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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Tuesday Wake Up Call – September 4, 2018

The Daily Escape:

The Desert House, near Joshua Tree NP, CA – photo by Lance Gerber

Wrongo’s back! However, he’s neither tanned, rested, nor ready. And he returns with a message: Wake up America, summer’s almost ending, and there’s no use pretending that the country isn’t in a mess.

Today, let’s focus on the Mueller investigation. We’ve seen many guilty pleas by people close to Trump, and we have the Manafort trial(s) still to assess. It’s still early days, but so far, nothing definitive connects the president to any conspiracy.

The New Yorker had an interesting column by Jill Lepore reminding us of the Nixon investigations:

In May, 1974, John Doar, the special counsel to the House Judiciary Committee, called the Yale historian C. Vann Woodward into his office and asked him to figure out just how badly Presidents had behaved in the past, and how they had answered accusations against them.

Doar gave Woodward two months to pull together a report, cataloging every charge of Presidential misconduct from 1789 to 1969. There was one question to answer: Was Richard Nixon worse than the worst of them?

Woodward divided the work among 14 historians. They excluded allegations that appeared to be merely partisan or ideological, and confined themselves to the:

Responses of the President, on his part or on the part of his subordinates, to charges of misconduct that was alleged to be illegal and for which offenders would be culpable.

They found a lot. Every President except William Henry Harrison, who died in office after one month, had been accused of some form of misconduct. More from Lepore:

Most of it was petty, bumbling, and shabby: favoritism and graft, wheeling and dealing, mainly done not by the President but by the men around him…The Post Office (for a long time the largest part of the federal government) was quite often involved.

  • James Monroe was twice embroiled in congressional investigations relating to the White House furniture.
  • Andrew Jackson once accepted the gift of a lion from the Emperor of Morocco. (He sold it and gave the money to charity.)
  • James Buchanan appears to have had a hand in Democrats’ attempts to rig the elections of 1856 and 1858; in 1860, after Republicans gained control of the House, they launched an investigation, and leaked its findings to the press.

The historians who undertook the project dropped everything to work on it. Lepore says they:

Found not much to tell on F.D.R.; quite a lot under Truman…

Serious malfeasance really began with Jackson, reached a pitch with Buchanan, then quieted down until the Presidencies of Grant and Harding, but all of these seem quaint compared with what Nixon stood accused of.

Woodward, reviewing his 1974 findings, made a list of Nixon’s never-befores:

Heretofore, no president has been proved to be the chief coordinator of the crime and misdemeanor charged against his own administration as a deliberate course of conduct or plan. Heretofore, no president has been held to be the chief personal beneficiary of misconduct in his administration or of measures taken to destroy or cover up evidence of it. Heretofore, the malfeasance and misdemeanor have had no confessed ideological purposes, no constitutionally subversive ends. Heretofore, no president has been accused of extensively subverting and secretly using established government agencies to defame or discredit political opponents and critics, to obstruct justice, to conceal misconduct and protect criminals, or to deprive citizens of their rights and liberties.

Nixon has been the leader of the pack of Presidential malfeasance, until now.

Woodward’s study gives us perspective regarding our current situation. The conviction of Paul Manafort, Donald Trump’s former campaign manager, tars him, and Michael Cohen’s guilty plea, implicates Trump. Cohen pleaded guilty to violating federal law at Trump’s direction, making the President an unindicted co-conspirator. If Trump were not President, he would very likely be charged with a crime. A total of seven in Trump’s orbit have now plead guilty to various crimes.

We’ll see where Mueller’s work takes us, but what can be proven, and what Congressional Republicans are willing to do about it, both remain to be seen.

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