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Profile: George Mitchell

George Mitchell was a participant or observer in the following events:

The outgoing President Bush pardons six former Reagan officials for any crimes they may have committed as part of their involvement in the Iran-Contra affair. One of the six, former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, was slated to go on trial in January 1993 on charges that he lied to Congress about his knowledge of arms sales to Iran and funding from other countries for the Nicaraguan Contras (see July 24, 1992). Weinberger’s case was expected to reveal details of then-Vice President Bush’s involvement in the affair. Bush has refused to turn over a 1986 campaign diary he kept that may contain evidence of his involvement. Special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh says of the pardons, “[T]he Iran-Contra cover-up, which has continued for more than six years, has now been completed.” The pardons “undermine… the principle that no man is above the law. It demonstrates that powerful people with powerful allies can commit serious crimes in high office—deliberately abusing the public trust without consequence.” Walsh says that he believes Bush may have pardoned Weinberger to conceal his own complicity and possibly criminal actions in Iran-Contra. Bush also pardons former National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane and former Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams, both of whom have already pled guilty to misdemeanor charges of withholding information from Congress. Bush also pardons Clair George, the former head of the CIA’s clandestine services, convicted earlier in December of two felony charges of perjury and misleading Congress. Finally, he pardons two other CIA officials, Duane Clarridge, who is awaiting trial, and Alan Fiers, who pled guilty to withholding information from Congress, and who testified against George. For his part, Bush says he is merely trying to “put bitterness behind us” in pardoning the six, many of whom he said have already paid a heavy price for their involvement. Senator George Mitchell (D-ME) is sharply critical of the pardons, saying, “If members of the executive branch lie to the Congress, obstruct justice and otherwise break the law, how can policy differences be fairly and legally resolved in a democracy?” (Johnston 12/25/1992)

According to media analyses performed by the Center for American Progress (CAP) and by the team of Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Paul Waldman, the Sunday talk show coverage of the Bush-Gore conflict in Florida between November 12 and December 10 is heavily skewed towards painting George W. Bush as the legitimate president (see After 3:30 a.m. November 8, 2000) and Al Gore the losing contender who continues to carry on after having legitimately lost the election. On December 3 and December 10, panelists on ABC’s This Week refer to Bush’s future presidency 27 times. Tim Russert, the host of NBC’s Meet the Press, does so 19 times and calls Bush’s running mate Dick Cheney the “vice president.” In a December 3 interview, Russert asks Cheney if he feels Gore is being a “sore loser” (see November 24, 2000 and After). On December 3, ABC’s Sam Donaldson attempts to get Gore’s running mate, Joseph Lieberman, to concede the election on-air. ABC’s Cokie Roberts attempts to get a concession from Gore campaign representative George Mitchell. Jamieson and Waldman later determine that in the five Sunday shows aired by the three networks during this time period, the word “concede” appears in 23 questions. In 20 of these questions, the hypothetical conceder is Gore. In the other three questions, the hypothetical conceder is no one. Similarly, the hosts and guests on these talk shows, and on other network news broadcasts, frequently warn of “dire consequences” to America’s constitutional democracy if the Florida question is not settled immediately. The hosts also issue frequent warnings that the citizenry’s patience is at “the breaking point,” though polls consistently show that most Americans are content to let the recall process work itself out. CAP later notes, “The Baker-Bush team [referring to James Baker, the head of the Bush campaign’s ‘quick response’ recount team—see Mid-Morning, November 8, 2000] worked hard to create this crisis atmosphere in the hopes of increasing the pressure on Gore to relent for the good of the country, the markets, and the maintenance of world peace.” During this time period, Russert tells viewers, “We could have chaos and a constitutional crisis.” NBC’s Tom Brokaw tells viewers: “If the Florida recount drags on, the national markets are at risk here. National security is involved.” Pundits on ABC’s This Week warn of “turmoil” if Gore does not concede; pundits on CBS’s Face the Nation remark on “spinning out of control.” Columnist David Broder says this period of US history is worse than the turmoil the country weathered after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. (Alterman 12/9/2010)


Henry Kissinger.
Henry Kissinger. [Source: Public domain]President Bush names Henry Kissinger as Chairman of the 9/11 Commission. Congressional Democrats appoint George Mitchell, former Senate majority leader and peace envoy to Northern Ireland and the Middle East, as vice chairman. Their replacements and the other eight members of the commission are chosen by mid-December. Kissinger served as Secretary of State and National Security Adviser for Presidents Nixon and Ford. (New York Times 11/29/2002) Kissinger’s ability to remain independent is met with skepticism. (Kaplan 11/29/2002; CNN 11/30/2002; Missing 12/3/2002; Goldstein 12/17/2002) He has a very controversial past. For instance, “Documents recently released by the CIA, strengthen previously-held suspicions that Kissinger was actively involved in the establishment of Operation Condor, a covert plan involving six Latin American countries including Chile, to assassinate thousands of political opponents.” He is also famous for an “obsession with secrecy.” (BBC 4/26/2002) It is even difficult for Kissinger to travel outside the US. Investigative judges in Spain, France, Chile, and Argentina seek to question him in several legal actions related to his possible involvement in war crimes, particularly in Latin America, Vietnam, Cambodia (see March 1969), Laos (see 1969-1973), Bangladesh, Chile, and East Timor (see December 7, 1976). (Ridgeway, Anderson, and Bisin 8/15/2001; Botsford 4/18/2002; Page 12/1/2002) The New York Times suggests, “Indeed, it is tempting to wonder if the choice of Mr. Kissinger is not a clever maneuver by the White House to contain an investigation it long opposed.” (New York Times 11/29/2002) The Chicago Tribune notes that “the president who appointed him originally opposed this whole undertaking.” Kissinger is “known more for keeping secrets from the American people than for telling the truth” and asking him “to deliver a critique that may ruin friends and associates is asking a great deal.” (Chicago Tribune 12/5/2002)


