Monday, May 13, 2013

You Call That a Cover-Up?

Obviously, things don't have to be as bad as Watergate to be important malfeasance, but given all the loose talk about "cover-up" and "worse than Watergate" in the context of Benghazi, I figured it was worth just pointing out quickly the general outlines of the Watergate cover-up. 

* The cover-up was essentially directed by the president, overseen by the White House Chief of Staff, and at the operational level run by the White House Counsel. 

* A false story was concocted.

* Both at the White House and at the campaign committee, everyone involved destroyed evidence. 

* Low-level people arrested for the initial break-in were paid off to stay quiet; they were also promised pardons (or at least pardons were hinted at). Among those directly involved in directing and raising funds specifically to be used for hush money were the White House Chief of Staff and, probably, the President of the United States.

* Others lied to the FBI and to a grand jury; the White House Counsel prepped them for the grand jury so they would stick to the cover story.

* The White House counsel also arranged to receive regular briefings from Department of Justice prosecutors, including FBI interview reports, so that the cover-up could stay one step ahead of the law

* When that arrangement became public and collapsed, the president himself began receiving regular briefings from the Department of Justice, about their prosecution strategy, including grand jury testimony, which he then shared with targets of the prosecutions. That arrangement only stopped when the president pushed too hard for information, and really only stopped for good when a special prosecutor, beyond the reach of the president, was appointed.

* The President of the United States had his chief domestic adviser, the second-ranking White House staffer, order the CIA to tell the FBI to stop the investigation based on a false claim about,

* Part of the reason for the cover-up was to protect illegal White House operations (Watergate itself was basically a campaign operation, although with plenty of blurry lines). The president specifically ordered the head of the the Department of Justice Criminal Division not to look into an illegal White House activity based on a false claim of national security.

* And that's just the internal story -- the real cover-up. To the public, the Nixon Administration falsely claimed that the White House was not involved in the original crime, falsely claimed that his White House Counsel had carried out an investigation and written a report clearing the White House, and denied several -- maybe dozens -- of specific, true, press reports. 

By the way, I'll stick with what I always say about this: it's the crime, not the cover-up, that gets people in trouble. The reason for the Watergate cover-up was that specific crimes had been committed, crimes which could have (had they been confessed to in June 1972) sent much of the senior White House staff, much of the campaign organization, and perhaps the President of the United States straight to prison. 

And, for those who are not following my Watergate updates, the above does not include the cover-up of the cover-up; once the initial cover-up collapsed in spring 1973, the president then initiated a new cover story which falsely claimed that he himself had not been involved in the cover-up at all. Because, again, the alternative was admitting the truth, which was worse.

24 comments:

  1. Yeah, but no one died as a result of Watergate!

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    1. Your comment is disingenuous, irrational in its temporal sense... no one died in Benghazi as a RESULT of whatever "coverup" you're suggesting. Obama's tone-deaf handling of the events afterward didn't cause them. On the other hand, Bush/Rice/Powell's blatant lies about WMD's absolutely lead to the result of the Iraq debacle with hundreds of thousands of deaths and casualties. Are you as lit up about that one?

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    2. Really Frank Moraes? Such a weak argument. Were the deaths themselves premeditated? No... of course not. The problems aren't the talking points that the "right" has a death grip on and just simply won't let go of. The problem here is security. How do we better protect our embassies and the people who put themselves on the line every day. Did you know that under the Bush administration there were over 11 such Embassy attacks? Of course you didn't. It is simply a horrible tragedy that took American lives. There was no cover-up, no premeditation, no payoffs, no breaking and entering, no felonies... that you would find in the Watergate scandal. They are hardly comparable.

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  2. Endless posts on a decades old scandal for no reason that I can see. The basic message is that government is a giant gang with habits similar to criminal organizations, but every reader here already knows this.

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    1. Well a large portion of the adult population was either not born yet or too young to remember the events, and much of the details weren't released until the people involved were dead.

      More to the point, I don't think your second statement has any truth at all. The worse scandal, at least as far as cover ups go, of the last 60 years was ran by people who were much less effective than most criminal organizations at getting away with crime.

      There were levels of transparency that makes it tough for them, and the mindset seems to be totally different than what makes for a successful crook.

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    2. I don't think this kind of cynicism is helpful. It just allows bad acts to go unpunished. It is its own kind of false equivalence. "Both sides do it so it isn't a story."

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    3. MyName,

      Well run criminal organizations take on functions of government; they tax (protection money, etc.) They minimize violence by threatening criminals who overstep certain lines. They have institutional memory. The Mexican Mafia and others act like a government.

      The USG backstops over-leveraged bankers who shunt money to ex-politicians. Banks allow the USG backdoor means to buy votes. The USG will invade countries for bullshit reasons, or imprison marijuana sellers whose businesses are welcomed in their cities. The Obamas use millions in tax dollars to avoid slight inconvenience. Clinton committed perjury and is now a multi millionaire from speaking fees after entering the WH with no money. His wife is on the same gravy train now as she preps for ANOTHER run at hyper-power and wealth.

      The USG looks like a criminal organization to me. Watergate is NOTHING compared to the everyday business of buying protection and mutual back-scratching between government and the powerful.

