TIME World Cup

FIFA Clears Russia and Qatar to Host World Cup

FIFA President Sepp Blatter holding up the name of Qatar during the official announcement of the 2022 World Cup host country at the FIFA headquarters in Zurich, in Dec. 2010.
FIFA President Sepp Blatter holding up the name of Qatar during the official announcement of the 2022 World Cup host country at the FIFA headquarters in Zurich, in Dec. 2010. Philippe Desmazes—AFP/Getty Images

No proof was found of long-standing allegations of bribes and voting pacts

(GENEVA) — A FIFA judge has cleared Russia and Qatar of corruption in their winning bids for the next two World Cups.

German judge Joachim Eckert formally closed FIFA’s probe into the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bidding contests on Thursday, almost four years after the vote by the governing body’s scandal-tainted executive committee.

Eckert noted wrongdoing among the 11 bidding nations in a 42-page summary of FIFA prosecutor Michael Garcia’s investigations.

However, Eckert ruled that the integrity of the December 2010 voting results was not affected.

No proof was found of longstanding allegations of bribes and voting pacts. Eckert concluded that any rule-breaking behavior was “far from reaching any threshold” to require re-running the contests.

Eckert wants Garcia to prosecute cases against individual FIFA voters and bid staffers.

TIME South Korea

Relatives of the South Korean Ferry Owner Have Been Jailed

S. Korea Ferry With Hundreds Of Passengers Sinks
In this handout image provided by the Republic of Korea Coast Guard, a passenger ferry sinks off the coast of Jindo Island on April 16, 2014 in Jindo-gun, South Korea. Handout—Getty Images

A son and two brothers were convicted of embezzling funds

Three family members of the businessman linked to the ill-fated South Korean Sewol ferry, which capsized in April and killed over 300 people, were sentenced to jail on charges of corruption Wednesday.

Korean authorities say that graft may have contributed to the sinking of the vessel, which was illegally modified and overloaded. The boat was owned by the Chonghaejin Marine Company, in which the late tycoon Yoo Byung-eun had an interest, the BBC reported.

Yoo’s 44-year-old son Dae-kyun was convicted of embezzling $6.8 million from company funds and sentenced to three years in prison, and two of Yoo’s brothers were also handed jail terms of one and two years respectively on similar charges.

[BBC]

TIME indonesia

Joko Widodo Sworn In as Indonesia’s President and Faces These 5 Challenges

Incoming Indonesian President Joko Widodo visits Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono
Incoming Indonesian President Joko Widodo, left, is greeted by outgoing president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono during a visit at the presidential palace in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Oct. 19, 2014. Anadolu Agency—Getty Images

The political outsider will be under fierce pressure from the outset

On Oct. 20, Indonesia inaugurates its first President truly of the people. Joko Widodo, known commonly as Jokowi, is unique in Indonesian presidential history because he comes from neither a politically elite nor a military background. Raised in a riverside slum, Jokowi ran a furniture-exporting business in the heartland city of Solo before he successfully ran for his hometown’s mayor in 2005. Two years ago, he was elected governor of Indonesia’s chaotic capital, Jakarta. Although he prevailed in the July presidential election against old-guard candidate Prabowo Subianto — a former general once married to the daughter of Indonesian dictator Suharto — Jokowi, 53, faces numerous challenges as he helms the world’s third largest democracy:

Political Gridlock: Jokowi may have claimed the presidency, but parliament favors Prabowo’s Red and White Coalition, which last month controversially blocked the direct election of governors, mayors and district chiefs. Instead of a popular vote, local legislatures will pick these leaders, preventing the rise of figures outside the political establishment, like Jokowi. Democracy advocates are strategizing how to roll back what some criticize as a legislative coup.

