GW professor reflects on 1980 investigations

GW Law professor John F. Banzhaff III said recent accusations that someone from the George W. Bush presidential campaign leaked a video tape to Vice President Al Gore’s camp involve the same legal and moral issues of the Watergate scandal and the 1980s’ Debategate investigation.

Banzhaff said he introduced the idea of an independent special prosecutor – an investigator outside of the Justice Department assigned to explore a possible legal issue without connections to the person they are investigating – a concept he said he introduced in October 1972, when the Watergate scandal emerged.

I saw a clear conflict of interest because the Justice Department was investigating the person in charge of the Justice Department, Banzhaff said.

Banzhaff was a law professor at GW when he suggested that an outside prosecutor be hired to continue the investigation.

During the Watergate scandal, President Nixon was accused of directing people to break into the Democratic National Convention headquarters, which was located in the Watergate complex.

Although the Justice Department did not use an independent special prosecutor, Banzhaff had succeeded in introducing the idea.

The issue was raised again in the 1980s’ investigation involving information leaks to Ronald Reagan about his opponent, Jimmy Carter. That scandal was dubbed Debategate.

While Reagan was preparing for the presidential debate in October of 1980, he had the advantage of studying Carter’s briefing book, according to The Washington Post.

Banzaff said he requested a special prosecutor to handle Debategate, but his request was denied. This time Banzaff said he went to district court to demand its implementation, something that had never been done before.

Today the special prosecutor statute is non-existent because of the Clinton scandal, Banzaff said. So there is no way to get a completely non-biased prosecutor.

The Clinton scandal involved multiple investigators and prosecutors, but there was not one special prosecutor, Banzaff said.

In September Tom Downey, who assists Gore with debate preparations, received a package containing videotape of Bush’s debate preparations.

The FBI is conducting investigations into that case.

This is eerily similar to the Debategate investigation, Banzaff said, I think that if we can find a clear suspect and enough evidence, then a special prosecutor should be appointed to handle the current allegations.

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