Tag Archives: Gerald Ford

Watergate burglary + 45: Where has the time gone?

Forty-five years ago, some goons broke into the Democratic Party national headquarters office in a business complex in Washington, D.C.

Little did they know that they would change history.

The Watergate scandal gave birth to a new name for political scandals. They attach the “gate” suffix on every transgression. There’s only one scandal worthy of the “gate” identifier.

The “third-rate burglary” — which occurred June 17, 1972 — became swallowed up by what would come afterward. That would be the cover-up orchestrated by President Richard Nixon.

Two dogged Washington Post reporters — Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward — were turned loose eventually to follow the leads they got suggesting that the White House was involved in the burglary. They hit pay dirt and opened up a new wave of interest in investigative journalism. They lured a generation of young reporters into the craft; I happened to be one of them.

Forty-five years later, the memory of that earlier time is coming back to the fore as another president flails about while a special counsel examines whether he and/or his campaign colluded with Russian hackers seeking to influence the 2016 election outcome.

There won’t be a “gate” attached to this matter — even if it explodes into a scandal that rivals the granddaddy of political scandals.

Cable news networks are going to look back at that break-in. They’ll examine the journey upon which the nation embarked in the weeks and months to follow. We’ll get to relive that “long, national nightmare” referred to by yet another president, Gerald R. Ford, who took office when President Nixon resigned as a result of the Watergate cover-up.

Yes, it was a dark time. However, as President Ford noted, “The Constitution works.” Watergate put the Constitution to its supreme test and in the process, the scandal delivered to Americans a shining illustration of the founding fathers’ brilliance in crafting a government.

Chaos need not be the new White House norm

As I watch Donald J. Trump’s chaotic first few weeks as president of the United States, I have to keep reminding myself: Does it really need to be this way?

Of course it doesn’t. We’re watching Trump stumble-bum his way through controversy after controversy and his ridiculous rants and riffs with foreign leaders.

Now we’re watching an potentially unfolding major-league scandal involving the president’s former national security adviser, who quit this week in the wake of reports that he had inappropriate — and possibly illegal — discussions with Russian government officials prior to Trump taking office.

Two presidents in my lifetime have taken office amid terrible tragedy and tumult. In both cases, these men grabbed the reins of power and assumed the role of president as if they’d been there all along.

Example one: Lyndon Baines Johnson took the oath of office on a jetliner sitting on a tarmac at Love Field in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963. His predecessor’s body was in a casket in the back of the plane and the nation was in utter shock over what had happened earlier that day when a gunman murdered President John F. Kennedy.

LBJ flew back to Washington and asked the nation to pray for him. We did. He convened his team and got to work immediately.

The nation buried JFK a few days later, President Johnson went to Congress and declared “all that I have I would surrender” to avoid standing before the nation in that moment.

The nation marched forward.

Example two: Gerald Rudolph Ford became president on Aug. 9, 1974 as his predecessor resigned in disgrace. The House of Representatives stood poised to impeach Richard Nixon for high crimes and misdemeanors relating to the Watergate scandal. It took a stalwart Republican U.S. senator, Barry Goldwater, to tell the president his time was up. He had no support in the Senate, where he would stand trial after the House impeached him.

President Nixon quit. President Ford took the oath and then told us, “Our long national nightmare is over.” He told us he was “acutely aware” he hadn’t been elected vice president or president. But he was the right man for the job.

He, too, called his team together and instructed them to get back to work.

President Ford would lose his election battle in 1976 to Jimmy Carter. It was Carter who, upon taking the oath of office in January 1977, would turn to his predecessor and begin his inaugural speech by thanking the former president for “all he had done to heal our country.”

Presidents Johnson and Ford had something in common: they both had extensive government experience prior to assuming their high office. They knew how the government worked. LBJ had served as Senate majority leader before becoming vice president in 1961 and had many friends on both sides of the partisan divide. Ford had served as minority leader in the House of Representatives before Nixon tapped him to be vice president in 1973 after Spiro Agnew quit after pleading no contest to a corruption charge. Ford also had many friends on both sides of the aisle.

These men assumed the presidency under far more trying circumstances than Trump did, yet they made the transition with relative ease … compared to the madness we’re witnessing these days with the 45th president.

We are witnessing in real time, I submit, the consequences of electing someone who brought zero public service experience to the most difficult and complicated job on Planet Earth.

‘Our Constitution works …’

You want a feeling of dire straits in the greatest nation on Earth?

This 11-minute video ought to remind us all that we have a resilient nation, with a government cobbled together by a document that is as stout as ever.

I mention this because of those who insist we are about to enter an “unprecedented” era of crisis with the inauguration of Donald J. Trump as president of the United States.

Not so.

On Aug. 8, 1974, the nation watched one president resign and another one take office.

Gerald R. Ford ascended to the presidency after being appointed vice president less than a year earlier; the man he replaced as VP had pleaded no contest to corruption charges. Before that he was a congressman from Grand Rapids, Mich., whose No. 1 ambition was to become speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Fate would steer Gerald Ford down an entirely different path.

As president, he told us that “our long national nightmare is over.” Richard Nixon was flying off to private life in California as President Ford took the reins of power.

