Saturday, January 17, 2009
Quid Pro Quo of the Day
Late in 1972, Nixon wanted Johnson to get the Democrats to stop investigating Watergate. Nixon sent a message to Johnson, "Unless you do this, I will reveal that you wiretapped and bugged my plane during the '68 campaign."
Johnson sent a message back saying, "If you do that, I will reveal that you sabotaged the Vietnam peace talks in order to get elected, which was treason."
That was going on at the moment that Johnson died. So there's often an ugly undercurrent of hostility between some of these guys, too.
—Michael Beschloss, presidential historian, in an interview on the PBS NewsHour
Beschloss may call this "an ugly undercurrent of hostility." I call it a conspiracy to break the law.
Ah, that was then. This is now—
STEPHANOPOULOS: The most popular question on your own website is related to this. On change.gov it comes from Bob Fertik of New York City and he asks, "Will you appoint a special prosecutor (ideally Patrick Fitzgerald) to independently investigate the greatest crimes of the Bush administration, including torture and warrantless wiretapping?"
OBAMA: We're still evaluating how we're going to approach the whole issue of interrogations, detentions, and so forth. And obviously we're going to be looking at past practices and I don't believe that anybody is above the law. On the other hand I also have a belief that we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards. And part of my job is to make sure that for example at the CIA, you've got extraordinarily talented people who are working very hard to keep Americans safe. I don't want them to suddenly feel like they've got to spend all their time looking over their shoulders and lawyering [up].
What interested me about Obama's response (aside from the fact that it came squarely from both sides of his mouth) was this: Fertik asked about "the greatest crimes of the Bush administration." Obama diverted it to a question of the actions of the CIA and to torture (he's agin' it). But the crimes of the Bush administration were authorized at the top, and that it is where the primary culpability lies.
I have felt for sometime (without any proof, of course) that there have been back-channel communications between Obama and the Bush administration, essentially reassuring the Bushites that they need not fear prosecution during an Obama administration. This conjecture has not been contradicted by Obama's hold-over of the second-in-command of the CIA, nor by Bush and Cheney's recent willingness to appear on television and implicate themselves in the crime of torture. These men either have very poor lawyers or simply aren't worried about the repercussions. What do you think?
As the liberals' Great Black Hope, why would Obama do such a thing? Is he keeping his own presidential options open? Is he trying to be "a uniter, not a divider"? Do Bush-Cheney have a counter-weapon they can use on Obama? Or is Obama just being "pragmatic," which is the media's word-of-the-day for describing Obama? I would argue for pragmatism, if we mean "accepting the limits of power."
The Democratic Congressional leadership is riddled with supporters of the illegal actions of the Bush administration whether we're talking about the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq, torture, domestic surveillance or illegal detention and "rendering." If anyone were indicted for these crimes, the list of witnesses subpoenaed for the defense would pretty well reflect the power structure of Congress. If you put these Democratic leaders together with their Republican counterparts, you would be amazed at the bipartisanship that can emerge when the need arises to protect their own sorry asses. In short, we would see the Congress "reassert itself."
The exceptions to the above rule of Obama's "pragmatism" may come—if they come at all—in areas where the Democrats were not complicit. Most notable was the corruption of the Justice Department's hiring process, though there are plenty of other departments ripe for indictments. After the Inspector General at Justice reported that the head of the Civil Rights division, Bradley Schlozman, had "made false statements to Congress and violated federal law in overseeing the agency's civil rights division," it will be difficult to let bygones be bygones.
Economist Paul Krugman, like many others among the Leftish, has recently called on Obama to take strong action, concluding—
... to protect and defend the Constitution, a president must do more than obey the Constitution himself; he must hold those who violate the Constitution accountable. So Mr. Obama should reconsider his apparent decision to let the previous administration get away with crime. Consequences aside, that’s not a decision he has the right to make.
In reality, it's a decision that Obama does not have the power to make, though I doubt he would decide differently even if he had the power.