Tag Archives: Richard Nixon

And then there’s the 25th Amendment

The United States of America functioned for nearly two centuries before it ratified a constitutional amendment dealing with presidential succession and the appointment of a vice president.

The 25th Amendment was ratified in February 1967. It came in reaction to the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963. The new president, Lyndon Johnson, served the remainder of JFK’s term without a vice president. LBJ got elected in 1964 and Hubert Humphrey joined the administration as vice president. President Truman took office in April 1945 after Franklin Roosevelt died just a month into his fourth term; Truman served nearly a full term, therefore, without a vice president.

The amendment has been used exactly once. Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned in 1973 and President Nixon appointed House Minority Leader Gerald Ford to become vice president. The new VP then settled into the Oval Office Big Chair when Nixon resigned in August 1974.

I mention this today because the 25th Amendment is getting some attention these days. It allows for a temporary replacement of the president if a majority of the Cabinet determines he is unable to continue doing his presidential duties.

Donald John Trump is in trouble. A special counsel is examining whether his campaign colluded with Russian hackers seeking to meddle in our 2016 election. There might be some issues relating to Trump’s myriad business holdings, too. Oh, and then the president declares that “both sides” were at fault in the Charlottesville riot, causing a serious rift between the White House and members of Congress of both political parties.

There have been some questions about the president state of mind, his ability to actually govern and, yes, his mental competence.

I’m not qualified to offer a psychological diagnosis, let alone from half a continent away. So I won’t go there.

The 25th Amendment is meant to ensure the executive branch continues to function even in these difficult times. Just how difficult will they become? I guess that depends on how the president responds to the mounting pressure.

I keep hearing about how angry he is getting. He’s been cutting people loose all over the place: national security adviser, gone; press secretary, gone; communications director, gone; chief of staff, gone; FBI director, gone; senior strategist, gone.

Trump popped off about neo-Nazis and Klansmen. The Joint Chiefs of Staff have effectively rebuked the commander in chief, although not by name. Congressional leaders are starting to weigh in. There might be some diehard Trumpkins among them, but the vast majority of public response has been highly critical.

Republican leaders are aghast. Never mind what Democrats think; it’s a given that they detest the president already.

In the meantime, the 25th Amendment looms as a serious talking point among the chattering class in Washington, D.C. Don’t for a single moment believe that the president is ignoring the chatter.

‘The Constitution works’

The hour is late, but I cannot let this day pass without commenting briefly on a monumental event in our nation’s political history.

This single-sentence document is President Nixon’s resignation letter to Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. As someone noted on social media, it could fit into tweet.

The Watergate scandal came to a conclusion with this note. The president said goodbye to the White House staff, shook hands with the new president, Gerald Ford, then boarded Marine One with his wife, Pat, and flew off into political oblivion.

It’s worth mentioning yet again, I suppose, because of the current president’s troubles. There’s been no shortage of comparison to what doomed the 37th president’s tenure to what we’re witnessing today in real time.

I am not going to predict a similar end to Donald Trump’s tenure.

I merely want to recall what President Ford said shortly after taking the oath of office 43 years ago today.

“The Constitution works,” the president reminded us.

Yes, that governing document gives me great comfort as we watch the current drama play out … no matter how it all ends.

Trump channeling Nixon?

The Washington media chatterers keep making comparisons between Donald John Trump and Richard Milhous Nixon.

They note certain symmetry between the two presidents of the United States. President Nixon became involved in covering up the Watergate break-in just days after it occurred. How do we know that? It was all tape-recorded. Trump, meanwhile, is now being accused of covering up his own involvement with Russians who reportedly meddled in our 2016 presidential election.

The difference between the men’s conduct, though, is stark in one important aspect. Nixon got into trouble near the end of his first term; he would be re-elected in a landslide in 1972, and then the crap really hit the fan. Trump has been president only for a few months; he still has years to go before the end of his current term — and the crap is beginning to hit the fan already.

I am not going to predict that Trump’s presidency will end the way Nixon’s did. The lies, dissembling, the switching of stories, the dramatic and drastic personnel changes at the highest levels of executive governance all are beginning to alarm many of us.

John Kelly stepped with both feet into this maelstrom when he became the new White House chief of staff this week. He scored a big victory in his first hours on the job by getting communications director Anthony “Mooch” Scaramucci booted out of the White House. Whether that initial move portends better days, weeks and months ahead at the White House remains a gaping, open question.

The Nixon comparisons only are going to mount with every revelation that is revealed. As Ruth Marcus notes in her Washington Post column, the White House is imploding.

It’s almost impossible for me to grasp the notion that all of this is happening at the very beginning of Donald Trump’s term as president. What in the world lies ahead?

Watergate: Dumbest scandal in U.S. history

Many of us are going to mark the 45th anniversary of the start of the Watergate scandal in varying ways.

Those of us of a certain age might take time to reflect on what I consider to be the most stupid, unnecessary and ridiculous political scandal of the 20th century.

