Of Presidents And Scandals

It’s interesting to look at the current Obama administration’s so-called “scandals” in the context of those of prior administrations.

President Richard Nixon won a second term in a landslide in 1972 amid accusations about his involvement in the ordering of the Watergate break-in by campaign operatives at the Democratic Party headquarters. Nixon vehemently denied knowledge. Then, Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein blew the lid off a Nixon coverup using a secret source known only as Deep Throat. Political enemies salivated, and the press hounded. White House paranoia set in, the circle of trust got smaller and transparency evaporated. Nixon finally resigned to avoid likely impeachment and possible removal from office.

President Reagan’s Iran-Contra scandal, too complex for this column, also had all the elements of abuse of power, a cover-up and finally admissions.

In late 1998, President Bill Clinton was the first elected president to be impeached, for lying to a grand jury and obstruction of justice related to his sexual affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. Sex scandals resonate with the press, which ran far too many salacious stories (no doubt impacting generations of teenage boys overjoyed at a United States president authoritatively defining what a sexual act is … is.) After vehement denials, Clinton finally admitted to sex with “that woman, Ms. Lewinsky.” Congress voted not to remove him from office, and Clinton, though bloodied, rebuilt his reputation with philanthropic work in developing countries post-presidency.

Now we have President Barack Obama in the same boat as his predecessors. Not one, but three scandals, distinguished by cover-ups, threaten to scar his presidency: the Sept. 11, 2012, terrorist attack on our consulate in Benghazi, Libya, the invention of an untrue narrative about the attack and a murky reason for why help wasn’t sent. This cover-up is mystifying, because Obama’s re-election wouldn’t have suffered if he’d spelled out the true circumstances.

The newly disclosed IRS scandal of targeting conservative groups reminds us of the “Nixonian” trick of using government agencies to intimidate political enemies. Lois Lerner, IRS division head for tax-exempt groups, called the practice “unacceptable, incorrect, insensitive and inappropriate,” then immediately plead Fifth Amendment protection from self-incrimination in a congressional hearing, fueling suspicions of White House involvement.

Finally, invoking the Espionage Act to suppress leaks, the Justice Department secretly seized two months worth of both home and cellphone records of Associated Press reporters and editors. Seizure of a Fox News reporter’s records and false charges by the Justice Department to gain a judge’s permission smacks of press intimidation, an egregious violation of First Amendment protection.

Some minimize these “scandals” as blown out of proportion by Republicans. Maybe so. But, for those of us present during Watergate, Iran-Contra and Clinton’s impeachment, this scandal is looking a lot like an abuse of power re-run.

Woodward said on Face the Nation: “But it’s all very troubling, and you lump all “But it’s all very troubling, and you lump all these things – the IRS, Benghazi and this – together, and what you’ve got is a feeling that no one’s coming clean, that we aren’t getting straight talk. And this goes to President Obama. He’s got to find a way to unravel this. We live in an age of distrust. I think it’s more severe now, and he has to find some way to clean this up and say, ‘This is what happened. This is what it means.'”