A Decent Man
As the media compare him to the ghastly Republican presidents who came after him — including, of course, his own son— George H W Bush comes off as a pretty decent man. If you overlook the racist Willie Horton ad H W Bush approved. And if you overlook the McCarthyite fear-mongering when he called his opponent a "card-carrying member of the ACLU." And if you overlook the nomination of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court.
And if you overlook H W Bush's participation in a crime, recently discussed on Rachel Maddow's podcast Bag Man. Here's the story:
Back in the early '70's, Vice President Spiro Agnew was being investigated for extortion and bribery by some Baltimore prosecutors, crimes he perpetrated not only in Maryland but also continued while Vice President. Agnew even accepted cash bribes in his White House office.
Nixon and his men tried hard to shut down the investigation into Agnew. They decided to pressure Republican US Senator Glenn Beall, the brother of George Beall, the US Attorney from Maryland to talk to us brother to get the Baltimore prosecutors to back off.
The term for this kind of behavior is "obstruction of justice." It's a crime.
Who did they send to pressure Senator Beall to get his brother to shut down the investigation?
Who they end up using for this obstruction effort is the Chairman of the Republican National Committee at the time. A man by the name of... George Herbert Walker Bush.
The future President of the United States-- George Bush-- gets enlisted in this effort to reach out to Senator Glenn Beall to have him pressure his brother to shutdown this investigation.
Listen to this phone call between Richard Nixon and Al Haig.
The audio here is a little bit distorted, but the first voice here is Nixon and he’s talking to Haig about enemies of the White House who are now going after everybody:
NIXON: It’s amazing, isn’t it? By golly, the way they start to go after everybody, don’t they?
HAIG: Yeah, they’re after everybody. And the Vice President has been very nervous, he called me three times here.
NIXON: I know and you decided to have Harlow try to, well he’s isn’t here—
HAIG: He isn’t here, so I did it through George Bush on the first run.
NIXON: That’s good, that’s good.
“I did it through George Bush on the first run.”
This didn’t ever stick to George HW Bush... maybe because these audio tapes have just been collecting dust for the last four decades. But George Bush was brought in to a potentially criminal effort organized and directed by the then-President of the United States Richard Nixon to obstruct an ongoing investigation into his Vice President.
And George Bush did it.
Did it work? Well...
...the first part of it worked. Senator Glenn Beall himself took all of that pressure that he was getting and he did, in fact, reach out to his little brother George about it.
In that same memo to file in his papers in the Frostburg State archive, George says his older brother “relate[d] to him … expression[s] of concern” from George Bush and Agnew and others.
His Senator brother was contacting him telling him about all the powerful and important people in Washington who had been in touch with him “concerned” about George's investigation.
The obstruction effort got to George Beall. And George Beall memorialized that pressure that he was getting for the record... for history... but he stopped it there.
And there, my friends is a decent man: George Beall, who refused to buckle to pressure from both the Chairman of the RNC and the White House, who refused to shut down an investigation into the vice president's crimes because powerful people including George H W Bush wanted it shut down.
We now know he never once passed a word of any of it along to his team of young federal prosecutors who were just quietly working that case.
Few people except his family remembers George Beall today. But we are all remembering H W Bush, the media falling over itself to remember him as a decent man.
And that is a commentary on American values.