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a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

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That’s a shame

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 2nd December 2008

By way of inching back towards blogging again, I’ll relate a short post-election story, from the weekend after the election.

I had just completed the first installment of my fall tradition of moving leaves from the front yard to their mulch heap atop the defunct vegetable garden, and grubbing wads of mouldering wet leaves out of the gutters.  The latter task involves moving a heavy ladder around the house, climbing up, grubbing leaf wads, climbing down, repeating.  So I was a bit tired and didn’t have my usual rapier-like wit handy for what came next.

Impeach them: yes we can
Yes We Can.
Originally uploaded by Thomas Nephew.

A lady came walking by my front yard, saw me, took the “IMPEACH THEM” sign standing along the street between thumb and forefinger, and asked “Do you still want this, now that there’ll be a new administration?”

“Sure do,” I replied, adding “we still can, you know…”

To which the lady replied, “That’s a shame.”

Huh.  “Why is that a shame?” I asked.  “Oh, I don’t know,” she answered, and went on her way, leaving me figuratively like some beached fish, mouth silently opening and closing.  I’m still a little ticked off about it — if I were to wander by someone else’s yard and take issue with their opinions, I should hope I’d have the common courtesy to explain myself, especially if I acted like the owner was some kind of unreasonable nut.

Over at Democrats.com, folks are pleased about Rep. Jerrold Nadler’s (D-NY-8) H. Res. 1531, which seeks to shame our 43d president out of issuing blanket pardons to his minions for their roles in approving torture, subverting the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, and whatnot.  Spake Judiciary subcommittee chairman Nadler in a press release:

H.RES.1531 is in response to President Bush’s widespread abuses of power and potentially criminal transgressions against our Constitution. The Resolution aims to prevent undeserved pardons of officials who may have been co-conspirators in the President’s unconstitutional policies, such as torture, illegal surveillance and curtailing of due process for defendants.

The resolution would express the sense of the House that…

(1)…granting of preemptive pardons by the President to senior officials of his administration for acts they may have taken in the course of their official duties is a dangerous abuse of the pardon power;

(2) … the President should not grant preemptive pardons to senior officials in his administration for acts they may have taken in the course of their official duties;

(3) … that James Madison was correct in his observation that “[i]f the President be connected, in any suspicious manner, with any person, and there be grounds [to] believe he will shelter him, the House of Representatives can impeach him; they can remove him if found guilty”;

(4) …that a special investigative commission, or a Select Committee be tasked with investigating possible illegal activities by senior officials of the administration of President George W. Bush, including, if necessary, any abuse of the President’s pardon power; and

(5) the next Attorney General of the United States appoint an independent counsel to investigate, and, where appropriate, prosecute illegal acts by senior officials of the administration of President George W. Bush.

Of course, we should ask our representatives to join us in supporting the resolution, but I hope the good people at Democrats.com will forgive me a bit of headshaking about it: if only Nadler had been so outspoken about Bush’s crimes against the people and Constitution of the United States sooner.

While I know — and I assume Nadler knows — that impeachment has no statute of limitations and that in fact a pardoned person can still be impeached, that lady who walked by my house probably doesn’t know it. And among the main reasons she doesn’t know or care is that political leadership of this country — Mr. Nadler prominent among them — have by their inaction these past many years confirmed her likely opinion that none of these things were worth impeaching or prosecuting anyone about in the first place.  Meanwhile, the not entirely different political leadership comprising President-elect Obama and his more fervent supporters have not been shy about implying that his ascendance will in and of itself wash the country clean of the our sins — and I use the words “our” and “sins” advisedly.

I don’t mean to be a scold to my neighbors, and I had lately become a little tired of harping on these subjects even here. But it’s gotten to where far too many of us won’t see crimes when they happen, won’t even try to punish them when we find out about them — and then have the gall to act as if that’s the wise and charitable thing to do.

And that’s a shame.

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PS: Thanks to those readers who have returned to finally find actual writing as opposed to mere link-mongering.  I hope the “delicious” links were occasionally interesting, but I’m undecided about continuing them as more than a sidebar; input welcome.

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What trumps a pardon?

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 10th October 2008

In one very important way, impeachment does — and maybe soon.

