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Grievance Politics: Nixon Had More Honor Than Trump

July 12, 2020

Those who are old enough to remember, or others who have read history, will understand the power and punch of what landed above the fold in Sunday’s New York Times.  For conservatives who chide liberals for using grievance politics..well…they no longer have room for argument given what their cult-leader did Friday night when commuting Roger Stone’s sentence. 

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The lack of regard for the norms of governing, the limits of power, or the checks that need to be self-placed when sitting in the Oval Office have all been failures Donald Trump have amassed over the past years. He has been careless and most reckless with the reins of government.

Today the Times put it all into one powerful front-page article with none other than the heavy-hitting reporter Peter Baker doing the honors.  I so respect the power of journalists like Baker who hone the points which need to be known.

President Trump has said he learned lessons from President Richard M. Nixon’s fall from grace, but in using the power of his office to keep his friend and adviser Roger J. Stone Jr. out of prison he has now crossed a line that even Mr. Nixon in the depths of Watergate dared not cross.

For months, senior advisers warned Mr. Trump that it would be politically self-destructive if not ethically inappropriate to grant clemency to Mr. Stone, who was convicted of lying to protect the president. Even Attorney General William P. Barr, who had already overruled career prosecutors to reduce Mr. Stone’s sentence, argued against commutation in recent weeks, officials said.

But in casting aside their counsel on Friday, Mr. Trump indulged his own sense of grievance over precedent to reward an ally who kept silent. Once again, he challenged convention by intervening in the justice system undermining investigators looking into him and his associates, just days after the Supreme Court ruled that he went too far in claiming “absolute immunity” in two other inquiries.

One president who dared not use his pardon power in such a way was Mr. Nixon, although he considered it. Mr. Nixon’s associates paid hush money and dangled the prospect of clemency to the Watergate burglars to buy their silence but that was off the table once the Watergate story broke open.

Likewise, Mr. Nixon secretly promised to pardon three lieutenants, H.R. HaldemanJohn D. Ehrlichman and John N. Mitchell, the day after Senate hearings opened in 1973. “I don’t give a shit what comes out on you or John, even that poor, damn, dumb John Mitchell,” he told Mr. Haldeman in a conversation captured on his taping system. “There is going to be a total pardon.”

Mr. Haldeman sensed danger. “Don’t even say that,” he warned.

“Forget you ever heard it,” Mr. Nixon replied.

He never followed through. Mr. Haldeman, Mr. Ehrlichman and Mr. Mitchell were indicted in 1974 and accused of making “offers of leniency, executive clemency, and other benefits” to obstruct justice. All three went to prison.

Mr. Nixon resigned that August without using his pardon pen. But he received one himself a month later from President Gerald R. Ford, who wanted to spare the country the spectacle of a former president on trial, only to trigger a backlash that helped cost him the 1976 election.

“I think Nixon understood the power of the public and did his crimes in private, not in public, to avoid political consequences,” said Jill Wine-Banks, a Watergate prosecutor. “He was right then. Look what happened to Ford. But Trump sees no consequences.”

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