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Political Animal

The Next Time

By Brian Morton | Posted 7/30/2008

The next time there is a Republican president and Congress--and there will be a next time--they'll have it a whole lot easier. For one, they'll have a complete road map.

Richard Nixon started drawing the map back in the 1970s. His mistakes were the grand ones that set off the Watergate scandal: wiretapping, use of government means to achieve political ends, and the failure to complete a perfect cover-up. There were tapes, there were turncoats, and there was the money. But it allowed the GOP to see where they went wrong and, more importantly, how not to go wrong again.

Ronald Reagan helped complete the next portion of the road map with the actions of a number of his subordinates. John Poindexter showed, during Iran-Contra, how to "protect the old man" by falling on his sword. Elliott Abrams and Oliver North demonstrated that it was possible to cut out and ignore the legislative branch in pursuit of the ends sought by the executive. Anne Gorsuch Burford at Reagan's Environmental Protection Agency proved that in the end there is no price to be paid for holding Congress in contempt, as the courts would duck out on the question as to whether or not there should be criminal prosecution of such an act.

George H.W. Bush sealed the deal when he pardoned nearly everyone involved in Iran-Contra after ducking any and all questions about it for more than four years, claiming he was "out of the loop." Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger walked on several counts of perjury. Then-Deputy National Security Adviser Abrams got off scot-free from unlawfully withholding information, only to go on and hold yet another position in the administration of George W. Bush. Duane Claridge and Alan Fiers of the CIA never saw a day in prison after Claridge was pardoned by Bush I before his trial was over, and Fiers got probation and community service, only to be pardoned less than a year after his conviction. Both men were charged with either lying to or concealing information from Congress. CIA third in command Clair George walked as Bush Sr. pardoned him two months before his sentencing. His crime? Once again: lying to Congress.

Of course, the person who took much of the fall for Iran-Contra, National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane, was pardoned after pleading guilty to four counts of lying to Congress. Together, by showing what not to do, the band of Iran-Contra executive branch refugees showed Bush Jr.'s administration how to get away with a world of malfeasance under the noses of the nation.

From the exposure of the PROF internal electronic mails during Iran-Contra, the Bushies learned not to let any electronic communications be saved. Thus political operators like Karl Rove learned to use external communications such as Blackberries issued by the Republican National Committee to avoid leaving any kind of an electronic trail. The secure Lotus Notes e-mail system the Clinton administration left behind was scrapped and the kludgy Microsoft system was put in, with a lack of secure backups to assure the proper safekeeping of records. With no records, there were no "smoking gun" tapes like in the Nixon years, and no PROF records like the ones that tripped up the "off the books" operation under Reagan.

All that the Bush operators needed to do was assure that anyone who got caught would never see a day in federal court. After I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby landed in court over the exposure of the covert identity of CIA undercover operative Valerie Plame (which came out of human error: the need to issue payback to Plame's husband, Joseph Wilson), the Bush administration learned more than anything that the top priority was to install an obedient lackey as head of the Department of Justice.

When it appeared that John Ashcroft wasn't going to be that lackey (Former U.S Attorney David Iglesias told the Dallas Morning News that Ashcroft "was asked to move on" after refusing to sign off on the unconstitutional warrantless wiretapping program), Alberto Gonzales became the frontman whose job was to agree to any and every plan the White House cooked up. When it became apparent to all that Gonzales was a paper tiger for Vice President Dick Cheney and his lead henchman, David Addington, the Bushies found Michael Mukasey, who would be far more adept at appearing to appease Congress while still telling them nothing. Mukasey could also be counted on to bring any and all subpoenas and investigations to a halt, assuring the administration that no one would see the inside of a courtroom for the rest of Bush's presidency.

The map is drawn and waiting. The next time a Republican sits in the chair behind the desk in the Oval Office, there might as well be a binder in the desk drawer titled "How to Do Anything You Want as President." The authors will be listed as every participant in the Iraq war run-up, Iran-Contra, and one or two left over from Watergate. The foreword will be written by Cheney. And the dedication will be "To Richard Milhous Nixon, without whom none of this would be possible."

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Political Animal archives

More from Brian Morton

The Fix (8/4/2010)

Police State (7/7/2010)

Funny Business (6/9/2010)

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