Commentary: ‘Exoneration,’ Then And Now

first_imgCommentary: ‘Exoneration,’ Then And NowApril 1, 2019 By John KrullTheStatehouseFile.com  WASHINGTON, D.C. – Oliver North started yelling.He and I, along with several off-duty police officers, were riding in a van. He was on a book tour.This was in 1993, during the early days of Bill Clinton’s presidency, and several years after North had emerged as a national figure in the waning days of Ronald Reagan’s administration.North had captured America’s attention by testifying before Congress about his contacts with foreign governments and agents in the complicated scandal known as the Iran-Contra affair. The scandal involved breaking American law to sell weapons to Iran and channel the funds to the Contras, a right-wing rebel group in Nicaragua.During his testimony, North acknowledged that, as a member of Reagan’s national security team, he’d lied to Congress and even other members of the administration about his Iran-Contra dealings.But he also displayed a potent charisma, a personal magnetism that transformed him overnight from a midlevel White House staffer into a man on horseback leading the rebel hordes as they stormed the castle.In some ways, he was Donald Trump before Trump turned to politics.What prompted North to start yelling was a question I asked him.When we talked, he was preparing to run for Virginia’s U.S. Senate seat. I asked him how he, as a U.S. senator, would react if a member of Bill Clinton’s national security team did what North had done – lied to Congress about a matter of national security.North erupted.As the van rolled along, he stood up from his seat and leaned over me. There was no comparison, he yelled. He loved America, he said. That alone justified anything he might have done.When North’s role in the Iran-Contra affair was first disclosed, he was fired from the Reagan administration and charged with committing 16 felonies. He initially was convicted on three of them, including accepting money illegally and obstructing a congressional inquiry.But North had testified to Congress under a pledge of limited immunity. His defense team argued, on appeal, that the prosecution had used North’s congressional testimony against him, thus violating the limited immunity agreement.The appeals court agreed, and North’s conviction was overturned.Most people would call that getting off on a technicality, but North didn’t.He said the court’s ruling “exonerated” him.I’ve thought about that long-ago conversation as I move through the nation’s capital. The talk here now is all about the special counsel’s report submitted by Robert Mueller III and summarized with astonishing rapidity and brevity by Attorney General William Barr.It’s another case of yet another charismatic man on horseback claiming that his love of America entitles him to ignore America’s laws while proclaiming that legal technicalities “exonerate” him.North did run for the Senate the year after he talked with me.He lost.Part of the reason was that his lies caught up with him. Once the light generated by his televised testimony faded and the American people could think about what he’d said, they weren’t as enthralled by North’s charm.They realized he was arguing he was above the law.The Republican he wanted to succeed in the Senate, John Warner, refused to endorse him. Former First Lady Nancy Reagan called North a liar on national television.North went on to a long career of preaching to the right-wing choir on Fox News and conservative talk radio. He’s now the president of the National Rifle Association.In none of these places was his record of treating the truth as a disposable commodity considered an obstacle to employment.It appears now that a more complete version of the Mueller report soon will be released to Congress and the American public.The bet here is that, once people have a chance to see it and ponder its findings, they will be less likely to accept the contentions of the president and his team that the report “exonerates” him and them.Their contention, after all, amounts to an admission that, while they didn’t cooperate with the Russians to sway the 2016 election, they did allow themselves to be used by the Russians in that effort.They weren’t conspirators.They were dupes.As in the case of Oliver North, the dust will settle.It always does.FOOTNOTE:  John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 Indianapolis and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.Print Friendly, PDF & Email FacebookTwitterCopy LinkEmailSharelast_img

first_imgCommentary: ‘Exoneration,’ Then And NowApril 1, 2019 By John KrullTheStatehouseFile.com  WASHINGTON, D.C. – Oliver North started yelling.He and I, along with several off-duty police officers, were riding in a van. He was on a book tour.This was in 1993, during the early days of Bill Clinton’s presidency, and several years after North had emerged as a national figure in the waning days of Ronald Reagan’s administration.North had captured America’s attention by testifying before Congress about his contacts with foreign governments and agents in the complicated scandal known as the Iran-Contra affair. The scandal involved breaking American law to sell weapons to Iran and channel the funds to the Contras, a right-wing rebel group in Nicaragua.During his testimony, North acknowledged that, as a member of Reagan’s national security team, he’d lied to Congress and even other members of the administration about his Iran-Contra dealings.But he also displayed a potent charisma, a personal magnetism that transformed him overnight from a midlevel White House staffer into a man on horseback leading the rebel hordes as they stormed the castle.In some ways, he was Donald Trump before Trump turned to politics.What prompted North to start yelling was a question I asked him.When we talked, he was preparing to run for Virginia’s U.S. Senate seat. I asked him how he, as a U.S. senator, would react if a member of Bill Clinton’s national security team did what North had done – lied to Congress about a matter of national security.North erupted.As the van rolled along, he stood up from his seat and leaned over me. There was no comparison, he yelled. He loved America, he said. That alone justified anything he might have done.When North’s role in the Iran-Contra affair was first disclosed, he was fired from the Reagan administration and charged with committing 16 felonies. He initially was convicted on three of them, including accepting money illegally and obstructing a congressional inquiry.But North had testified to Congress under a pledge of limited immunity. His defense team argued, on appeal, that the prosecution had used North’s congressional testimony against him, thus violating the limited immunity agreement.The appeals court agreed, and North’s conviction was overturned.Most people would call that getting off on a technicality, but North didn’t.He said the court’s ruling “exonerated” him.I’ve thought about that long-ago conversation as I move through the nation’s capital. The talk here now is all about the special counsel’s report submitted by Robert Mueller III and summarized with astonishing rapidity and brevity by Attorney General William Barr.It’s another case of yet another charismatic man on horseback claiming that his love of America entitles him to ignore America’s laws while proclaiming that legal technicalities “exonerate” him.North did run for the Senate the year after he talked with me.He lost.Part of the reason was that his lies caught up with him. Once the light generated by his televised testimony faded and the American people could think about what he’d said, they weren’t as enthralled by North’s charm.They realized he was arguing he was above the law.The Republican he wanted to succeed in the Senate, John Warner, refused to endorse him. Former First Lady Nancy Reagan called North a liar on national television.North went on to a long career of preaching to the right-wing choir on Fox News and conservative talk radio. He’s now the president of the National Rifle Association.In none of these places was his record of treating the truth as a disposable commodity considered an obstacle to employment.It appears now that a more complete version of the Mueller report soon will be released to Congress and the American public.The bet here is that, once people have a chance to see it and ponder its findings, they will be less likely to accept the contentions of the president and his team that the report “exonerates” him and them.Their contention, after all, amounts to an admission that, while they didn’t cooperate with the Russians to sway the 2016 election, they did allow themselves to be used by the Russians in that effort.They weren’t conspirators.They were dupes.As in the case of Oliver North, the dust will settle.It always does.FOOTNOTE:  John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 Indianapolis and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.Print Friendly, PDF & Email FacebookTwitterCopy LinkEmailSharelast_img

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