George Mitchell.
George Mitchell. [Source: Public domain]George Mitchell resigns as vice chairman of the recently-created 9/11 investigative commission. Lee Hamilton, an Indiana congressman for more than 30 years and chairman of the committee which investigated the Iran-Contra affair, is named as his replacement. (Barrett and Karl 12/11/2002) Mitchell cites time constraints as his reason for stepping down, but he also does not want to sever ties with his lawyer-lobbying firm, Piper Rudnick, or reveal his list of clients. Recent clients include the governments of Yemen and the United Arab Emirates. (Isikoff and Hosenball 12/15/2002)

President Obama signals a new direction for US policy towards Israel and Palestine by promising to seek a lasting peace between the two warring sides. Obama says the US will always support Israel’s “right to defend itself,” but will also seek an equitable, peaceful solution for the Palestinian people. In conjunction with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Obama names former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell as the administration’s special envoy to the Middle East, and former UN Ambassador Richard Holbrooke as the administration’s special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Mitchell helped broker the Clinton administration-led peace agreement in Northern Ireland, and Holbrooke helped write the peace agreement that ended the 1992-1995 war in Bosnia. (Raum and Elliott 1/22/2009; The Nation (Lahore) 1/23/2009)

Former US President Jimmy Carter says that any peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians must include Hamas, the Islamist Palestinian movement that controls the Gaza Strip. “Hamas has got to be involved before peace can be concluded,” Carter says. Israel, which like the US and many Western nations considers Hamas a terrorist organization, is in the midst of a military operation against Hamas. Carter says that previous presidents have been either unable or unwilling to oppose Israel’s supporters in the US, but he has high hopes for George Mitchell, the Obama administration’s new envoy to the Middle East (see January 22, 2009). “The fact is that very few of the presidents have been willing to confront Israel’s forces in the United States, politically speaking,” Carter says. “If you look at US Middle East envoys in the past, almost all of them have been closely associated with Israel, sometimes even working professionally for Israel. George Mitchell is a balanced and honest broker compared to the others.” He continues by noting that any possible reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah, the organization led by Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, has been “objected to and obstructed by the US and Israel.” He hopes the Obama administration will work to bring Hamas and Fatah together. Abbas and Fatah control the West Bank, while Hamas controls the Gaza Strip. President Obama has indicated he intends to institute new peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine, but has reiterated previous international demands that the Palestinians recognize Israel, renounce violence, and recognize previous peace agreements before they can join in any future negotiations. (Al Jazeera 1/29/2009; Khan 1/29/2009)

President Obama tells Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that “it is past time to talk about starting negotiations—it is time to move forward.” Obama’s meeting with the two Middle East leaders is the highest level of diplomacy of his presidency, although it is reported that expectations for resuming the talks fall short. Obama and State Department officials hoped that the meeting would pave the way for fresh negotiations of an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. However, during a recent previous meeting, special Mideast envoy George Mitchell was unsuccessful in securing a deal in which Israel would halt West Bank settlements construction in return for the Arab states taking minute steps toward recognition. “Permanent status negotiations must begin, and begin soon,” Obama tells the two leaders, referring to talks on the fundamental issues that divide the parties, such as borders, Jerusalem’s status, and building settlements. The meetings, held at New York’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel where Obama meets with Netanyahu and Abbas separately before all three meet together, produce no real reconciliation, only an Israeli-Palestinian commitment to send negotiating teams to Washington, along with a general agreement that peace talks should quickly resume. “We knew this wasn’t going to be easy,” Mitchell says, adding that the talks were at times “blunt” with Obama importuning the two to “get things done.” Obama seems to concede that his previous calls for a construction freeze on settlements fell on deaf ears, and says that Israel has offered only to “restrain” its settlement activity. He appears to acknowledge that his early calls for a settlement freeze have fallen on deaf ears. Israel, he says, has only offered to “restrain” settlement production. The restraint on settlement building “is not everything we might have wanted,” says a senior State Department official speaking on condition of anonymity—one of the rules set by the White House before the meetings—but “it’s certainly a significant step.” US government officials try to dispel later impressions that Obama sought to play down the settlements issue, although senior Israeli government officials say they left the meeting with a separate message; the Israeli Ambassador to the US Michael Oren says, “That’s not just the impression, that’s the reality.” An additional senior US official says Obama will not cease to press the settlements issue, arguing that the tentative steps Israel has agreed to extend “far, far beyond what any previous government has ever done to control settlement activity.” (Strobel 9/22/2009)


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