Broder’s concept of consequences

BRODER’S CONCEPT OF CONSEQUENCES…. In his latest column, David Broder argues that he had “no problem” with Nixon’s impeachment, and he was on board with removing Bill Clinton from office in 1998, but he regrets the fact that the Justice Department is looking into interrogation officials who allegedly broke the law and tortured detainees during the Bush/Cheney era.

[I]t is the first step on a legal trail that could lead to trials — and that is what gives me pause.

Cheney is not wrong when he asserts that it is a dangerous precedent when a change in power in Washington leads a successor government not just to change the policies of its predecessors but to invoke the criminal justice system against them.

Actually, Cheney is wrong. The Justice Department has evidence of alleged criminal activity. Broder and Cheney may find that politically inconvenient, but unless the statute of limitations has run out, “acting within the confines of a Republican administration” is not yet a legitimate excuse for breaking the law.

Looming beyond the publicized cases of these relatively low-level operatives is the fundamental accountability question: What about those who approved of their actions? If accountability is the standard, then it should apply to the policymakers and not just to the underlings. Ultimately, do we want to see Cheney, who backed these actions and still does, standing in the dock?

So, let me see if I understand the point here. The Justice Department shouldn’t pursue evidence of criminal activities because it might implicate someone else who may have also been involved in criminal activities. And that would be bad, because … well, it just would.

In times like these, the understandable desire to enforce individual accountability must be weighed against the consequences. This country is facing so many huge challenges at home and abroad that the president cannot afford to be drawn into what would undoubtedly be a major, bitter partisan battle over prosecution of Bush-era officials. The cost to the country would simply be too great.

‘Tis better, then, to ignore criminal wrongdoing, torture, and human rights abuses. Let’s instead tell all executive branch employees that if they do something illegal, just wait until there’s a change in administrations. It’s not as if that might set a dangerous precedent.

Postscript: Broder argues in his column, “I had no problem with the impeachment proceedings against Richard Nixon.” Actually, as J. Bradford DeLong noted a while back, Broder wrote a piece on July 10, 1974 — just 30 days before Nixon quit in disgrace — that not only suggested Broder had a problem with impeachment, but also raised the specter of a Republican resurgence in the 1974 midterm elections.

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.