tv QA James Banner Presidential Misconduct CSPAN September 30, 2019 2:52pm-3:55pm EDT
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what is the value of that? james: i think it is narrow, it is circumscribed and it remains useful. our situation now is a critical one. a study that provides a sort of general metric for historians, citizens, anybody who wants to learn about the history of this particular topic, which is presidential misdoings, it is a way of getting into the subject. i have to point out that historians themselves don't study misconduct as a discrete topic. they don't consider this a subject about which they give courses or lead graduate students to do research and in preparation for dissertation and so on. it has bubbled up twice in the last 45 years but doesn't seem to have any academic or any other consequences. host: before we get into the why, you suggested this is a valuable time to do something like this, and obviously your publisher agreed and others
involved agreed. what are you saying about the times we are in? james: i think since the nixon administration, this is the second constitutional crisis we have had, and one of this depth. susan: the trump presidency? james: the trump presidency, which is not in this book. the full record of the administration could not be known, the archives are unavailable to us. we prudently, i think, stopped. both of these reports, the expanded version of the older one, were to provide a general groundwork for people like you and me to make comparisons on their own. susan: tell me the story of how the first one got put together. james: i will be brief. john doerr, thought the utility of a report like this, and turned to his friend woodward, and asked woodward to be the commander-in-chief of a project of preparing such a report, which was unprecedented. as was said in the introduction to the original volume. he asked three people to be his generals. they recruited about 12
historians to write 1, 2 or three sketches of that many presidencies. i was chosen to be one. we had eight weeks to do it. it was a day before fax, email, digitization. it was done by telephone and mail them and we did it in eight weeks. professor woodward submitted it to john doerr and that was the last we heard of it. six weeks later, the president resigned. what was done with the report is not entirely clear. john doerr was going to give it to the members of the impeachment inquiry. i corresponded with some of those members in 1974 and 1975, they did not even know of the report. members of the committee did not see it so it was of no use to the committee. it was in the public domain, dell publishing published it and it dropped from sight. we were exhausted then, as we are now, no one wanted to think about presidential misconduct. they wanted to put it behind them.
historian. she said, i just spotted a citation for this book that i have never heard of. i told her about it and in the course of the conversation such as we are having here, because i had been involved in another project, i said now that i think about it, now that you are pressing me for information, it occurs to me that an updated version of the 1974 report would be very timely. about two days later i started getting inquiries from editors at the new yorker, so i knew she had written something. the last sentence of her article in the talk of the town was james banner says perhaps it is
time for another version of this book. then my phone started ringing. i turned it over to my agent and said you handle this. it was an off-the-cuff remark that i made, this new project fell into my lap. susan: what did you do to update the book from the 1974 version? james: i identified, included seven other historians. they had 12 weeks, one month longer than we had 45 years ago. they did their job so i had a full text in hand, edited, everybody read each other's contributions, and submitted it to press in january of this year. five months later, the book came out. susan: were the prior chapters revisited? james: they were not, were published word for word except for typos. there were a few terms that did not seem suitable for our age, maybe two or three of those changed, but no change. we added sketches of the seven presidencies from richard nixon through the presidency of barack
obama. then we stopped. susan: how many of the original historian groups are still around? james: about half of the 14 who worked with me. susan: do they know the project has been revisited? james: oh yes, they have copies of the book and i called upon them for information from their files. i am very pleased, i wish they were all alive to see this. if someone had asked me 45 years ago if i would be alive in 45 years, i probably would have giggled. if someone asked me if i thought we would be in the same constitutional and political soup 45 years from then, i think i probably would have laughed, and here we are. the parameters the historians worked under originally and this time? james: they were given an assignment, i was given an assignment and i kept the same assignment for the new authors for the updated version. that was, factual accounting only, no interpretations.
