also learned from the White House that emails that had involved official correspondence relating to the firing of attorneys may have been “lost” because they were created and sent on Republican party accounts — not official government accounts — which lead to an investigation on how Karl Rove and other members of the administration were conducting official business by personal email addresses and burner phones so their content would be not be archived or held. These were illegal acts under the rules put in place after Watergate. In the end, some members of the Bush administration resigned. Two, Harriet Miers and Joshua Bolton, had contempt of Congress resolutions passed against them in the House (the Republicans staged a walk-out that day, to the delight of Fox News cameras). Karl Rove resigned without responding to both Senate and House subpoenas — and with a nice job lined up at Fox as a “consultant.”
(Side note: The attorneys’ replacements were made (all of them loyal Bushies) as part of the USAPATRIOT Act)
The Chilcot Report of 2016 — the findings of the official British government investigation into the lead up to the Iraq War — found that Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction, that the “intelligence” claiming he did and that he posed a threat to the US and Europe was presented with “unwarranted certainty,” that the US and the UK undermined the UN in their work for a peaceful outcome, that there was no legal basis for war, and that the war was “unnecessary.” The US Senate Report (“Report of the Select Committee on Intelligence on the US Intelligence Community’s Prewar Intelligence assessments on Iraq”) of 2004 identified numerous intelligence “failures” of over-hyping certain details, ignoring facts that didn’t correlate to the WMD narrative, and “undue pressure” put on analysts by members of the Administration. Notably, the panel, comprised of nine Republicans and six Democrats, refused to take the step to hold the Administration responsible.
The Phase II Report, finally publicly released in 2008, stated that the Bush Administration “repeatedly presented intelligence as fact when in reality it was unsubstantiated, contradicted, or even non-existent. As a result, the American people were led to believe that the threat from Iraq was much greater than actually existed.” The Chairman of the Committee, Jay Rockefeller, twice alleged unlawful activities throughout the Office of the Undersecretary for Defense Policy leading the US into a war of choice, yet with a country exhausted by the wars, a media determined to move on — other than Fox, who spent hours extolling the genius of the Iraq War and the mendacity of Democrats for investigating it, the matter was, basically, put to rest. All of the abuse of power, all of the obstruction of justice, all of the contempt of Congress, all of the Constitutional abuses, and all of the war-profiteering became a matter from which the US “just needed to move on.”
While Mr. Bush and many members of his top Administration have spent the past years trying to transform their images into genial grandpas and “country club compassionate conservatives,” it is vital to remember just how often they broke the law and just how much blood is actually on their hands. During George W. Bush’s administration, 7 of his top aides in the White House were convicted (or pleaded guilty) to Obstruction, Lying to Congress, Perjury, or Conflict of Interest. Scooter Libby, Chief of Staff to VP Cheney, was convicted of Perjury and Obstruction of Justice in regards to the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame. His sentence was commuted by Bush in 2007. He was pardoned in April, 2018.
Which brings us to Donald J. Trump.
The current occupant of the White House is not an intelligent man, a curious man, or an empathetic man. But he can learn. What he has obviously learned in his years in business is lie, delay, obstruct, cheat, and steal, and then cry bankruptcy when needed. What he has learned from observing the Republicans of his lifetime (and through the direct tutelage of Roy Cohn and Roger Stone) is that you can get away with breaking the law repeatedly so long as you have cronies at your back and a set of “norms” in government that prevent your being held accountable.
Robert Mueller decided to follow the “norms” of the Justice Department and follow the notion that a sitting President can’t be indicted — although the Mueller Report practically begs Congress to do something.
To date, seven top Trump advisors have been criminally charged, convicted, or made plea deals. At least 20 members of the Trump campaign, the Trump Administration, or Trump donors have been charged with crimes.
The House impeached Trump, but Republicans in the Senate refused to convict, or even hear from witnesses.
Deny, delay, and blame. “I take no responsibility,” he said recently of the failure to stem the coronavirus. It is, in fact, the most truthful statement he has made in office.
When this Administration leaves office — if they ever do leave office — the United States, her Constitution, and her institutions will have been left deeply wounded. My hope is that there is a giant spreadsheet in someone’s office detailing all of the reform laws that will need to be passed (similar to the Watergate reforms) immediately upon a new Administration. Actual enforcement tools and consequences for violating the Hatch Act, the Emoluments Clause, and Congressional Subpoenas. Cases against politicians and aides violating the rules should be fast-tracked, with immediate rulings within a day by a court designed for oversight of oversight — if the FISA court is constitutional, so should this be. And the consequences for breaking these laws should be significant: years in prison (not weeks), large fines (most of these people at this level of government are very wealthy), and measures that prevent them from serving again in government, on non-profit boards, on publicly traded corporation’s and company’s boards.
We must have lobbying reform, closing the revolving door from the Pentagon to the Military Industrial Complex, from Congressional Staffs to K Street, from the Cabinet to the Corporations benefitting from government procurements, and vice versa. A simple law: 10 years between holding governmental jobs and holding lobbying jobs.
We must have election reform, from election spending to voter suppression, we need to change how we vote in this country so every US citizen of voting age can cast a ballot on election day and have a voice in ending the corruption that is threatening to turn this country into a banana republic.
Most of all, we must end the 50-year tradition of the Executive Branch ignoring the Rule of Law. The Supreme Court, including this current one, has consistently upheld the notion that the President is not above the law. To heal this country, it is imperative that we investigate, convict, and punish the criminalities of this Administration. If for no other reason than that someday, the US people might want to elect a Republican again.
All of the financial irregularities Trump has gotten away with because “he’s rich and money is complicated,” need to be investigated and, if the evidence is there, brought to trial. His elder children, profiting in their business and running their personal “brands” out of the White House, need to be investigated and, if the evidence is there, brought to trial. William Barr, Kellyanne Conway, Mark Meadows, Wilber Ross, Betsy DeVos, Chad Wolf, Mike Pompeo, Elaine Chow (also known as Mrs. Mitch McConnell), Steve Mnuchin — all of them need to be investigated for graft, lying, abuse of power, obstruction of justice, and, if the evidence is there, brought to trial.
We must investigate the enabling of illegal activities, from powerful members of Congress like Mitch McConnell, Lindsey Graham, Devin Nunes, and Jim Jordan to Justice Anthony Kennedy and why he retired soon after his son okayed millions in loans to Trump from Deutsche Bank. There might be nothing there… and I honestly hope there isn’t. But in government, we should hold officials to a higher standard, not a lower, and if there are irregularities or illegalities, the people of this country have a right to know.
Yes, it will appear partisan. But in truth it is patriotic.
Gerald Ford pardoned Richard Nixon, we’re told, to save ugly trials and reduce division within the country. 46 years later, we see it did nothing of the sort. What it did was allow too many politicians to feel impervious when they break the laws at such high levels and sow division and distrust of government. They will always be pardoned for their sins to avoid the hard work of accountability. In the name of unity.
But a country is only as strong as its laws. And law is only as effective as it is respected. If laws do not apply to one side, if there is one law for lawmakers and another for their enemies, then there is no law at all. There is only power, and who holds it. And those who hold power find it far more attractive to do whatever it takes to keep it than to possibly lose it.
No more pardons for criminal acts in office. It is time for “law and order” to apply to the powerful, not just the powerless.
That is how America becomes great again.