Leaders and Their Lies

Merriam-Webster defines morality as “conformity to ideals of right human conduct”—so what could have raised eyebrows thirty years ago may very well be commonly acceptable today. Scandals are framed in the context of what is socially acceptable behavior. The majority of presidents of the United States have endured or faced some sort of scandal during their terms of office. One recent wrongdoing, however, stands out in the minds of many Americans. William Jefferson Clinton faced what is probably the most notorious presidential offense in recent history. His presidential campaign was tainted when Gennifer Flowers came forward and confessed to having an affair with the then governor of Arkansas, Bill Clinton. Clinton was known to have sexual relations with women on a regular basis during his term as governor of Arkansas. In December of 1993, these escapades became public in Troopergate, the scandal that surfaced when “a group of Arkansas state troopers told stories about soliciting women and facilitating extramarital trysts for Clinton while he was governor.” (Isikoff p.4) One of the women involved in the Troopergate scandal was Paula Corbin Jones, a woman whose persistence and persecution later proved vital to the impeachment of President Clinton.

Jones worked at the registration desk in the Excelsior Hotel—the location of her first encounter with Clinton. He asked her to accompany him to his room and exposed himself to her. When she went public with these allegations against Clinton, he vehemently denied ever meeting with Jones. Clinton’s denial infuriated Jones, causing her to pursue a civil case against him, but after his denial, her case lost public interest. Perhaps the most infamous of all Clinton’s affairs was his relationship with the young intern, Monica Lewinsky. Her repeated encounters with the President probably would have never surfaced if it weren’t for Linda Tripp. Tripp had become a motherly figure to Lewinsky, consoling her and becoming her confidant. Tripp recorded several phone conversations between the two regarding her relationship with Clinton. These conversations were some of the strongest evidence against Clinton’s denial of his sexual relationship with Ms. Lewinsky. On January 20, 1998 “news [broke] that President Clinton may have had a sexual relationship with a White House intern named Monica Lewinsky” (presidential). Clinton had denied these accusations under oath in the Paula Jones trials, but Tripp had evidence that could be used against him. Kenneth Starr, an independent counsel, “sent a report to Congress in which he charged Clinton with perjury, obstruction of justice, witness tampering, and abuse of authority in the Paula Jones lawsuit.” (whitewater) On December 11, 1998 “The House Judiciary Committee approve[d] three articles of impeachment on a 21-16 party line vote, passing them to the full House of Representatives. The three articles accuse[d] Clinton of lying to a grand jury, committing perjury by denying he had sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky, and obstructing justice. Clinton declare[d] himself "profoundly sorry" and willing to accept censure.” (Clinton)

Clinton’s impeachment shocked many Americans. His denials and attempts to have other people lie for him caused him to lose much respect in our world. Unfortunately, we have seen deception such as Clinton’s in the face of another president—Richard Nixon. Richard Milhous Nixon served two terms as vice president under Dwight D. Eisenhower. Nixon ran for the presidency in 1960 only to lose to John F. Kennedy. In 1962, he lost the election for Governor of California to Pat Brown. Nixon defeated Hubert H. Humphrey in the 1968 presidential election. Americans believed Nixon would end the fighting in Vietnam because he promised “peace with honor” (Richard). During his first presidential term, Nixon ended American involvement in the Vietnam War and began withdrawing troops. Although we had withdrawn involvement in the war, Nixon’s administration began secretly bombing Cambodia—the area believed to host the National Front for the Liberation of Vietnam. Nixon overexerted his executive powers by never asking Congress’s permission to bomb Cambodia. The unauthorized bombings “were considered as an article of impeachment, but the charge was dropped” (Richard). In 1972, Nixon was very popular to Americans. He won the presidential election by a landslide, carrying 49 of the 50 states. The voters had no idea that Nixon was a liar and a scoundrel. What the public didn’t know at the time of his election would eventually be the grounds for his resignation.

