Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

"There Was No Deal"

Frost/Nixon is a good film overall (I covered it in the last entry here), but it also presents one falsehood unchallenged – Gerald Ford's claim to Congress that "there was no deal" to give Nixon a pardon. Since Frost/Nixon's focus is elsewhere, that's not surprising, and the film does depict public outrage over Watergate and the pardon. But for over thirty years now, Ford, his allies, apologists and far too many journalists have been eager to exonerate Ford for his pardon of Nixon. They've claimed that the country needed the pardon to 'move on,' although this has always smacked mostly of the same justice-be-damned, Beltway class solidarity we've seen all too often. Meanwhile, the same journalists, pundits and insiders either didn't know, didn't investigate or didn't disclose crucial events. Ford was indeed offered a deal, by Nixon's chief of staff Alexander Haig. Ford omitted key details from Congress, and much of what happened is not common knowledge today. (I'll warn you this is a long post; if nothing else, read the linked pieces by Bob Woodward and Seymour Hersh.)

Ford's Tales to Woodward

After Gerald Ford died in December 2006, The Washington Post ran several pieces on him. Some came from Bob Woodward, and one was an adapted excerpt of his book Shadow, an article titled "Closing the Chapter on Watergate Wasn't Done Lightly." I'd recommend reading the whole thing, although I'll quote most of it:

The chain of events that would lead to the pardon began only five weeks earlier when Ford, who had been vice president only eight months, learned he was about to become president.

At 3:30 p.m. on Aug. 1, 1974, Nixon's chief of staff, Alexander M. Haig, entered the vice president's suite. He looked troubled and on edge.

"Are you ready, Mr. Vice President, to assume the presidency in a short period of time?" Haig asked. New Watergate tapes, he said, would show Nixon had ordered the coverup of the burglary.

Ford was stunned.

Haig presented Ford with six scenarios: Nixon could step aside temporarily under the 25th Amendment, he could just wait and delay the ongoing impeachment process, or he could try to settle for a formal censure. In addition, there were three pardon options. Nixon could pardon himself and resign. Or he could pardon the aides involved and then resign. Or Nixon could agree to leave in return for an agreement that the new President Ford would pardon him.

Haig handed Ford two pieces of paper. The first sheet contained a handwritten summary of a president's legal authority to pardon. The second sheet was a draft pardon form that needed only Ford's signature and Nixon's name to make it legal.

"It's my understanding from a White House lawyer," Haig said, "that the president does have authority to pardon even before criminal action has been taken against an individual."

After extracting a pledge of secrecy, Ford told his top aide and speechwriter, Robert Hartmann, what had just occurred with Haig.

"Jesus!" Hartmann said. "What did you tell him?"

"I told him I needed time to think about it."

"You what?" Hartmann fairly shouted. Even entertaining any agreement of resignation for a pardon, Hartmann believed, was a monstrous impropriety that could taint a Ford presidency forever.

Ford didn't think so. He hadn't promised anything to Haig. He wanted to talk to his wife, Betty.

Betty Ford was firm that he shouldn't get involved in making any recommendations to Nixon or to Haig.

About 1:30 a.m., Ford called Haig.

"Al," he said, "our discussion this afternoon, I hope you understand there was no agreement, no decision and no deal."

There Wasn't a Deal

The next day, Ford told his adviser and former House colleague John Marsh about the visit from Haig and the options, including one in which Nixon would resign.

"I then, what I would do, I would give Nixon a pardon," Ford said.

Marsh couldn't believe it. "Look, you can't do this," he said gently.

"You could make a strong case for a pardon, that it would be in the national interest," Ford told Marsh.

"You can't do that," Marsh repeated. It would look like a quid pro quo for Nixon's resignation.

Alarmed, Marsh went to see Hartmann. Together, the two went to talk with Ford, who then told them about his late-night phone call to Haig saying no deal.

Hartmann and Marsh both told Ford there had to be no connection between a Nixon resignation and a possible pardon. They urged Ford to talk to former Nixon White House counselor Bryce Harlow.

Harlow persuaded Ford to place a second call to Haig to explain that he had no intention of recommending what President Nixon should do about resigning or not resigning.

Afterward, Hartmann, Marsh and Harlow had a drink together. They celebrated and declared that they had forced Ford to dodge a bullet.

Making Up His Mind

On Friday, Aug. 9, 1974, Nixon resigned.