And as the new president told us, “Our Constitution works.”

Indeed it does.

I harbor deep reservations and concern about whether the new president is up to the job he is about to assume.

However, I take comfort in the words that an earlier president, Gerald Ford, delivered as we sought to recover from a constitutional crisis the likes of which the nation had never before endured.

We certainly did recover. Whatever missteps the new president makes as he begins his term, I remain confident that our Constitution will continue to work just as our founders intended.

You have to keep the faith.

Is a presidential pardon out of the question?

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Donald J. Trump said many crazy things while campaigning successfully for the presidency of the United States.

Take, for instance, his statement to Hillary Rodham Clinton that “You’d be in jail” if he were president.

His crowds chanted the “Lock her up!” mantra continually at his rallies. Trump didn’t silence the madness from his followers.

The FBI director, James Comey, concluded in July that “no reasonable prosecutor” would bring criminal charges against Clinton over her use of a private e-mail server while she was secretary of state. Then he told Congress 11 days before the election that he found more e-mails that deserved his agency’s attention; eight days after that he said, “Nope. Nothing has changed.”

Trump continued to hammer “crooked Hillary” with accusations that she broke the law.

So, here’s a nutty idea. Would the new president issue a blanket pardon, clearing his opponent of any potential future prosecution?

Trump isn’t saying. Neither is his transition staff.

Hey, this notion has precedent. President Ford granted a pardon for his immediate predecessor,  former President Nixon, a month after Nixon quit the presidency on Aug. 9, 1974, over the Watergate scandal. No criminal charges had been brought against Nixon, yet Ford sought to prevent a further political fracturing that would occur had any prosecution had been allowed to proceed.

It turned out that the pardon opened up a whole new set of fissures.

But, the nation moved on.

Might there be such an action in our nation’s immediate future?

I wouldn’t oppose such an action. How about you?

E-mail controversy rivals Watergate? Hardly

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Donald J. Trump is likely going to lose his bid to become the next president of the United States, so he is bound to say damn near anything.

Thus, the Republican nominee has declared that the Hillary Rodham Clinton e-mail controversy rivals Watergate as among the nation’s worst “political scandals.”

Umm. Let me think. No, it doesn’t even come close.

Let’s review.

Hillary Clinton used her personal e-mail server to communicate with staffers while she was secretary of state. The FBI director determined there was no credible evidence to prosecute her over suspicions that she might have let classified information fall into the wrong hands. Now comes an announcement — 11 days before an election — that he’s reopening the investigation.

What do we know about the new e-mails? Very little, other than they came from a top aide of Clinton and might include communications with her estranged husband, a former congressman who’s been disgraced because of a “sexting” escapade with underage girls. It’s disgusting in the extreme. Scandalous? Give me a break.

Now, about Watergate.

Some goons broke into the Democratic National Committee headquarters in June 1972. Investigators looked into it. Two newspaper sleuths at the Washington Post began snooping around. They discovered a White House connection.

Then they learned that President Nixon was involved. They found out he ordered the FBI to squash the investigation. Then came news about those infamous Oval Office tape recordings, which then revealed that the president used the power of his office to obstruct justice.

That, folks, is a serious constitutional crisis … not just a political scandal.

Nixon quit the presidency. Others went to prison. President Ford pardoned his predecessor.

I see no symmetry here. One does not match the other.

Trump takes low road while seeking high road

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Donald J. Trump sought — in yet another awkward pronouncement — to make nice with Hillary Rodham Clinton by saying he could have said something “very negative” about his opponent. He chose not to that. I guess he wanted us to believe that he is such an oh, so decent human being.

The Republican presidential nominee’s comments came during the joint appearance at Hofstra University.

Afterward, he told reporters that he was referring to Bill Clinton’s marital infidelity. He said “Chelsea was in the room” and he didn’t want to make her feel uncomfortable.

So, there you have it.

Trump said during the event he showed restraint; then he told reporters later — on the record — precisely to what he was referring.

He chose not to say something, then he said it.

It reminds me of when then-Sen. Walter Mondale was asked during the 1976 presidential campaign whether Watergate would be an issue in the contest between Democrat Jimmy Carter and Republican President Gerald R. Ford.

“No,” said the Democratic vice-presidential nominee with a huge smile, “I am not going to mention President Ford’s pardon of Richard Nixon.”

That is the disgraceful non-denial route that Donald Trump is taking these days.

Civility, good will come back to life

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Take a good look at this picture.

It is fast becoming my favorite image from this year’s election campaign.

You know who they are: former President George W. Bush and first lady Michelle Obama. They were attending the dedication today of the African-American museum in Washington, D.C., an exhibit that tells the comprehensive story of the African-American experience in this nation.

Presidents Obama was the keynote speaker today and he took time to heap plenty of praise on the work that President Bush (whose wife, Laura, also attended the ceremony) did to make this important exhibit a reality.

There’s something quite gratifying in seeing this image, of Michelle Obama embracing her husband’s immediate predecessor as president.