no connective tissue between episodes, between presidencies, between episodes within presidencies. in some respects, and this is an unusual history for the 20th and 21st century, it's more like a medieval chronicle where you're putting facts on the paper and not interpreting them. it is against the historian's grain but everybody did their job. let me relay one other short tale about this, when i was writing my introduction, i was well aware of the fact that i had to keep hands off. i could indicate our current butlem occasioned the book, nothing else. i submitted it to the others and said i wanted a reading from you. all of the authors, most of whom i would guess are on the left, center-left side of the
spectrum said dial it back even more. everybody realized it had to be devoid of interpretation, as partisanly neutral as possible. i think we brought that off and i am very satisfied. susan: picking up on that, people here, the new yorker -- when people hear the new yorker, yale university, they are going to think this is not a fair accounting for guys on our side of the spectrum. how do you respond? james: i would urge them to read the book before charges are leveled. left, right, and center. and then try to make of the accounting what you will. this is a book that is really written as a civic project for our fellow citizens, yours and mine, to make of the record what they can and wish to make of it. i am having trouble making something of it. it seems to me that it suggests many things and no doubt we will talk about that in this conversation.
i think they would be wrong if they charged any of us with any partisan views. susan: what constitutes misconduct? james: two things. one is illegal actions, actions contrary to law. the other is corruption, which i suppose can best be defined as the use of public office for private gain. now, there is nothing set in stone about what you and i would agree is corruption, and there may be instances left out of this book that we have overlooked. we did not change anything from lyndon johnson back to george washington. it could be there are things in here that people would say don't belong here. that would be a fair argument. i don't think there are because all of us in both versions of this kind of manuscript oversaw
each other and discussed with each other what should go in and what should not. if there is omissions, they are few. susan: you explain in the introduction that personal misconduct is not on the table in your study. james: that is correct. actions that you and i would consider to be chargeable against presidents or members of their official families are not in here. for example, grover cleveland fathered a child out of wedlock. we know that jack kennedy was not exactly an obedient husband. but except those that came to public light, which they did starting with president clinton, those find their way into the book because they affected our understanding of the presidency and his ability to govern. susan: is moral turpitude
covered? for example, slaveholding. james: no. susan: why not? james: because those were not considered to be corrupt at the time and presidents were not charged with slaveholding publicly. in other words, by political opponents. the slaveholding question did not come up to the level where they were chargeable and held personally accountable for the fact that slavery was legal in the u.s. susan: now that we understand the parameters, what are the major times that the public understanding of misconduct changed during the presidency? james: that's a very good question. the original understanding of corruption and misconduct had to do with attacks on the body politic. this country was born in a concern for overweening executive power out of great
britain. so corruption, the notion of corruption was the misuse of public office for illegal purposes. so the question of power, excessive power and overuse of power by presidents or members of congress and the courts was very much in the minds of the early presidents. the first instance of a president being charged with personal misconduct while in office was james -- was james monroe in the 1820's. that is when we begin to see a shift in the standards of conduct that are going to be pressed on presidents and their official families. it was then that the size of government began to grow, that the gentry began to lose hold of the government and more of the people, which would be adult
white males, the democracy began to take place, particularly john quincy adams and andrew jackson's presidencies. then of course the chances for taking advantage of office, gaining money because of service and so on, grew. 1840's hadds by the become the standards of right and good conduct, had come to be, come to involve personal conduct. susan: you observe about how we compare to other countries in terms of corruption. what is the answer? james: that i don't know. it is impossible to tell. i have had additional thoughts since writing that introduction. notar as i know, there are standards of corruption in countries -- standards of misconduct in any of the countries that are comparable to
our own, representative democracies in the western world or others. we don't really have any comparisons between the federal government and state and urban governments. i would wager the fact, i am willing to venture as a working hypothesis, that the record of the federal government is certainly no worse than state and local government -- state and local governments, and perhaps better. woodward road, more or less are not able to establish a correlation between the state of the nation and the presidency. james: that is correct. susan: we could have a bad president and the country could still be in a good situation, correct? james: oh yes. the most striking example of this, the presidencies of grover cleveland and the intervening one with benjamin harrison. 12 years right in the middle of the gilded age, terribly corrupt at the corporate level, the urban level, everything else. administrations were
absolutely clean of corruption. there doesn't seem to be any fit. nor is there a fit between the moral rectitude of the president and the record of his -- so far, his -- presidency. warren harding was completely free of personal corruption but his 2.5 years in office were some of the dirtiest and corrupt in american history because he did not oversee his administration, did not set firm rules of conduct, did not fire the miscreants, and so on. he was incapable of doing that. but he went out of office with clean hands. susan: there are two characteristics, one is the personal integrity of the officeholder and the other is there leadership skills. james: exactly. susan: another quote from the introduction, a dogged and misplaced loyalty to subordinates under fire. james: that happens time and again.
