Watergate pales in comparison to Plamegate

by Jim Longworth

In recent weeks, much has been made of the comparisons between Watergate and Plamegate. In one instance, the White House covered up a break-in of the Democratic National Committee headquarters. In the other, the White House authorized leaking the name of a CIA operative. That two different administrations 30 years apart were engaged in scurrilous activities is, I suppose, a similarity, but they were in no way comparable. For one thing, even Richard Nixon’s critics admit that he had no advance knowledge of the Watergate break-in, nor did he in any way authorize it. On the other hand, there is ample reason to believe that George Bush and Dick Cheney knew of, approved, or at the very least condoned the leaking of Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity as a CIA operative to journalist Robert Novak. The instruments of that leak appear to be Karl Rove and Richard Armitage, and their activities were known by Cheney’s former Chief of Staff Lewis “Scooter” Libby. Such leaks are illegal and potentially life-threatening to those whose identity is exposed. In that regard, and because of the real possibility that a president and vice president were involved, Plamegate is a far more serious matter than Watergate. Once the breadth of the Watergate scandal had been realized, Nixon began throwing his aides under the bus while accepting no blame for his role in the matter. One by one, Haldeman, Erlichman, Colson, Dean and others were hauled off to prison simply for covering up a crime they did not commit. With Plamegate, Cheney’s Scooter boy was the diversionary fall guy. He was not a leaker, but he knew who was, and instead of ratting out Armitage, Rove, Cheney and Bush, Libby lied to the court and obstructed justice in order to protect his comrades. Libby was sentenced to 30 months in prison, but unlike his Watergate counterparts, he will never set foot in jail. That’s because last week Bush commuted Scooter’s sentence. It was an astonishing action given Bush’s railings against leaks, and the fact that his own Department of Justice guidelines recommend commutation only after a portion of the sentence has been served. But Bush and Cheney are above the law, and there’s no way they were going to risk having Libby crack in prison and start spilling the beans. Following Watergate, Nixon faced conviction under articles of impeachment; instead, he received a full pardon from his successor, Gerald Ford. Despite Nixon’s arrogance and paranoia, he was not a burglar, and in my mind he did not deserve to go to prison (not that he would have anyway). Thus, I supported the pardon. In Libby’s case, I believe that the commutation was a bigger crime than the obstruction it voided. That’s because a jury of his peers found him guilty and a conservative judge issued a fair sentence given the nature of his crimes. All Libby had to do was to point his finger at the Bush gang, and I’m certain the prosecutor would have taken jail time off the table. But Scooter chose to lie and to shield criminals whose actions directly and indirectly compromised our intelligence community, while possibly endangering one of its agents. Much was also made of Nixon and his “enemies list.” The former president trusted almost no one and despised anyone who openly criticized him. There were rumors of IRS audits conducted on White House enemies; but by and large the list was a joke, and it put no one’s life in danger. On the other hand, Bush and Cheney have shown time and again their willingness to crucify anyone who disagrees with their policies. For example, anyone opposing the war in Iraq is said to be “against the troops” or “unpatriotic.” Valerie Plame Wilson was targeted by the White House because her husband, Ambassador Joseph Wilson, questioned and criticized Bush and Cheney for invading Iraq when the administration could produce no evidence of weapons of mass destruction. Wilson became an instant persona non grata at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.; his wife’s career was ruined and she was put in harm’s way. When it comes to modern presidential pardons, Clinton and Reagan granted almost 400 each, and I was not particularly fond of many of their decisions. But when it comes to commutations, George Bush’s record is clear. Up until last week, he had denied over 4,000 requests for commutation of sentence. All that changed, though, when he and his cronies faced the prospect of impeachment and prison. The message is clear. Libby, an underling, was set free so that the real criminals above him could escape prosecution. That is the exact opposite of what happened with Watergate, where President Nixon paid the ultimate price: abdication of power. George Bush’s commutation was wrong on so many levels, but it mainly demonstrated once again how arrogant and dangerous he, Cheney and Rove can be. Time and again we have felt the sting of their power: * the invasion of Iraq and needless loss of over 3,000 US soldiers and over 100,000 innocent Iraqi citizens * the lies about WMDs * the failure to rescue victims of Katrina * the illegal wiretaps * the torture of non-terrorist prisoners * the imprisonment of Arab Americans simply for being Arab American, and now: * the outing of one of their own agents simply because her husband had the guts to tell the truth. Not to excuse Nixon or diminish his abuses, but, without a doubt, the Watergate affair pales in comparison to Plamegate, partially because of the crimes involved, but also because of the pattern of abuses by the Bush administration over the past seven years. Anyway, Bush, Cheney, Rove, Armitage and Libby can all rest easy now. They are above the law and out of the woods once again. It’s the rest of us peons I’m worried about. Which one of us will be Bush and Company’s next victim? Who among us will be the next one to have his or her life disrupted, reputation ruined or career destroyed by a handful of corrupt white guys in a corrupt White House? Since the new Democratic Congress has shown that they have no spine for confrontation and are ineffective against the Bush machine, we must now just hide and wait until the Bush gang leaves town, and hope that a new sheriff will show up in January of 2009; one who can restore peace, honor and decency to the executive branch. The problem is, none of the front-runners for president have demonstrated that they are up to the task. I never thought I’d say this, but I’m beginning to miss Richard Nixon.

Jim Longworth is host of “Triad Today,” which can be seen Friday mornings at 6 a.m. on ABC 45 (cable channel 7) and Sunday nights at 10 p.m. on MY 48 (cable channel 15).