The Treason of Richard Nixon
The Rise and Fall and Rise and Fall of America's Slimiest Politician: Part II
Republicans are soft on crime... when it's theirs. The pathetic gaggle of right-wing pundits is blaming the messenger, newly-revealed Deep Throat, Mark Felt. They are just lying. Nixon was a crook. Period.
Recap: Richard M. Nixon rose to be Vice President under Eisenhower, then lost the presidential election of 1960 and California governor's race in 1962 at which point he blamed the press and bowed out of politics. Two years later his hated rival, JFK, was dead. Six years later persuaded Vietnam to extend the war then won the 1968 presidential race partly on an anti-Vietnam War platform. (See also this BBC report on the 2004 election, about halfway down A Long Tradition for 1968 and others).
The 1968 election was dirty; the 1972 election was dirtier. Emboldened by his successfully amoral campaign in 1968, Nixon established the Special Investigations Group (known as the "Plumbers" to stop leaks from the Nixon Administration). For the 1972 election, these illegal operatives, run from the White House, became the Committee to Re-Elect the President (CRP or, more commonly during the investigation, CREEP).
As the British Schoolnet site says about G. Gordon Liddy's involvement:
In 1972 Liddy joined the Committee to Re-Elect the President (CREEP). Later that year Liddy presented Nixon's attorney general, John N. Mitchell, with an action plan called Operation Gemstone. Liddy wanted a $1 million budget to carry out a series of black ops activities against Nixon's political enemies. Mitchell decided that the budget for Operation Gemstone was too large. Instead he gave him $250,000 to launch a scaled-down version of the plan.
One of Liddy's first tasks was to place electronic devices in the Democratic Party campaign offices in an apartment block called Watergate. Liddy wanted to wiretap the conversations of Larry O'Brien, chairman of the Democratic National Committee. This was not successful and on 3rd July, 1972, Frank Sturgis, Virgilio Gonzalez, Eugenio Martinez, Bernard L. Barker and James W. McCord returned to O'Brien's office. However, this time they were caught by the police.
One more major scandal before we get to Watergate: Spiro Agnew.
Agnew was considered, at the time, an odd choice for Nixon. A fairly minor figure politically, he was the newly elected governor of Maryland. The joke at the time (I heard it many times) was that Agnew was Nixon's assassination insurance. Nixon, still obsessed with JFK, wanted protection. He was paranoid enough to assume a conspiracy behind the assassination, and wanted to make sure the Republicans didn't pick someone who might actually be as effective as LBJ.
A bit of pop psychology: Nixon was so paranoid that he surrounded himself with untrustworthy characters to bolster his own dim view of humanity. This certainly explains Pat Buchanan and definitely explains Spiro Agnew.
Agnew turned out to be a bigger crook than Nixon, but not nearly as successful. Agnew was caught with his fingers in the cookie jar when he was governor of Maryland, pleaded No Lo Contendere ("No ma, I ain't sayin' nuthin' but I won't cry if you spank me") and was forced to resign from the office of Vice President. Another crooked Republican who went quietly into the dustbin of history. The Encarta entry:
"On October 11, 1973, Spiro T. Agnew became the first American vice president to resign from office because of criminal charges. He was charged with extortion, tax evasion, and bribery. He pleaded no contest to tax evasion and was fined $10,000. Agnew's disgrace added to the weight of the problems faced by United States President Richard Nixon. The 1972 break-in at the Democratic Party headquarters at the Watergate building in Washington, D.C., caused Nixon to resign from office less than a year after Agnew resigned."
Nixon quickly picked Gerald R. Ford as his VP. Ford was House Minority Leader, and the Senate confirmed him 92-3 on November 27, 1973. Ford had been a member of the Warren Commission (which included Nixon confidant and ex-CIA director Allen Dulles), and did such a lousy job that the Kennedy Assassination has been the granddaddy of all conspiracy theories. We don't know a lot for sure about what happened leading up to that day in Dallas, but we do know that the Warren Commission Report is meaningless... and that Ford was one of the reasons. He was the ultimate political bootlicker, and Nixon trusted him to be a toady. One contest winning entry re their later conversation: "Pardon me, boy, but I'm the chap who knew to choose you." But I'm getting ahead of the game.
Nixon won the dirty 1972 election by a landslide. But within a few months, it all unravelled. With his Assassination Insurance gone, Nixon was in big trouble, and knew it.
Nixon's nervousness showed in public appearances. My mother and father, A.N. and Ethel Romm, were eyewitnesses. They hadn't made Nixon's Enemies List, but they were pulled from a Presidential receiving line in April, 1973. Here is my mother's account of how she won an Esquire Dubious Achievement Award for being so naive as to believe that if you say anything to a president, it means something.
The crimes committed by the Plumbers and CREEP were significantly more than "a third rate burglary" that Republican revisionists would have you believe. Wikipedia overview of the Watergate break-in. Also Colorado University's overview: Crimes included bribery, extortion, tax fraud, obstruction of justice, destruction of evidence, illegal campaign contributions and use of taxpayer money for private purposes. Nixon was a second rate crook who hired third rate crooks, but their crimes were very serious and shook our Constitutional government more than any other criminal activities
The Watergate crimes were so serious that the Judiciary Committee of the US House drew up Articles of Impeachment on July 27, 1974:
RESOLVED, That Richard M. Nixon, President of the United States, is impeached for high crimes and misdemeanours, and that the following articles of impeachment to be exhibited to the Senate:
ARTICLES OF IMPEACHMENT EXHIBITED BY THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA IN THE NAME OF ITSELF AND OF ALL OF THE PEOPLE OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, AGAINST RICHARD M. NIXON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, IN MAINTENANCE AND SUPPORT OF ITS IMPEACHMENT AGAINST HIM FOR HIGH CRIMES AND MISDEMEANOURS.
