WASHINGTON, DC—In allegations likely to further erode Americans' faith in the office of the presidency, presidents George Washington through George W. Bush may have lied about key matters of national import during their tenures as chief executive, an independent-counsel investigation asserted Monday.
The report states that the integrity of the presidency "may have been compromised by criminal misdirection, obstruction of justice, and deliberate clouding of the truth for political advantage and/or personal gain by as many as every president since the nation's inception."
While conventional wisdom holds that only two U.S. presidents, Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton, have ever openly lied about anything, the report offers substantial evidence linking all 42 presidents to deliberate acts of deception and dishonesty. Among its assertions are that Thomas Jefferson lied about impregnating one of his slaves; Ulysses S. Grant deceived Congress regarding his role in the Whiskey Ring scandal; Ronald Reagan intentionally withheld key facts in the Iran-Contra Affair; Warren G. Harding told untruths during the Teapot Dome scandal; James K. Polk, Martin Van Buren, and Chester A. Arthur fibbed about the details of trade pacts; and Franklin Pierce was less than forthcoming regarding details of the Kansas-Nebraska Act.
"Shockingly, even William Henry Harrison, a president who was in office for a month and spent most of it on his deathbed, seems to have found time to lie during the famously lengthy inaugural address that would speed his demise," independent-counsel investigator James McManus said. "And so-called 'father of our country' George Washington is not exempt, either. A story familiar to any schoolchild tells us that, as a boy, Washington confessed to chopping down a cherry tree, saying, 'I cannot tell a lie.' Evidence suggests, however, that the entire tale may have been bogus from the start. This is doubly damning to the presidency's reputation, for it is not merely a lie, but a lie about not telling lies."
The report calls into question the integrity of the presidency at a particularly inopportune moment. Coming on the heels of alleged Bush Administration involvement in the Enron and WorldCom corporate scandals, as well as the "Monicagate" impeachment trial of former president Bill Clinton, the implication of every president in U.S. history will likely deepen the public's mistrust and further undermine the credibility of the nation's highest elected office.
"If these allegations turn out to be true, this country faces a crisis of confidence of unfathomable proportions," an anonymous Beltway insider said. "If the leader of the most powerful nation on Earth cannot be trusted to tell the truth, then who, in the name of God in heaven, can?"
"We are shocked by these allegations," White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said. "The president wishes to assure the public that he has never lied, and that every one of these accusations of lying—from the 18th century all the way to the 21st—will be thoroughly investigated and, we are confident, disproved."
Calling the report "just the tip of the iceberg," McManus said incidents of lying may plague the government at all levels.
"Every day, new evidence surfaces suggesting that this lying trend is more far-reaching than we ever imagined," McManus said. "It may well extend all the way to the offices of Vice-President, Speaker of the House, Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, Secretary of the Treasury, White House Press Secretary, secretary to the White House Press Secretary, Senator, Representative, State Assemblyman, Governor, Lieutenant Governor, County Board Supervisor, Alderperson, Mayor, Assistant to the Mayor, City Councilperson, Assistant City Councilperson, Comptroller, Town Coroner, County Librarian, and County Clerk."
On Capitol Hill, the report prompted calls for a thorough investigation of each and every allegation, from the possibility of Bush-Cheney lies regarding Haliburton during the 2000 presidential campaign all the way back to alleged lies told by the John Adams Administration regarding the Huron Indians in 1798.
"The idea that presidents and other elected officials have violated the public trust by telling lies is disturbing and deeply disappointing," U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) said. "We are adopting a 'zero tolerance' position regarding the telling of untruths on the part of any politician—past, present, or future—and we will not rest until each and every lie-teller has been punished to the fullest extent of the law."
Added Hatch: "You have my solemn word on that."