Michael K. Deaver's use of his intimate friendship with President and Nancy Reagan to make buckets of money was blatant and arrogant, a betrayal of trust. It violated an American tradition of public service that predates the American Constitution itself.
And on Wednesday a federal jury convicted the former White House aide on three counts of lying about his big-time post-White House lobbying business. Deaver left the courthouse claiming that he did nothing wrong. But the far more believable comment came from one juror who said that the evidence for a guilty verdict was clear.
Deaver's attorneys had tried to wriggle off the legal hook by claiming that if Deaver actually had done anything wrong he would have been accused under a federal anti-lobbying statute, not tried for perjury. This notion prompted special counsel Whitney North Seymour Jr. to explode: "That is the whole point of this indictment. Mr. Deaver lied to the grand jury. He blocked the investigation."
From the outset, back in 1981, more than a few prominent members of the Reagan Administration expressed disdain for federal ethics laws. Financial disclosure was a cumbersome and probing nuisance, particularly for anyone of wealth. Other provisions prohibited officials who left the Administration from instantly cashing in on their positions of influence by lobbying their former colleagues. To some, this law trampled on the concept of the free market and was there to be winked at.
The complaints may have generated some sympathy about impractical and overly strict rules. But any such thought should end with Deaver's conviction. If anything, the law should be more strict in some areas.
By coincidence, the White House announced Tuesday that the President had signed legislation renewing the Ethics in Government Act under which Deaver's case was investigated by a special counsel appointed by a panel of judges. A reluctant Reagan approved the bill despite constitutional questions. There is indeed a separation-of-powers dispute over the selection of the counsel, but that issue is minor compared with the immense public good provided by the legislation. The people just cannot rely on a Justice Department to pursue investigations of possible criminal acts by members of its own political family.
Back in early 1986 Deaver was signing up clients at $250,000 each and boasting, without challenge, "There's no question I've got as good access as anybody in town." Left unsaid, but clearly implied, was that Deaver's access was for sale. His fall came perhaps because he never could understand that it wasn't his to sell.