In his conduct of the office of President of the United States, Richard M. Nixon, in violation of his constitutional oath faithfully to execute the office of President of the United States and, to the best of his ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States, and in violation of his constitutional duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed, has prevented, obstructed, and impeded the administration of justice, in that:
On June 17, 1972, and prior thereto, agents of the Committee for the Re-election of the President committed unlawful entry of the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee in Washington, District of Columbia, for the purpose of securing political intelligence. Subsequent thereto, Richard M. Nixon, using the powers of his high office, engaged personally and through his close subordinates and agents, in a course of conduct or plan designed to delay, impede, and obstruct the investigation of such illegal entry; to cover up, conceal and protect those responsible; and to conceal the existence and scope of other unlawful covert activities.
The means used to implement this course of conduct or plan included one or more of the following:
- making false or misleading statements to lawfully authorized investigative officers and employees of the United States;
- withholding relevant and material evidence or information from lawfully authorized investigative officers and employees of the United States;
- approving, condoning, acquiescing in, and counselling witnesses with respect to the giving of false or misleading statements to lawfully authorized investigative officers and employees of the United States and false or misleading testimony in duly instituted judicial and congressional proceedings;
- interfering or endeavouring to interfere with the conduct of investigations by the Department of Justice of the United States, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the office of Watergate Special Prosecution Force, and Congressional Committees;
- approving, condoning, and acquiescing in, the surreptitious payment of substantial sums of money for the purpose of obtaining the silence or influencing the testimony of witnesses, potential witnesses or individuals who participated in such unlawful entry and other illegal activities;
- endeavouring to misuse the Central Intelligence Agency, an agency of the United States;
- disseminating information received from officers of the Department of Justice of the United States to subjects of investigations conducted by lawfully authorized investigative officers and employees of the United States, for the purpose of aiding and assisting such subjects in their attempts to avoid criminal liability;
- making or causing to be made false or misleading public statements for the purpose of deceiving the people of the United States into believing that a thorough and complete investigation had been conducted with respect to allegations of misconduct on the part of personnel of the executive branch of the United States and personnel of the Committee for the Re-election of the President, and that there was no involvement of such personnel in such misconduct: or
- endeavouring to cause prospective defendants, and individuals duly tried and convicted, to expect favoured treatment and consideration in return for their silence or false testimony, or rewarding individuals for their silence or false testimony.
In all of this, Richard M. Nixon has acted in a manner contrary to his trust as President and subversive of constitutional government, to the great prejudice of the cause of law and justice and to the manifest injury of the people of the United States.
Wherefore Richard M. Nixon, by such conduct, warrants impeachment and trial, and removal from office.
The Second Article of Impeachment, on abuse of power, passed two days later and the Third Article of Impeachment, on contempt of Congress, passed a day after the second.
Nixon desperately tried to cover up his crimes. He went so far as order the firing of Archibald Cox, the special counsel to the Watergate Committee. This led to the Saturday Night Massacre, as Attorney General Elliot Richardson refused and was fired, and his Deputy Assistant William Ruckleshaus also refused and was fired. The job fell to the slimy third in line, Robert Bork, who kissed ass with glee. (This is why Robert Bork should never be on the Supreme Court and why it was a major scandal just to nominate him in the first place. To "Bork" a position means that an extremely unqualified and morally repugnant candidate has been proposed, just to make subsequent extremists look good in comparison. We're seeing that now with the radical agenda of the Bush administration.)
Nixon was guilty as sin and knew it, but didn't have the guts to admit it. Nixon resigned on August 8, 1974, saying he lacked "the political base" to continue the cover-up. (Most of you have heard a section of this speech in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, scroll down. Some consider this a movie goof; I consider it another mention of "time" that permeates the movie. But that's a different column.). Nixon left office in disgrace.
Vichy President Petain... er, newly inaugurated President Gerald Ford pardoned Nixon on September 8, 1974. (That's a month after the resignation and less than a year after Ford became VP.) Ford didn't even read the text right, pardoning Nixon for all offenses from his inauguration on January 20, 1969 though he said July 20. The text takes precedence. Interestingly, while the pardon excuses any misconduct while Nixon was president, it doesn't specifically address his treason during the 1968 campaign. But at this point no one was interested in older crimes and Nixon walked away shamed but unjailed.
Nixon's fellow conspirators weren't quite so lucky. Nationonmaster has a good overview of convictions and resignations resulting from Watergate.
The conviction of the five burglars, including Liddy and McCord, was assured, as they were left out to hang. But the investigation also resulted in the conviction of the Attorney General John Mitchell, the White House Counsel John Dean, Chief of Staff HR Haldeman, chief aides Charles Colson and John Erhlichman and many (if not most) of Nixon's close personal White House staff and members of CREEP. The scandal and cover up were such an affront to American values that it became the prime impetus behind the Freedom of Information Act. Naturally, conservatives have been trying to repeal the FoIA ever since.
Right wing whiners have been after Felt for violating his oath as an FBI agent. Of course they never actually say what that oath was, and I can't find precisely the oath Felt may have said, but an agent in 1976 swore this:
I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.
Meanwhile, Nixon's Presidential oath of office, from the Constitution:
I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.
Everyone in government swears to the Constitution; that is, they vow to uphold the rule of law that is the centerpiece of the United States of America. Nixon violated his oath of office. Mark Felt would have been violating his oath not to help uncover the crimes committed by Nixon and his fellow travelers.
Now, is anyone brave enough and patriotic enough to come forward and point to the smoking gun(s) in the Bush administration?