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Thank You, David Boren

November 18, 2017 Frontpage No Comments

By CHRISTOPHER MANION

“When you were accused, it was news but it wasn’t true. Now you’re cleared — that’s true, but it isn’t news” — previous Washington Post Ombudsman.

+ + +

In case you haven’t noticed, The Washington Post hates with a vengeance. “The story must be told,” brags its website, but truth might be another matter.
According to the Post, I should be getting out of jail about now.
Thirty-one years ago, when I was a staff member of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee working for Chairman Jesse Helms, a Reagan State Department official accused me of treason.
Well, that’s what it amounted to. He told the Senate Intelligence Committee that I had leaked information with the highest secrecy classification. And that I had leaked it to the government of Augusto Pinochet, of Chile. Whereupon the two senior senators on that committee asked the FBI to investigate.
While this news surprised me, the media loved it. Jesse Helms was a pro-life conservative for whom the media had little love — and he had often defended Pinochet against his Communist opponents. So Orwell’s “Two Minutes Hate” began in earnest.
Within a week, the classified news about my “leak” was leaked to The New York Times, and picked up around the world. The press surrounded my house and my office, and of course I could say nothing. Day after day, The Washington Post declared me guilty as charged (but they never called me). Friends around the world wrote me — one had even laughed when he saw my picture on the front page of the newspaper.
But this charge was no laughing matter. If I had been convicted, I would have been in federal prison for at least thirty years, and possibly for life. Two FBI agents became my constant companions. Months went by, as they interviewed everyone I had ever known. My phone was tapped, my life was an open book. I thought at the time that it was sort of a dry run of the Last Judgment.
One of Washington’s top lawyers volunteered to defend me. “I don’t need a lawyer,” I said. “I don’t have any money, and, anyway, I’m innocent.” Terry O’Donnell just laughed, represented me brilliantly, and never sent me a bill.
Finally those FBI agents interviewed me in my Senate office. At a tense and critical point in the interview, the lead agent said flatly, “We know you didn’t do it. We’re trying to find out who did.”
My lawyer almost fell off his chair, but I stood up, slammed my fist on the conference table and said, “I’ve been smeared on the front page, how about clearing me on the front page?” Their response: “We don’t clear people.”
But then strange things began to happen. The Republican Senate went Democratic in the 1986 elections. David Boren of Oklahoma became chairman of the Intelligence Committee. And suddenly the two senior senators who had accused me of leaking were removed from that committee — for leaking! Meanwhile, I was, to use a popular phrase of that era, “left twisting slowly in the wind.” Most of my classmates from days of old probably thought I was already in jail. (Maybe they think I still am).
And then stranger things came to pass. A senator quietly advised me that Chairman Boren was going to bat for me. Yes, he was from the other party. Not only that, several of his Democratic colleagues were celebrating my plight. After all, Jesse Helms was their nemesis. But that fact actually made it easier for Sen. Boren. No one could accuse him of partisanship in defending me. Quite the contrary. A lot of Democrats were just plain shocked.
Sen. Boren was outraged that former members of his committee had broken the rules when they accused me. Suddenly I had a champion. When I saw him on the Senate floor, I thanked him. “I’m going to make sure you get a fair shake,” he said, putting his hand firmly on my shoulder. “That’s all.”
“That’s all.” After thirty years, that memory still brings tears to my eyes. I found out much later that Sen. Boren had gone quietly around town for months — to the FBI, the CIA, the Justice Department — demanding that they clear me publicly. And finally, a year later — thirty years ago this week — they did.
“No leak occurred,” the joint statement read, signed by the heads of virtually every legal and intelligence agency in Washington.
All adventures bring irony, I suppose, and so did mine. The Washington Post hated my boss. From the outset, they had virtually convicted me in countless articles. When I was cleared, they would not report it. I called their ombudsman and asked why. “When you were accused, it was news but it wasn’t true. Now you’re cleared — that’s true, but it isn’t news,” he purred. Turn the page.
Well, it was news to me, and welcome news at that. Instead of going to jail for thirty years, I was cleared. Even today, I am the last person in Washington to have been publicly cleared of accusations of leaking classified material.
But why had it all happened? Only later did I discover the reason.
In February 1986, President Reagan had nominated my brother Dan to serve on the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. The Senate had a Republican majority at the time, and at first the nomination seemed safe. But my brother’s conservative credentials made his nomination a target for the left. Pro-abort leader Ted Kennedy called Fr. Ted Hesburgh, Notre Dame president, and asked, “Father, can you help us get Dan Manion?” Fr. Hesburgh replied (as he told me later), “Sorry, Ted, he’s family.”
On June 26, 1986, Dan’s nomination survived a close vote on the Senate floor. Majority Leader Bob Dole put off the final vote to await a sure majority, and opponents knew that delay might last for weeks, even months. Given that breathing space, the schemers began stage two — the now-familiar “back-door leak” attack.
That State Department official and Ted Kennedy both hated Pinochet as much as they hated Helms. Both wanted to “get Manion” — any Manion. Nailing me for leaking would be a double-barrel win — defeating my pro-life brother and sending me to jail. But it didn’t work — Dan was confirmed on July 23, 1986. And I was cleared 15 months later because of Democrat David Boren — who had voted against my brother!
Alas, that kind of honor in Washington has all but disappeared.
A couple of years later I left Washington for a college teaching job. About the same time, the State Department official who had accused me pleaded guilty to several federal charges of lying to Congress. He was later pardoned by President George H.W. Bush, but he wrote a whole book oozing with bitterness and denial. I wrote him a personal letter. I forgave him for falsely accusing me, and urged him to forgive his tormentors. I never heard from him again.
In Great Expectations, Charles Dickens’ boy hero Pip reflects, “Pause, you who read this, and think for a moment of the long chain of iron or gold, of thorns or flowers, that would never have bound you, but for the formation of the first link on one memorable day.”
Pause, you who read this, and give thanks. And thank you, David Boren.

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