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January 4, 2007
Abuse Of Power, Revisited

Some people question whether the charges against Richard Nixon regarding his abuses of power in office had more to do with politics than with real abuses. CNN reports on newly-released information that demonstrates Nixon's abuse, although its report focuses on another incident with much less import:

The former president's darker side was further revealed on Wednesday by newly released FBI files which show the agency ran criminal background checks on Senate witnesses critical of William Rehnquist's nomination to the Supreme Court in 1971 at the request of the Nixon administration. The disclosures were among 1,561 pages released by the bureau under the Freedom of Information Act.

The New York Sun picks the story up as well, although they also relegate it to a minor position:

The files also describe the FBI's efforts in 1971 to support Rehnquist's nomination as an associate justice. The bureau conducted background checks on two Phoenix, Ariz., residents expected to testify against Rehnquist, Legal Times said.

The files also detail a scandal surrounding the FBI's interviews of other potential Rehnquist critics, including a Harvard Law School professor, Laurence Tribe.

The Nixon administration found out the names of two people who would testify to the Senate against Rehnquist's confirmation to the bench, and they had the FBI -- the federal law-enforcement agency -- go out and try to dig up dirt on them. The White House wanted to find some way to discredit them from speaking against their Supreme Court nominee. That's an abuse of power, and the people who ordered that deserved to be prosecuted for it. However, who would have investigated it -- the FBI? Hoover had already implicated the agency in the crime, which for Hoover was simply part of his own modus operandi anyway.

Both news agencies miss the real story here. CNN talks about Nixon's animosity towards the State Department's diplomatic corps and his intention to tear it down and build another. The Sun reports on the FBI investigation into Rehnquist's painkiller addiction that took place during his confirmation hearings for the Chief Justice slot in the mid-1980s. Both stories have splashy and salacious details, but both miss the larger threat to the nation that Nixon represented.

When the law-enforcement agencies have their missions perverted to serve the political purposes of politicians, it presents a dual threat to our civil liberties. Not only can those forces be used to intimidate people from the exercise of their political choices, it leaves no one to investigate the corrupt politicians pulling the strings. That's true at every level of government, but when a President and/or his administration commits these acts and uses the FBI as his tool, the power the executive wields becomes almost unchallengeable, and it warps the balance of government in very dangerous ways. And Nixon's administration, for all of its successes, became a very dangerous organization -- and this is but one example of why Nixon had to go.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at January 4, 2007 5:12 AM

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