Ford held his first news conference on Aug. 28, and a third of the questions were about Nixon. To Ford, though, it felt more like 90 percent. He feared that without a pardon, Nixon and Watergate would haunt his presidency for years.

"My mind is 99 percent made up," Ford told Haig, Hartmann, Marsh and former law partner Phil Buchen in the Oval Office two days later.

Marsh was deeply worried. He went to see Ford during his lunch in a study off the Oval Office.

"Questions are going to be raised about a deal," Marsh said.

Ford stopped eating. "Jack," he said, "I know exactly where you're coming from, and I have thought of that, and there was no deal."

A Nation's Outrage

The new president had misjudged the mood of the country. Rather than sympathy, the public and the media voiced outrage at the pardon. It seemed to be totally on Nixon's terms -- early, complete and without acknowledgment that he had committed crimes or even impeachable offenses. Suspicions about a deal surfaced almost immediately.

Ford agreed to testify about his decision before a House subcommittee. His staff went to work preparing his statement.

Haig learned of the testimony being drafted in a phone call from J. Fred Buzhardt, who had remained at the Ford White House during the transition. It stated that Haig had offered the presidency in return for the pardon on Aug. 1 but Ford had rejected the deal.

"Al, I think you'd better come to the White House," Buzhardt told Haig. "These boys have prepared sworn testimony for the president that could very well result in your indictment."

Haig drove to the White House and insisted on seeing President Ford. Within minutes, Haig was in the Oval Office.

"What do you want?" Ford asked.

"The truth," Haig replied. "That's all."

"You'll have it, Al," Ford said. He handed Haig a yellow legal tablet and said, "You write that portion as you remember."

So the conclusions of Ford's top aides that a deal had been offered were initially in Ford's testimony but were excised at the insistence of Haig.

'I Was Naive'

Twenty-three years later, on Sept. 22, 1997, in a suite at the Waldorf Towers in New York, I asked Ford whether he thought Haig had offered him a deal.

"Well, I guess I was naive," Ford said. "I was naive that anybody would offer a deal, because all my political life people never came to me, 'I'm going to give you a political donation, I expect something in return.' People never came to me that way, because they knew damn well I wouldn't be a part of it. So when Al Haig comes with those six terms, I just didn't visualize him as one making a proposition to make a deal. It never went through my mind."

I continued to press Ford. Did he agree, when all the facts and conclusions were examined now, decades later, that Haig had offered a deal?

"I would agree," Ford said, "because after talking to Hartmann, Marsh and Harlow, I wanted the record clear that I did not agree to consummate. . . . So that it has to be very clear that, yes, on paper, without action it was a deal, but it never became a deal because I never accepted."

Nixon's 'Confession'

I interviewed Ford on the subject again on May 20, 1998, at his home office in Rancho Mirage, Calif., situated on a golf course in the midst of the desert. He was alone.

He brought up his pardon decision, noting that no president had "caught as much hell as I did." His recollections were clear. I suspected he had replayed them many times in his mind.

"I was overwhelmed with the public reaction," he said. "I guess I anticipated a lot, but not to the extent that happened. But . . . it didn't faze me one bit. If anything, it made me more stubborn that I was right."

I asked why he hadn't pressed Nixon harder for an admission of guilt.

"We were under a time pressure," he responded. Once he'd made the decision to grant the pardon, he had to move quickly. "The longer it took to resolve some of these things, the more likely that the issue would have come to the surface and it could have been a different ballgame."

I said I agreed, it would have leaked. Still, a forthright acknowledgment by Nixon could have ended the historical debate on that question. Why didn't Ford make more of the 1915 Supreme Court decision in Burdick v. United States that held that accepting a pardon is tantamount to confession of guilt?

"I still carry it around in my pocket, that statement," Ford said. "I've got it in my wallet here because anytime anybody challenges me, I pull it out. I've got it here someplace." He searched around in his wallet, and handed me a folded, dog-eared piece of paper. It was a portion of the Burdick decision.

I began to read aloud. "Most important, the justices found that a pardon 'carries an imputation of guilt, acceptance, a confession of it.' " Ford seized on the last phrase and repeated it: " 'Acceptance, a confession of it.' " See, Nixon had confessed, he said. "That was always very reassuring to me."

