Nixon’s Resignation & the Era of Lawless Presidencies

1974 nixonThis is the anniversary of President Richard Nixon’s resignation in 1974. Nixon knew that his defense was doomed and chose to throw in the towel without a Senate trial. But President Gerald Ford compounded the damage from Nixon’s presidency when he issued a sweeping pardon of Nixon that practically condemned future generations of Americans to being governed by lawless presidents.

Ford is a hero in Washington in part because he covered up the crimes of the state. His most famous action was his pardoning of Richard M. Nixon, the man who chose him to be vice president after Spiro Agnew was forced to resign in disgrace. Nixon was guilty of illegally invading a foreign country (Cambodia); of perpetuating the war in Vietnam for political purposes and his 1972 reelection campaign; of violating the rights of tens of thousands of Americans with the illegal FBI COINTELPRO program; of sanctioning CIA violence and subversion around the globe; and Watergate, as well as many other offenses. Nixon also created Amtrak.

Many people assume that President Ford pardoned Nixon only for Watergate. In reality, Ford’s pardon was so sweeping — forgiving Nixon for any and every possible crime he may have committed — that it would have exempted Nixon even from charges of genocide:Now, therefore, I, Gerald R. Ford, President of the United States, pursuant to the pardon power conferred upon me by Article II, Section 2, of the Constitution, have granted and by these presents do grant a full, free, and absolute pardon unto Richard Nixon for all offenses against the United States which he, Richard Nixon, has committed or may have committed or taken part in during the period from January 20, 1969, through August 9, 1974.

Ford’s pardon effectively closed the book on holding Nixon culpable for his crimes against the Constitution, Americans, and millions of other people around the world.

If Nixon had been publicly tried and a full accounting of his abuses made to the American public, it may have been far more difficult for subsequent presidents to cover up their crimes. Politicians remembering Nixon’s punishment and humiliation might have been slower to lie the nation into unnecessary foreign wars. If Ford was hell-bent on pardoning his friend, he should have had the decency to wait until the evidence was on the table.

And those who are concerned about how Nixon would have personally suffered from being prosecuted for all his crimes are cold-hearted towards the tens of thousands of Americans who have been killed and maimed in subsequent unnecessary wars. Making one politician pay the price of his conduct could have saved Americans and the world vast suffering.

But the friends of Leviathan have benefited immensely from the obscuring, if not the burying, of the vast majority of the crimes of the Nixon era. The more clearly people recalled Nixon’s abuses, the more difficult it would be to sway them to accept that government is inherently benevolent and trustworthy. The media’s Nixon rendition routinely starts and stops at Watergate. It is typical of the establishment media to treat a crime against a competing political party as a far graver offense than the trampling of the rights of tens of thousands of Americans by COINTELPRO (which began in the late 1950s and metastasized under Lyndon Johnson).

Ford’s pardon of Nixon set a precedent of absolute immunity for the president for all crimes committed in office. Ford’s pardon proclaimed a new doctrine in American law and politics — that one president can absolve another president of all his crimes and all his killings. His pardon signaled the formal end of the rule of law in America.

The lesson that Ford’s top advisors seemed to draw from the pardon is that the government can break the law with impunity. Ford’s former chief of staff, Dick Cheney, brought this doctrine into the Bush administration, where it helped unleash torture around the world.

23 thoughts on “Nixon’s Resignation & the Era of Lawless Presidencies”

  1. Gerald Ford also covered-up for and directly protected the murderers in the CIA who kill President Kennedy.

  2. That Ford's pardon was allowed to be effective is a joke. What if instead of being defeated, Hitler resigned, and the next guy in office pardoned him?

    When some stooge like Ford makes a statement like this, the public needs to say, "Nice try, douchebag", and put the war criminal in question on trial.

