“How did we go from a president who could not tell a lie to politicians who cannot tell the truth?” Michael Bloomberg
Many years ago (very many, actually) when I was in elementary school I remember a teacher explaining to us the difference between democracy (the United States) and communism (Russia). She said that the United States government never lies to its citizens, but Russia did. I think she might have actually believed that; I know we did because she was, after all, our teacher.
In any case, a few years later, in 1960, I found out that wasn't true.
President Eisenhower had flat out denied that U-2 spy planes were flying over the Soviet Union, but in 1960 the USSR shot one down and captured its pilot. President Eisenhower was forced to admit that the CIA had been flying spy missions over the USSR for years.
Billionaire and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, in a commencement speech at Rice University in Texas, lashed out at the “epidemic of dishonesty” in politics that he said poses “one of the most serious dangers” to American democracy as he slammed the “endless barrage of lies” and “alternate realities” in national politics. He held up presidents George Washington and Abraham Lincoln as models of honesty.
Sorry Mr. Bloomberg. Presidents like George Washington, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson and even Abe Lincoln were hardly saints.
Most people blame the beginning of clandestine operations and their control by the President began with formation of the Central Intelligence Agency and National Security Agency. But, Thomas Jefferson wrote the “laws of necessity, of self-preservation, of saving our country when in danger,” overrode moral standards and any written laws.
Washington understood that espionage was essential, especially during the battle for independence. One of Washington’s first acts as commander of the Continental Army in 1775 was to hire a spy to go behind the enemy lines and report on British activities in Boston because he believed it was essential to winning the war; so sensitive in fact that he withheld the information from the Continental Congress.
In 1777 he wrote, “there are some secrets, on the keeping of which so, depends, oftentimes, the salvation of an Army: secrets which cannot, at least ought not to, be entrusted to paper; nay, which none but the Commander-in-Chief at the time, should be acquainted with.”
Washington believed in covert mail opening was an important national security tool and instructed his agents to contrive a means of opening letters without breaking the seals and make copies of the contents. He even used clergymen to elicit information from captured British soldiers.
OK, that was war, but did his spying end there? Washington’s successful use of intelligence and deception during the Revolutionary War led him to conclude that the President needed a secret service fund to handle intelligence operations and that intelligence operations were the exclusive province of the President who is also the Commander in Chief of the military.
So, he requested a “secret service” fund that would be controlled by the President that would allow him to conduct secret operations free from congressional oversight; it was approved. That meant Washington had a blank check to conduct secret operations that he alone deemed to be in the national interest.
President Thomas Jefferson was no less inclined to use the secret service fund and even used it as slush fund to bribe Native American tribes to cede territory and to fund a covert operation designed to overthrow a foreign government, to covertly acquire the plan from the Spanish government concerning a canal through the isthmus of Panama and to acquire information about the Dutch government and plant stories in the Dutch press favorable to Americans interests.
Jefferson believed that it was the President's prerogative to direct secret machinations of the American government because the Senate was not qualified to judge the necessity for some missions. Jefferson also utilized private citizens as a means of circumventing congressional oversight; rightly so because even in those days congressmen leaked information.
In 1805, James Madison, then Secretary of State, hired a prostitute using money from the secret service fund in order to enhance the visit of a foreign envoy from Tunisia. Madison also provided misleading accounts to Congress and foreign governments concerning some of his administration’s actions.
What about Honest Abe Lincoln? His greatest achievement was his fight to abolish slavery, but he lied to the people of the South, telling them, “Do the people of the South really entertain fears that a Republican administration would...interfere with their slaves, or with them, about their slaves? If they do, I wish to assure you, as once a friend, and still, I hope, not an enemy, that there is no cause for such fears.”
In 1985, Iran offered to free the several hostages they’d taken in exchange for missiles and President Reagan swore the U.S. did not trade weapons or anything else for hostages and never would. A few months later, he admitted he lied.
There's more, but the fact is all Presidents have been caught in a lie or two.