Ford did disclose to Congress that he spoke with Haig on these issues, but left out his aides' conclusions and plenty of other details. As Seymour Hersh reported for The Atlantic in his 1983 piece "The Pardon":

The only detailed version of what took place in the afternoon meeting, which lasted fifty minutes, is Gerald Ford's, as provided to a House Judiciary subcommittee during his testimony on October 17, 1974—more than one month after his pardon of Nixon. He was only the second President to make such an appearance. Haig has never been questioned under oath on his role in the pardon, although he did say in a prepared statement on January 9, 1981, as he was beginning Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearings on his nomination to be secretary of state in the Reagan Administration: "At no time did I ever suggest in any way an agreement or 'deal' that Mr. Nixon would resign in exchange for a pardon from Mr. Ford. When I met alone with Vice President Ford on August 1, 1974, I went to that meeting to tell him of President Nixon's inclination to resign, and to emphasize to him that he had to be prepared to assume the presidency within a very short time perhaps within a day." Haig's statement buttressed that of President Ford before the Judiciary subcommittee. Ford testified that he first learned of the damaging June 23 tape recording during the afternoon meeting with Haig, who asked whether he was prepared to assume the presidency in a short time. Haig discussed six possible options, Ford testified, including the option of Nixon pardoning himself before resigning; the option of first pardoning all of the Watergate defendants, then himself, and then resigning; and, finally, the option of an eventual pardon of Nixon, if he should resign, by the new President. "General Haig wanted my views on the various courses of action," Ford testified, "as well as my attitude on the options of resignation. However, he indicated he was not advocating any of the options." Haig also informed him, Ford said in response to a question, that "it was his understanding from a White House lawyer that a President did have the authority to grant a pardon even before any criminal action had been taken against an individual . . . ." Ford said he requested time "to think": "As I saw it, at this point, the question clearly before me was, under the circumstances, what course of action should I recommend that would be in the best interest of the country?"

Ford, in an April interview for this article at his offices near Palm Springs, California, emphatically denied, as he had in his public statements and testimony over the past nine years, that he and Alexander Haig made a deal for the presidency on the afternoon of August 1.

Nonetheless, Ford's and Haig's accounts of their encounter, as provided to Congress, were far from complete…

Hersh's article, adapted from his book The Price of Power: Kissinger in the Nixon White House, is also essential reading on this issue (and we'll return to it shortly). You can read a transcript of Ford's testimony and listen to his opening statement here. In it, Ford depicts himself as a stand-up guy, who thought Nixon was innocent until Haig met with him on August 1st, 1974 and told Ford of an explosive recording that would ensure impeachment or force resignation. Ford doesn't really address whether Haig knew Nixon was guilty before that. But in Ford's public account, Haig came to him mainly concerned about how Ford could best take over the presidency smoothly, and possible pardons were a side issue. In the Woodward account (and others), Haig's main concern was protecting Nixon and key Nixon aides, including himself. Ford never mentioned the papers presented by Haig ready for Ford's signature. In his own account, Ford is only thinking of the good of the country.

Let's recap: by his own admission to Woodward (but not Congress), Ford was offered a deal. He claims he was initially too naïve to recognize it as such, and then too principled to accept it. However, he did meet the conditions of one of Haig's pardon options. And the only sources for this account, portraying Ford as an innocent and/or man of principle, are Ford and Haig. Ford's own aides were alarmed by this meeting, and Ford revised his testimony – at Haig's insistence – to deflect blame from Haig. Pardoning Nixon is an option the Ford team would have likely discussed regardless. However, Ford concealed from Congress the extent and character of Haig's involvement – and Hersh's article reveals still more troubling material. Regardless, presumably journalists at the time heard Ford's testimony. Didn't his mentions of Haig raise any red flags, especially given Haig's nature? Why do most accounts of Ford's pardon of Nixon not cover this part of Ford's testimony, not to mention the added material from Shadow and other sources such as Hersh?

Ford Remembered

I happened to read that WaPo article when it ran, and also happened to watch PBS' NewsHour on 12/27/06, including the segment "Former President Gerald Ford's Legacy Remembered." Follow the link to read the transcript or watch the video, but one part leapt out at me, involving Ford's press secretary, Ron Nessen. It occurred after the pardon had already been discussed at some length:

RAY SUAREZ: Ron Nessen, you were on the inside during these years, and I think it's good for people to remember how tumultuous those years were, no matter who was president.