Economic Slowdown: With the commodity boom waning, Indonesia’s recent 6% annual growth looks harder to maintain. Jokowi promises 7% growth by 2018 by moving Indonesia up the value chain, improving logistics and positioning the world’s largest archipelago nation as a global transport hub. But will the populist President resort to the kind of resource nationalism that will spook foreign investors?

Religious Extremism: Indonesia hasn’t suffered a major terrorist strike since 2009 when a pair of luxury Jakarta hotels were targeted by suicide bombers. But it only takes one attack to shatter the sense that Indonesia has tamed a band of radicals who are trying to hijack the moderate, syncretic Islam that has long flourished in the world’s most populous majority-Muslim nation.

Dirty Bureaucracy: Jokowi won votes because of his pristine image and his anti-corruption campaign in Solo and Jakarta. He boasts of having cleaned up the once graft-ridden process by which government permits and licenses were granted. And he helped expand government coffers by enhancing tax collection. Can Jokowi promote transparency in a country notorious for corruption and bureaucratic inefficiency at every level of government?

Ethnic Relations: While mayor of Solo and governor of Jakarta, Jokowi picked deputies who happened to be Christian. In Jakarta, his No. 2 was also Chinese, an ethnicity that has suffered from race rioting. Although the sprawling island nation has maintained remarkable harmony given the diversity of its inhabitants, human-rights groups worry about a recent uptick in ethnic and religious intolerance.

Read this week’s TIME cover on Jokowi’s inauguration here.

TIME Mexico

The Apparent Massacre of Dozens of Students Exposes the Corruption at the Heart of Mexico

Parents of the 43 missing students meet at the teachers rural college in Ayotzinapa, in Guerrero state, Mexico, Oct. 5, 2014.
Parents of the 43 missing students meet at the teachers rural college in Ayotzinapa, in Guerrero state, Mexico, Oct. 5, 2014. Adriana Zehbrauskas—Polaris

The disappearance and presumed killings of scores of students has led to protests against the Mexican government—and drug cartels

The young father’s corpse was left on the street of the southern Mexican town of Iguala with his eyes gouged out and flesh ripped off almost to the skull—a technique typical of the cartel murders that have become too common in this country. But unlike many victims of Mexico’s ongoing drug wars, he was no gang member, police officer or journalist. The body belonged to a 19-year old trainee teacher who had been preparing to participate in a march to commemorate a notorious massacre of Mexican students by the military and police in 1968. Instead of making it to that demonstration, though, the young man found himself the victim of a what will be a new atrocity date on Mexico’s bloody calendar.

The murder, which occurred on the night of Sept. 26 or morning of Sept. 27, was part of a brutal attack on student teachers by corrupt police officers and drug cartel assassins that has provoked protests across the nation. During the violence, at least six students and passersby were killed and another 43 students disappeared, with many last seen being bundled into police cars. Soldiers and federal agents have taken over the city of Iguala and have arrested more than 30 officers and alleged gunmen from a cartel called the Guerreros Unidos or Warriors United. They have also discovered a series of mass graves: on Oct. 4, they found 28 charred bodies and on Thursday night they discovered another four pits where they are unearthing more corpses. Agents are conducting DNA tests to see if the bodies belong to the students.

The atrocities have triggered national outrage and presented the biggest security-related challenge yet for Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto. Taking power in 2012, Pena Nieto promised to reduce the tens of thousands of cartel killings and modernize a sluggish economy. He has overseen the arrests of major drug lords like Joaquin “Chapo” Guzman, nabbed in February and Vicente Carrillo Fuentes, alias “The Viceroy,” who was detained on Thursday. But while the total number of homicides declined by 15% in his first year in office, parts of Mexico—such as Guerrero state, where Iguala sits—still suffer some of the highest murder rates in the world. There were 2,087 murders last year in Guerrero, a state of 3.4 million people, giving it a rate of 61 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants.

