Water Man Spouts

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

All the President's Lies

"The thing that has been, it is that which shall be;
and that which is done is that which shall be done;
and there is no new thing under the sun."
-- Ecclesiastes 1:9 ("The Preacher")

President George W. Bush's body language while he was attempting to answer a question yesterday about his role in the Plame scandal was interesting. He lowered his head, and raised both shoulders several times, appearing uncomfortable with the subject matter. His physical presentation was markedly different than when Bush is at ease, much less confident, regardless of if he is attempting to tell the truth or lie.

For many of us who were around in the early 1970s, President Bush seems to be doing a mean impression of Richard Nixon. Now, two days ago, I posted an essay on Cheney's tribute to Agnew. While most readers understand such comparisons, a few react like a 10-year old when told they look like their grandparent .... and like that child who shudders to think someone views them as a gray-haired, wrinkled elder, a couple people pointed out differences between Cheney and Agnew. Likewise, there are very real differences between Bush and Nixon, and Plame and Watergate. However, today I thought it would be interesting to consider a few similarities.

On July 16, 1973, former presidential aide Alexander Butterfield disclosed that President Nixon had taped conversations in the Oval Office. These tapes became some of the most important evidence in the series of crimes that we know as "Watergate." On April 30, 1974, an edited version of some of the tapes became public.

Perhaps the most important conversation recorded by Nixon that became public was made on March 21, 1973. There are actuallt two from that day: the first was made from 10:12 - 11:55 am, between Nixon, his attorney John Dean , and his chief of staff H. R. Haldeman; the second was recorded from 5:20 - 6:01 pm, and included Nixon, Dean, Haldeman, and John Ehrlichman, Nixon's assistant for domestic affairs.

Let's look at some of the highlights. Nixon had been attempting to reduce Watergate to a public relations problem in the days before this meeting, asking aides, "How do you handle that PR wise?" Dean makes clear that it is much more serious.

D: I think that there is no doubt about the seriousness of the problem we've got. We have a cancer within, close to the Presidency, that is growing. It is growing daily. It's compounded, growing geometrically now, because it compounds itself .... People are going to start perjuring themselves very quickly that have not had to perjure themselves to protect other people in the line. And there is no assurance --

N: That it won't bust?

D: That it won't bust. So let me give you the sort of basic facts ....

Dean goes into detail about the White House attempts to create an intelligence group to provide them with abilities that they do not enjoy with the established agencies. However, the intelligence network was used for political purposes -- to promote the administration's aggenda, and to damage their political opponents. While this is not an exact match with the Bush administration's OSP and WHIG, some perceptive people may note some subtle similarities.

More, in attempting to avoid telling the truth about their roles in these operations, a few White House officials have lied to investigators and a grand jury. They are facing potential charges of perjury and obstruction of justice. These are, curiously, the charges that Scooter Libby now faces .... and a couple others may be facing those same charges by mid-May.

D: ...I don't know if Mitchell perjured himself in the Grand Jury or not.

N: Who?

D: Mitchell. I don't know how much knowledge he actually had. I know that Magruder has perjured himself in the Grand Jury. I know that Porter has perjured himself in the Grand Jury.

Dean goes on to say that he "worked on a theory of containment" with information that could damage the White House. He was not, however, quite as confident as the senior White House official quoted in the December 5, 2003 Financial Times, who said of the Plame leak, "We have rolled the earthmovers in over this one." Dean realizes that truth crushed to earth tends to rise again.

N: ...but I would certainly keep that cover for whatever it is worth.

D: That's the most troublesome post-thing because, one, Bob is involved in that; two, John is involved in that; three, I am involved in that; four, Mitchell is involved in that. And that is an obstruction of justice. ..... All of these things are bad, in that they are problems, they are promises, they are commitments. They are the very sort of thing that the Senate is going to be looking most for. ..."

There are two problems that Dean outlines for the president. One involves a "no good, publicity seeking" attorney who is trying to represent one of the Cubans involved in Watergate. The attorney had tried to convince his client to plead not guilty. But "F. Lee Bailey, who was a partner of one of the men representing McCord, got in and cooled" the attorney down. But the number of defendants with knowledge of the scandal is a problem which requires large attorneys' fees.

N: How much money do you need?

D: I would say these people are going to cost a million dollars over the next two years.

N: We could get that. On the money, if you need the money you could get that. You could get a million dollars. You could get it in cash. I know where it could be gotten. It is not easy, but it could be done. ...

The Scooter Libby Defense Trust could surely use Nixon's skills today, to pay for the legal team he requires. But money is supposed to buy silence, and last week Don Imus asked why Libby wasn't as honorable as Liddy?

N: ... I am just trying to think. Perjury is an awful hard rap to prove. ....

D: Well, that is one perjury. Mitchell and Magruder are potential perjurers. There is always the possibility of any one of these individuals blowing. Hunt. Liddy. Liddy is in jail right now, serving his time and having a good time right now. I think Liddy in his own bizarre way (is) the strongest of them all ....

P: Let's come back to this problem. What are your feelings yourself, John? You know what they are all saying. What are your feelings about the chances?

D: I am not confident that we can ride this through. I think there are soft spots. .... everyone is now starting to watch after their behind. Eveyone is getting their own counsel. .... I can see people pointing fingers. ....