we see it today. we saw it starting really with thomas jefferson. jefferson and madison, and some degree even john adams, couldn't get rid of james wilkinson. he was one of the greatest scoundrels in u.s. history. he was in the pay of spain. he engaged himself in at least one plot to dismember the union. neither jefferson nor madison could find a way to bring him to book and throw him out. madison finally found a way to do so during the war of 1812 because wilkinson messed up a command in battle. but, there are some circumstances where you can't. of course, presidents are political officers. they govern the united states. the united states has always been a complex nation state and has only gotten more so. it is hard for the president to
discipline ill conducting cabinet officers or others without looking over his shoulder as to who will criticize him for having disciplined that cabinet officer. there are political constituencies that the president has to answer to and govern and keep in mind. it is a complex situation. that doesn't mean that you and i should not demand of a president that someone be fired, or want someone fired, but it is a more difficult -- but it is more difficult in the presidency to get rid of a subordinate then we think it is. susan: you tell us that the founding fathers anticipated the limitations of mankind, and our constitution and further supreme court limitations do offer avenues. i want to read the list. the ban on emoluments in the constitution, the weapon of impeachment, giving congress the power to declare war, the veto override the congress has. later, the two-term limit on the
presidency, and congressional oversight. how have these instruments worked in keeping a line on the people holding highest office? james: i think we should all be worried they don't work well enough. the rule of law is that law has dominion over men. but james madison was worried that everything he had helped put in the constitution were mere parchment barriers, as he called them famously. i think it is proven, if you look at the record, it is proven that a lot of misconduct that has provably taken place has not been punished. indictments fail. and sosidency is over the hearings and indictments don't lead to anything. the press isn't vigilant enough. a congress won't act. the courts declare certain -- to be one either
unishable and -- to be punishable. this is where things differ from presidency to presidency. the situation with the congress, the press, and the citizens. the citizens may be unvigilant. it is up for citizens like you and me to bring a presidency up short and make it act under law. don't demandns that, it is hard for the organs of government to do so. susan: you wrote specifically about that in your introduction. "most worrisome is that long experience has thrown doubt on the founder's conviction that informed and active citizenry, backed by a robust free press and represented by a responsible congress" -- so there is a triad -- " will always or easily prevail against corruption of the highest reaches of
government." james: i still believe that. they are not guaranteed to work. they work in situations which change from year to year. presidency to presidency. the supreme court's composition changes, congress changes. the press sometimes does not do its job. i think we have to be wary of the failure of our institutions and ourselves. james: -- susan: i'm going to invite people who are interested to find the volume and look up the earlier 1974 version. what i felt we would do for this interview is concentrate on the new set of presidents you have added and demonstrate some of the presidential responses to the actions described. we will start with richard nixon , who was the genesis of this
book. historians were kathryn olmsted and eric rauchway. the two historians, what do we know about them and their analysis? james: they were husband and wife at the university of california davis. they are experts on the presidency, they study the modern presidencies, as do all of the authors i recruited for this expanded volume. when i was reading their text and when i had read it over and it was published, i must say i found the accounting of nixon's presidency, which i lived through, to be dizzying. it represented a departure in the history of presidential misconduct on two grounds, and they are important to keep in mind today. previous to nixon's administration, presidents had been caught up in the missed ofngs -- in the misdoings
their subordinates and occasionally acted illegally, but never before had misconduct been orchestrated out of the oval office until the 1970's. that was an extraordinary departure. the president was caught breaking the law and urging others to break the law, both constitutional and criminal law. that had never happened before. nor had a president ever before been named in a case as an unindicted co-conspirator. the nixon administration represented a really large break with the previous history of misconduct to the degree that can be pulled out from the histories of all that ministrations. -- of allministration administrations. susan: i am betting our listeners and viewers are well aware of the contours of the watergate scenario. have we learned anything important since the years it happened?
