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Waiting For History

Nixon departure

Photo from CNN article on the 25th anniversary of Nixon’s resignation.

Through six years of the Bush/Cheney regime, the American people have put up with perhaps the most lawless and dishonest behavior by any Administration in our history. We’ve seen this regime trample Constitutional principles of separation of powers, watched helplessly as it ignored statutes and Constitutional limits designed to protect individuals from government abuse and watched in horror as the regime shamelessly violated international law and standards of decency by authorizing torture, kidnapping and lawless trials and detentions. They lied about warrantless surveillance and then killed an investigation into its lawlessness and Alberto Gonzales’ involvement. The President has not fired anyone in his Administration for any of this.

So how ironic is it that one week after Cheney’s Chief of Staff is convicted for obstructing justice we are hearing calls for Attorney General Gonzales’ resignation and an investigation of the President’s Senior Political Advisor — and all because these thugs couldn’t get their stories straight about something they had a legal right to to do — replace US Attorneys at the President’s pleasure? As Pat Buchanan screamed on Scarborough, “they lied about a crime they didn’t commit!” Everyone suspects they’re covering up something worse, and that’s probably right.

The gods are surely playing with us. After all the lies this Administration has told — including lying the country into a horrific war — why has this set of lies finally captured the media’s attention in ways that may eventually lead to the regime’s collapse?

Congress put up with six years of Administration lying, six years of being treated like spineless, unprincipled rubberstamps, yet the Republican Congress shrugged it off as just so much politics. But when Gonzales and his deputies misled Congress about the reasons for firing US Attorneys, Congress suddenly became offended as though the foundations of Congressional power had been shaken.

Did this undercut Congress’ prerogatives to influence US Attorney appointments? Sure, but what about usurping the power to declare war? Or the power to determine what does or doesn’t get included in the federal budget? Or the most basic legislative power to write statutes and not have them overridden by signing statements or simply ignored, as with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the War Crimes Act or treaties ratified by Congress?

Those of us who lived through the Watergate era and watched the path to Richard Nixon’s resignation recall being equally baffled and frustrated by the illogic of what finally brought the regime down. Nixon’s Administration was offensive and lawless in many ways; Nixon and his team of Halderman, Erlichman, and Mitchell had as little regard for the Constitution as do Bush, Cheney, Rove and Gonzales. But Nixon’s most egregious offenses did not end his presidency. Nixon ordered that a special prosecutor appointed to investigate the Watergate-related crimes be fired, and when his Attorney General, Elliot Richardson, and his deputy refused, both resigned. Yet that obvious obstruction of justice by the President didn’t bring Nixon down.

Only when an obscure WH official, Alexander Butterfield, revealed a previously unknown WH taping system did we learn that there might be recordings of the President’s conversations with his closest co-conspirators. The President resisted their release, then published edited transcripts. Eventually, the Supreme Court ruled that investigators were entitled to the original tapes. The “smoking gun” conversations, showing Nixon signing off on hush money for the Watergate burglars, were there for all to see and hear. He resigned on August 9, 1974.

Will history repeat itself? Dan Froomkin’s post yesterday focused on the existence of non-official e-mail systems used by WH officials to conduct political business; these were separate from the e-mails that were automatically archived as required by law. Now these e-mails are emerging, like ghosts of Butterfield’s tapes congealing from hyperspace. Are the smoking guns for the Bush regime waiting there? The latest e-mails disclose that the WH and Gonzales misled Congress about Gonzales’ and Rove’s involvement.

I don’t know how this will end, or how soon, but I’m fairly certain we are moving towards the end. I don’t know what the tipping point will be, but I know one is coming. We’ve been here before.

So buckle up everyone, because this regime is crumbling. We know they are unprincipled; to protect the president, they will throw anyone under the bus until there’s no one left to throw. By next week it may be Gonzales. After that, it will be Rove, and eventually Cheney. This regime is going down and we’re just waiting to see how.

Update: To get ready for the Waxman hearing with Valerie Plame, check out this WaPo article. (h//t angie).

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John has been writing for Firedoglake since 2006 or so, on whatever interests him. He has a law degree, worked as legal counsel and energy policy adviser for a state energy agency for 20 years and then as a consultant on electricity systems and markets. He's now retired, living in Massachusetts.

You can follow John on twitter: @JohnChandley