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  3. Endless posts on a decades old scandal for no reason that I can see.

    This is so wrong, backyard. Many of those posts belong in the Smithsonian wing of blogging, when it is finally built. I don't comment on them much, mainly because my motivation for posting is hubristic (i.e. I like to believe I'm shmart when I post, and I clearly don't know shit about Watergate). But the Watergate posts are so fascinating, for reasons having nothing to do with witch hunts or where the scandal ranks.

    For example, one of the amazing things revealed in these posts is that, All the President's Men notwithstanding, actually, none of these clowns were Nixon's men. As an aside, when we discussed conspiracies recently, no one pointed out the most critical facet: that all participants believe their personal interests are tied up in keeping the conspiracy quiet. Someone should have told Nixon. Amazing to think that a guy with such a reputation for paranoia could be so, well, inadequately paranoid.

    To illustrate, the latest post is priceless. Once again Nixon is spinning, first with Ziegler and then with Haig, wondering why his "Men" are behaving like rats fleeing a sinking ship, and what he can do about it. At the very end of the post, having been duly frustrated by the dubious loyalty of so many fringe players, Nixon amazingly instructs Haig to bring his personal lawyer, Fred Buzhardt, in, cause "he seems like a loyal guy" (or something).

    I dunno, backyard, but something tells me that Buzhardt is gonna let the President down, like all the rest. Know what I mean?

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    1. The Smithsonian wing of blogging. I like that.

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    2. CSH,

      It seems you like these posts for their narrative qualities. That's fine, but I prefer Heinlein. Considering Plain Blog's partisan slant (a blog that's a daily feast of confirmation bias) these just look like the dead-horse-beating of a team player with no objectivity.

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    3. It seems you like these posts for their narrative qualities.

      And it seems that you like to use this blog as an opportunity to spam your brain-dead libertarian talking points, which would be best refuted by you taking high school civics.

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    4. purusha,

      http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2012/05/its-not-about-reelection-bill-clintons-80-million-payday.html

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    5. BYF -- It looks like Jonathan has more work to do in beating-back the Nixon comparison.

      http://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2013/05/13/capuano-invokes-nixon-remarks-irs-controversy/EFzYEqQZXgmTRGAg2hpeJM/story.html

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    6. Yeah, but it wouldn't affect anything at Plain Blog even if the IRS scandal went to the top. Think of the current Dem boredom with: Guantanamo, invasions, drones, and marijuana busts. Partisans got ta partisan.

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    7. BYF, you're generally right about partisans, but I think the AP scandal has seriously soured the press on Obama. They felt like they were on his team, but then they learned that he was spying on them. It's a betrayal of sorts.

      Of course, Obama acted completely within the law -- but it's one of those new anti-terrorism laws that no one expects Obama to use agains them... until he does. Hopefully this is a wakeup call to liberals.

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    8. Oh, and #RonPaulwasright

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  4. I'd call lying to the American people about major world events a pretty serious crime, even if it doesn't carry a prison sentence.

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    1. Did you feel that way when Dick Cheney told us how Mohamed Atta had met with Iraqi emissaries in Prague? Funny, but I never heard anyone call that one a crime.

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    2. That's not what "crime" means.

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    3. TN - I would. Are you saying that because Bush got away with it, Obama should too?

      Matt w, I would agree that it's not what our federal officials would consider a "crime," like growing marijuana for sick people. It's nonetheless a serious violation of the public trust.

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  5. In regard to "It's the cover-up, not the crime." That's a mixed metaphor in relation to Watergate. Most of the crimes WERE the cover-up. The "obstruction" part of the bill of impeachment, and all the illegal acts John Dean told Nixon his staff, Dean himself and Nixon were committing consisted of covering in front of people with badges, subpoena power, and the sanction of perjury charge. There were some prior illegal acts, like the Ellsberg break-in and the use of the IRS, but it's not likely they would have brought about impeachment hearings.

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    1. If they had fully disclosed everything, Haldeman, Ehrlichman, and Colson are all disclosing participation in crimes (Watergate, Ellsberg). The president would also be disclosing that he ordered crimes which were not carried out (e.g. breaking into Brookings). The campaign manager, his deputy, and the campaign finance chair would also be confessing to criminal activities.

      And then there are the various unethical but probably not illegal acts: infiltrating campaigns, dirty tricks, and more. WH-paid thugs disrupting peaceful protests.

      My best guess is that if they confess to everything in June 1972, Nixon would have wound up dropping out of the campaign before the Republican convention in August.

      Not to mention there really is a very good chance that Nixon had prior knowledge of the Watergate break-ins.

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    2. On what do you base your claim that "there really is a very good chance that Nixon had prior knowledge of the Watergate break-ins"?

      AFAIK, not even the Watergate Special Prosecutor, Judge John Sirica, the Congressional investigators ever alleged that Nixon had prior knowledge of the break-ins. Has new evidence emerged to the contrary?

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    3. There's no direct evidence. But, as I've talked about in the Watergate posts...I would up feeling that it was more consistent with the way everyone behaved that they (Haldeman, Colson) would have told him than not.

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