New Developments in the U.S. Attorney Controversy: Why Bush Refuses to Allow Karl Rove and Harriet Miers to Testify Before Congress, and What Role New White House Counsel Fred Fielding May PlayWhile many Bush abuses may be more ominous from a Constitutional standpoint, a partisan, wholesale firing of US attorneys summons a lot of bad memories. Most notably Nixon's Saturday Night Massacre. Nixon ordered Attorney General Elliot L. Richardson to fire Watergate Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox. When Richardson refused, Nixon fired Richardson, tapping Solicitor General Robert H. Bork to do the dirty deed.Nixon abolished the office of the special prosecutor and turned over to the Justice Department the entire responsibility for further investigation and prosecution of suspects and defendants in Watergate and related cases. It was then that we understood the degree to which Nixon was guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors. It was then that his fate was sealed. Eventually, the task of prosecuting Watergate fell to a Texan -Leon Jaworski of Houston:
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In July 1974 he argued the case of United States v. Nixon before the United States Supreme Court and won a unanimous decision ordering President Richard Nixon to turn over to the district court magnetic audio tapes that implicated him and members of his staff in a conspiracy to obstruct justice. Shortly thereafter, President Nixon resigned from office. Jaworski published his account of the Watergate prosecution as The Right and the Power (1976).Watergate is memorable for its Orwellian use of phrases like executive privilege. It is more reasonable to assert that executive privilege is a mere fiction, invented by presidents to enhance their power. The process began with George Washington:
The Constitution nowhere expressly mentions executive privilege. Presidents have long claimed, however, that the constitutional principle of separation of powers implies that the Executive Branch has a privilege to resist certain encroachments by Congress and the judiciary, including some requests for information.Executives will continue to raise the issue. When the right wing has packed the court, it will raise the issue yet again, hoping that a friendly court will give an ambitious, would-be dictator a favorable ruling on the issue of executive privilege.
For example, in 1796, President Washington refused to comply with a request by the House of Representatives for documents relating to the negotiation of the then-recently adopted Jay Treaty with England. The Senate alone plays a role in the ratification of treaties, Washington reasoned, and therefore the House had no legitimate claim to the material. Accordingly, Washington provided the documents to the Senate but not the House.
Eleven years later, the issue of executive privilege arose in court. Counsel for Aaron Burr, on trial for treason, asked the court to issue a subpoena duces tecum--an order requiring the production of documents and other tangible items--against President Thomas Jefferson, who, it was thought, had in his possession a letter exonerating Burr.
After hearing several days of argument on the issue, Chief Justice John Marshall issued the order commanding Jefferson to produce the letter. Marshall observed that the Sixth Amendment right of an accused to compulsory process contains no exception for the President, nor could such an exception be found in the law of evidence. In response to the government's suggestion that disclosure of the letter would endanger public safety, Marshall concluded that, if true, this claim could furnish a reason for withholding it, but that the court, rather than the Executive Branch alone, was entitled to make the public safety determination after examining the letter.
-A Brief History of Executive Privilege from George Washington through Dick Cheney, Michael Dorf, Findlaw
In the meantime, the recent scandals remind us that the legacy of Watergate is but the latest in some three decades of GOP corruption, lies, and incompetent mismanagement.
Alas, the lessons that we thought had been learned by Watergate were not learned by the GOP. The GOP learned all the wrong lessons. The GOP learned how not to get caught. Reagan was more successful in hushing it all up than was Nixon. Though it is fondly remembered by the GOP faithful, the Reagan administration put the Nixon White House in the shade. If you are truly concerned about Iran's alleged nuclear weapons program, then you must surely remember that it was Ronald Reagan who armed Iran in a convoluted plan to arm and finance the "contras" in Nicaragua. Arming an avowed enemy of the United States is treason.
Was Reagan himself involved? I believe he was and so did Lawrence Walsh, the special prosecutor charged with investigating what must surely have been a case of high treason:
The underlying facts of Iran/contra are that, regardless of criminality, President Reagan, the secretary of state, the secretary of defense, and the director of central intelligence and their necessary assistants committed themselves, however reluctantly, to two programs contrary to congressional policy and contrary to national policy. They skirted the law, some of them broke the law, and almost all of them tried to cover up the President's willful activities.
-Lawrence Walsh, Concluding Observations, Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters
The lessons of Watergate were not learned by the GOP. Think of it -with the possible exception of Gerald Ford, a light weight -every Republican President since Richard Nixon has been either a crook or a liar. It is easy to conclude that the GOP, therefore, is not a political party. It's a crime syndicate, a criminal conspiracy. As Viet Nam was winding down and Watergate heating up, we vowed not ever to be fooled again. What went wrong?
Those who do not remember the past are condemned to relive it.
-Georges Santayana, American Philsopher
The Existentialist Cowboy