Less than a year between going from a congressman from Grand Rapids to a summit with Leonid Brezhnev, where they're talking about throw-weight and missiles and missile ranges, a couple of months later, Saigon falls and, a couple of months later, he's back in Brezhnev at Helsinki. What were those years like?

RON NESSEN: Well, they were tumultuous. And I think one thing, just to back up to the pardon for a second, Ford said that the leftover Nixon matters were taking 25 percent of his time and 25 percent of his staff's time.

And there were so many pressing issues, like the one you mentioned, on his plate, he had to get rid of this distraction of leftover Nixon matters, and that's why he gave the pardon.

He was, of course, asked, "Was there a deal?" And he said there was no deal, and there's never been any sign of a deal.

I found this striking. Suarez was moving on, and trying to give Nessen an opportunity to say something positive about his old boss. But Nessen made a point of backtracking to the pardon to insist that there was no deal and no proof of one. It stood out for me – this was a claim Nessen specifically wanted to make, and it sounded like a defense attorney's statement – 'you can't prove my client is guilty!' The Washington Post article ran the next morning. Nessen wasn't challenged on his claim. Had no one on the program read Shadow or other critical pieces? It's unlikely Nessen didn't know what Ford had said in Shadow and what other former Ford and Nixon aides had revealed over the passing years. It's possible Nessen didn't know every detail – Jerry terHorst, Ford's press secretary at the time of the pardon, resigned because of it, and Nessen was his replacement. Still, it's hard to imagine Nessen accepting the job of Ford's press secretary, knowing the press corps was pushing strongly on this very issue, and not seeking to have some idea of what really happened as well as the official line. Perhaps the gig seemed too prestigious to push too much or Nessen didn't really care about the full story (not that he'd be admirable in such circumstances), but it's hard to shake the impression that Nessen was covering for his boss one more time.

Ford, Haig, Nessen and others insisted there wasn't a deal. But saying "there wasn't a deal," is intentionally deceptive and misleading, the sort of narrow, barely accurate statement favored by press secretaries and defense attorneys. It omits crucial details to give the opposite impression from the truth. It also doesn't hold up to cross-examination under oath, but political talk shows are generally far too polite to approach anywhere near that level of scrutiny. At the very best, Ford was deceptive, and at worst, he was corrupt and lied to cover his corruption. The entire affair reeks of a cover-up by Ford for Haig, for Nixon, and for Ford himself.

I'm glad to see the Wiki entry on Ford's pardon of Nixon currently covers the Shadow material, but I have never heard any journalist mention Haig's offers to Ford on mainstream TV or radio, let alone the extent of those offers. Apart from the pieces by Woodward and Hersh, I don't think I've ever seen this aspect of the affair mentioned in a mainstream print outlet, either. It doesn't seem to be common knowledge among the general public, and certainly isn't spoken of by the Beltway chattering class.

The AP obituary Fox News ran in 2006 portrayed Ford as heroic, throwing away public acclaim to do the right thing – to pardon Nixon's crimes. CBS' expansion on the same story added mention of Al Haig's appearance on The Early Show, where he once again denied there was a deal. CNN ran a piece about how Ford was a "honorable man." Ford's fellow Republican Chris Shays was a little more candid about how Ford's pardon of Nixon hurt the GOP in the following elections. Few if any accounts covered how Nixon tried to take his tapes and files with him, and Ford's initial support for that.

You can watch Ford's televised address pardoning Nixon here. One of Woodward's other pieces on Ford for The Washington Post was "Ford, Nixon Sustained Friendship for Decades," showing how personally close the two men were, and revealing how Ford's friendship with Nixon was a key factor in the pardon. As Woodward notes:

That acknowledgment represents a significant shift from Ford's previous portrayals of the pardon that absolved Nixon of any Watergate-related crimes. In earlier statements, Ford had emphasized the decision as an effort to move the country beyond the partisan divisions of the Watergate era, playing down the personal dimension.

The History Commons entry on the pardon is interesting mainly for its information on two key Ford administration figures. Rather than going to jail, Haig did quite well, and Ford's eventual chief of staff, Dick Cheney, vehemently opposed Congress' attempts to rein in and oversee executive power. Meanwhile, in March 2008, Cheney compared Bush going into Iraq to Ford pardoning Nixon. (The many levels of irony on that one aren't lost on Keith Olbermann in the linked clip.)

