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Ask Auntie Pinko

June 23, 2005
By Auntie Pinko

Re: Comparing Watergate to Bush's transgressions

Dear Auntie,

Authorizing a "black bag job", i.e. a breaking and entering felony is pretty simple criminal behavior, as is covering up the crime. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to identify that behavior as "criminal." However, let's assume Bush is guilty of the following: lies, lies, and more lies. Since when is lying a crime?

As they say on "Law and Order," if that's all you got on him, get back out on the streets and get me something else. Because we can't convict him on 1st degree lying.



Nowhere in particular, USA

Dear Bob,

Auntie is not precisely sure what comparison you are trying to make between Watergate and Mr. Bush's actions. In the case of Watergate, the criminals who were accused, tried, and convicted did not include the President of the United States. However, Mr. Bush is the President of the United States. Are you pointing out that criminal convictions of people other than the President of the United States is different than objectionable behavior on the part of the President of the United States? Auntie would have to agree with you, technically, but I think you are trying to make another point.

Do you really think that it is unreasonable to call for a President's impeachment and/or resignation unless someone connected with his Administration has been convicted of a crime? The men who designed America's highest law would not agree with you.

Here is a useful link for you: This is the text of the United States Constitution. Scroll down to Article II, Section 4. This is the section that specifies exactly what a President can be impeached for. Three items are mentioned: Treason, Bribery, and "High Crimes and Misdemeanors." There is no explanation of exactly what "High Crimes and Misdemeanors" means, no definition specified, no relation to items in any code of law.

Let's start by noting that Mr. Nixon was never formally accused of "authorizing a black bag job." While there was much speculation about whether Mr. Nixon did, in fact "authorize" the Watergate breaking-and-entering in advance, no serious suggestion was ever put forward that he did so. The most credible allegation in that regard was that Mr. Nixon suspected that his associates might be employing illegal tactics, and ignored the matter.

The specific allegations against Mr. Nixon were that he had obstructed justice by impeding the investigation, and that he had lied about doing so. Many people, including Senators and members of Congress, made these allegations freely, but it should be noted that these allegations were never rendered as formal accusations against Mr. Nixon. Articles of Impeachment were drafted, but never enacted against Mr. Nixon, and Mr. Nixon was never indicted in any court of law. Mr. Ford's pardon of Mr. Nixon did not refer to any specific accusations or indictments, it was merely a pre-emptive, non-specific pardon designed to render Mr. Nixon immune to future prosecution for any offenses alleged against him during the term of his Presidency.

Mr. Nixon's actions so outraged Americans because of the damage that resulted from those actions. By tacitly allowing - or even not preventing - members of his staff from engaging in dirty campaign tricks, Mr. Nixon demonstrated contempt for the integrity of the electoral process, and damaged the confidence of all Americans in the reliability of that process. By obstructing the investigation into Watergate, Mr. Nixon demonstrated contempt for the rule of law and the trust reposed in him to uphold justice, and thus damaged the trust of all Americans in the integrity of the Presidency itself.

Neither damaging the confidence of Americans in the reliability of the electoral process, nor damaging the trust of Americans in the Presidency, appear anywhere in the criminal code of the United States as a misdemeanor or a felony. Yet the House of Representatives, which was in the process of preparing Articles of Impeachment against Mr. Nixon, considered them sufficiently grave derelictions to qualify under the "high crimes and misdemeanors" provision of Article II, section 4 of the Constitution.

We hold the President to a standard of trust in public office higher than any other official, and rightly so. The violation of that trust, while it may not be something that could be used by a "Law and Order" prosecutor to get an indictment under the criminal code, is a sufficiently grave offense against the common welfare to require action, as the House and Senate were prepared to do in 1974, had Mr. Nixon not resigned his office.

If, as alleged, Mr. Bush deliberately and knowingly lied to Congress and the American people in order to obtain support for the prosecution of war, he has certainly violated the trust of the American people in the office of the Presidency. The Constitution vests the power to declare war, not in the Executive Branch, but in the Legislative Branch. By lying to the Legislative Branch to obtain that authorization, Mr. Bush has demonstrated contempt for that Constitutional provision, and a willingness to subvert Constitutional process.

Are these alleged "High Crimes and Misdemeanors" comparable to Mr. Nixon's alleged "High Crimes and Misdemeanors?" That would be for the United States Senate to decide. In 1974, the Republican members of Congress and the Senate clearly felt that it would be in the best interests of the nation (and, undoubtedly, their Party) for Mr. Nixon to resign, rather than to put the matter to the test of a public impeachment. They told Mr. Nixon so, and he agreed. Auntie Pinko is well aware that the character of partisan fervor has changed greatly in thirty years, but I do not think it is unreasonable to wonder if those same 1974 Republican Senators and Representatives were in office now, they would be planning a visit to the White House to have a serious talk with Mr. Bush.

Thanks for the interesting question, Bob!

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