Plausible Deniability

“The buck stops . . . where?” Harry Truman, where are you when we need you? Ever since you were president we have been naïve enough to assume that when it comes to our federal government and accountability for its actions, inactions, blunders and failures, the buck stops with the person in the oval office. Silly us!

Debacle & Scandal

We lived through the Watergate debacle, with its cover-ups, obfuscations, protestations of innocence and a Friday night massacre. A secret audio tape brought it all crashing down when the courts demanded that the tape be handed over to Congress. We then watched a number of the President’s men go to prison, and the President flashed a smile and a victory sign as he helicoptered off into oblivion. Thank heaven for the Congress and the persistence of its leaders, we sighed, and for the courts which saw that the evidence was not suppressed.

The Iran-Contra scandal was even more convoluted and somewhat bizarre, and we were blind-sided when it all came tumbling out. We knew that Nixon was tricky, but we had assumed that Reagan was at least honest. Not so much, as it turned out. Unlike some of his enablers who went to prison (there were eleven convictions), he escaped indictment and the Teflon President rode off into the sunset and is still lionized by his party. He had plausible deniability! All those who were convicted and whose sentences were upheld were subsequently pardoned by Reagan’s successor and former VP. Well, at least that was behind us. Another sigh of relief.

Getting Away With It

But, alas, there is nothing new under the sun, except perhaps the seeming ability now to get away with egregious malfeasance and illegality. Our current President escaped the Mueller Investigation, despite ten indictable acts of obstruction of justice. The courts did, in fact indict and convict a half dozen of his enablers and co-conspirators in those clear crimes and more in his other charges of conspiracy with a foreign government. But the entire process was short circuited by his Attorney General as both proclaimed “No collusion, no obstruction.” Plausible deniability strikes again, assisted by a thumb on the scales of justice.

For his Act II, President Bone Spurs was impeached by the House of Representatives but acquitted by the US Senate. His only defense against the overwhelming truth of extortion and abuse of office was the plausible deniability of his guilt presented ad nauseum by his Republican defenders. It comes as no surprise, therefore, that Act III features daily briefings on the COVID-19 crisis and his protestations of innocence: “Who could have imagined . . .?” and “Navarro put a memo on my desk in January? I didn’t see it.” “The warning was in an intelligence briefing in December? No one told me.” “We inherited a broken system.” “Our testing is the best in the world.” He is working overtime to create plausible deniability for his gross negligence.

The Last Refuge of Scoundrels

Of course, covering up one’s guilt is not a trait only of Republican Presidents. Bill Clinton worked hard on his plausible deniability without much success. But he was attempting to hide illicit sex with an intern: reprehensible, but not on the same scale. Indeed, we have all been guilty of hiding the most embarrassing parts of our personal histories. But, we have a right to expect accountability of our leaders, particularly of the President, and especially when lives and the whole fabric of society are at stake. In such circumstances, when truth and integrity really matter, the buck must land on the desk in the Oval Office. In the present situation, plausible deniability is the last refuge of scoundrels.

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