On Oct. 6, Pena Nieto swore the students would receive justice and ordered a major federal operation in response. “This is infuriating, painful and unacceptable,” he said in a televised address to the nation. But human rights groups and family members accused him of being slow to respond to the tragedy, allowing some of the possible perpetrators to escape. Iguala mayor Jose Luis Arbaca fled town more than four days after the shootings and disappearances. It later emerged that Mexico’s intelligence service had a file linking him to the Warriors United cartel. The mayor’s brother-in-law was arrested this week for involvement in the killings. “Very slow, Pena Nieto, very slow,” said Jose Miguel Vivanco, Americas director of Human Rights Watch. “This issue could have been cleared if the federal government had immediately taken responsibility for these students.”

However, the atrocities are also devastating to the opposition Democratic Revolution Party, or PRD. (Pena Nieto is a member of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, which dominated Mexican politics for most of the 20th century.) Arbaca was a PRD member, and the party’s leader went to the city on Oct. 7 to personally apologize to residents. The governor of Guerrero state is also in the PRD and there have been calls for his resignation. The governor has denied the killing was his fault and called for a referendum on whether he should stay in power. Furthermore, when PRD founder Cuauhtemoc Cardenas joined a protest over the killings in Mexico City on Oct. 8 he was booed and had bottles thrown at him.

The march into Mexico City’s central plaza was joined by tens of thousands of people and was headed by family members of the victims. “I won’t rest until I have my son back,” Mario Cesar Gonzalez, father of 21-year old disappeared student Cesar, told TIME. “This is a problem of corrupt police and politicians working with drug cartels. I am going to fight until we discover the truth of what happened. I don’t care if they kill me. Nothing matters to me except my son.” Most of the disappeared students were the children of poor farmers and workers and went to a university for rural school teachers near Iguala.

Protesters also demonstrated in dozens of other cities across Mexico. In jungle-covered Chiapas state, thousands of the Zapatista rebels who rose up for indigenous rights in 1994 marched in silence in solidarity with the teachers. “Your pain is our pain,” said one banner. In Guerrero state itself, thousands blockaded major highways and shouted outside government buildings.

The killings brought back to the surface another problem that Pena Nieto’s government has been grappling with: vigilante groups that have risen to fight cartels. A Guerrero vigilante militia that operates in villages where many of the students come from has gone to Iguala, promising justice for the students. A local guerrilla group called the Revolutionary Army of Insurgent People said it will form a brigade to attack the Warriors United cartel. ” [We will] confront the political military aspects of this new front of the Mexican narco state,” says a masked man on a video message posted online as he stands besides photos of revolutionaries Emiliano Zapata and Pancho Villa.

The actual motives behind the attack on the students remain murky. About 120 students went into Iguala and had absconded with three buses from the Iguala station, which they wanted to take to the march in Mexico City. Students across Mexico often commandeer buses for their marches, a practice that is largely tolerated by the authorities. It was also reported by Mexican media that the students had disturbed a public event, angering city officials linked to the cartels, while the gangs might have believed the students were invading their turf.

One student who survived the attack said he wasn’t sure why the cartel and police went after them. “It came as a complete shock and surprise. We were relaxed and heading out of town, when suddenly there were bullets being fired from all directions,” said Alejandro, 19, who asked his surname not be used in case of reprisals. “I feel lucky that I am alive. But I think all the time about my companions who were taken. I don’t know what they could been through or how much pain they could have suffered. This makes me very sad and very angry.” Pena Nieto—and the rest of Mexico’s power brokers—should beware of that anger.

TIME Thailand

The Investigation Into Thailand’s Backpacker Slayings Is Officially a Farce

Two workers from Myanmar, suspected of killing two British tourists on the island of Koh Tao last month, stand during a re-enactment of the alleged crime, on the island
Two Burmese workers, wearing helmets and handcuffs, suspected of killing two British tourists on the Thai island of Koh Tao last month, stand near Thai police officers during a re-enactment of the alleged crime on Oct. 3, 2014, on the spot where the bodies of the tourists were found on the island Reuters

Allegations of torture, procedural irregularities and wild speculation in the press: Thai authorities are botching a high-profile murder probe

Murdered British backpacker Hannah Witheridge was finally laid to rest in England on Friday. But 6,000 miles away in Thailand, the investigation into her tragic death, and that of her friend David Miller, whose funeral took place Oct. 3, spiraled further into farce.