Hersh and Other Investigative Pieces

Seymour Hersh's "The Pardon" should be read in its entirety, too. Since we've already spent a great deal of time on Woodward (and Hersh's piece is more complex), here are some highlights:

• Gerald Ford had a fairly decent public image, at least with pundits like David Broder, who viewed him as honest and "one of the most decent human beings in Washington." However, Nixon, Haig and the gang felt they could rely on him. Nixon aide Charles W. Colson said that "Nixon knew that Ford was a team player and understood how to work with a wink and a nod."

• Ford's efforts to impeach Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas endeared him to Nixon, and Ford helped derail Congressman Wright Patman's investigation into Watergate money.

Ford gave loyalty in return by remaining fervent in his public defense of Richard Nixon's innocence until a few days before Nixon's resignation. "Nixon would talk with him like one of the boys," Colson says—although he adds that he does not believe that in late 1972, when Ford successfully intervened to stop the Patman Committee, Ford was told the full scope of Watergate.

• Haig told Ford's secretary to put down "Rogers Morton" (the Secretary of the Interior) versus his own name in the logs for the crucial August 1st meeting. Haig and Ford met or spoke several other times off the books, but Ford concealed these and several pertinent conversations with his aides from Congress.

• After consulting with his wife Betty and a few other people, and after a 1:30 am phone call with Haig (accounts conflict on who initiated it), Ford was planning to call Haig back the next day and tell him yes to the deal, but was talked out of it by key aides.

• James Schlesinger, Secretary of Defense, had several run-ins with Haig. Schlesinger was concerned that Haig or Nixon might attempt a coup, and spoke guardedly about this to the Joint Chiefs, who thought Schlesinger was a bit crazy. Haig also asked that the National Security Agency (under Defense's control) duplicate some White House recordings, which Schlesinger agreed to, provided that the Watergate Special Prosecution Force be allowed to observe. "Haig was, as Schlesinger anticipated, enraged at the suggestion" and didn't call him again regarding Watergate. (This strikes me as an attempt to doctor the tapes provided to the prosecution.)

• Leon Jaworski, the Watergate prosecutor, was a conservative Democrat "with strong ties to Lyndon Johnson and as a man with a strong ego... a firm believer in national security and the sanctity of the presidency." Haig courted Jaworksi, who liked Haig and believed most of what Haig told him. Jaworski actually told the grand jury he wouldn't indict Nixon, that resignation was punishment enough. There's evidence Jaworski didn't want any prosecution to drag on for financial reasons as well, because he wanted to return to his private law firm in Houston. His staff wanted an indictment, but a pardon would free Jaworski to leave. (More on this later.)

• Haig sought pardons for all the key staff, and Nixon was planning to do so, in large part because he was scared they'd sell him out otherwise. But Nixon "deeply resented the tone and character of the pleas by his two former deputies" Haldeman and Erlichman.

In fact, according to an aide of Haig's, Nixon had made a flat commitment to Haldeman for a pardon. The aide eavesdropped on an August 7 telephone call between Haldeman and Nixon, he says, as Nixon tried to “crap out” on the agreement. Nixon couldn't face telling Haldeman that no pardon would be forthcoming, the aide says, and turned the call over to Haig. "Nixon and Ford had the same deal that Haldeman thought he had with Nixon," the aide surmises. "Ford delivered; Nixon didn't."

• The Nixon staff burned and destroyed documents at a staggering rate before being ordered to stop by a few Ford aides, chief among them Benton Becker:

The Secret Service had reported that tons of papers were piled up on the fourth and fifth floors of the Executive Office Building; there was concern, Becker had been told, "that the floors would cave in."

Becker had to personally face off with Haig to overrule his order that three Air Force trucks cart away "Nixon's file cabinets and other personal goods."

"I had no illusions about Haig," Becker says, "and so I went outside and watched that son of a bitch unload."

("Son of bitch" here probably refers to the colonel supervising the loading, but applies even better to Haig.)

• Haig continued to fight for Nixon to keep his papers, and Nixon was furious and frantic on the matter. Haig was a bit curtailed in asking directly for his own pardon from Ford, or advocating Nixon's wishes – at least in public.

• Several people called Ford, or got word to Ford through others, that Nixon was in poor health, "in what seemed to be a carefully devised campaign" to put pressure on Ford to pardon Nixon.

