Bush = Nixon

[ Posted Monday, July 16th, 2007 – 16:31 UTC ]

There's a monster battle currently brewing between Capitol Hill and the White House. Democrats need to fight this battle with everything they've got, because (win or lose) it is a battle worth fighting... both for them, and for the country at large. And because (win or lose) it's going to make President Bush look exactly like Richard Nixon, for a long time to come.

The battle can be summed up in one of two ways, depending on your point of view. It could be expressed as: "Does Congress have the right to conduct oversight into the Executive Branch of government?" Conversely, it could also be described as: "What exactly does 'Executive Privilege' mean, and where exactly are the boundaries of the privilege?"

This battle is brewing on many fronts. Subpoenas are threatened, issued, and ignored on several subjects, and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is at the middle of many of them in one way or another. The firing of the U.S. Attorneys, and warrantless wiretapping are currently the two on the front burner, but there are others in the background as well. The Attorney firings have already provided many instances where Congress is considering "Contempt of Congress" charges. The most recent of these is a Tuesday morning deadline for the Republican National Committee to turn over emails. But no matter which of these battles advances first, the argument is ultimately going to boil down to the same thing: Congress versus the White House, on the battlefield of executive privilege.

Senator Patrick Leahy and his counterparts in the House need to realize that President Bush is playing hardball in this fight, and he's not going to change his ways any time in the near future. Or the far future. The Bush White House seems to think (under the deluded "unitary executive" theory) that they can claim executive privilege over anything they please, with absolutely no restraint whatsoever.

There's a word for this, which the media has already been dusting off: stonewalling.
And every time that word appears, what naturally follows is a comparison to the GOP's champion all-time stonewaller, Richard Nixon.

So Democratic congressional committee chairmen need to stop playing nice, and start playing the same hardball game Bush is playing. Ever since Watergate, the White House (various occupants) and Congress have had a number of impasses (at least 10 separate occasions) on investigations versus executive privilege. Each time, the two sides worked out an agreement for what was covered and what wasn't. None of them (to the best of my knowledge) ever ended up in court. That was because White House lawyers and congressional committees both knew that strong legal precedents had been laid down in the Watergate case (Nixon's tapes), so both sides pretty much already knew what the courts were going to say about it.

But gentlemanly restraint and rational compromise have not exactly been hallmarks of the present administration. They are playing a game of "chicken" with Congress, and they need to be challenged on it with everything the Democrats have got. Bush and Cheney feel that if they block all investigations and ignore all requests for documents and testimony, that Democrats will be intimidated by the fact that a court case could take a long time, and therefore they'll probably be out of office before the courts even ultimately decide on the matter. In their eyes, this is a likely outcome, and maybe the Democrats won't even push it that far.

They should be proven wrong, as fast as the committees can humanly act.

The next step they need to take is a strange one. Because contempt of Congress is a criminal offense, the next step is to turn the charges over to the Justice Department for prosecution. This is worse than the fox guarding the henhouse, as anyone can plainly see. People are covering up for Gonzales, so to charge them in a court of law, they have to turn the matter over to... Gonzales himself. And it's not even a matter of easily recusing himself from the case, as the entire department's loyalties are called into question by these cases.

This is where the congressional committees should immediately begin debating reviving the Independent Counsel law, or updating the Special Counsel laws. Keep the heat on Justice by writing a new law to appoint an independent prosecutor to investigate Justice itself.

Of course, Bush will fight back. He'll veto anything that comes out of Congress, and do everything else he possibly can to impede any investigations. And with every move he makes will come more newspaper stories equating what he is attempting to do with everything Nixon did during Watergate.

While precedent is heavily on the side of the Democrats (assuming they ever do get into a courtroom), the Bush White House will not be daunted -- they will take the case all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary. And with today's Supreme Court, who can say what will happen when they get there?

But the prospect of losing should not deter congressional Democrats from the attempt. There are two reasons for this, one noble and one crass.

The first is that this is part of their job description as Congress. If they knuckle under (once again) to Bush, then future Congresses will have a much harder time attempting any meaningful oversight of the Executive Branch ever again. These are Constitutional issues writ large -- where is the check-and-balance line between the two branches? Bush is so obviously flouting the intent of executive privilege that it is Congress' clear duty to oppose him in such efforts. And even if they lose in the Supreme Court, and the balance tips heavily towards the White House -- we, as Americans, need to know that. We need to know the boundaries of what is acceptable by law and what isn't. Because (and here's the kicker) there won't always be a Republican in the White House. And Congress won't always be Democratic. If the shoe were on the other foot, in other words, a Democratic president will be able to point to the "Bush doctrine" on executive privilege, with the Supreme Court to back it up.