At this time, Nixon and Dean begin discussing the options of pardons and clemency. But although promises have been made to some people involved in the case, Nixon knows that he cannot help anyone else in this way. To do so could connect him to their crimes in a way that he simple refuses to risk doing. Those who look at the Iran-Contra pardon issue, and think Bush is likely to save his friends, should consider Nixon's cold approach.

N: I know you have a problem here. You have the problem with Hunt and his clemency.

D: That's right. And you are going to have a clemency problem with others. They all are going to expect to be out and that may put you in a position that is just untenable .... politically, it's impossible for you to do it. ... It may just be too hot.

N: You can't do it politically until after the '74 election, that's for sure. Your point is that even then you couldn't do it.

Note Nixon's choice of words -- "You can't do it ... you couldn't do it." It indicates a psychological block, that renders Nixon incapable of processing that it is he, not Dean, who can grant clemency. But he needs to project the responsibility onto anyone else. He buries any thoughts of his role deep into some dark region of his mind. But, again, Dean knows that the truth always pops up.

D: Yes, sir. That is not all that buried. And while I think we've got it buied, there is no telling when it is going to pop up. .... some of these secretaries have a little idea about this, and they can be broken down just so fast. ....Liddy's secretary, for example, is knowledgeable. Magruder's secretary is knowledgeable. ....

N: The problem is that you have these mine fields down the road. I think the most difficult problem are the guys who are going to jail .....And also the fact that we are not going to be able to give them clemency.

D: That's right. How long will they take? How long will they sit there? ...

N: Thirty years, isn't it? ... Top is thirty years, isn't it?

Thirty years is, of course, what Scooter is potentially facing. And thoughts that Judge Walton will help Scooter should be viewed in this context:

N: Sirica? ... What is the matter with him? I thought he was a hard liner.

D: He is. He is. He is just a peculiar animal.

The thought of long prison sentences makes both Nixon and Dean uncomfortable. Nixon recognizes that there are too many weak links in the chain, and that some people will indeed face incarceration. He begins to consider who he can sacrifice to save himself. At this time, Haldeman joins the conversation. They begin to warm up to the idea of protecting themselves by claiming their roles involved "national security" -- something that some have noticed the Bush administration doing from time to time.

D: You might put it on a national security grounds basis.

H: It absolutely was --

D: And say that this was --

H: --CIA --

D: Ah--

H: Seriously.

N: National Security. We had to get information for national security grounds.

D: Then the question is, why didn't the CIA do it or why didn't the FBI do it? ....

H: Because we were checking them.

N: Neither could be trusted.

Hmmmm. The Nixon administration couldn't trust the CIA or FBI. Sound familiar? Bad choice of enemies. Why?

N: ... And in the end, it is all going to come out anyway. Then you get the worst of both worlds. We're going to lose, and people are going to --

H: And look like dopes!

N: And in effect, look like a cover-up.

Nixon says they need to "cut their loses" and "avoid criminal liability." But he knows that his people cannot do either by telling the truth. How to do that in the context of a Senate investigation or a grand jury?

H: ... You can refuse to talk.

D: You can take the 5th Amendment.

N: That's right!

H: You can say you've forgotten, too, can't you?

D: Sure but you are chancing a very high risk for perjury situation.

What other option might there be?

N: Leaks. ... we could do that. Leak out certain stuff. We could pretty much control that. We've got so much more control.

Later that day, they meet again. This time Ehrlichman joins them. Nixon asks, hopefully, if they have reached any conclusions on how to save themselves?

H: Well, you go round and round and come up with all questions and no answers. Right back where you were at when you started. ...

N: The imposing problem is this, Does anybody really think we can do nothing? That's the option, period. ...

Ehrlichman notes that Hunt will "blow" and bring them down: However, can he, by talking, get a pardon? ... If he goes in there and tells this judge before sentencing, if he says, "Your honor I am willing to tell all. I don't want to go to jail. .... I will cooperate ..."

D: That's right ... there are a lot of weak individuals and it could be one of those who crosses up .... They will have intense civil discovery .... They will go out and take depositions and start checking for inconsistencies ... It is structured. That's your concern about, "There is something lurking here." ....

H: The perception, as you put it.

N: The point is, we were talking --

D: Alright, is that better? Or is it better to have ... things blow up and all of a sudden collapse? Think about it. ... I see in this conversation what I talked about before. They do not ultimately solve what I see as a grave problem of a cancer growing around the Presidency. ...

H: Well, see if we go your route, you can't draw the line someplace and say --

D: No, no you can't.

N: You see, if we go your route of cutting the cancer out. If we cut it out now. Take a Hunt. Well, wouldn't that knock the hell out from under him? .... John, you don't think that is enough?

D: No, Mr. President.

By the next day, E. Howard Hun, Jr. had been given $75,000. This payment would be among the grounds for obstruction of justice charges against 7 administration officials, file 12 months later.

On April 30, 1973, Nixon announced the resignations of Haldeman and Ehrlickman, during a speech to the nation. I remember Nixon's body language in those days. Unlike Bush, he never seemed truly comfortable in public, even when he was lying.

I am hoping that President Bush will show a sense of history, and address the nation on or about April 30, 2006. I am hoping that he will take the opportunity to do something Nixon was not man enough to do -- to tell the truth about his role in this scandal. Quit looking for a way to "handle this PR wise."


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