On June 17, 1972, five idiots broke into the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate office complex in Washington, D.C.; they rifled through some cabinets, pilfered some papers and then left.

Then came the cover-up. President Nixon sought to call off the investigation being done by the FBI. It all led to the president’s pending impeachment and then his resignation from office.

Why so stupid? So pointless? So needless?

Because the president was en route to a smashing re-election victory later that year. On Nov. 7, 1972, Nixon was re-elected with a 49-state landslide over Sen. George McGovern. He won more than 60 percent of the popular vote: 47 million votes to 29 million votes. That’s an 18-million vote margin!

Every political expert in America knew Nixon would win. They knew he’d win big. Sen. McGovern didn’t have a prayer. I received my political baptism that year working for McGovern in my home state of Oregon, helping register first-time voters among college students in Multnomah County. I, too, was a college student. I also had separated from the Army in August 1970 and had served for a time in Vietnam. I wanted the war to end and I supported McGovern’s candidacy.

But McGovern’s candidacy was doomed. Nixon’s team knew it. So did McGovern’s team.

I am left to wonder 45 years after that ridiculous break-in: What in the hell did the Committee to Re-Elect the President hope to gain from such a stupid stunt?

CREEP blew it, causing their guy — the president — to try to cover it up and it all cost him his job as leader of the free world. And for what purpose?

If they ever create a college curriculum to study “Stupid Political Scandals,” Watergate must serve as the all-time benchmark for stupidity.

Yes, Newt … the president can ‘obstruct justice’

I am beginning to think Newt Gingrich no longer should be taken seriously.

He’s the former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives; at one time he was second in line to be president, right behind the vice president.

Gingrich once voted to impeach President Bill Clinton for, among other things, obstruction of justice. So what does this clown say now? The president cannot commit such a crime because — are you ready? — he’s the president!

The current president, of course, is Donald J. Trump.

Gingrich is an ally of Trump. He has spoken favorably of the president. I get that. However, his remarks to the National Press Club make no sense. He didn’t cite a federal statute that prohibits a criminal indictment against the president. He said that the office protects its occupant from an obstruction of justice charge.

But … didn’t it protect President Clinton? Didn’t it do the same for President Nixon when the U.S. House Judiciary Committee approved articles of impeachment against him for, um, obstruction of justice?

Newt needs a reminder of history. Indeed, he was part of an event that involved a president who he once accused of obstructing justice. If he continues to ignore history and spout the nonsense he keeps spouting about Donald Trump, then he is talking himself out of any relevance to the current political discourse.

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.

Bipartisan era gone forever? Looks like it

I am thinking at this moment of an earlier era when presidents and members of Congress reached across the great partisan divide to ponder their joint legislative agendas.

The thought came to me when I heard that Donald J. Trump is going to meet this week with Republican congressional leaders to talk about upcoming projects.

No Democrats need not attend. Nope! Stay away, you folks. We don’t need you.

I’ll go back a few decades for a moment.

* Lyndon Johnson needed Republicans to help him enact landmark civil-rights legislation.

* Richard Nixon needed Democrats to run interference for his environmental agenda.

* Ronald Reagan developed a great personal and professional relationship with congressional Democrats, such as House Speaker Tip O’Neill.

* Bill Clinton relied on congressional Republicans to assist in producing a balanced federal budget.

* George W. Bush sought Democratic help in crafting education-overhaul legislation. I should add that President Bush had plenty of practice working with Democrats, as he did quite well in that regard while he governed Texas and became partners with Democrats who controlled the Legislature.

That’s when it seemed to end. Barack Obama didn’t develop many relationships with key Republicans, who — lest we forget — made clear their intention to block damn near everything the president intended to accomplish. And now we have Donald Trump seeking to push through a legislative agenda with zero Democrats in his corner.

I also recall those photo ops when presidents would sign bills in front of large bipartisan gatherings of lawmakers. He’d hand out ceremonial pens left and right. They’d all clap and slap each other on the back while extolling the virtues of working together for the common good.

Do you expect to see anything like that with the current president occupying that office in the White House?

Me neither.

Impeachment? Not likely with this Congress

John Podesta knows a thing or two about impeachment. He served as White House chief of staff for a president who was impeached by the House of Representatives and put on trial in the Senate.

Podesta has looked at the political landscape and reports that he doesn’t see impeachment on the horizon for Donald J. Trump.

I have to agree with his assessment.

The issue is the makeup of the body that would file articles of impeachment.

Podesta seems to think, according to his comments to the Washington Post, that Trump might deserve to be impeached, but he doesn’t think the current House has the guts to do it. He allegedly sought to quash an FBI investigation into his campaign’s relationship with Russia. The Justice Department has assigned a special counsel to look at the matter.

Consider the 20th century’s two big impeachment moments.

