Saturday, December 19, 2015

Hillary, Nixon, JFK: The problem of false history

Before proceeding to the historical stuff, let's note the current three-way spat between Hillary, Sanders and the DNC. My prediction: This dispute will soon fade, because prolongation serves no-one's interests. (They've already made a deal.) The DNC and Hillary both know that the Sanders voters will one day need to rejoin the mainstream, while Bernie Sanders shouldn't want quite so much attention paid to the fact that his staffers got up to some minor naughtiness. This analysis by Josh Marshall makes the most sense of the situation.

Being an old dog, I'd like to redirect your attention to a question of history -- specifically, to the question of Hillary Clinton's role in Watergate. Yes, she played one. Unfortunately, some writers are still spreading a false narrative of what she did back then, and I don't want you young whippersnappers to be fooled by lot of hooey.

Earlier today, I read this piece. It's a review of an anti-Hillary book written by left-wing critic Diana Johnstone; the reviewer is a libertarian named John V. Walsh. This passage by Walsh made my eyes go wide:
Johnstone sees Clinton as both a product of her times – privileged child of the U.S. Empire, white, Wellesley, Yale, a dishonest and ultimately fired operative on the Watergate committee right out of law school...
What a specious argument! Basically, it comes down to "Good school = bad person." Hillary's family was thoroughly middle class (her dad helped to manage a textile mill), so pretending that she grew up hobnobbing with the Rockefellers and the Astors is disingenuous.

But that Watergate remark seemed oddly familiar. "Didn't you once write about that, Cannon?"

(These days, I ask myself that question quite often. After a certain age, one reads one's earlier work with a real sense of discovery.)

The reference goes to the allegations of one Jerry Zeifman, who supervised a young Hillary Clinton when she went to work for the House Judiciary Committee. It was a heady time for that committee: They were making decisions about the upcoming impeachment proceedings against Richard Nixon. (Spoiler alert: In the end, Nixon resigned before impeachment could go forward.)

In 2008, Zeifman (a lifelong Democrat who suddenly decided to help the Republican cause in an election year) was the source for a right-wing hit piece which went viral after Rush Limbaugh and Accuracy in Media publicized it. The piece first appeared on an odd little website that sprang up out of nowhere and soon disappeared.

At first, Zeifman said that he had fired Hillary. Then he changed his story, claiming that he wished he had fired her.

The fact that he could not maintain a consistent narrative on so basic a matter tells us much about Zeifman. (And the fact that she definitely was not fired tells us much about John V. Walsh.)

Zeifman's most serious claim is that Hillary wrote a brief which argued that Nixon had no right to be represented by counsel during impeachment proceedings. Zeifman further states the she hid files relating to the case of Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, who had hired a lawyer during his impeachment drama. (It was the second such drama of his career. Believe it or not, the attempt to remove Douglas was prompted by his argument in favor of the public's right to see a "dirty" movie from Sweden called I am Curious: Yellow.)

We are supposed to believe that Hillary did not want anyone to know that the Douglas case had established precedent.

If you just said "Whaaaaa...?" -- you have my sympathies. This is where Zeifman's story enters IdiotLand.

First and foremost: Andrew Johnson had no fewer than five lawyers representing him during his impeachment. The precedent had been firmly established many years before William Douglas was born. Even though Chairman Peter Rodino (not Hillary) apparently had developed some wacky notion that Nixon could be denied counsel, there was simply no way to ignore the Johnson precedent.

There is no evidence that Hillary hid any papers. Douglas died in 1980, and was still a Supreme Court Justice at the time of Watergate. Hiding the paperwork would hardly have eradicated all memory of the fact that the guy hired a lawyer during an attempted impeachment.

Any Democrat on that committee who sought to deny Nixon counsel must have been insane. Doing so would only have created public sympathy for a president who had done so much to make the country hate him.

Zeifman further stated that Hillary was the functionary of a plot by Evil Ted Kennedy, bogeyman of the right. Allegedly, Teddy schemed to keep Nixon in office because a president embroiled in scandal would have made it easier for Teddy to run and win in 1976.

The absurdity of this claim becomes clear when we look at what really did happen in 1976: Ford (the un-elected caretaker president) was obviously quite vulnerable, the odor of Watergate still lingered over the GOP -- and Teddy didn't run. In fact, he had announced his "final" decision not to run in 1974, around the time of Nixon's resignation.

(For much of the rest of this post, I am going to re-use text from a piece I wrote in 2008, when I was a Clinton partisan in the great Hillary/Obama battle. I will allow myself to rewrite sections of the earlier post, both for style and to bring the argument up to date.)