The news was quickly buried under an avalanche of financial crisis, Palin, debate, and election horse race stories, but it was significant all the same.  In late September, Murray Waas reported in Atlantic.com that Department of Justice investigators were zeroing in on former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’s July 24, 2007 testimony to Congress.  In this testimony, Gonzales asserted that in a critical March 10, 2004 meeting — immediately prior to the notorious “hospital confrontation” between Comey, Ashcroft, Gonzales, and Card — a key group of Congressional members privy to intelligence secrets* shared a “consensus” with Cheney, Addington, and Gonzales that the NSA’s warrantless surveillance program described to them should go forward.

Unfortunately for Gonzales, this assertion was denied** by many of the congressmembers involved. Waas:

Gonzales said that he had told the congressional leaders “in the most forceful way that I could [about] … the disagreement that existed.” Gonzales said that in response to that, there had been a “consensus in the room” from the legislators, “who said, ‘Despite the recommendation of the deputy attorney general, go forward with very important intelligence activities.’ ”

This assertion that there had been “a consensus” is currently under investigation by the Justice Department’s inspector general as possible perjury or as a false statement under oath.

According to Waas, Gonzales also developed after-the-fact “notes” on the March 10 meeting, at the direction of President Bush; beginning with one sentence(!) , jotted down on March 11.  Gonzales asserted he wrote up the remainder of his notes on the March 10, 2004 meeting “the following weekend,” i.e., March 13 and 14.

But on March 11, when he renewed the NSA warrantless surveillance program, Bush could only have had Gonzales’s say-so and the alleged one sentence note as “documentation” of Congressional acquiescence.  According to accounts like those by the Washington Post’s Barton Gellman, Bush finally modified his March 11 order on March 19 — well after being informed by Comey, on March 12, of likely widespread resignations at the Department of Justice should the program continue in its prior form.

The NSA warrantless surveillance program may well have always been an impeachable offense.  Its continued approval through March 19, 2004, despite the March 12th disapproval of Acting Attorney General Comey — was even more certainly one, at least in my view and that of many others.  Should the March 11th reapproval have been based on evidence of congressional “acquiescence” known to be false or even suborned, that would be yet further grounds for Bush’s impeachment.

But I think it’s also crucial that by feigning that evidence — and by restating that lie in his July 24, 2007 testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee — Alberto Gonzales can be impeached as well. And there’s nothing President Bush could do to stop that — not even a pardon.

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"No regrets, no second guessing"

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 4th January 2007

Washington threw itself a full dress funeral on Tuesday. I’m not complaining, I got the day off too. I’m also not one to criticize former President Ford unduly. When E.M. Forster once wrote that “I hate the idea of causes, and if I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I should have the guts to betray my country,” he could not quite have had Ford’s pardon of Nixon in mind. But maybe it was those very words that tipped the balance for the bluff, loyal, plainspoken University of Michigan center so fervently eulogized in the Washington Cathedral and in the pages of our national newspapers. Perhaps Forster’s thought is a reason not to take issue with a president’s defining choice — but then it’s all the more reason to question his choice of friends.

I was resolved to not pay any attention whatsoever to the proceedings in favor of enjoying an unexpected extra day of vacation. But then, as I was driving a rental car back to National Airport — pardon me, Reagan National Airport — I switched on the radio and heard Henry Kissinger croak that Gerald Ford left the presidency with “no regrets, no second-guessing, and no obsessive pursuit of his place in history.”

“No regrets, no second-guessing.” A message all Washington might well prefer these days, and a message almost — no, certainly — calculated to appeal to Kissinger’s latest presidential client, so famously resistant to regrets, admitting mistakes, learning, call it what you will. When I watched the PBS recording of the cathedral service, it seemed to me that Tom Brokaw’s less calculating eulogy line — “When he entered the Oval Office — by fate, not by design — Citizen Ford knew that he was not perfect, just as he knew he was not perfect when he left. But what president ever was?” — got Bush’s pursed-lips-of-disapproval reaction, whether at being reminded of his own controversial elevation to the presidency, his fallibility, or both, I can’t say.