james: i would ask who is we? i think those people who know the history of the country and the history of the american presidency would say it ought to have made us more vigilant and certainly some laws were passed in consequence of watergate. the nixon presidency, however, did not give us an example of an effective impeachment trial and conviction of a president and that president being forced from office. nixon resigned on his own. he was never impeached by the house of representatives and never stood trial in the senate. but, i don't think one has to be cynical to be worried as to whether we have learned a lesson. as members of "we" of congress and of the courts as representing us, i am not certain you can count on either of those branches at any particular time to do a job that
you and i might want them to do or might want them not to do. remember, they too are working in a political context. they have to maintain the integrity of their institutions, they have to do the voters bidding, they have to maintain the process of law through time. those are not easy jobs. you can't assume that because the president has acted illegally that he is going to be brought to book by the congress or courts. susan: in addition to the chapter -- to the discussion on two other there were scandals highlighted that i want to very briefly get on the table. affair,he chennault which we learned about recently in a biography of nixon. can you tell us what that was about? affairthe chennault
surprised me because the rules of the book were that the book would only deal with the presidencies and nothing before, if somebody had been a governor or a member of the house, nothing except the presidency. but it turned out that the affair in which nixon, through subverted thelt, johnson administration's efforts to bring the war in vietnam to a halt. it was clearly in violation of the logan act which prohibits private citizens from dealing in ,oncert with other governments in which they held no office. felts so egregious that he it had to be made a part of the sketch of nixon. it was leading up to the behavior in the white house. canons ofdless of the
laws and laws on the books. nixon just overlooked them and refused to heed them. susan: what was operation menu? it was written in the book that the judiciary committee knew about this and even considered it as a potential part of a possible impeachment process. james: i don't know enough about that. susan: it was new material declassified during the clinton administration. richard nixon, after he left office, gave a famous series of interviews to david frost. fromlled one clip of that may of 1977. i would like you to watch and tell us your reaction. [video clip] david: so what, in a sense, you are saying, there are certain situations where a president can decide it is in the best interest of a nation or something and do something illegal? mr. nixon: when the president
does it, that means it is not illegal. david: by definition. mr. nixon: exactly. susan: your reaction? james: i don't think one can hear that again and again and not be horrified by the statement. if we are a government of law and the presidents are supposed to meet the canons of the law, that statement makes no sense. if a supreme court is asked to rule on that, i think it would have to say no. it is contrary to the entire history, tradition, and eat of thef -- and ethos american government. susan: how did congress respond in law to some of the actions of the nixon administration? james: held hearings. susan: i'm thinking about changing the law like the war powers act and others they did to put some constraints on the actions of the president.
james: the ones i am most conversant, because i was working in some degree to bring them about, campaign financing, conflict of interest legislation which reduced the orbit in which conflicts of interest are permitted and so on. there were no grand changes. there obviously weren't changes that have prohibited subsequent administrations from acting outside the law or corruptly. susan: would you consider the creation of the independent counsel a substantial change? james: the independent counsel act, but there were independent counsels early in the 20th century. in some respect, you did not need the act in order for an administration to appoint an independent counsel. susan: i'm going to move on to the ronald reagan administration. i have chosen two-term presidencies. ronald reagan, there was a
suri.r written by jerome who was he? suri, aeremi historian at the university of texas, austin. susan: his first name was jeremi. thank you for correcting that. here was a conclusion he drew about ronald reagan. we were talking earlier that there were not many chapters with conclusions. this one had one. i'm not quoting directly, but is conclusion was that ronald reagan was a modest man who didn't succumb personally to greed, and except for the iran contra situation was law-abiding and acting within constitutional boundaries. do you agree with that assessment? james: i do. i think it is the case with presidents that those who are tripped up are tripped up accidentally. reagan was caught expressing an untruth. whether it slipped out of his mouth were not, no one knows.