The main suspects in the killings, which took place on the Thai Gulf island of Koh Tao, have reportedly claimed that they were tortured into a confession, and public prosecutors rejecting the police report.

“The two victims and their families deserve justice, which will only be possible if there is a fair and transparent process,” says Kingsley Abbott, Bangkok-based adviser for the International Commission of Jurists. Above all, he adds, “the burden of proof rests on the prosecution,” as the “two men must be presumed innocent until proven guilty.”

On Sept. 15, the bloodied bodies of Witheridge, 23, and Miller, 24, were discovered on the island that is famous among scuba divers and sandal-clad tourists for its pristine beaches and coral reefs.

Burmese nationals Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun, both 21, were arrested last Friday and quickly confessed to the double murder. They had apparently worked illegally on the island for a number of years and were driven, say police, by a desire to rape Witheridge after seeing the young British couple canoodling on the white sand.

The Thai authorities then dragged the two suspects to the rocky outcrop where the tourists’ bodies were found for a grisly re-enactment. Wearing helmets and body armor, they demonstrated for assembled media how the bludgeoning, using a garden hoe and wooden stake, took place and prayed for forgiveness. Both could face a death sentence if convicted.

Yet a litany of questions and inconsistencies hang over the investigation. Other than the apparent retraction, proffered by an official at the Burmese embassy, there has been a rejection of the police’s investigation report, with public prosecutors on Wednesday asking the authors to supply “more crucial information,” “fix certain flaws” and make the 850-page document “more succinct.”

Numerous character witnesses have come out to defend Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun and they have no criminal record. Essentially, the case against them hinges on five strands of evidence:

  1. Their Confessions. The most damning evidence in any case is a confession. However, reports have since emerged that Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun were beaten and threatened with electrocution during interrogation. (Other irregular workers questioned have alleged they were alternately offered bribes and doused with boiling water.) It also emerged that the translator used was a Rohingya — a member of a distinct Burmese ethnicity that suffers periodic pogroms at the hands of west Burma’s Rakhine majority, to which the accused both belong. There are unconfirmed rumors that the interpreter, who has since even given interviews, actually participated in the beatings. In addition, upon initially being picked up, neither the accused were apparently provided with a lawyer as they were being questioned under the Immigration Act rather than as part of a murder inquiry. (It is unclear at what stage a legal counsel was eventually provided.)
  2. Three DNA Samples. These were found on two cigarette butts close to the crime scene, two of which — from Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun — are purportedly matches for samples recovered from Witheridge’s body. The third is apparently that of Maung Maung, a friend of the accused who says he was with them drinking beer and playing guitar on the beach shortly before the attack. However, Dr. Pornthip Rojanasunan, director general of the Central Institute of Forensic Science and the country’s leading forensics authority, on Thursday decried the collection of evidence as a “weak point” and said the police committed a major error when they failed to involve a forensic pathologist.
  3. Maung Maung’s Testimony. This forms the third strand of evidence, although it is no slam dunk. He admits being with his two friends on the beach but leaving them at around 1 a.m. They wanted to keep on drinking, he said, so he went to see his girlfriend. He claims not to have seen any evidence of a crime, according to media reports.
  4. CCTV Footage. This shows the three Burmese riding a motorbike by a convenience store, where they apparently bought cigarettes and three bottles of beer. It corroborates Maung Maung’s version of events, but is circumstantial at best.
  5. Miller’s Cell Phone. It was discovered at lodgings of Zaw Lin, according to police. The device, a black iPhone 4, was apparently smashed and discarded as it did not work inside Thailand. But why would Zaw Lin do that when he could have sold it for at least a month’s salary? And if he was concerned about possible incrimination, why keep it at home?

