Bush Sr. Used Power to Save Own Skin

Papa’s Pardongate

Asked at his press conference last week what advice he would give members of his “politically active family” who might — like Bill Clinton’s relatives — seek to peddle influence, President Bush replied, “My guidance to them is, ‘Behave yourself.’ And they will.”

What then would Shrub say to his father, who left a legacy of handing out pardons to satisfy that most influential of special interests — his own? Bush Sr. wiped the slate for Reagan’s Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger and four other key officials in America’s secret Iran-Contra war, during which the U.S. sold missiles to Iran and used the proceeds to help finance anticommunist guerrilla forces — which eventually toppled the Sandinistas in Nicaragua.

The Reagan administration regarded the Sandinista rule as an extension of the Soviet empire in Central America, fearing it would next move into Mexico and from there launch attacks on the Southern U.S. In pardoning Weinberger, Bush called him “a true American patriot,” and said of the four, “The common denominator of their motivation — whether their actions were right or wrong — was patriotism… I am doing what I believe honor, decency, and fairness require.”

Special Prosecutor Lawrence E. Walsh didn’t see it that way. He charged Bush’s pardon of Weinberger completed the Iran-Contra cover-up, erasing key proof that would not only have nailed Weinberger, but would also have caught Bush Sr. in lies. Weinberger, he charged, “radically altered the official investigations and possibly forestalled timely impeachment proceedings against President Reagan and other officials. Because the [Weinberger] notes were withheld from investigators for years, many of the leads were impossible to follow, key witnesses had reportedly forgotten what was said and done, and statutes of limitations had expired. Weinberger’s concealment of notes is part of a disturbing pattern of deception and obstruction that permeated the highest levels of the Reagan and Bush administrations.”

Directing his remarks at Bush Sr., Walsh said on another occasion that he discovered the president “had failed to produce to investigators his own highly relevant contemporaneous notes, despite repeated requests.” He noted, “In light of President Bush’s own misconduct, we are gravely concerned about his decision to pardon others who lied to Congress and obstructed official investigations.” Bush repeatedly denied any knowledge of Iran-Contra while it was going on, claiming he was “out of the loop.”

Bush pardoned the following people:

  • Weinberger, who faced an impending trial on five criminal charges of lying in testimony before Congress and in criminal investigations.
  • Duane Clarridge, formerly in charge of European covert operations for the CIA, who faced seven charges of lying to congressional investigators and the White House Tower Commission about shipping U.S. missiles from Israel to Iran in November 1985.
  • Elliott Abrams, a former assistant secretary of state, who pleaded guilty to twice withholding information from Congress in the midst of the scandal.
  • Robert McFarlane, former national security adviser, who pleaded guilty to cover-ups on four misdemeanor charges.
  • Clair George, former CIA deputy director of covert ops, who was convicted on criminal charges of lying to Congress.

In what now seems a highly ironic comment, President-elect Bill Clinton once said he wanted to know more about the pardons before making an extensive comment. Yet he couldn’t help weighing in. “I am concerned by any action that sends a signal that if you work for the government, you’re beyond the law,” he said, “or that not telling the truth to Congress under oath is somehow less serious than not telling the truth to some other body under oath.”

Our Pumped-Up Livestock

Anti Maim

If the current panic over diseased livestock in Europe hasn’t scared beef off American plates, perhaps the news about barnyard pharmaceuticals will. While medical experts have long worried humans’ widening resistance to antibiotics stems from eating them in meat, no one really knows the extent of agricultural doping. The government keeps no records.

However, a new study by the Union of Concerned Scientists reports startling figures. About 70 percent, or 25 million pounds, of all antibiotics manufactured in the U.S. every year are pumped into chickens, pigs, and cows not because they’re sick, but for nontherapeutic purposes such as promoting growth. The report adds that the amount of antibiotics used is eight times that used in human medicine.

The use of antibiotics in healthy livestock has been rising, from 16 million pounds in the mid 1980s to 25 million pounds today. Of this total, about 11 million pounds go into chickens, 10 million into hogs, and 4 million into cattle. “Feeding antibiotics to animals from birth to slaughter may modestly improve meat industry profits, but it puts everyone’s health at risk,” the report points out. “It is time to rethink how pigs, cattle, and poultry are raised in the United States.”

Papers Call Race for Gore — No, Bush

Split Decisions

In ongoing independent reviews of untallied ballots in Florida’s hotly contested presidential election, one newspaper concludes Bush would have won if the hand recount had gone forward in the four counties where Al Gore requested it, while three others suggest that with broader recounts Gore could have erased the Bush’s statewide lead of 537 ballots.

An analysis of so-called “undervotes” in south Florida counties by The Miami Herald and its parent, Knight-Ridder, shows Bush would have won the election outright, even if the faintest dimpled chads were included. The paper’s examination of Miami-Dade ballots gave Gore, at best, a net gain of 49 votes.

Tallies of undervotes in different counties by a three-newspaper consortium suggest Gore would have won. The results:

The Orlando Sentinel‘s analysis indicates Al Gore would have netted 203 extra votes if Orange County had run a hand count of all the ballots that machines couldn’t read. The paper, working with the Chicago Tribune and the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, found that in 15 counties, a total of 1700 votes clearly marked for presidential candidates had been discarded. While all but one of the 15 counties went for Bush, the audit showed most of the disqualified votes would have gone to Gore, giving him a net gain of 366 votes.

The Palm Beach Post‘s investigation reveals that if dimpled ballots were counted, Gore would have gained 682 votes in that county alone.

Gale Norton, the New Bill Clinton

Monumental Missteps

In what can only be viewed as a Clintonesque maneuver, Bush’s Secretary of Interior Gale Norton was talking out of both sides of her mouth last week. First she told a Washington Post reporter she wasn’t going to overturn any of Bill Clinton’s 19 last-minute national monument designations, totaling more than 5 million acres. These designations — in theory — could protect that land from the mining or oil and gas development Bush has advocated.

The very same day the Post article appeared in Washington, a hotbed of environmental lobbying, Norton’s spokesperson was saying something quite different in Denver, the base camp for oil, gas, mining, and other extractive industries. Cliff May told The Denver Post the D.C. paper had gone too far and that Norton had not yet formally made a decision on the Clinton monuments.

This is a game of smoke and mirrors. Just because the president designates an area a national monument doesn’t necessarily stop or prevent future commercial activity within it. After the president makes the proclamation, an elaborate land-use study must be undertaken, resulting in a detailed list of restrictions. In the case of Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, which Clinton designated just before the 1996 election, the land-use plan wasn’t completed for three years and ended up allowing existing coal mining and oil and gas development to continue. In the meantime, Conoco, which holds leases there, sought and was given permission to drill oil and gas wells.

Republicans on Capitol Hill are now laying the groundwork to curb the power of future presidents to protect vast tracts. Mike Simpson, a Republican congressman from Idaho, wants to sponsor legislation that would limit the life of a presidentially proclaimed monument to two years, unless Congress specifically approves the designation.

Additional reporting: Rouven Gueissaz & Adam Gray