A state funeral is no different from any other in reminding those attending of their mortality. So it’s no surprise it serves as a solemn occasion for the political class of the republic to pluck from the recently deceased’s life those lessons most soothing and flattering to themselves, or distracting to others. And so we were treated to endless paeans to Ford’s “bipartisanship,” to the “healing” he brought about by pardoning Nixon, to the “civility” of the bygone era, and to his supposed lack of political ambition — even if the facts tend to speak otherwise,* or if the eulogists were singularly inappropriate. Thus David Broder’s predictable simpering about Ford’s “standard of civility”; Richard Ben-Veniste’s odd worries about the “specter” of legal action against Nixon “as our country moved into its bicentennial year”; Ron Nessen’s hackneyed, vague contrast of the golden Ford era with “these days of angry, divisive, polarized, downright nasty Washington rhetoric”; and in a particularly rich homage, Richard Cheney’s evocation of Ford’s courtesy — rarely has hypocrisy’s definition as the tribute vice pays to virtue been so perfectly demonstrated.

Above all, that “healing” pardon of Nixon also short-circuited a crucial legal opportunity — no, necessity — to prove that even a president is not above the law. Whatever Ford’s motives may have been, it was a negative lesson learned all too well by Ford staffers like Richard Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld — somewhat less averse to the “obsessive pursuit of their place in history” than their revered leader. Given their role in other Ford decisions like fighting the Freedom of Information Act, it’s hard to believe their advice on the matter was a simple matter of friendship — although they may well have pitched it that way.

So popular headlines like “Healer of Wounds” seem wide of the mark to me. I can’t recall where I read this over the last few days, so the metaphor isn’t mine, but one might fairly say Ford bound up a festering wound of executive lawlessness, leaving an infection that flared up over and over again over the next decades. Following Ford’s installment with Nixon’s pardon was not a model of how a republic and democracy should be run; as Avedon Carol wrote the other day, “The original Ford solution is what brought us to where we are now – we can’t do that again.”

When someone dies, most people will want to follow the old dictum, “if you can’t say something nice about him, say nothing at all.” And I’m certainly not suggesting Betty Ford and her children should have been subjected to anything less than a warm remembrance of someone who was by all accounts a decent human being — perhaps decent to a fault.

But at this point, we as a country can’t afford to draw any more wrong conclusions, we can’t afford to make each and every occasion of state yet another opportunity to confirm our fondest dreams and delusions about ourselves. “No regrets, no second-guessing”? That’s got to be the worst advice this country and its president could possibly get right now. Thirty years after Ford left office, his alleged virtues have become antidemocratic vices: “healing” is overrated, “civility” conceals or invites contempt, and “bipartisanship” thwarts the political will of the people expressed at the ballot box. Maybe that’s a shame, but that’s the way it is, and pretending we’re somewhere else or something else will just make things worse.

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* Ford’s ambition and partisanship were not so small as to fail to wage a bitter primary fight with Ronald Reagan and an equally determined contest with Jimmy Carter. Regarding “bipartisanship,” Ford vetoed 48 bills passed by the Democratic Congress in his short tenure in office, the highest veto rate of any American president since Truman. While there are two sides to any partisan political fight, Ford also picked many he lost: the 12 Ford veto override votes by Congress were the the most per year in the postwar era, and fortunately included the Freedom of Information Act.

NOTES: Richard Cheney’s hypocrisy noted by digby (“hullabaloo”). See also comments by fellow hullabaleer poputonian.

UPDATE, 1/7: Amy Goodman (“Democracy Now” radio host) expresses similar thoughts in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (“Impeaching, Prosecuting Nixon Could Have Elevated the Nation“): “If those emerging power brokers [Rumsfeld and Cheney -- ed.] had witnessed a vigorous prosecution of Nixon and his co-conspirators, it could have elevated the country … and changed history. Perhaps a decade later, the Reagan-Bush administration would have thought twice about the Iran-Contra scandal, in which an unaccountable administration would defy Congress and illegally support the Contras in Nicaragua, who killed thousands of civilians. Perhaps the current Bush administration would not have dared to manipulate intelligence to invade Iraq, leading to the deaths of thousands of U.S. soldiers and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis.” (Hat tip: Dad.)

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