But there are numerous other threads to tug. Given that Burmese migrants were in the spotlight from the outset, and this pair were well-known on the island and frequently seen in the vicinity of the crime scene, why were they not hauled in for DNA tests and questioning sooner?

In addition, there have been significant procedural irregularities, including allowing tourists into the crime scene before all evidence was collected. CCTV footage has been produced, but with significant gaps, and only from a selection of the many sources available. The defense team will want to examine this all. There is also no complete, undisputed timeline of Witheridge and Miller’s movements prior to the attack. Considering the notoriety of the case, and the victims’ sociable nature in this small community, that is very odd.

Finally, there has been rampant press coverage of the unsubstantiated remarks made by local officials. In the latest, the chief of the prison where the suspects are being held told a reporter Thursday he “is afraid they may commit suicide” because they are “feeling guilty for the crime.”

Thailand does not have jury trials and so the press has free reign to report on ongoing investigations, with the presumption that the sitting judge will be able to discount all speculation and concentrate on the evidence in hand. Even so, it is clearly prejudicial to the suspects to have individuals from such diverse sources as Burmese embassy, the Myanmar Migrant Labour Association and the Thai police, among others, talking openly to the media about what the suspects supposedly think and feel.

“That all these people are coming out and making these statements is incredibly detrimental to a fair trial,” says British labor-rights activist Andy Hall, who, as part of a monitoring mission, has met with the accused, the police, the prosecution team and British Ambassador Mark Kent.

Abbott agrees that normal procedure for a defense counsel would be to stop any further comment. “Our primary concern at this stage is to ensure the two suspects are provided with the assistance of a competent lawyer of their choosing,” he says, adding that whoever is chosen must have “adequate time and facilities to review the evidence.”

Otherwise, we may have to mourn not two, but four lives senselessly lost that night on Koh Tao.

TIME States

Former Virginia Governor Guilty of Corruption

Bob McDonnell,  Eileen Reinaman
Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, second left, talks to his sister Eileen Reinamanas they arrive at federal court for the third day of jury deliberations in his corruption trial in Richmond, Va., Thursday, Sept. 4, 2014. Steve Helber&—AP

Bob McDonnell and Maureen had argued they were too estranged to conspire

A Virginia jury found former Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife Maureen guilty of corruption, fraud and conspiracy on Thursday, capping a dramatic political fall for a man once considered a future presidential candidate.

McDonnell, a Republican, was found guilty on 11 of the 13 counts he faced, and Maureen on nine counts. The two were accused of conspiring to accept more than $177,000 in cash, loans and gifts—including a Rolex and designer clothes and handbags—from a local businessman in exchange for political favors. The two waged an unusual bad-marriage defense, arguing they were so estranged they couldn’t have conspired together.

Former Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams, the prosecution’s star witness, spent 15 hours on the stand detailing how he felt his relationship with the McDonnells was a business one and that he expected some kind of quid pro quo for his generosity. The defense argued that the couple, who did hold parties for and take photos with William’s products, did help Williams within the bounds of ethics rules and that Williams’ financial aid was considered more support from a friend, especially for Maureen McDonnell. Maureen, they argued, developed an “emotional relationship” with Williams as she struggled with the stress of being First Lady of Virginia. Both sides said that neither engaged in a sexual relationship.

McDonnell could have shielded his wife from the charges against her and pled to one felony count, but the former trial attorney wanted to avoid jail so badly he took the riskier option of fighting the 14-count corruption charges in court. McDonnell spent days detailing the collapse of his marriage, telling the court he struggled with loneliness and his wife’s rages, taking solace in her ever-closer relationship with Williams, which seemed to calm her. The former governor testified that his “soul mate” was so haranguing that the governor’s mansion staff unanimously signed a petition against her, and that he felt compelled to work late every day. “I want to be in love, not just watch movies about it,” McDonnell wrote his wife an e-mail that went unanswered.

