Is integrity possible? By Dave McNeely Dallas Ramsey Clark, LBJ’s last attorney general, happened to be scheduled to speak at El Centro College in Dallas on Oct. 11, the morning after former Vice-President Spiro T. Agnew decided to let the “former” be affixed to his name to keep out of jail. Clark is a Lincolnesque man, who speaks of principles in terms that lead you to believe he practices personally what he prescribes publicly. Spiro Agnew was one of his detractors, among those who attempted to paint Clark as soft on crime because he believes individual liberties are above the sometimes efforts of governments to tread upon them for ostensibly noble purposes. Here’s what Clark had to say on that historic day: “Is it possible to have integrity in democratic institutions and electoral processes?” Clark asked. “If not, what’s going to ‘happen to us? “If not, I think that Churchill was wrong when he said that democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others. It’s the worst form without integrity because where there is no integrity in democratic institutions and electoral processes, then money and hypocrisy will rule. And we’ve seen a touch of that. “We have indeed, in my judgment, felt the hot breath of tyranny recently here in America. It’s hard for me to say that. I reached the ripe old age of 40 before it was conceivable to me thinkable, if you will that America could lose its freedom. But there’s nothing inherent in this place, or in our hearts, that assures forever freedom. We’re going to have to work a lot harder than we’ve been working, or we’re going to lose it right out in my judgment. . . . IT’S HARD to talk about morality. What’s it mean? . . . Can we find in the midst of all this confUsion some rules that we can agree are important if we are to live reasonably comfortably together? Well, if we’re going to find those, it’s going to be because the individual stands for something. It’s going to be because the individual has had the courage to ask himself Daniel Berrigan’s question: `What am I doing with my life?’ “It’s not going to be because suddenly from out of nowhere someone comes and leads us from the wilderness a moral man, on a white horse, or on a black horse, or on a pinto, or something. It’s going to come from us. . . . Are principles something that apply to others and not to us? We need to adjust ourselves to our materialism and to our pragmatism. “Look at greed for a minute. I think it’s probably the greatest affliction of this country. What does it mean when the President of the United States made $200,000 a year from the taxpayers, [but] so arranges his tax return that he pays $800 in taxes one year and $700 another?” Harry Truman, Clark said, gave his presidential papers to the people. “President Nixon, with his vice-presidential papers nearly nine years old, papers that I had assumed belonged to the people, gave them to the people for a couple of hundred thousand dollars in tax deductions. If we can’t see the meaning of that, if we don’t know what it does to the country when people are cynical and don’t believe that the purposes of the laws are just and generous. . . . “And then compare that with Spiro Agnew. Is it all power and greed? What’s it mean when after all these years, 30,000 men and women plead guilty to crimes every year, federal crimes for the first time in our history, the attorney general of the United States comes into court to plead for leniency for a person pleading nolo contendere? “Go down the street here and see how many poor people plead guilty to theft maybe because somebody’s hungry are permitted to enter a plea of nolo contendere. The attorney general of the United States has never been in court asking for a lenient sentence. “And does the record show that the vice-president of the United States would not resign unless the attorney general did that bargaining, in other words? Bargaining with the second highest office in the country? ‘I’ll give you the office if you’ll be sure I don’t go to jail’ and Judge Hoffman himself saying he would have imposed a prison sentence if the attorney general hadn’t asked otherwise. “Do you believe in equal justice? “Of course we should be saddened by what has happened saddened for the nation, saddened for Spiro Agnew and saddened for his family. But can we only give compassion to people who have known power and fame? And do we have to reserve hatred for John Brown’s despised poor? Equal justice what are our moral values?” CLARK SAID that perhaps the case of Will Wilson, the former Texas attorney general, symbolizes the lack of concern for human dignity in the Nixon administration. Wilson, whose law office paid to tap federal bank examiners investigating Sharpstown State Bank, later advOcated wiretapping when he was in charge of criminal prosecutions for John Mitchell’s Justice Department. “I once debated him in this town here about the morality of wiretapping,” Clark said. “He said it’s not a moral issue, it’s a matter of public safety. “Well, is it? What do we find out when history finally opens up? Who gets wiretapped? “Martin Luther King, Jr., the prophet of non-violent change, the man who had perhaps the most important lesson there is for mass urban, technological society; the Democratic National Committee; and finally our [Nixon’s] brother. Our brother we don’t even trust our brother. . “If we say that something like wiretapping is so evil that only the government itself can use it, can’t we see where [ we] corrupt government . .?” Clark pointed out that Wilson finally left the Justice Department under fire after it was revealed that he had loans from convicted Houston financer Frank Sharp at the . same time that Sharp was under investigation by the Justice Department for the Sharpstown stock scandal. Sharp got a suspended sentence, compliments of. the Justice Department. “Do we believe in integrity in our democratic institutions?” Clark asked. “Then let’s get big money out of there. How can you possibly tolerate $2 million contributed by one individual and call yourself a democracy? That’s a joke. How can you be a democracy? One person, one vote, when one person can give $2 million? Who’s choosing the president of the United States? Money. . . . “Of all the things that have come out of Watergate, in my judgment, the most harmful, and the most untrue, is the repeated effort of Richard Nixon to tell you everybody does it. Everybody doesn’t do it. There are people who believe in these principles and will fight for them and stand for them. And if everybody does it, there’s no hope, is there? “Maybe that’s’ what he wants us to think. . . . “Are we going to put ourselves on the line? Are we going to ask Dan Berrigan’s question? . . . “We’ve got to put ourselves on the line [and] seek a new humanness.” November 2, 19 73 21
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The Texas Rangers are tasked with investigating corruption and crimes by public officials. Those officials are rarely held accountable.