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Adviser: As President, Obama Would Only Prosecute Egregious Bush Crimes

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Demeter Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Jul-23-08 06:48 PM
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Presidencies are about looking forward, not backwards, so it was predictable that Barack Obama would signal that, if elected, he would have little interest in prosecuting the criminal acts of the current administration...As predictable as Obamas position is John Kerry would likely have held the same view under similar circumstances, and certainly John McCain supports it it is deeply troubling because of the seriousness of the crimes in question, which include lying to Congress about the rationale for war, authorizing torture, betraying a covert CIA agent, criminal negligence in the response to Hurricane Katrina, spying on Americans without warrants, using the Justice Department as the political enforcement arm of the Republican National Committee, election fraud and consorting with corrupt lobbyists, just for starters.

At the Netroots Nation meeting in Austin last weekend, Chicago Law School professor Cass Sunstein, an informal adviser to Obama, warned liberal activists not to expect Barack Obama, if he is elected, to prosecute Bush crimes unless the crimes are what Sunstein described as egregious:

(Sunstein) urged caution in prosecuting criminal conduct from the current administration, while also noting that egregious crimes should not be ignored. Prosecuting government officials risks a cycle of criminalizing public service, he argued, and Democrats should avoid replicating retributive efforts like the impeachment of President Clinton or even the slight appearance of it.

The fatal flaw in Sunsteins formulation is that, in fact, there has not been a cycle of criminalizing public service. There has been one system of high accountability for Democrats and another system that allows Republican White House officials to escape any sort of accountability whatsoever.

While dozens of Clinton White House officials were dragged before Republican-controlled congressional committees hundreds of times for matters as petty as an investigation into the Clintons cat, none of which resulted in a charge of wrongdoing and Clinton himself was more than held accountable for the crime of lying about an extramarital affair in a deposition for a civil lawsuit Bush, Cheney and their associates have not been held accountable for a whole host of deliberate criminal acts, especially including lying to Congress and the American people about their reasons for the invasion and occupation of Iraq, which was by all measures an egregious abuse of power that has resulted in the deaths of over 4,000 U.S. troops and hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis.

Another weakness in Sunsteins statement, says Jonathan Turley, a George Washington University law professor, who testified for the prosecution in the Clinton impeachment, and who still insists impeaching Clinton was the right thing to do, is that all crimes committed by presidents should be considered to be egregious because presidents take an oath to defend and uphold the laws of the United States. According to Turley:

The main concern with Sunsteins reported comment(s) is how well they fit within the obvious strategy of the Democratic party leaders: to block any prosecution of either President Bush or his aides for crimes while running on those crimes to maintain and expand their power in Washington. The missing component in this political calculus is, of course, a modicum of principle.

Heres the problem about avoiding appearances. There seems ample evidence of crimes committed by this Administration, in my view. To avoid appearances would require avoiding acknowledgment of those alleged crimes: precisely what Attorney General Mukasey has been doing by refusing to answer simple legal questions about waterboarding.

In April, Obama himself gave this long-winded response to a question about how, as president, he would treat the criminality of the Bush administration, particularly as it pertains to authorizing torture:

What I would want to do is to have my Justice Department and my attorney general immediately review the information thats already there and to find out are there inquiries that need to be pursued. I cant prejudge that because we dont have access to all the material right now. I think that you are right, if crimes have been committed, they should be investigated. Youre also right that I would not want my first term consumed by what was perceived on the part of Republicans as a partisan witch hunt because I think weve got too many problems weve got to solve.

So this is an area where I would want to exercise judgment I would want to find out directly from my attorney general having pursued, having looked at whats out there right now are there possibilities of genuine crimes as opposed to really bad policies. And I think its important one of the things weve got to figure out in our political culture generally is distinguishing between really dumb policies and policies that rise to the level of criminal activity. You know, I often get questions about impeachment at town hall meetings and Ive said that is not something I think would be fruitful to pursue because I think that impeachment is something that should be reserved for exceptional circumstances.

Now, if I found out that there were high officials who knowingly, consciously broke existing laws, engaged in coverups of those crimes with knowledge forefront, then I think a basic principle of our Constitution is nobody above the law and I think thats roughly how I would look at it.

A few months after Obama made these comments, he voted to give Bush and his officials immunity from prosecution for the prima facie crime of violating FISA by authorizing the warrantless wiretapping of U.S. citizens.

As a constitutional scholar, Barack Obama knows better than most that the critical issue here is not political retribution, it is justice primarily because punishing government officials who commit crimes is one instance in which deterrence may actually work...Years after Richard Nixon escaped justice for the crimes he commissioned as president, he famously told the interviewer David Frost, When the president does it that means that it is not illegal. Nixon might have reconsidered that view if he had been held accountable if, instead of giving him a full pardon, his friend and successor Gerald Ford had allowed Nixon to spend, say, 18 months in the Butner Federal Correctional Complex.

A strong case can be made that if Nixon had been imprisoned, it would be extremely unlikely that 30 years later Dick Cheney would have opted to exchange his seat as the head of Halliburton, where he was free to rape and pillage the world with impunity, for the vice presidency, where his power would have been constrained by the U.S. Constitution. If letting Nixon go free spawned insurgent oligarchs like Dick Cheney and George Bush, who can say what sort of despots will be unleashed 30 years hence by letting Cheney and Bush escape justice now?...Jonathan Turley recommends this alternative to the hands off policy for a prospective Obama presidency toward the criminal activities of the Bush regime: We will prosecute any criminal conduct that we find in any administration, including our own. Now, Turley says, that doesnt seem so hard. There is no sophistication or finesse needed. One need only to commit to carry out the rule of law.


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wryter2000 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Jul-23-08 06:50 PM
Response to Original message
1. I heard this on Hartmann
Lord knows there are so many egregious crimes we could be years investigating them all. I'm okay with this if they will go after illegal spying, trashing the Constitution, torture, and lying to start a war. If this is the beginning of "let's forget the past and move on"... :mad:
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polichick Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Jul-23-08 06:59 PM
Response to Original message
2. Jonathan Turley was upset about this on KO last night.
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stray cat Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Jul-23-08 08:28 PM
Response to Original message
3. Kind of like taking someone to court for murder and dropping the shoplifting charge?
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AdHocSolver Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Jul-23-08 11:39 PM
Response to Original message
4. The Dems don't want to prosecute Republicans because many Dems were complicit enablers of Bush.
A lot of Democratic dirty linen would be exposed if a significant investigation would be undertaken of the Bush regime. That is also a significant reason why "impeachment is off (and has been off) the table".

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grasswire Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Jul-24-08 03:58 PM
Response to Original message
5. as Turley said...
...any crime willfully committed by a president is egregious.
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