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Analysis of under-reported news, updates on previous Monitor stories


[Editor's note: Before there were blogs, there were the Monitor "404 Reports," which began in 1997 as a forum to offer updates on previous Monitor stories and discuss items in today's news that deserved greater media attention. Significant additions or changes to the Albion Monitor site will also be announced here. Do not bookmark this page, as the 404 Reports address will change with each edition.]

The president protects the cover-up


The Real Reason Bush Kept Scooter From Jail

Libby Trial Evidence Building Case for Impeachment

Judge Throws the Book at "Scooter"

Iraq Special Ops Sounding Like Iran Contra (2003)

Where was Dan? (2001)

Will Clintons Repair Their Tarnished Image? (2001)

  + SCOOTER, MEET CASPAR     Rarely are newspaper editorial boards so much in agreement: Bush overstepped the line by using his presidential power to spare a former top White House official from justice. Oh, the lame-duck president claimed he did it because the punishment was unfair and to spare the man's family anguish, but everyone except die-hard Republican believe Bush really did it to buy the silence of a confidant who might've sought a lighter jail time by talking to the prosecutor, and thus implicate the president in high crimes and misdemeanors -- possibly even treason.

The date: December 24, 1992.

When George H.W. Bush pardoned Caspar Weinberger that Christmas Eve, the former Defense Secretary was less than two weeks away from the start of his trial on four felony charges. Lawrence Walsh, the independent counsel in the Iran-Contra investigation, had indicted Weinberger for lying to Congress, and in the upcoming trial, expected to prove to a jury that there was a White House criminal conspiracy that led directly to president Bush.

Few have pointed out the remarkable parallels between Poppy Bush's pardon of Cap Weinberger and Junior's clemency for Scooter Libby, but the family resemblance runs deep, down to the incidental details of neither president Bush having a political future (Bush I was recently defeated by Clinton) and both decisions coming on the eve of a major holiday (Christmas Eve vs. the 4th of July).

But Bush I/II didn't forgive Weinberger/Libby on presidential whims, because they were long-time cronies; the Weinberger pardon was part of the Iran-Contra cover-up, as Libby's clemency is surely tied to this administration's conspiracy to cover-up its falsification of its reasons for war. Take this bigger picture into account and all sorts of similarities crowd into view. Heck, you could make it into a parlor game:


The objective of Iran-Contra was to counter a "threat" from a nation allied to America's great foe, Communism. The objective of invading Iraq was to disarm a "threat" from a nation (supposedly) allied to America's newest great foe, Islamic radicals.


Key to the illegality of Iran-Contra was an outlaw operation directed from within the White House itself. Oliver North, meet today's shadow government of Dick Cheney. Or, you could play it another way: It's the very office of the Vice President that's nexus of illegality -- it was veep Dan Quayle who invited contra leader Adolfo Calero and other key figures over to the White House to meet with North.


Walsh said that the president himself was a subject of his investigation, and even said Bush had committed "misconduct" by refusing to cooperate and stonewalling demands to turn over his diaries for 1986 and later years. A grand jury court filing by Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald in April, 2006 revealed that Libby said Cheney told him Bush had declassified parts of a secret report so the information could be leaked to the media, with the intent to discredit Valerie Plame's husband, Joe Wilson. It was this act by George W. Bush -- attempting to destroy the credibility of a whistleblower, even at the cost of revealing state secrets and outing a covert agent -- that sets all the wheels into motion.


Walsh/Fitzgerald -- both Repubs -- issued statements making clear that their Bush had abused his presidential powers by interfering. Said Walsh in 1992: "We fully recognize that the Constitution provides that commutation decisions are a matter of presidential prerogative... [but] it is fundamental to the rule of law that all citizens stand before the bar of justice as equals." Fitzgerald, 2007: "Although it is the President's prerogative to grant pardons, it is every American's right that the criminal justice system be administered fairly, regardless of a person's rank and connections."


