What Did Nixon Do?
By Matthew Vadum
Although Richard Nixon left office under a cloud for trying to subvert the democratic process for his own political advantage, Barack Obama’s behavior has been far more serious in its corruption and blatant attempts to manipulate the electoral process by unethical and unconstitutional means.
Nixon, bad as he may have been, has been oversold as a villain. He serves as a convenient bogeyman for left-wing historians and journalists to spew self-serving narratives in which they paint him as a devil and themselves as victims. It would, therefore, do well to review some of the facts of what really transpired in the Nixon presidency and how they stack up against Obama’s unprecedented malfeasance:
First, the much-vaunted “enemies list” that was maintained by Nixon is more the stuff of myth than underhanded politics. In his 1979 book, Blind Ambition, Nixon White House counsel John Dean explained that the list consisted merely of names of individuals not welcome at White House functions. White House chief of staff H.R. “Bob” Haldeman singled out about 20 people on the list for IRS audits and other official torments, “but no action had been taken as far as I knew,” Dean wrote.
So what did President Nixon actually do?
In his final report as chairman of the Senate Watergate committee, Sen. Sam Ervin (D-N.C.) concluded that the purpose of the series of acts that collectively constituted Watergate was “[t]o destroy, insofar as the presidential election of 1972 was concerned, the integrity of the process by which the President of the United States is nominated and elected.”
As Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, who broke the original Watergate story, wrote last year, “At its most virulent, Watergate was a brazen and daring assault, led by Nixon himself, against the heart of American democracy: the Constitution, our system of free elections, the rule of law.”
Nixon and his aides, Ervin said, had “a lust for political power” that “blinded them to ethical considerations and legal requirements; to Aristotle’s aphorism that the good of man must be the end of politics.”
The three articles of impeachment approved by the House Judiciary Committee in 1974 accused Nixon of violating “his 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.”
The first article of impeachment referenced the June 17, 1972 break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters then located in the Watergate office complex in the nation’s capital. Ahead of the approaching November election, the five burglars’ purpose was “securing political intelligence.”
After the break-in, Nixon used
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.
Although Nixon had apparently not been aware of or authorized the DNC break-in before it was carried out, audio tapes made by the president’s secret recording system revealed that he attempted to cover up the incident and other illegal activities that had taken place during his administration. After extensive litigation the Supreme Court unanimously held that the president had to produce the recordings for investigators. He complied.
The second article of impeachment against Nixon detailed how he allegedly used the Internal Revenue Service and other federal agencies and their employees against those he perceived as his political enemies.
According to the impeachment resolution, Nixon used the IRS to obtain
confidential information contained in income tax returns for purposes not authorized by law, and to cause, in violation of the constitutional rights of citizens, income tax audits or other income tax investigations to be initiated or conducted in a discriminatory manner.
Although Nixon reportedly encouraged a clandestine IRS program called the “Special Services Staff” to probe his political adversaries and plague them with audits, the tax-collection agency’s bark at the time was apparently worse than its bite insofar as Democrats were concerned.
Nixon endorsed but then quickly backed away from an ambitious crackdown on left-wing organizations urged by his aide, Tom Charles Huston. Nixon approved Huston’s plan on July 14, 1970 but by July 27 he had changed his mind and rescinded approval for it after FBI director J. Edgar Hoover voiced objections.
Huston later lamented that dealing with the IRS was fraught with peril. “Making sensitive political inquiries at the IRS is about as safe a procedure as trusting a whore,” since the Nixon administration at the time had no “reliable political friends at IRS.”
Later in September 1971 Nixon ordered White House aide John Ehrlichman to direct the IRS to look into the tax returns of all those thought to be seeking the 1972 Democratic presidential nod, including Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.).
“Are we going after their tax returns?” Nixon said. “You know what I mean? There’s a lot of gold in them thar hills.”
Nominated as IRS commissioner by Nixon, Johnnie Mac Walters headed the IRS from Aug. 6, 1971, to April 30, 1973. Nixon White House counsel John Dean gave Walters an envelope containing the names of about 200 prominent Democrats to harass.
Walters refused to target the individuals. “The story is interesting because the IRS wouldn’t do it,” said Tim Naftali, former director of the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum. “It didn’t happen, not because the White House didn’t want it to happen, but because people like Johnnie Walters said ‘no.’”
Contrast Walters with left-wing bureaucrat Lois Lerner, head of the tax exempt organizations division at the IRS, who apparently did the Obama administration’s bidding, harassing conservative groups and funders. Lerner testified before Congress last week and after ostentatiously protesting her innocence invoked the Fifth Amendment and refused to continue testifying.
Returning to Nixon, even if he had used the IRS in the way described in the second article of impeachment, he was simply doing what presidents had done for the previous 40 years. This is not to excuse Nixon’s behavior, but it hardly seems fair to single him out for doing what had long been the norm in Washington.
The first known instance of an administration snooping around in its enemies’ tax records for intelligence purposes happened during the presidency of Republican Herbert Hoover (1929-33). FBI director J. Edgar Hoover tried to dig up dirt on a conservative group called the Navy League. He found nothing.
Surprisingly, even if the FBI chief had found anything, his actions were apparently not unlawful. The “confused drafting” of a section in a 1910 appropriations act “actually authorized presidents to use tax records any way they saw fit,” writes author David Burnham. The law stated tax records “were to be open for inspection ‘only upon the order of the President under rules and regulations to be prescribed by the Secretary of the Treasury and approved by the president.’”