* One of them occurred in 1974. The House was in control of Democrats. The president, Richard Nixon, was a Republican. Nixon stood accused of obstructing justice in the Watergate scandal. The House Judiciary Committee, with its Democratic majority, approved articles of impeachment and referred them to the full House.

President Nixon’s impeachment was a done deal. It took a stern lecture from the late Republican Sen. Barry Goldwater to persuade the president to give up the fight; Nixon quit the presidency the next day.

* The other occurred in 1998. Republicans controlled the House and the Senate. The special prosecutor, Kenneth Starr, began his probe by looking at a real estate matter involving President Clinton and his wife, Hillary — both of whom are Democrats. He expanded it to include an extramarital dalliance the president was having with a young woman. He summoned the president to testify before a federal grand jury; the president was untruthful.

He was impeached on obstruction and perjury charges. The Senate acquitted him. Again, politics — just as it did in 1974 — played a role in moving the impeachment forward.

Would the Republicans who control Congress have the stones to impeach a fellow Republican who also happens to be president? Podesta doesn’t think so. Neither do I.

Impeachment is a political exercise in the extreme. Sure, the members of Congress talk a good game about seeking justice, to punish the president for committing “high crimes and misdemeanors.”

The reality is that it all rests on politics.

The previous century provided ample evidence of the politics associated with this serious matter. I have no reason to believe — at least not yet — that anything has changed.

No matter the result, blowback will be ugly

Donald J. Trump’s current political troubles are likely to end one of two ways.

The special counsel and two congressional committees will find criminal conduct involving the president, his campaign and the Russian government — and he’ll be impeached and possibly convicted.

Or …

The special counsel and those committees will come up empty and will decide there’s no “there” there. The president will be absolved of wrongdoing and he’ll complete his term in office.

Either outcome bodes ugly for those of who have an interest in government, in politics and in public policy. The ugliness will be the result of the president’s reaction to either outcome.

History already has shown that Trump cannot — or will not — let go of the past. Witness his continual recitation of his stunning, shocking victory in the 2016 presidential election.

Consider the potential outcomes:

Trump gets impeached and then convicted. The president will not go quietly. He will not leave office as President Nixon did in August 1974 and then disappear for years. We won’t see Trump fly away aboard Marine One from the White House lawn, grinning broadly, waving to his friends, White House staff and political supporters.

Oh, no. He’ll be angry. He’ll be lashing out continually against the media, Democrats, turncoat Republicans, Congress in general. He might even call for the abolition of the U.S. Constitution for all I know.

Once in some form of retirement, he’ll be tweeting his fingers to the bone. He’ll be dishing out insults by the minute, let alone the hour. He’ll threaten to sue anyone for any reason that comes to mind.

And the media he hates — allegedly — will lap it up, report it dutifully and give him all the platform he needs to seek some form of revenge against the system that “betrayed” him.

If the president is impeached and then acquitted by the Senate, well, ratchet all of the previous up by a factor of, oh, several thousand.

The president is clean. This outcome could be just as ugly as the other one.

Think of how the president is going to play this one out. He’ll stage campaign-style rallies. He’ll savage the media and his political enemies. He likely could re-tell the story of his “historic” electoral victory over Hillary Rodham Clinton. The president is not likely to accept victory like a gentleman, praise the system for doing its job, thank the special counsel, Robert Mueller, for his service to the country and wish him well as he returns to private law practice.

The president will seethe and stew over the very idea that he would be the subject of an FBI probe, of an investigation by the legislative branch of government.

Moreover, he’ll do all of it in public. He likely would seize the limelight at every opportunity. He’ll create opportunities when they don’t present themselves.

All of this is my way of telling you that no matter the outcome of these investigations, we — the American public — are going to be disserved by the president of the United States.

Just as he showed during the 2016 GOP primary campaign, he exhibited a clearly defined “sore loser” trait. When he won the whole thing, he has shown as well that he is a “sore winner.”

Thus, I am not looking forward to the end of this investigation, no matter how it turns out.

Bluff or no bluff about those recordings?

Donald John Trump might be trying to pull of the costliest bluff in U.S. political history.

He has mentioned the word “tape recordings” relating to his conversation with former FBI Director James Comey. The nation’s capital is now buzzing with reports about whether the president actually recorded the conversation he had with Comey.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer has declined to answer directly the question about the existence of recording devices.

So … has the president recorded conversations in the Oval Office or not? If he has, then is there more to learn?

Those of us of a certain age remember a fellow named Alexander Butterfield. He worked in the White House during the Nixon administration. The Watergate scandal was beginning to overtake President Nixon in 1973-74. Butterfield, in testimony before the Senate Select Watergate Committee, blabbed to the world about the existence of Oval Office recording devices.

What did they reveal? Oh, all kinds of things that revealed that the president was using the power of his office to obstruct justice.

The rest is history, you know?

What has the current president done to preserve his comings and goings for posterity? What on Earth might such recordings — if they exist — reveal about his alleged connection to, oh, Russian government officials?

Yet another question for the president to answer. If only he would.