Maureen McDonnell did not take the stand. The couple, both 60, remains married, though they are not living together. Bob McDonnell had been viewed as a possible running mate for Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney in 2012 and perhaps even a future presidential candidate himself.

Virginia has some of the most lax ethics laws of any state in the country. Government officials can take gifts as long as they are disclosed. Even in the wake of the case, the Virginia State Legislature has not passed any measures to tighten those ethics rules.

The McDonnells are scheduled to be sentenced on Jan. 6. They could face up to 30 years in prison.

McDonnell’s Democratic successor, Gov. Terry McAuliffe, said he was “deeply saddened by the events of the trial that ended in today’s verdict, and the impact it has had on our Commonwealth’s reputation for honesty and clean government.”

TIME Pakistan

Pakistani Protesters Storm State TV Station as Fresh Clashes Erupt

PAKISTAN-UNREST-POLITICS
Pakistani supporters of politician-cleric Muhammad Tahir ul-Qadri and cricket turned politician Imran Khan shout antigovernment slogans after storming the headquarters of the state-owned Pakistani Television in Islamabad on Sept. 1, 2014 Aamir Qureshi—AFP/Getty Images

The attack comes just hours after the military calls for a peaceful solution to the political stalemate

Protesters stormed the headquarters of Pakistani Television (PTV) in Islamabad on Monday, taking it off air and beating up the station’s journalists, according to Reuters. The attack follows a bloody weekend in the Pakistani capital.

“They have stormed the PTV office,” an anchor said just before the transmission abruptly ended, Reuters reported. “PTV staff performing their journalistic duties are being beaten up.”

Paramilitary forces and soldiers later secured the station, which resumed broadcasting. Protesters left peacefully.

The storming of PTV came as fresh clashes erupted between stick-wielding protesters and police on Monday morning, just hours after the nation’s powerful military called for a peaceful solution to the political stalemate, according to Agence France-Presse.

Demonstrations against the government have been led for weeks by cricket icon turned opposition politician Imran Khan and outspoken politician-cleric Muhammad Tahir ul-Qadri, in a bid to remove Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif from power.

Khan insists that Sharif’s government finagled its way into office through rigged elections last year, and insists that the Prime Minister must resign, and fresh elections set, before the protests end.

The demonstrations that commenced in normally sleepy Islamabad on Aug. 15 have increasingly turned violent.

At least three people were reportedly killed over the weekend as protesters attempted to move deeper into the so-called red zone, where Parliament and executive offices, along with the Prime Minister’s residence and several embassies, are located.

On Monday, Khan urged his supporters to refrain from further violence in the wake of the recent bloodshed, according to Reuters.

“I call upon my workers to remain peaceful,” said Khan, addressing crowds from the top of a shipping container serving as a makeshift stage. “Do not carry out any acts of violence. God has given us victory.”

Domestic news outlet Dawn reports that the embattled Prime Minister and Pakistani army chief General Raheel Sharif are meeting in Islamabad to discuss the crisis.

TIME Hong Kong

Prominent Hong Kong Democracy Campaigners Raided by Antigraft Officers

Jimmy Lai, chairman and founder of Next Media, speaks during an exclusive interview with Reuters in Taipei
Jimmy Lai, chairman and founder of Next Media, speaks during an interview in Taipei on Nov. 29, 2010 Nicky Loh—Reuters

The swoop comes just as the city prepares for long-threatened Occupy Central protests

Updated: 8:38 a.m. EST on Thursday.

Hong Kong anticorruption officers raided the home of media mogul and outspoken democracy advocate Jimmy Lai early Thursday morning, just days before Occupy Central protests are slated to commence in the city’s financial heart.