• Nixon wanted his materials, but not if it meant expressing regret for his crimes:

On September 5, at the suggestion of Herbert Miller, Ford authorized Becker to fly to San Clemente to negotiate on his behalf an agreement on the pardon and the papers. Haig was present when Ford made the decision, Becker says, at a meeting of senior White House aides, but quickly excused himself, seemingly in an effort to have it appear that he was not involved in such negotiations. "It struck me as opportunistic," Becker says, since Haig had been kept advised "of everything" by Buchen and presumably by Ford. A few hours later, in fact, Becker says, Haig sat in on the meeting at which Becker received his last-minute instructions from Ford before taking off for California. One requirement was a clear statement of contrition from Nixon. Becker recalls Haig predicting, "You'll never get it."

Eight hours later, Becker arrived at the Nixon compound in San Clemente, accompanied by Miller. "At the very first meeting with Ron Zeigler," Becker says, "he began by saying, 'Mr. Becker, let me tell you this right now, President Nixon is not issuing any statement whatsoever regarding Watergate, whether Jerry Ford pardons him or not.' How did Ziegler know what I wanted? It's always been my suspicion that Haig telephoned him.

• Hersh's conclusion:

The Hungate subcommittee, by not fully investigating the pardon, failed to fulfill its constitutional obligations. Theirs was not the only failure. Leon Jaworski found himself unable to meet the immense responsibilities of his position, and undercut his authority by maintaining close contact with the closest aide to the man he was investigating. Those former White House staff aides who know enough to have serious doubts about the process—doubts they waited nine years to discuss with an outsider—did not have the courage at the time to talk, or act. Richard Nixon, with his continued efforts to influence the White House through the good offices of Alexander Haig, demonstrated that his fall from power had taught him little. And Gerald Ford, by putting self-interest and political loyalty to a benefactor above his duty, did not give the American legal system a chance to work. The transfer of power in August of 1974 was not a triumph for democracy.

The Nation’s Victor Navasky was on Democracy Now after Ford's death describing a lawsuit brought by Ford's publisher against their magazine. Navasky and The Nation had gotten a sneak peak at Ford's memoirs, where Ford had mentioned his conversation with Haig in more detail than had been known. The publisher sued, and it went all the way up to the Supreme Court.

Finally, Eric Boehlert has a very good piece, "Bob Woodward keeps spinning the Ford pardon," looking at the coverage after Ford's death, and highlights a number of problems and discrepancies. In particular, he also picks up on the Shadow material, but links it into a larger pattern of Bob Woodward seeming to ignore his own reporting, and going around praising Ford's pardoning of Nixon. Boehlert also makes the crucial point that it was Congress, not Ford, that deserves credit for stopping Nixon from leaving with tapes, documents and other materials, which he easily could have destroyed (in addition to those materials that already were).

The Authoritarian Gang Rides Again

The Beltway chatterers were mostly quite eager to exonerate Ford for his pardon of Nixon as time went on. By extension, they were eventually content to pardon Nixon and his criminal activities. It's just more pleasant to pretend that Ford was an honorable man and the right thing was done. It may be true of most politicians, but Ford appears worse the closer one looks, especially on this affair. For every scandal not involving a blow job, the Beltway gang panics and insists that the public must be spared the horrible sight of seeing men and women of power being brought to justice. And yet somehow, for all their wails and rending of garments over the prospect of accountability, their "moving on" never works to discourage further wrongdoing – it only helps their collective peace of mind. As we've discussed here many times before, including in "Concern Trolls for Nixon":

There are some Eisenhower Republicans still around – but these days they're speaking at the Democratic National Convention. The authoritarians of movement conservatism in power now are a completely different breed. For them, the only sin of Watergate was getting caught. Ever since, they've worked hard to avoid that happening ever again. Cheney and Rumsfeld practiced their dark arts in the Ford administration. The Reagan crew committed Iran-Contra and largely got away with it, with pardons from Bush the elder and justification from then Congressman Cheney, who complained that one just doesn't question the Imperial Presidency. And of course we now have many of the same Concern Trolls for Nixon in the current administration and carrying their water in the media. The neocons and their fellow authoritarian conservatives push disastrous policies without any scruple, their incompetence and corruption are (as Digby puts it) features, not bugs, and they will never, ever stop voluntarily. They have to be exposed and discredited.