but aside from that, he was an un-corruptible man. susan: and yet, the hud scandal, the savings and loan crisis, then the iran-contra , which we mentioned. intooes the president get situations like this if he is basically law-abiding? james: the first thing is by disposition. a president has to be willing to make hard decisions to fire people or make sure congress gets all the information or evidence it needs to complete its own hearings on someone's honesty or corrupt ability and so on. that did not happen in the reagan administration and it has not happened many times. grant, harding, and reagan -- prime examples, harry truman -- prime examples of presidents who could simply not bring themselves to get rid of people
who were malefactors. i think the current president to some degree has the same kind of personality. it is very hard for him to let someone go. i think if you think about your own life, your colleagues, the people you have had to be a supervisor of, you know how hard it is to let people go. i think it is intrinsically a difficult thing. but if you are president of the united states, you've got to be prepared for the public's good to take those steps and some haven't. if you look at statistics, the turnover rate in this administration is much higher. is that a contradiction? james: i don't think so. some of those people have resigned under pressure. some of the positions have not been filled. some were forced out of office.
some decided just to leave because they didn't feel themselves fit for the job. sense, going suri back to ronald reagan, that iran-contra was the most significant crisis since watergate. james: it was flagrantly illegal. taking money from one pot to promote policies that had not been committed by congress, and covering up the whole business. that is about as serious a constitutional step -- an unconstitutional step that a president or administration can take. coverups have been what have gotten presidents into hot water. themselves shield from the truth that might embarrass them or catch them up
in corrupt or illegal dealings. it is an understandable or very common human trait, to try to cover up what you have done wrong. but you can't do it when you are president. you try to. sometimes you get away with it and sometimes you don't. susan: back to our video library. this is a march 4, 1987 address to the nation where the president explained iran-contra from his perspective. mr. reagan: a few months ago, i told people i did not treat arms for hostages. my heart and best intentions tell me that is true but the facts and evidence tell me it is not. what began as a strategic link -- strategic opening to iran deteriorated in its implementation into trading lives for hostages. james: he apologizes. he admits an error was made. he does not truly take responsibility.
it is about as much as we could've expected. susan: what do you think of his response and other presidents' responses to crises like these, getting on television and holding a televised address? james: of course, that would not have been done before may be the lyndon johnson administration, the kennedy administration, you would not have gotten on television and spoken to the nation. i think a forthright admission of error or guilt is the way to go. it is one of the hardest human expressions. it is just so hard to admit wrongdoing and error and stupidity. if it were done more often, i think any presidency would be stronger for it. susan: that may be a good segue into our next two-term presidency, william jefferson
clinton. brownell was the historian chosen for that. what were her credentials? james: she is a historian at purdue university and she also has done a lot on the clinton presidency. obviously, i turned to historians who were known for their work on various presidencies and she was an ideal candidate. and, like the others, i think she did a splendid job. susan: one of the points that dr. brownell makes, that during the first campaign, the establishment of the campaign war room to respond to charges that came up during the campaign became a lasting model for the clintons. would you talk about that? james: there is not much to say. i think it has proven to be a model. it is an institution, if we could call it that, that has as many dangers as benefits. susan: the war room? james: yes.
it is we saw that in the clinton administration and we may be seeing it today, though it has yet to be proven. again, like so many institutions, it has its strengths and weaknesses and i think it is probably now always going to be the case, a campaign war room. susan: did the clintons invent it? had prior presidents employed this? james: i think so. susan: a number of crises, how investigation.er how do they fit into the parameters that you establish first in the beginning? james: one thing that happened during the clinton presidency presidency became fodder for television, cable
television, and for talk radio. bill clinton was the first presidency that had to face that racket, that kind of opposition, had to face clips and comments going viral. digitally, on television, and by radio. and travel-gate and whitewater were, to some degree, hatched in that context. in that political and partisan situation. and, every president since then has had to have been on guard from those kinds of attacks from the right and left. no one is going to escape it now. and, i am not sure travel-gate was very important, but it sort of set the tone for that administration when clinton's republican opponents found they could get under his skin, and they did that throughout. same with the monica lewinsky affair. it was his own errors that kept it before the news.
he tried to cover it up, the most foolish thing a president can do. as tempting as it is to try to do it. he did not get away with it. he was almost impeached. susan: by ken starr's investigation. ultimately, 16 criminal convictions came out of the investigation. here we have another clip from our library of president clinton explaining his response to the investigation. [video clip] president clinton: as you know, in a deposition in january, i was asked questions about my relationship with monica lewinsky. while my answers were legally accurate, i did not volunteer information. indeed, i did have a relationship with ms. lewinsky that was not appropriate. in fact, it was wrong. it constituted a critical lapse in judgment and a personal failure on my part for which i am solely and completely responsible. susan: another oval office or white house address to the nation.