Now, I don't think that's a "good thing" for America. I think the light of day should shine on what the White House is doing, no matter who's sitting in the Oval Office. But if the Supreme Court determines otherwise, then we at least have a defined playing field for the future. It would be not be a victory for "the people's right to know," but at least everyone will know the new ground rules.

The second reason it's a great idea for Democrats to pursue this battle with everything they've got is that it is good politics for them (hey, I warned you it was crass). Bush and Cheney have pretty much shown that they are much more interested in saving their own hides than in getting Republicans elected in 2008 (see: the Iraq war). So Bush and Cheney's vested interest is in prolonging the court case as far as they can. Run the clock out on their administration, in other words, to avoid accountability (again, see: Iraq).

But they're going to be drawing out this immense stonewalling during an election year. Republicans are already despondent over their chances next year, and the prospect of this issue coming up over and over and over again (as it works its way through the courts) next year would absolutely terrify them.

In large part, this is due to the fact that every single story will draw the inevitable conclusion that Bush is trying to "out-Nixon" Nixon. Just what Republican candidates don't want to see, while trying to win elections!

The public is notoriously fickle, and the spin battles will be Olympian in scope. But every time Watergate is mentioned, every time the word "stonewall" is used as a verb, every time "an 18-minute gap on the tapes" is cited... pretty much every time the story surfaces it will frame the issue in the public's mind thusly:

Bush = Nixon.

Bush = Nixon.

Bush = Nixon.

And that could be a very good thing indeed for Democrats.


Cross-posted at The Huffington Post


-- Chris Weigant


10 Comments on “Bush = Nixon”

  1. [1] 
    fstanley wrote:

    Hi Chris,

    I agree that this is a battle worth fighting. I think that government should be transparent.

    I have one question - When Clinton was in office did it go to court about the secret service answering questions or did Clinton end up waiving E.P. over that?

    ... Stan

  2. [2] 
    jonahstein wrote:


    Come on, Nixon was a liberal republican who spoke in complete sentences and had enough sense of shame to at least LIE.

    Bush doesn't even bother to lie, he just says god told him to do it.

  3. [3] 
    Michale wrote:


    >I think that government should be transparent.

    Let me ask you something... Seriously...

    How do you expect a "transparent" government to function?

    Let's put it in the vernacular of a football game..(Since I just watched THE REPLACEMENTS for the upteenth time)

    The United States is a football team.. Now, how do you expect that the US "team" could "win" against the teams of Iran and North Korea if they broadcast their "plays", IE be "transparent"???

    Like it or not, a country (like a football team) MUST have it's secrets... It could not survive any other way...

    We elect our representatives (Congress, President, etc etc) so that THEY can know the things we don't WANT to know... So they can make the decisions we don't want to make...

    A completely "transparent" country (like a completely transparent NFL Team) will last exactly 1 quarter... Then it will be crushed by the opposing team(s)...

    If you can't trust the elected representatives, then they should not be elected...

    It's really as simple as that...

    Conversely, if you DO elect them, then let them do the job that you elected them to do...

    Again... It's as simple as that..


  4. [4] 
    Michale wrote:

    Now, addressing CW's post....

    You mention two major issues..

    1. The firing of the US Attorneys

    2. The Alleged Warrantless Wire Tapings...

    Addressing #1... There is ample precedence set that the US Attorneys serve at the pleasure of the POTUS. Clinton fired ALL of the US Attorneys during his tenure without a reason given at all... Like the Presidential Pardons, this is a "perk" of the presidency and should not be attributed to partisan scrutiny.. Unless you want to scrutinize ALL presidents that used this "perk", you should not single it out for this administration...

    Looking at #2, it can be reasonably argued that Congress (with the passage of many laws and acts since 9/11) has given the Bush Administration unparelled leeway in the prosecution on the war on terror. Now, we can argue the merits of this until the cows come home.. But the simple fact is, CONGRESS DID GRANT THESE POWERS... So, in THIS regard, Congress really has only one option... Congress needs to REVOKE the authorization that they gave the president...

    Rather than bitch and moan about HOW the POTUS is using the powers that Congress gave, Congress needs to simply SUSPEND or REVOKE those powers...

    Make no mistake about it.. The US system of Checks and Balances is alive and well... The US Congress freely gave the authorization... If they (Congress) has a problem with how the POTUS is using that given authorization, then they need to revoke it or modify it.. Let them do that and stand on their record...