In the weeks prior to each presidential forgiveness, there was a Republician media blitz condemning the "travesty" of Weinberger and Libby facing justice. In 1992, then-Defense Secretary Dick Cheney appeared on Meet the Press to denounce the unfairness of it all, while Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole, long the hatchet man for the Republican party, noisily led a campaign charging Republican independent counsel Walsh with political bias. The Repubs of 2007 were kinder to Bush-appointed Fitzgerald (although American Spectator founder R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr. called him a "brute"), but were loud in damning Scooter's conviction as travesty. Even the disgraced Tom DeLay showed up on TV, joining former members of the Cheney neo-con team such as Ron Christie and David Frum (Hardball, as usual, was a favorite stop after Fox). Editorials in conservative newspapers likewise demanded Scooter be spared any jail time.

The list goes on and on -- okay, one more Iraq/Iran-Contra item, for fun:


Famously, Reagan called the Contras the moral equivalent of our Founding Fathers; just days after the Libby clemency, on July 4, George W. went to great lengths to compare American troops serving in Iraq as fighting the same battle as our F.F.

With so many similarities between Poppy's pardon and Junior's clemency, you'd think the pundits would have plenty of grist, and you'd be right. For over a week, the punditry's fave topic was the abuse of presidential authority... by Bill Clinton.

Within minutes of Scooter's forgiveness, Fox News regular Dick Morris popped up (what, does the guy sleep on a cot backstage?) telling viewers that Clinton's end-of-term pardons were much, much, worse, particularly the pardon of fugitive and big-time Clinton donor Marc Rich. Thus started the avalanche; NEXIS reveals over 300 talk shows, op/eds, and published letters followed that jointly mentioned the Rich and Libby cases. (Rarely noted was the remarkable coincidence that Marc Rich's lawyer in those days was none other than Scooter Libby.)

Of the dozen or so editorials and columns and TV news shows that even mentioned the Weinberger pardon, all but one cited it in a sidebar listing other presidential pardons and commutations, or mentioned it in passing before rushing to echo the Republican talking point, "Clinton done it too." The exception was the Long Island Business News, which also was alone in noting that Bush apologists were piling on the wrong ex-president.

Aside from the press shamefully making the phony Rich-Libby analogy, there's more reason to look back at the Iran-Contra scandal than for idle historical amusements; Poppy Bush also set a precedent that could well be used today to pry our constitution from the clutches of the Cheney-Bush White House.

As Walsh later wrote in "Firewall," the Weinberger pardon was tantamont to Bush's admission of guilt, and effectively closed the Iran-Contra investigation. With less than a month to go before Clinton took office, Walsh wanted to push ahead and subpoena Bush to appear before the grand jury, but was opposed by his staff. Walsh wrote, "...the pardon itself was the ultimate proof of the cover-up. How could we top that? What more could we produce that would be as shocking and revealing?"

Pardoning Weinberger wasn't the only salvo Bush fired in self-defense during those final days in office. The White House announced that the president's 1986 diaries -- which Walsh had been demanding since 1987 -- had been lately discovered in a White House safe, and his lawyer, former attorney general Griffin Bell, had prepared a nice report about the contents. And guess what? The missing secret diary proved that Bush was completely innocent. Out of the loop. He knew nothing about Reagan's illegally trading arms for hostages or illegally sending money to the Contras. (Skeptics are forgiven for wondering why Bush's staff didn't look harder for such a wonderful document during the previous five years.)

Although it's nearly forgotten today, that report was an amazing thing -- not for what it claimed, but that it existed at all. Read slowly: Here the sitting president of the United States asked a private law firm to investigate himself, and by using personal, secret papers that had been denied to federal investigators. Bush essentially had himself deposed privately (in camera), and submitted that testimony as his public defense.

Here's where it gets interesting: While no legal precedent was set, real questions about presidential privilege arise. Today, investigation into all manner of White House misdoings are locked up over the question of whether the Gonzales-led Justice Department would investigate. But if Bush I can hire a private business to exonerate himself, why can't Congress hire a private business to investigate Bush II? Bush I submitted his report as evidentiary findings; couldn't a report commissioned by someone in the Senate or House likewise be treated as evidence when investigating all that this administration stonewalls? As the old saying goes, what's good for the goose is good for the son of goose.   (June 31, 2007)

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