what was he saying here? james: he is accepting responsibility and admitting that he did something wrong. and in some respects, he was certainly trying to clear the air and in some respects he succeeded in doing so. after all, his presidency went to its end. susan: but the train was pretty far out of the station. was it not? james: yes, but at least he did it. maybe other presidents will learn -- some have not since then -- it is better to admit it early on than to wait when it all comes out and you're forced by circumstances to go onto television as he was. he did not look very happy. susan: what should those who care about the presidency take away from the process that this presidency actually had an impeachment inquiry, the house voted the articles of impeachment and it went to the senate? james: i wish i could say that presidents learn from each other. i am not sure that they do. they are in their own
circumstance. they have been elected on the grounds that they have been sworn to office, they have supporters that they do, they have the white house staff that they do and they get caught up in circumstances that differ from presidency to presidency. and there are not many presidents, certainly in the 20th century -- i would say since harry truman's day, who have been as deeply versed in history as you would want them to be. jack kennedy certainly. but, very few are, and i don't think presidents have the time and are inclined to consult history and i'm not sure history tells you very clear, teaches very clear lessons. it offers evidence of what can happen to you. it does not give evidence as to what will happen to you. susan: if the war room and cable news and later internet came out of this era, is there anything else that changed as a result of the clinton presidency? do we scrutinize presidents in a new way that we had not before?
james: i think that presidents' personal behavior now are open field for inquiry, investigative reporting, humor, certainly humor now. and it makes mincemeat of these chief executives that stray. i don't think that genie will ever be put back into the bottle. presidents now have to understand, those who run for office, that their past life and career as well as every instant in the white house is going to be observed, evaluated, criticized, and reported on. i don't think there is any escape from it. it is a much more difficult job than it was 50 years ago. susan: to the george w. bush presidency. chapterorian for this -- so in this chapter, things that were omitted were the 2008
financial crisis, the war in iraq, and his response to hurricane katrina. all things that people will look at his presidency and think of. james: i am glad you brought those up. to write the history of presidencies through misconduct completely misconstrues presidencies. take harry truman. his presidency was one of the most corrupt in the 20th century. he could not get rid of his cronies from missouri. he kept people in the white house staff who were taking money from the federal treasury and so on. it was harry truman who made the awful decisions to drop the two bombs on japan. it was harry truman that managed the berlin airlift. it was harry truman who created what is called the truman doctrine. it was harry truman who oversaw the marshall plan. it was harry truman who was in office when nato was established.
now, if you try to write the history of the truman administration on the grounds of the misconduct of the white house then, you're not really writing the history of the truman administration. and i think the same thing goes with the george w. bush administration. there are certain things that americans always debate but just because people do not like them and oppose them does not make them illegal or that they are corrupt. take james madison's trying to federalize the new england militia during the war of 1812. this is a policy dispute he had but it never went to court. take harry truman's decision to seize the steel mills in 1950, 1951. it was declared unconstitutional by the supreme court, but it was not a corrupt move and the same with the decision to go to war in iraq. adequacyilure to see
of katrina. there was nothing illegal or corrupt. it was not misconduct but bad politics, bad executive behavior. it was not actionable by law. susan: the things covered by the historians were enron and halliburton, the post-september 11 wiretapping, the valerie plame exposure which brought scooter libby to attention, and policy towards torture. do you want to comment on any of the others, wiretapping, etc? james: the one that stands out to me there is valerie plame and the exposure of her name as having been the secret cia operative abroad. that was clearly illegal and it was clearly injurious to america's strategic policy.
