[Viewpoint] Follow the money

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[Viewpoint] Follow the money

Bob Woodward is a living legend in the world of journalism. His investigative reporting on the Watergate scandal eventually led to resignation of U.S. President Richard Nixon. His pursuit of truth and unwavering courage under pressure from authorities culminated in one of the greatest reporting efforts of all time. The best-selling book by Woodward and his reporting partner Carl Bernstein from The Washington Post, “All the President’s Men,” was made into an Academy Award-winning movie in 1976 directed by Alan Pakula, with Robert Redford as Woodward and Dustin Hoffman as Bernstein.

The story started with Woodward assigned to a relatively insignificant burglary at the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate office complex in Washington in 1972. The burglars arrested by the police had unusual gear: bugging equipment, pistols and bundles of cash. Woodward and Bernstein succeeded in connecting the burglars to the Central Intelligence Agency, but lacked a smoking gun for a true front-page story. Woodward contacted a government source who refused to be identified even to the Washington Post editors, “Deep Throat,” and the two met in a parking garage like in a spy movie.

Deep Throat spoke in riddles but advised Woodward to “follow the money.” Money doesn’t lie. The two reporters traced bank checks to Nixon’s re-election committee and its treasurer. The White House put pressure on the Post and tried to interfere with the investigation. Having bought time, Nixon was re-elected in November 1972.

But the reporters didn’t stop. They discovered that Attorney General John Mitchell spearheaded a campaign to sabotage Democratic presidential candidates, collecting data illegally through bugging and political plotting that involved intelligence sources across the nation. Full-scale illegal activities - fabrication of documents, wiretapping, slush funds and tax evasion - spilled out from a Pandora’s box. Nixon insisted he was kept in the dark about the wrongdoings by his subordinates.

Out of panic, Nixon ordered the dismissal of special prosecutor Archibald Cox, who wanted the president to hand over audio tapes secretly made in the White House, resulting in a chain reaction of resignations of high-ranking officials at the Justice Department, drawing wide public criticism. Whether Nixon directly ordered the burglary remains unclear, but he was never forgiven for his lying and cover-up attempt.

The recent scandal over the Prime Minister’s Office illegally spying on an ordinary Korean businessman is strangely reminiscent of scenes from “All the President’s Men.”

The case came under fresh scrutiny after former presidential secretary Lee Young-ho held a press conference on Tuesday. He frankly admitted to attempt to cover up the spying, but appeared proud in his action. He criticized the opposition and angrily responded to public criticism. He claimed he was the ringleader that orchestrated the entire scheme to cover up involvement. But no real ringleader publicly admits his crime. He looked like a gangster posing as a willing scapegoat to demonstrate loyalty to his boss.

If Lee is not the mastermind, who is? There is one way to find out: follow the money. The prosecutors must trace the 20 million won ($17,620) Lee admitted to have given to Jang Jin-su, a low-level official at the civil service ethics division of the Prime Minister’s Office - the epicenter of the scandal - as well as 50 million won and 40 million won alleged to have come from other officials from the Blue House as rewards for keeping secret any involvement of the presidential office. The money would have come from the same pocket - either from state coffers or slush funds. As in the Watergate scandal, money does not lie.

It is evident who the illegal activities were carried out for. The computer data has been wiped out, but internal whistle-blowers claim the banker Kim Jong-ik was not the only person being watched. Prosecutors must also find out whether the division has been spying on politicians - from the opposition as well as the ruling parties - who were critical of the government or whether it conducted any other illegal activities.

The case also underscored the so-called connection of Yongil and Pohang - referring to the hometown of President Lee Myung-bak. In a normal government, a presidential secretary on labor affairs cannot give orders to a civil service ethics division of the Prime Minister’s Office. The government has turned into a private mafia. Even the senior presidential secretary on civil affairs attempted to interfere, but failed to restore order.

All the misdeeds Lee has committed - wiping out evidence after receiving a tip about a prosecution raid, bargaining over sentencing with the prosecution and ordering around the Prime Minister’s Office staff - went beyond his authority. The question arises why he as a mere secretary would run a secret spy organization unrelated to his work.

The ancient Joseon royal court was riddled with overloyal nobles. President Lee Myung-bak should take a decisive step for himself and his successor if he does not want to follow the poor precedents of his predecessors who went to trial for corruption.

*The author is the chief editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Jin-kook
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