It’s also interesting — to me, at least — that the image was snapped by David Hume Kennerly, who happened to be the official White House photographer during President Ford’s administration. You see, Gerald Ford served at a time when Republicans and Democrats fairly routinely worked together to solve national problems.

We’ll soon relegate this image to the back of our memories as we proceed toward the end of this contentious election campaign.

I thought I’d share it here just as a reminder that civility, good will and good manners occasionally present themselves.

Perspective, folks … perspective!

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Social media are full of interesting tidbits, factoids, a bit of propaganda and pithy commentary.

The item I posted here showed up over the weekend on my Facebook news feed. It’s been passed around a good bit.

It comes from someone who obviously supports Hillary Rodham Clinton’s bid to become the next president of the United States.

It calls for “perspective” from those who insist that Clinton is the worst politician in American history ever to vie for presidency.

The private e-mail server issue hasn’t played out fully. My guess is that might never play out sufficiently to suit every single critic who believes she endangered national security while serving as secretary of state; that she put lives at risk by sending out top-secret messages on her personal e-mail server.

Recent history, though, is full of examples of presidents lying to our faces.

* * *

I’ll take issue, though, with one of the items noted in this anonymous post. The purveyor of this item seems to think President Ford’s pardon of President Nixon was an act of evil. It wasn’t.

Richard Nixon was party to a serious constitutional crisis, the one known as “Watergate.” He paid a terrible political price, arriving at the doorstep of impeachment by the U.S. House of Representatives before resigning his office on Aug. 9, 1974.

Gerald Ford took over and a month or so later, issued a blanket pardon. His reason? To spare the nation more political agony.

I was furious at the time. So were many Americans. I wanted the former president to pay even more for what he did while at the nation’s helm. The cover-up, how he sicced the feds against his “enemies,” how he ordered the FBI to look the other way in investigating the break-in at the Democratic National Committee office.

Ford’s pardon of Nixon likely cost the president a chance at being elected in 1976.

It turned out, though, to be an act of courage.

Many years later, the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston bestowed its “Profile in Courage” award to President Ford for that decision. The late Sen. Ted Kennedy, speaking on behalf of his family, acknowledged in public remarks that he, too, was wrong to criticize the president for making that decision, but that he came to realize he did the right thing.

The rest of the items noted in the brief missive attached to this blog post? Yep. I agree with ’em.

Time for some perspective, folks.

Gov. Pence takes the lead on tax returns

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This just in: Indiana Gov. Mike Pence is going to release his tax returns.

Meanwhile, the guy who heads the Republican Party’s presidential ticket, Donald J. Trump, continues to keep his tax returns away from public scrutiny.

Pence is running alongside Trump for the White House.

He told “Meet the Press” in remarks to be broadcast Sunday that he’s going to turn his tax returns loose for the public to inspect.

Oh, and what about Trump? “Meet the Press” moderator Chuck Todd asked Pence. Trump will do so eventually, as soon as the Internal Revenue Service completes its audit.

Hold the phone, dude!

An IRS audit doesn’t preclude release of tax returns.

Once again, I shall state that Trump is refusing to do something that’s been customary for presidential candidates since 1976. No, there’s no law requiring release of the returns. It’s just been a bipartisan tradition that has its roots in the immediate post-Watergate era.

In 1976, Republican President Gerald Ford and Democratic challenger Jimmy Carter agreed to release their returns in reaction to the constitutional scandal that took down a president and sent others to prison.

I’m glad to see Gov. Pence doing the right thing.

Now …

How about the guy at the top of his ticket?

Facing an unhappy choice this fall

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It’s time to make an admission.

Others already have said it, but I’ll chime in with this: The election this autumn presents the unhappiest choice I’ve ever faced since I voted in my first presidential election way back in 1972.

At this very moment, I am not yet rock-solid certain what I’m going to do when I go to the polling place.

Republicans have nominated a certifiable buffoon/goofball/fraud/con artist as their presidential nominee. Donald J. Trump is unqualified at every level one can mention to sit in the Oval Office and make decisions as our head of state and government.

Democrats have nominated someone who is far more qualified — on paper — than Trump. Hillary Rodham Clinton, though, is trying to face down that darn “trust” issue. Is she to be trusted implicitly to tell us the truth when we need to know it? That is where I am having trouble with her candidacy.

Who’s left? The Libertarian ticket led by former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, whose signature issue is to legalize marijuana? The Greens, led by Jill Stein?

I’ve already declared in this blog that Democrats have gotten my vote in every presidential election. The first presidential ballot I ever cast, for the late Sen. George McGovern, remains the vote of which I am most proud.

I happened to be — if my Marine Corps friends don’t object to my stealing their service’s motto — one of the “few, the proud” to vote for Sen. McGovern. Then came Watergate and the resignation of President Nixon two years later and one became hard-pressed to understand how it was that the president won by as large a landslide as he did.

The next election four years later gave me a bit of heartburn. I truly admired President Ford and I didn’t really feel comfortable with Jimmy Carter. Well, you know what happened, right?

I’ve been comfortable with my choices every election season since.

Until this one.

You can count me as one of the millions of Americans who’s unhappy with the choices we have. I’ll have made up my mind in time for Election Day.

I’ll just keep it to myself.