the administration acted contrary to law. you and i might debate as to whether it did any lasting damage to american intelligence abilities. i don't know that and i don't think anyone does yet but it was clearly contrary to law and that was why it was in the book. susan: we have a clip of president bush from october 5, 2007. this is on torture policy in the wake of 9/11. let's listen to the president. [video clip] president bush: this government does not torture people. you know, we stick to u.s. law and our international obligations. the american people expect their government to take action, to protect them from further attack. and that is exactly what this government is doing. and that is what we will continue to do. james: those statements do not fit together. it is the government's responsibility. the president has taken an oath
of office to protect and defend the constitution of the united states. you have to protect the security of the united states. the question is whether you have to torture people in order to do so and whether that torture is legal or illegal. i don't think president bush's two statements touch at all. i think one, the second one he made here was absolutely correct. the first one was probably not. susan: did 9/11 change any expectations on the part of the public as to how our government should respond to an attack of that size and nature? james: probably for a time. how long-lasting that has been, i do not know. susan: here is the conclusion the historians made. in the case of misconduct unrelated to the aims of the administration such as enron, the administration was willing to sever its ties with officials but when core policies appeared to violate statutes, the government under bush proved ad
roit in discovering new legal rationales. with the assistance of congress and later administrations, retrospectively rendering actions lawful though most understood them to be criminal. james: i think that is correct. susan: how was congress implicit or acted to revisit some of these actions. ? ? james: it did not hold hearings on a lot of these developments and it did not pass laws that might've prevented them and did not insist that the people be brought to justice who had committed these illegal acts. very little was done about torture. very few people were held responsible. susan: moving on to the barack obama administration. something else changed. we mentioned earlier about cable news and the internet. by the time president obama came in, he held the first twitter town hall. presidencies from president
obama forward -- it was not just the internet, but social media. how has that changed the office? james: it has given executive officers a new opening to the citizenry and a speedy one. a president does not have to go before a congress or arrange an appearance in chicago or seek television coverage. he or she can simply tweet something and certainly president trump has made an art of that opportunity. in some respects, it makes or brings the president closer to the citizens. on the other hand, as we have seen, it does not necessarily improve the veracity of the statements the president can make. susan: on the flipside, it is also a very rapid spreader of information and misinformation.
how has that impacted the white house? james: the rapidity makes the difference. the press does not have a chance right away to assess it. it may assess it by the next morning's papers or the evening news. the assessing mechanisms of the united states are still available to us, to the citizenry. tweets mix up the soup because they convey fact and error, truths and untruths. but the media has always done that. if you think colonial newspapers and newspapers in the early republic were free of inaccuracy or false charges, you misconstrue the nature of the press 200 years ago. susan: the historian that reviewed the barack obama
presidency for misconduct was alan litman, who is well known to the c-span audience. he is famous for his keys to the presidency that he produces each year. what did he say about the obama administration? james: he thought it to be reasonably free from corruption which i must take his word for it. it seems to have been barring further revelations. one of the things i think we have to learn is it takes many years to close the history of any administration. we are still learning things as you mentioned earlier about the nixon administration. the -- affair being the most recent revelation about that presidency. chances are we will learn more andt the bush and clinton obama administrations, but for now, his assessment seems to stand up. and those that evaluated that chapter of the book agree with him.
susan: while we are on that topic, as a historian, what do you think about the current policies about record retention and release? and also the creation of the digital archives by the obama administration. james: records are being released too slowly for historians, but more or less as the law anticipated. the digital records -- we will see how accurate they are and how full they are, but i think that is just another medium, another form of the availability of evidence. it does not change the evidence itself. susan: the four scandals that critics focused on and alan litman wrote about for the obama administration, and c-span viewers will remember these because in this case, i think there were many congressional hearings on each one of them. the irs targeting of
conservative groups, the drone about solar panels, $535 million lost to the taxpayers on that one. fast and furious which was the gun policy across mexico, and benghazi, the american post in libya. and, the hillary clinton scandal involving the email server and the clinton foundation. what should we think about those in terms of barack obama's conduct in the presidency? james: here's a case in which ie charges of misconduct, think all of which prove to be not without much of a basis, caught an eight-year administration up in unceasing defensiveness. the irs, if i understand it as fully as i should, it was a misperception on the part of the president's opponents as to what happened. it was just a bad contract.
