The Criminal Presidency

In 1983, former Democratic representative Pat Schroeder called Ronald Reagan the "Teflon President," capturing the Gipper's seeming invulnerability to scandal and failure. Due primarily to his charm and wit, Reagan was able to maintain a positive image throughout the Iran-Contra scandal, and remained popular despite failing to deliver on numerous campaign promises. Reagan's famous ability to escape criticism has now met its match in our nation's 43rd president.

Reagan was able to distance himself from the scandals brought about by members of his administration, as his direct involvement in the debacles of his administration was never well-established. George W. Bush, however, has shown himself able to avoid accountability for even the most blatantly illegal and unconstitutional acts. Reagan's "Teflon" was his charm and personality. Bush's ability to completely avoid accountability, on the other hand, is so baffling it defies explanation.

Bush's lack of accountability is not only about Iraq , WMD or Abu Ghraib, nor is it about soaring deficits or "conservative" budgets that dwarf Clinton 's wildest socialist dreams. The illegitimacy of these issues, although highly contentious, are subject to interpretation and the nuances of one's world view. These failures may make Bush a bad president in the eyes of many, but some argument can be made for the legitimacy of his fiscal policies. Some argument can be made that Abu Ghraib was an isolated incident. Some argument can be made that bad intelligence on WMD was not Bush's fault, but the failing of the intelligence community. Whether these are sound arguments is highly questionable, however these failures and policies are somewhat justifiable or excusable in the eyes of many.

What makes Bush's unaccountability so striking is the plenitude of his administration's actions that are unquestionably criminal. Indeed, many of Bush's actions have been explicitly labeled as illegal by the Government Accountability Office (or GAO, which lacks prosecuting power and can only label actions as illegal), and many more are obvious violations of law and constitutional principle. Yet, through all this, Bush stands unharmed and virtually unchallenged. A brief summary of the Bush administration's most overtly criminal acts is nothing less than awe-inspiring, if one considers that not a single member of his administration has been held accountable.

In 2004, the Bush administration distributed fake news reports touting its proposed Medicare prescription drug law to numerous news networks in an attempt to gain support for the law. On May 19, 2004 , the GAO issued a report that Bush had violated laws prohibiting use of federal money for propaganda and the unauthorized use of federal funds.

In June of 2002, President Bush detained Jose Padilla, an American citizen, denying him due process and attempting to hold him indefinitely in a military prison without trial or access to a lawyer. He was held illegally, and in direct violation of Constitutional provision regarding due process, until the Supreme Court intervened in 2004, forcing the Bush administration to present evidence in a court of law or release Padilla.

In early 2005, it came to light that $9 billion of money intended for Iraqi reconstruction was missing and unaccounted for. Reports indicate that large amounts of this money were laundered through false payments to "ghost employees." As reported by the watchdog group that uncovered the missing money, "CPA staff identified at one ministry that although 8,206 guards were on the payroll, only 602 guards could be validated." The Bush administration has attempted to downplay this possible indicator of corruption, claiming that they could not have been expected to keep track of all the funds involved in the reconstruction effort.

In July of 2002, it was revealed that Bush had illegally diverted $700 million from funds appropriated for Afghanistan , using the money for Iraq invasion planning. This unauthorized, illegal use of funds was justified by Bush supporters in Washington since the $700 million was "small compared with the overall spending bills." This also violated sections of the supplemental bill explicitly stating that the president must inform Congress of the uses for the allocated money.

In January of 2005, Bush's administration illegally paid conservative pundit Armstrong Williams $241,000 of federal funds to publicly support the No Child Left Behind law. The GAO issued a report that this use of federal funds, like the Medicare scandal before it, was illegal.

At President Bush's second inauguration, elite Special Operations troops were used as part of a secret program code named "Power Geyser," violating the Posse Comitatus Act, which prohibits the use of the military for law enforcement purposes within the country.

In June 2003, two top White House officials leaked the name of active CIA operative Valerie Plame to at least six journalists, in violation of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act. This leak is one of the few of these illegal acts being investigated, however it is unlikely that any high-level White House officials will be held accountable, despite their probable involvement.

Considering President Clinton was impeached for the comparatively innocuous (although still illegal) act of lying under oath regarding a personal sexual encounter, virtually any one of these illegal acts by the Bush administration should logically be grounds for impeachment. These well-documented crimes have involved illegal use of substantial amounts of taxpayer money; obvious, intentional disregard for Constitutional provision; and unquestionable violations of numerous laws. Miraculously, Bush and those in his administration have managed to avoid accountability for these actions through sheer power of a Republican-dominated Congress and the incompetence of a sycophantic corporate media.

The lack of any real outrage over these numerous criminal acts by Bush's administration shows that rule of law is now a thing of the past for those in power. The presidency, established on principles of the rule of law, has evolved (for the worse) to the point where the law is openly flouted, and accountability for blatantly illegal acts is completely out of the question. So long as Bush can rely on unprincipled Republican partisanship and a complete lack of real Democratic opposition, laws will remain meaningless and criminality will be the rule. It seems that despite Bush's lofty rhetoric regarding democracy, he has no qualms with placing himself above democratic law to further his own agenda.

Through all these scandals, neoconservatives and other Bush backers have rarely even found it necessary to deny the factual bases of these accusations. It has been sufficient to merely dismiss the relevance of these crimes -- the prevailing opinion seems to be that the president may now eschew legality whenever he sees fit without legal or political consequences.

Regardless of one's support for Bush's policies at home and abroad, such criminality cannot be condoned or flippantly disregarded by any person claiming to value liberty and limited, responsible government. It seems exceedingly unlikely that justice will be served and presidential accountability restored so long as the general public, the media, and politicians continue their exercise in willful blindness to the myriad crimes of the president. In the spirit of freedom and rule of law, the American people should demand accountability and justice. One of the most important lessons of history is that if a people allow the politicians to elevate themselves above the law, they will soon find themselves in the grip of tyrants.

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Dan Olson's picture
Columns on STR: 5

Dan Olson is a student of philosophy and political science in New York City, originally from the Midwest. He is an avid reader of everything from Rothbard to Debord to Nietzsche, and his political views can be readily summed up (to steal a fellow libertarian's catch-phrase) as "anti-state, anti-war, and pro-market."