  5. [5] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    Michale -

    Interesting. If I read you right, you're advocating repealing the AUMF? I'd go along with that option, personally -- although I don't 100% agree with your legal reasoning for doing so, I agree for other reasons.

    In your second post, you argue with the underlying cases, which I didn't do you'll notice. Because (1) those aren't the only two investigations coming down the pike, and (2) remember the Nixon lesson -- it ain't the crime, it's the coverup.

    No matter what you think about either of the investigations I mentioned, do you really think Gonzales has been completely honest in his testimony before Congress? And that could just be the tip of the coverup iceberg. The only way to find out is to press the investigations harder.

    jonahstein -

    heh heh. Yeah, Nixon could at least speak the language, I'll have to agree. He could masterfully use subjects, verbs, even the occasional adjective and adverb. More than our current occupant can say!

    Stan -

    I'm researching it. I'll get back to you. I don't think Clinton argued EP with the Secret Service, but then I could be wrong, I know he did do so on other occasions and for other reasons.

    Thanks to all for commenting!


  6. [6] 
    Michale wrote:


    >Interesting. If I read you right,
    >you're advocating repealing the AUMF?

    Spock: "Fascinating. There is a certain scientific logic about it."
    Anan 7: "I am glad you approve."
    Spock: "I do not approve. I understand."
    Star Trek: A Taste Of Armageddon

    That is to say I do NOT agree that Congress should revoke the AUMF.

    I feel it's vital to keep our country and our citizens safe.

    What I AM saying is that Congress in general (and the Democrats in particular) should quite whining and moaning about how Bush is USING the AUMF and simply revoke it.

    Crap or get off the pot, so to speak...

    If Congress doesn't support HOW Bush is using the authorization that they gave him, they should revoke said authorization.

    If they don't have the cojones to do that (as you and I and everyone else here KNOWS they don't), then they should get behind the President.

    Congress(and I include both Democrats AND Republicans in this) are doing this country a grave disservice by their constant partisan attacks on each other.

    As I mentioned before...

    "meQtaHbogh qachDaq Suv qoH meH."
    Old Klingon Proverb...
    Translation: "Only a fool fights in a burning house"


  7. [7] 
    Michale wrote:

    Addressing your second point, CW...

    >do you really think Gonzales has
    >been completely honest in his testimony
    >before Congress?

    Probably not. No more than I think Reno was completely honest in the Ruby Ridge or Waco

    It's a case of CYA-itis.. A malady that strikes all politicians.. :D

    Do I think that Gonzales and Bush should fry for it??

    Nope... There are far more important issues that this Congress needs to address. They refuse to do it, which is why their polling numbers are lower than the presidents. Not that I put any faith in polls, as I have often said.. :D


  8. [8] 
    jlapper wrote:


    I've been out of the political loop for a while (concentrating on my bread and butter, Cinema Styles) but I thought I'd add my two cents as I always enjoy Chris and Michale's comments (the two of you should think about some kind of Odd Couple site. I'll be the moderater.)

    Anyway, I wrote about Executive Privilege from the Bush/Nixon standpoint in June Privileged Executives and argue for Congress to step up to the plate, so to speak. While I am not as inclined to give Bush and company the benefit of the doubt as Michale is I do agree that it is congress that needs to either do something or shut the hell up.

    I also agree a transparent government would not work but argument against that transparancy is the cover used by Nixon and Bush. The nation isn't going to collapse if we find out what shady b.s. Bushco is up to but he, and Nixon, try (and tried) to make us believe it would. When investigating a cover-up and everyone withholding information from you starts talking about National Security immediately get suspicious. If I'm asking for Bush to reveal operatives in the field in the Middle East infiltrating regimes to get information I fully understand if he says, "I can't tell you that." But please don't try and make me believe that revealing the details about politically motivated firings is going to harm our national security unless the freedom of the nation hinges on some secret domestic lawyer black-ops program I don't know about.

    Again, I agree with Chris that it's the cover-up, not the "crime." When Travelgate happened I remember thinking, "Why are the Clinton's bending over backwards to come up with crap on these Travel Office employees? Why not just admit that as a new administration you were getting ridding of people and replacing them with your own?" They seemed hell-bent on covering up something and that immediately raised red flags for many people including myself. Those same red flags are raising again for me.



    Michale, thanks to you, while typing this I couldn't help but think, "A keyboard, how quaint."

  9. [9] 
    jlapper wrote:

    By the way, I suck at html tags. The link above has an unnecessary backslash at the end of it. The correct link should be,

  10. [10] 
    Michale wrote:


    It's amazing how many every day situations can be answered with a Star Trek quote... :D


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