fast and furious -- i am not certain we have ever learned the truth about that. the thing is that these were not corrupt, and if they were contrary to law, the administration at its highest levels was not caught up with it. susan: let us listen to barack obama on november 14, defending himself on benghazi. [video clip] president obama: if people do not think we did everything we could to be sure that we saved the lives of the folks that i sent there and who were carrying out missions on behalf of the united states, then you do not know how our defense department thinks or our state department thinks or our cia thinks. immediately upon finding out that our folks were in danger, that my orders to my national security team were -- do whatever we need to do to make sure they are safe. james: there are those that will credit the president's statement and those that will not accept
the statement. i do not think there was ever any grounds of malfeasance. there certainly could be errors made, certainly in defense of the allegation there in benghazi -- it was not sufficient. susan: at this stage, dr. litman's conclusion was poor mismanagement, and/or incompetence but not violations of law. james: i think that has to stand. until we discover something more. susan: we only have two minutes left. when you look across the work you have done and here you are at the latter days of a long career watching the american presidency and the reaction of the american public to it, what is your level of optimism and confidence about where we are as a country in terms of good governance? james: i tend to be optimistic. i suppose i could be charged
with being pollyanna-ish but i don't think the record of misconduct in the american presidency is surprising. i do not take it to be overwhelming. it is clumped. it does not have trends. there were clean administrations and dirtier ones. there are administrations that prevent misconduct at the highest levels and others that do not. i do not see any trend. i tend to think we are probably, and we have always been at about the same level of good conduct and misbehaving conduct, and that is what we will have to expect. no administration will be free of charges of malfeasance, nor will an administration be free of members who are caught up in scandal and charged under criminal and other law. susan: the 1970 report was never seen by members of the
impeachment inquiry. in this age, we learned that the chairman of the committee is considering grounds for impeachment. will this report be delivered to members of the committee? james: i believe it already has been. susan: have you heard back? james: i have not. susan: thank you for being our guest. we appreciate the our of conversation. james: it was a pleasure to be with you and your audience. ♪ announcer: all "q&a" shows are available on our website or as a podcast on c-span.org. has usedent trump t tariffs to affect trade policy including tariffs on many chinese products coming into the u.s. the chinese have also placed tariffs on american products including agricultural products. "q&a" is looking into the
history of tariffs in the u.s. our guest next sunday will be peter liebhold. he traces the history of tariffs from the revolutionary era. he is a curator at the national museum of national history. that is "q&a" next sunday at 8:00 p.m. eastern on c-span. possibility, limited though it may be, of regime change in north korea. second, we should look at and discuss with china and we should have done it long ago, aiming towards the reunification of the peninsula under a freely elected government like that in south korea. third, if you believe, and you may not that it is unacceptable for north korea to have nuclear weapons, at some point, military
force has to be an option. now, this is obviously the most controversial subject and many people say it is just unimaginable. unimaginable that you would use military force. of me quote to you the words general joe dunford, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, on his last day as chairman. he has done an outstanding job. he said this to the aspen institute seminar in the summer of 2018. on this question of what is unimaginable. general dunford said, "as i told my counterparts, both friend and foe, it is not unimaginable to have military options to respond to north korea's nuclear capabilities. what is unimaginable to me is allowing the capability to allow nuclear weapons to land in denver, colorado. my job will be to develop
military options to make sure that doesn't happen." i think general dunford was complete the correct. >> just some of former national security advisor's john bolton's remarks from earlier today. we will have them in their entirety tonight at 8:00 eastern. we are featuring book tv programs showcasing what is available every weekend on c-span2. tonight, the theme is opioids. ben westoff talked about his book. other authors include travis reeder who explores the opioid crisis and his own addiction. that is tonight starting at 8:30 p.m. eastern on c-span2. we are featuring american history tv programs this week as a preview of what is available on c-span3. tonight, gary aleman covers the entire civil war in 56 minutes, beginning with the lead up and including the concert -- compromise of 1850. abraham lincoln's election and
state secession. ending with the confederate surrender and lincoln's assassination. the talk kicks off a night of programs from the gettysburg heritage center symposium starting tonight at 8:00 eastern on c-span3. john: on newsmakers this week, our guest is mark pocan. cochair of the progressive congressional caucus. in studio to help with arts annaions, scott wong, edgerton. you have the first question. anna: it is great to see you. i would like to start off with the news of the week. it felt like a historic week on capitol hill. as we look forward to this impeachment inquiry that nancy pelosi announced this week, i was wondering if you could talk to us about the scope of this inquiry? when we get to actual articles of impeachment, would you like it to focus on the ukraine allegations that came out this week or would you like it to be broader in scope?