“ICAC [Independent Commission Against Corruption] was here,” Lai told reporters outside his home, according to the South China Morning Post. “They’ve all gone now and there is no further comment.”

According to documents leaked in July, Lai, who runs Next Media and founded the hugely popular Apple Daily newspaper, has donated more than $1.2 million to pan-democratic causes over the past year.

Pan-democrat lawmaker and Labour Party leader Lee Cheuk-yan had earlier admitted that he received a total of $190,000 from Lai, which allegedly stayed in his personal account for a short time before being moved to that of his party.

Under Hong Kong law, donations to political parties are lawful and do not even have to be disclosed, but payments to individuals holding political posts are prohibited.

ICAC officers also swooped on Lee’s home on Thursday and banking documents were seized, reports the Post.

The ICAC said in a statement that it launched the raids after receiving a complaint. “The Commission investigates every case impartially, without fear or favour and in strict accordance with the law,” it said. “The ICAC, as always, has no political consideration in enforcing the law.”

Nevertheless, the raids come at a time of high political tension in Hong Kong. Authorities in Beijing are meeting this week to discuss how to administer the Special Administrative Region’s next leadership election in 2017.

Hong Kong residents have been promised the right to elect their own Chief Executive, the territory’s highest post, by that year, but the Chinese Communist Party wants a veto over which candidates can stand.

Democracy activists claim this will ensure a Beijing proxy controls the city of 7 million, and have organized the Occupy Central protests to press their demand for freer nominations. A July 1 pro-democracy rally drew as many as 172,000 people, according the University of Hong Kong.

Sources told local media that Beijing is mandating a 1,200-member nomination committee that will then approve two or three candidates for Chief Executive. Hong Kong’s pan-democrats have indicated such a system would be unacceptable, and so Occupy Central may commence as early as Sunday, when a separate though aligned pro-democracy rally has also been planned.

This leaves the possibility open for violent confrontations, as police have indicated they would forcibly remove anyone seeking to block the city’s teeming business district.

TIME Watergate

John Dean: Why Nixon Risked His Presidency

The Nixon Defense: What He Knew and When He Knew It
The Nixon Defense: What He Knew and When He Knew It Courtesy Viking/Penguin

In a situation in which no outcome would be good, the president illogically doubled-down on certain disaster

To understand how someone as politically savvy and intelligent as Richard Nixon gambled away his presidency, employing increasingly spurious defenses, I decided to do what no one else had done: Identify, listen to, and transcribe all of Nixon’s secretly recorded Watergate-related conversations. I doubt if anyone outside the National Archives has ever heard even half of the one thousand conversations I discovered. It took me four years and a great deal of assistance to accomplish this task, the results of which I have reported in The Nixon Defense: What He Knew and When He Knew It. My book is primarily an almost day-by-day narrative of Watergate scandal as it unfolded, covering the period from the break-in in June of 1972 to Alexander Butterfield’s revelation of Nixon’s secret taping system in July of 1973. Most of this account consists of a carefully culled record from over four millions words of direct dialogue of the principal figures, with context and comments as necessary.

The object of my search was an explanation of why Nixon would risk his presidency with the concocted defenses he ultimately offered—defenses based not in fact but in his effort to twist and distort events. Broadly speaking, what I found was that at the outset, Nixon considered Watergate merely a political embarrassment that would pass. He incorrectly concluded, however—based on less than complete information from White House chief of staff H.R. Haldeman—that Watergate did not directly involve the White House, or him. This is not to say that the president was uninvolved, for clearly he did not want Watergate to destroy his former attorney general and campaign manager, John Mitchell, who he correctly suspected had approved the illicit operation undertaken by former White House aides G. Gordon Liddy and Howard Hunt, with their team of amateur operatives.