Oh, but it gets worse. Zeifman twists the situation in order to smear not just Hillary, but JFK:
Why would they want to do that? Because, according to Zeifman, they feared putting Watergate break-in mastermind E. Howard Hunt on the stand to be cross-examined by counsel to the president. Hunt, Zeifman said, had the goods on nefarious activities in the Kennedy Administration that would have made Watergate look like a day at the beach – including Kennedy’s purported complicity in the attempted assassination of Fidel Castro.
Nonsense. If committee members had tried to use Hunt as an excuse to uncover dirt about other presidents, the chairman would have shut down that line of questioning as irrelevant.

Everyone knows that E. Howard Hunt always despised JFK. If Hunt had some grand, embarrassing revelation about the Kennedy presidency, he would have spilled those beans during his long retirement. On his deathbed, Hunt did not talk about a JFK plot to kill Castro: He talked about a CIA plot to kill Kennedy!

Not only that. At the time of the Watergate hearings, the assassination plots against Castro were already well-known, having been exposed by a Drew Pearson column some seven years earlier.

That 1967 Pearson story prompted the CIA Inspector General to put together a report on CIA's collusion with the mafia to kill Fidel Castro. In the 1990s, I had the chance to study this report, which was written later in 1967.

Before we proceed, we must be clear on two points:

1. This very important document was not intended for public consumption. Originally, only five men were allowed to read it -- the IG, the two men who wrote it, CIA Director Richard Helms, and the ultimate client, President Lyndon Johnson. You don't get more Top Secret than that.

2.  LBJ and Helms hated the Kennedys and had no desire to protect their legacy.

I include here the CIA's "bottom line" conclusions, taken directly from the published version of the IG report.

Understand? Are we clear?

Despite the nonsense you may have read, neither RFK nor JFK knew about the plots to kill Castro. I have shown you the truth in writing -- directly copied from an ultra-secret document prepared for the eyes of President Lyndon Johnson and CIA Director Richard Helms.

Once again: Those two men despised JFK and had no desire to burnish his legacy.

Robert Kennedy did not know about the first plot until after the fact. He did not know about the second one until (presumably) Drew Pearson published his story in 1967. RFK approved of neither attempt. Such was the Agency's internal conclusion, as conveyed in secret to Johnson: The Kennedy brothers were innocent.

Rest assured that this conclusion was reached with great reluctance, because the CIA always prefers to convey the image that they are simply the instrument of the President's will. In fact, they went "off the reservation" in their efforts to get Castro.

In more recent years, CIA personnel and Republican propagandists have twisted evidence in order to portray the Kennedy brothers as the instigators of the assassination plans. Gus Russo -- the most deceptive bastard I have ever encountered -- wrote an entire book called Live By the Sword, which presents an imaginary thesis contrary to the conclusions of the 1967 IG report. I happen to know that when Russo wrote that book, he was secretly meeting with Richard Helms and other CIA veterans of the '60s.

Years later, Russo segued into writing weird stuff about UFOs; at this stage of his career, he had apparently fallen under the sway of such CIA personnel as "Kit" Green and Ron Pandolfi. Some writers will scribble whatever their spooky pals tell them to scribble.

Bottom line: The smarmy purveyors of fake history have long targeted JFK and RFK. Like it or not, they have also tried to smear the Clintons.

Zeifman's charges against her were always absurd and contradictory. On one hand, she is portrayed as the zealous young liberal who tried to railroad Nixon out of office. On the other hand, she is portrayed as the Machiavellian schemer who tried to derail the impeachment and keep Nixon in office.

Both scenarios cannot be true.

In reality, neither scenario has any validity. In the summer of 1974, Hillary Clinton was just a very new lawyer on her first job. She was not in a position to make any important decisions. We have zero independent evidence of any secret meetings with Ted Kennedy.

Whatever else you may think of Hillary Clinton (and, as you know, I am no fan of her work as Secretary of State), we cannot allow a false version of history to take hold.


Alessandro Machi said...

I thought I had read that Hillary Clinton tried to stop the Nixon impeachment out of concern this would create a tit for tat situation in Congress in which the Republicans would look for the first opportunity, valid or not, to impeach a democrat president.
How ironic that that is exactly what happened.

Joseph Cannon said...

Well, the Republicans DID play tit for tat -- obviously -- but Hillary made no such attempt in 1974. She was a nobody back then, and it is ridiculous for modern-day conspiracy buffs to pretend otherwise. The Committee was run by Pete Rodino.

Anonymous said...

"I am Curious: Yellow" and "I am Curious: Blue" are Swedish movies, by Vilgot Sjöman.

A Scandinavian

Joseph Cannon said...

Damn, you are right. I remember now: Blue and yellow are the colors of the Swedish flag. I'm very sorry!

I'll correct the text.