Dick Cheney wasn't in the thick of the pardon, but he and Rumsfeld became key figure in the Ford administration, and Cheney wanted to push back against the post-Watergate reforms. Alexander Haig in the pardon affair reminds me quite a bit of the Cheney portrayed in Angler – loyal to the president over the country, contemptuous of Congress and the rule of law, working back channels and employing spies, arrogant enough to assume his own righteousness, and willing to lie, cheat, steal or otherwise abuse power without blinking an eye.

And then there's the master himself, Richard Nixon. If Nixon had gone on trial, or if Ford had faced greater consequences for pardoning him, we might not have had Iran-Contra, or all the many abuses of George W. Bush's administration, most of all lying to start a war of choice, warrantless surveillance on American citizens, indefinite imprisonment without charges, and torture. With the Beltway gang's attitude toward investigating and prosecuting those crimes in mind, let's return once more to Hersh's piece (my emphasis):

The Watergate Prosecution Force had drawn up a 128-page "Prosecution Report" by early February of 1974, outlining what it described as conclusive evidence of Nixon's involvement in criminal activity. There was no need in that office for a "smoking gun." During the next months, Jaworski was in a constant struggle with the Watergate grand jury, composed of twenty-three Washington residents, over the question of indicting Nixon. Jaworski, not content merely to discourage the grand jurors from indicting the President, warned them that as long as Nixon was in office he, as Special Prosecutor, would not sign an indictment. His was the ultimate authority, because no indictments could be issued without his personal approval. Jaworski held back none of his fears in his attempts to maintain control over the grand jurors. In a June, 1982, segment of the ABC television show 20/20, Harold Evans, deputy foreman of the grand jury, described some of Jaworski's arguments against indictment: "He gave us some very strange arguments .... He gave us the trauma of the country, and he's the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, and what happens if he surrounded the White House with his armed forces? Would the courts be able to act?" Did Alexander Haig, who is known to have spread similar concerns inside the White House, discuss this possible use of force with Jaworski?

In retrospect, Jaworski seems almost to have been a confidant of Haig in the last days. Internal Watergate Prosecution Force records, made available under the Freedom of Information Act, show that Haig matter-of-factly told Jaworski at a private lunch on August 8 that Nixon had finally decided to resign, effective at noon the next day, and would announce that decision in a televised address to the nation that evening. Haig said that Nixon would be taking all of his documents to California with him, and that—according to a Prosecution Force memorandum summarizing a report Jaworski gave his three top aides that afternoon—"there will be no hanky-panky." Haig also told Jaworski that there was "no question" that someone in the White House had tampered with the presidential tapes, but added that he had no further knowledge. The records show that Haig told Jaworski that Nixon "will not be doing anything for defendants—there will be no pardons." Haig further assured Jaworski that he, acting for Nixon, was not asking for anything in relaying all of this information; Nixon's resignation was not part of any understanding or bargaining, "tacitly or otherwise." On August 9, Jaworski met with about a dozen members of the senior prosecution staff and, according to notes of that meeting, once again relayed Haig's report that Nixon was taking "some things" with him. Jaworski added that Haig had assured him that "there will be lawyers at San Clemente who will know about these things" (the status of pending Prosecution Force requests for White House documents).

That Jaworski would take Haig's assurance at face value, after more than a year of repeated White House lies, deletions, and erasures in a broad array of subpoenaed documents, says much about his relief at not having to face the indictment and trial of Nixon. From the day of Nixon's resignation, Jaworski became, in effect, one of the White House's strongest allies in the struggle to avoid an immediate indictment. Jaworski saw Nixon's resignation as enough punishment, as did Haig. Jaworski argued as early as August 9, according to the Prosecution Force memoranda, that Nixon would never be able to receive a fair trial in the United States, because of the heavy pre-trial publicity, and that his indictment would delay the impending trial of the other Watergate defendants. "There are conflicting factors for us that [the] general public does not have to grapple with," Jaworski told his staff. He was alone in that view among all of the attorneys at work in the Prosecution Force, but he prevailed.

And justice did not. As Hersh writes, the entire affair was "not a triumph for democracy," making it all the more essential that Beltway class solidarity, criminal activity, corruption and immorality not get away so cleanly again. The scars these scoundrels sometimes wear are as nothing to those they leave behind.

(Cross-posted at Blue Herald)

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