Unintentionally, within days of the Watergate arrests, Haldeman drew the president into a conspiracy to obstruct justice by covering up what had actually transpired there. The tapes and related records clearly establish that this initial conspiracy was formed and directed by Haldeman, Mitchell, and John Ehrlichman, Nixon’s top domestic adviser, who had commissioned the earlier criminal activities of Liddy, Hunt, and their men. The president himself was not informed of some key facts of the situation, such as the prior criminal activities of those involved at the Watergate had been undertaken earlier for the White House. Although Nixon’s role in the affair was initially surprisingly passive, he did expressly approve elements of the subsequent cover-up, including payments to the Watergate defendants and the perjury necessary to make the scheme work.

It was not until eight months after the arrests at the Watergate that I was summoned by the president to discuss the matter. I was uncertain then about what he did or did not know; as it turned out, he knew much more than he let on. But when Nixon soon began insisting that I write a bogus report about Watergate, I warned him we were involved in criminal conduct with the payments to the Watergate defendants, and that it was almost certain these cover-up activities would soon collapse. Following that March 21, 1973, conversation, Nixon began to focus on the details of White House’s response to the break-in, carefully examining everything that had occurred in the relevant period, particularly his own conduct. When he realized he was culpable he fell into a period of protracted dread and denial, which was manifested by increasingly obsessive-compulsive behavior. In the following months he discussed Watergate with his aides ad nauseam, as he endlessly rehashed and refashioned his justifications and rationalizations—all the while distorting his own role to protect himself and his presidency at the expense of everyone, notwithstanding having approved their actions. Nixon, realizing that he had clearly violated criminal laws, understood that he had few options, and none of them was good. While as president he was immune from criminal prosecution, he knew he could be removed from office, then prosecuted and even further disgraced by being sent to prison.

While working on this book, I became aware of a number studies conducted after Watergate, research with well-tested findings by psychologists and economists who examined risk-taking and decision-making by people in a “loss frame”—that is, a situation in which none of the options is good. Study after study demonstrated how decision-making becomes remarkably illogical in conditions like that which the president faced in Watergate. Nixon, who boasts during the recorded conversations of this period of his prowess as a poker player, initially tried to bluff his way through the scandal with small bets. As he kept losing, however, the more exposed he became, and the more he was inclined to risk. Nixon’s defenses were, in effect, a series of increasingly bad bets. Had I known in March 1973 what I know today, when warning him of a cancer on his presidency I would have also cautioned him about the nature of decision-making when there are no acceptable choices. The prudent thing for a person in a loss frame who must make a decision is to discuss the problem with someone who is not in that loss frame.

Nixon, as the tapes reveal, confided in no one outside his immediate circle, all of whom had their own motives to support the deceptions, and was thus he was a classic loss-frame decision maker. That, of course, was not his only problem, but certainly among the more glaring for his deeply flawed defenses and related decisions which would cost him his presidency.

 

John W. Dean was legal counsel to President Nixon during the Watergate scandal, and his Sen­ate testimony lead to Nixon’s resignation. In 2006, Dean testified before the Senate Judiciary Commit­tee investigating George W. Bush’s NSA warrant­less wiretap program. He teaches a continuing legal education program throughout the country, drawing on the lessons of Watergate, and contributes political/legal commentary to Justia.com. He is the New York Times bestselling author of Blind Ambition, Broken Government, Conservatives Without Conscience and Worse Than Watergate.

 

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: August 8

1. We won’t know that new investment in Africa works unless we build solid systems for reporting real data about success.

By Nikhil Sonnad in Quartz

2. China needs sweeping reform to shake its deeply ingrained corruption.

By Kenneth Courtis in the Globalist

3. Don’t make college students select a major; make them choose a problem they want to solve.

By Jeff Selingo in LinkedIn

4. Foundations can learn from startup culture to better direct funds and amplify their impact.

By Shauntel Poulson in 1776 DC

5. President Obama can still secure his legacy if he spends his final years in office focused on economic inequality.

By Walter Isaacson in Time

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

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