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A free pass 

Poppy Bush's grandfatherly image has taken a beating with the revelation that he plays grab-ass with young women who wander too close to his wheel chair, as wife Barbara alternately rolls the chair and rolls her eyes.

The general reaction has been guffaws. "The old goat can still take an interest, eh? What is he, 93? Haw haw."

In the age of Donald Trump and Harvey Weinstein, many women don't find anything endearing about the old man's meandering paws. But this is George H.W. Bush, the 41st president of the United States, and he has always gotten a free pass in the public eye.

The former president's sins in public life were many—landmines that left thousands limbless in Angola when Bush headed the Central Intelligence Agency; the murder of hundreds of innocent Panamanian civilians and displacement of thousands more in his quest to take down former U.S. puppet Manuel Noriega. He was never held accountable.

But Bush's chief crime—lechery, mayhem, and murder notwithstanding—against our country's values, legal system, ethos of right and wrong and accountability, is Bush's presidential pardon of the Iran-Contra affair's guilty conspirators on Christmas Eve 1992 as he was concluding his presidency.

We should learn from this, because it could happen again with President Trump.

The Iran-Contra scandal dragged over much of the Reagan presidency and all of Bush the Elder's. The latter's disgraceful pardons ended it, although the Independent Counsel continued to try to get Bush to cooperate, despite the chief co-conspirator's evasion of justice for most of the 1980s.

It was a complicated caper. But, generally, this is what happened.

The U.S. was not supposed to sell weapons to Iran. It was against U.S. policy and probably illegal. But people in government were involved in selling them anyway, with the complicity of then-Vice President Bush and some of President Reagan's Cabinet and their subordinates.

They used some of the proceeds to help the murderous Contras in Central America. That was clearly illegal. When word began to leak out, our leaders covered it up. To repeat: Illegal.

Former Eisenhower and Nixon official Lawrence Walsh was named Independent Counsel, and he set out to investigate. His "Iran-Contra: The Final Report" came out in 1993.

Reagan's role in all of this remains fuzzy, but Bush was in Iran-Contra up to his eyeballs, as were some Reagan Cabinet members and advisers, as well as other figures like Lt. Col. Oliver North, a key player. North is living proof that you can commit treason and end up with your own show on Fox News instead of going to prison where you belong.

Not everyone in Reagan's administration was venal. Secretary of State George Shultz, for one, tried to stop the activities at various points and comes out of Walsh's report looking like a hero.

All of this is in Walsh's Iran-Contra final report, a government document that is, surprisingly, not boring; in fact, compared to most government tomes it's a ripping yarn.

Why am I taking this trip down memory lane? Because it pertains to the present. There is little doubt that if anyone is convicted in the Trump-Russia scandal, the current president will pardon them.

He has already done this, with his the-hell-with-the-legal-system, I'm-the-president pardon of the vile convicted Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

Here are just a couple of the many caveats from the Iran-Contra affair that are in play today.

• The attorney general's integrity. Walsh writes that the job's dual roles, as Cabinet member and chief law enforcement officer, conflict. Reagan's attorney general, Ed Meese, "[became] the president's defense lawyer to the exclusion of his responsibilities as the nation's chief law enforcement officer."

How will Trump's attorney general, Jeff Sessions, behave when he is put in that vice?

• Congress and the president's subordinates cannot look the other way "when a president ... chooses to skirt the laws or to circumvent them." "It is incumbent on [them] to resist, not join in. Their oath and fealty are to the Constitution and the rule of law, not to the man temporarily occupying the Oval Office."

Will the Mitch McConnell-Paul Ryan Congress take that road when the time comes? Again, past performance is not encouraging.

There are other lessons, all of them under the heading of hubris, the belief by those who attain power that whatever they choose to believe and do is the correct path.

It's instructive to note that Bush's argument for the pardon was that the entire Iran-Contra investigation, all seven years and millions of dollars and the involvement of hundreds of people and all our major institutions as a country were merely "the politicization of policy differences."

The notion that power corrupts pre-dates Iran-Contra, to be sure, but free people have to be vigilant at all times and in all places. I'm sure thousands of elected officials and their toadies have used Bush's rationale.

Indeed, just to bring it home, we have a current example in Arroyo Grande, where Mayor Jim Hill was accused of influence peddling, bullying, and other infractions. The city investigated, and Hill, channeling Bush, refused to cooperate and pooh-poohed the entire affair as a political witch-hunt.

Hill is not alone in this behavior. It can't happen here? The hell you say. It already has. Δ

Bob Cuddy is an award-winning columnist, now retired and living in Arroyo Grande. New Times is trying to figure out who the new contributor to the progressive side of things will be for Rhetoric & Reason. Send your thoughts toclanham@newtimesslo.com.

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