  3. I disagree with Mr. Bovard. I think Ford's pardon of Nixon did the nation the service of ending the divisive "long nightmare" into which Watergate had plunged it. Granted, I didn't understand the immensity of Nixon's crimes at the time and in that I was like more than half of the country, which reelected him. But it is sufficient deterrence for any future President to see he can be brought down from office and sent into ignominy as Nixon was. I blame the carte blanche Presidents believe they have today on the failed Clinton impeachment. Clinton was clearly guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors, for which he lost his licence to practice law. He could have been prosecuted as Nixon wasn't, except GWBush made the decision not to. But Clinton escaped removal from office as well as criminal trial because his misdeeds were cast in the public light as something not worth the public worrying about. That is the lesson learned by the Bush II and Obama administrations – you can commit impeachable crimes as long as you have the press and, thereby, the Congress backing you in doing so. If, in the heat of the anti-Nixon hysteria of 1974, he had been put in the dock and convicted as a felon, it would have made no more difference than his threatened impeachment to his successors as President after the botched prosecution of Monicagate.

    Nor do I assign culpability to Nixon for his prosecution of the Vietnam War or incursions into Cambodia. Like Obama pursuing the war in Afghanistan and carrying it into Pakistan, Nixon was given the task of cleaning up another's President's mess. Nixon just did a much better, and faster, job of getting his mess cleaned up and our troops out of harm's way than has Obama.

    1. By nightmare, you mean the revelation that Nixon and his cronies tried to steal the election, conduct illegal wars, smear whistleblowers, that sort of thing? You know, the stuff that future presidents, esp. W and our current President Pinocchio, have been up to? The only nightmare about Watergate was that Nixon didn't get tried, convicted, and sent to solitary confinement in a maximum security prison for the rest of his miserable life. If that had happened, you can bet your sweet ##s that we would not have had Iran-Contra and all the illegal, contra-Constitutional stuff that has gone on since with Slick Willy, Shrub, and Pinocchio.

  4. Wow, I didn't know how evil Nixon was. Wars of aggression, mass murder and illegal spying are so passe, but to create Amtrak? That is pure unadulterated evil, a crime against humanity.

  5. I don't know if I can agree with this article entirely. But, as far as 'guaranteeing that Americans would be ruled by future generations of lawless Presidents' – I would have to say that the fiasco that was the Clinton Impeachment attempt most certainly was deliberately designed and intended to make a mockery of the Articles of Impeachment section of our Constitution.

    That's why the GOP ignored the far more serious and easily impeachable crimes committed by Clinton, such as his treason when he sold multiple warhead missile guidance technology to Communist Red China in exchange for campaign donations – and instead focused on the Lewinski sexual affair. Face it, both the Rs and the Ds are filled with sleaze ball politicians who hate the Constitution, and who despise the shackles that it was meant to place upon what they are allowed to do. So, they picked the one charge that they knew he could most easily beat.

    Incidentally, during the time of the Clinton impeachment – I tried my level best to explain to a few liberals I knew at work how important it was to impeach Clinton and to set a precedent that no President was above the law, but these nitwits just would not listen. Like infantile, immature, short sighted, narcissistic spoiled children – they kept defending Clinton and refusing to grasp the serious nature of what was transpiring. Which was a deliberate attempt to permanently discredit and make a laughing stock out of the whole idea of impeachment – effectively removing those provisions from the Constitution without going through the normal process for modifying or amending the Constitution. These liberal morons just couldn't understand what the long term consequences would be, and so, we have had a series of criminal, law breaking Presidents and each one is worse and more evil than his predecessor.

  6. Those kinds of programs (as well as MKULTRA) are alive and well. But they started up again in the 80s. People are only noticing now because of the massive expansion (Top Secret America, etc.).

  7. Not unlike H W Bush’s preemptive pardon of Iran-contra conspirators. Also done in advance of the evidence gathering. Because aparently selling missiles to terrorists and supporting drug dealing death squads by the executive branch is not worth prosecuting.

    Obama took a different approach with Bush-Cheney’s littany of war crimes and treasons; he refused to investigate them at all. Of course, we now see he chose instead to perpetuate them.

    Clinton’s “high crime” by the way, differs in character inasmuch as the offense was at least fully vetted in public, at which time prosecution was dropped in response to public pressure by a now-informed populace. A vigorous investigation was undertaken, a house trial held, and only then the electorate demanded an end to the process.

    This differs markedly from Nixon, Reagan, and Bush-cheney, where arguably graver offenses were never even truly investigated.

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