A scandal named for the Washington, D.C. hotel where it took place, Watergate was an event that tarnished several people in the Nixon administration and caused the American public to become much more interested in morality in politics. Frank Wills, a security guard at the Watergate Hotel noticed a piece of tape keeping the basement door unlocked. He removed it, only to find the tape replaced a few hours later. This prompted Wills to contact the D.C. police. Five men were discovered in the hotel—Bernard Barker, Virgilio Gonzales, James W. McCord, Frank Sturgis, and Eugenio Martinez. They had broken into the office of the Democratic National Convention. It was later discovered that the men were breaking in to photograph documents and fix wiretaps they had installed three weeks earlier. A link was established between this burglary and the President when it was discovered that McCord was the Chief of Security at the Committee to Re-elect the President (CRP). The phone number of E. Howard Hunt, a former White House employee, was found in Barker’s notebook, creating an even stronger suspicion that Nixon had something to do with this burglary. When questioned about it, Ron Ziegler, Nixon’s press secretary, dismissed the link between the burglary and the President. No one ever knew exactly who all was involved in Watergate. It is unclear how high the level of involvement was, but one thing is certain—quite a bit of the Nixon administration knew what was going on. Nixon’s campaign manager, Jeb Stuart Magruder, alleged overhearing Nixon ordering Attorney General John Mitchell to conduct the break-in. Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy were to direct the attempt to retrieve documents from the office of the Democratic Campaign Committee. In January of 1973, Hunt, Liddy, and the original five burglars were tried for and convicted of burglary, conspiracy and wiretapping. Senate investigators for the Watergate hearings discovered from Alexandar Butterfield, the deputy assistant to the President, that there was a tape recorder in the Oval Office. These recordings could tell whether or not Nixon was telling the truth about meetings there. However, when the Senate subpoenaed these tapes, Nixon refused, claiming his executive privilege theory. When the Senate pressed for the tapes, Nixon continued to refuse, but released edited transcripts of most of them. The edited tapes confirmed John Dean’s account of what had happened in the Oval Office, but a vital 18˝ minute portion of one of the tapes was erased. Nixon’s issue of holding the tapes went all the way to the Supreme Court, who ruled that Nixon must hand over all of the tapes in their original form. The Watergate grand jury was noticing how much Nixon seemed to be involved in much of their investigation. Several people extremely close to him in his administration were being indicted for association with Watergate. The House of Representatives chose to begin formal investigations on the possible impeachment of the president. On July 27, 1974, the House Judiciary Committee voted to recommend an article of impeachment of obstruction of justice on the president. Two days later, the second article, abuse of power, was passed, and the next day contempt of Congress was passed. Once Nixon knew impeachment was unavoidable, he publicly announced his resignation. His successor, Gerald Ford, issued a controversial pardon that protected him from any crimes he committed as president. Many people believe Clinton was an inadequate leader because of his continuous extramarital affairs. Given proof that many presidents have affairs and it doesn’t affect their ability to lead our country, I disagree with this belief. President Clinton’s downfall was his lies and attempted cover-ups, much like Nixon. Clinton and Nixon both had very twisted ideas of their power. They both had a “because I can” attitude towards their actions. Both presidents would have caused much less controversy if they had just admitted and apologized for their mistakes and asked for the country’s forgiveness. Clinton’s biggest mistake was lying under oath and convincing other people to lie for him. It was never proven whether or not Nixon lied or asked for anyone to lie for him, but his evasive actions led to his resignation. Neither Clinton nor Nixon had an unsatisfactory ability to lead our country. Clinton had a fairly uneventful presidency, and he probably wouldn’t be remembered if it weren’t for his impeachment trials. Nixon was faced with controversy in his first term that he handled with grace and intelligence, but his paranoia and involvement in the Watergate scandal caused the public to suddenly change its idea of him.

Being the leader of the most powerful nation in the world has its price. A lack of privacy and extreme scrutiny by members of the press could reveal weaknesses among even the most pristine leaders. While both Clinton and Nixon had positive traits as presidents, their indiscretions and inability to come clean tainted most Americans’ perceptions of their leadership abilities.