One of the most lasting legacies of Watergate were these words of wisdom: “it’s not the crime, it’s the cover-up.” At the time of Watergate, it quickly became apparent that Richard Nixon was not directly involved in the most egregious offenses committed by his underlings, but when he learned what happened he helped orchestrate attempts to cover up and conceal it. It was for those actions, not some “second-rate burglary,” that Nixon was bound for impeachment before he resigned.
But it appears that Barack Obama is well on his way to erasing that decades-old rule.
First, it was the nature of his relationship with William Ayers, political activist, professor, and unrepentant terrorist. Ayers was “some guy from my neighborhood.” Then he was someone who served on a board with Obama. Eventually, he was someone who served on two boards with Obama; someone who hosted the party where Obama launched his political career; and someone whose book Obama praised highly.
Now, with the Blagojevich indictment, we see the Obama spin machine at full throttle.
It is important to note that there is no indication that Obama himself, or any of his aides, did anything wrong. Indeed, there is evidence that the Obama camp refused to play ball; Blagojevich is on tape cursing them out for offering only “gratitude” in return for the prospect of having Obama’s chosen heir fill the seat Blagojevich was looking to sell off.
As laudable as that is, it didn’t suffice for the Obama camp. And in seeking to deny any contact whatsoever with the players in question, they overstretched.
Jim Lindgren of the Volokh Conspiracy has carefully constructed a timeline of the last month or so of the Blagojevich mess, and it holds together remarkably well — especially when it comes to exonerating Obama and his people from committing any wrongdoings. In fact, the only things that Lindgren can’t reconcile is the known record and Obama’s carefully-phrased denial on Monday:
I had no contact with the governor or his office and so we were not, I was not aware of what was happening.
Is it wrong to parse Obama’s words so carefully? No. He’s a lawyer — a graduate of Harvard Law School — so it must be presumed that he speaks very carefully and says exactly what he wants to say. His denial is very specific: he personally had no contact with Blagojevich or his office. It does not cover Obama’s staff.
Of course, this means that David Axelrod, a key aide to Obama and former right-hand man to Blagojevich, “misspoke” when he said on November 23 that Obama had spoken with Blagojevich about the Senate seat. Or, to use a Watergate-esque turn of phrase, that statement of Axelrod’s is “no longer operative.”
However, it seems that the lesson of Watergate is no more. The cover-up (or, if you prefer, the rewriting of history to reflect new developments and surfacing facts) will most likely be brushed under the carpet, and we will all move on to the new era of hopey changefulness as scheduled.
Oh, well. At least we still have “follow the money,” right?