The loophole was closed only after the Watergate scandal. “Partly because of the curious wording of what really was an open records law, few Americans have understood that, from 1910 until 1976, the IRS routinely made tax information available to almost any federal or state agency that requested it.” (A Law Unto Itself: Power, Politics and the IRS, by David Burnham, Random House, 1989, p.228)
What may have been unethical in Nixon’s day, is clearly illegal in the Obama era. Presumably Obama, conversant as he is in the law, knows this.
The third article of impeachment accused Nixon of obstructing the congressional investigation into his administration’s conduct. It stated that he “failed without lawful cause or excuse to produce papers and things as directed by duly authorized subpoenas issued” by the House Judiciary Committee and “willfully disobeyed such subpoenas.”
Nixon did in fact refuse to comply with congressional demands and went out of his way to hinder investigations into his misconduct. Facing seemingly certain impeachment in the House and removal from office after a trial by the Senate, Nixon resigned on August 9, 1974.
Now what has President Obama done?
Obama may not stand accused of breaking into his enemies’ offices to gain an unfair electoral advantage, but he has engaged in tactics aimed at unfairly suppressing the Republican vote.
Under Obama, the Department of Justice gave free rein to ACORN and similar left-wing voter fraud factories, refusing to investigate their many wrongdoings. DoJ let the New Black Panther Party off scot-free for physically intimidating Philadelphia voters.
The Obama administration appeared to violate the civil rights of nearly 200,000 U.S. soldiers around the world by deliberately disenfranchising them because they tend to vote Republican. Although the administration has moved with lightning speed to attack desperately needed state voter identification laws, last year it seemed barely aware of its obligations under the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act, which President Obama signed into law in 2009.
The law was created to help deployed soldiers, many of whom are constantly on the move, to exercise the right to vote that they fight to protect. The law requires the Pentagon to create an “installation voting assistance office,” or IVAO, for every military base close to a combat zone.
IVAOs are supposed to help military personnel navigate the labyrinth of often confusing voting rules of the nation’s 55 states and territories. But IVAOs can’t help anybody vote if they don’t exist. As of September last year, in half of the 229 overseas military installations Obama’s Department of Defense hadn’t even bothered to set up the IVAO facilities that the law mandated.
Obama’s IRS targeted conservative “social welfare” nonprofits seeking tax-exempt status under section 501c4 of the Internal Revenue Code. Evidence establishes that hundreds of groups affiliated with the Tea Party movement were bullied and intimidated from engaging in constitutionally protected political activism. Some conservative groups were made to wait years for a tax-exempt status determination while the Barack H. Obama Foundation and various liberal groups sailed through the process at breakneck speed.
Who knows how many people failed to donate or become active in those right-leaning groups and what impact this IRS skulduggery had on Republican voter turnout last November.
As commentator Michael Barone observes, the Benghazi cover-up and the IRS scandal “were both about winning elections under false pretenses.”
With Benghazi, “[a] deliberate effort to mislead the voters was launched,” Barone writes. “Clinton, White House press secretary Jay Carney, and the president himself talked about a spontaneous protest of an anti-Muslim video — even though no evidence of that came from Benghazi.” The CIA’s talking points on Benghazi were manipulated by the White House and the Department of State, and Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice was wheeled out to peddle the lies on television.
“This attempt to mislead the electorate worked,” Barone concludes. “It seems a stretch to say that it determined the outcome of the election. But it certainly helped the Obama campaign.”
Obama created a grotesque system of unaccountable federal “czars” overseeing vast swaths of U.S. government policy without being confirmed by the Senate, as the Constitution requires.
Obama invaded Libya without congressional authorization and on a flimsy pretext. He unconstitutionally recess-appointed Richard Cordray as director of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. He refused to enforce the provisions of the presumptively constitutional Defense of Marriage Act.
In the Fast and Furious scandal, Obama supplied Mexican drug cartels with guns to encourage a wave of violence that would create a public clamor for tougher gun regulations. Hundreds of Mexicans and a U.S. border patrolman died as a result. Attorney General Eric Holder has been cited with contempt of Congress for failing to cooperate with the congressional investigation of the scandal.
Obama has used executive fiat to illegally gut a workfare law and give certain illegal immigrants blanket amnesty. The president also rigged the GM and Chrysler bankruptcy proceedings to unfairly enrich his friends in the United Auto Workers at the expense of higher-priority creditors such as bondholders and suppliers.
Then there is the still-developing scandal surrounding the surreptitious confiscation of telephone records from the Associated Press, a direct assault on the First Amendment. The U.S. Department of Justice secretly procured two months’ worth of telephone logs for journalists at AP, the world’s largest news-gathering organization. Apparently the records were seized as part of an investigation into national security-related leaks.
The administration is also investigating Fox News reporter James Rosen for daring to report what intelligence sources told him about North Korea.
Obama has also done many things that are at least arguably impeachable and are definitely radically un-presidential.
Obama has been particularly aggressive on the propaganda front. His White House asked Americans to report their neighbors who were opposed to Obamacare to the email address of firstname.lastname@example.org. In the National Endowment for the Arts scandal, Obama used federal taxpayer resources to press artists to create art to advance his political agenda.
Obama has undermined trust in the justice system by trying to intervene on behalf of his personal friend, Harvard law professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. In 2009 after admitting he didn’t know all the facts of the case, Obama said the Cambridge, Mass., “police acted stupidly” in arresting Gates when they investigated a reported break-in at his home. Obama injected race into the situation by offering that “separate and apart from this incident is that there’s a long history in this country of African-American and Latinos being stopped by law enforcement disproportionately.”
After the Citizens United decision opened the door to corporate campaign contributions, Obama gave speeches belittling and browbeating the Supreme Court. He even did so in the presence of Supreme Court members.
President Obama may yet live to regret these remarks. If he is impeached in the House and tried in the Senate, the trial will be presided over by Chief Justice John Roberts.