An update to the 1974 report Responses of the Presidents to Charges of Misconduct, examining the ethical conduct of the presidencies since then—including Richard Nixon’s but not Donald Trump’s.
Compiled with the same urgency as the previous study in response to “a grave threat” of constitutional crisis (unnamed but understood), this work offers a comparative gauge on executive misdeeds, rigorously defined as “responses of the president, on his part or on the part of his subordinates, to charges of misconduct that was alleged to be illegal and for which offenders would be culpable.” Editor Banner (Being a Historian: An Introduction to the Professional World of History, 2012, etc.) contributed to the original report. Restrained, “self-contained,” and offering the facts without interpretation, the essays—up to Nixon’s, they are the versions originally published in 1974—make for rather dry but informative reading. While the administration of George Washington set the gold standard for ethical behavior, at that time, regard for the law was rigidly codified, and partisan politics were just beginning to take shape. Starting with John Quincy Adams’ tenure, historian Richard Ellis introduces the worrisome aspects of “the power of special-interest groups, the corruptness of politicians, the need to make government more responsive to the popular will, and the country’s general moral decay.” Andrew Jackson’s administration is generally blamed for the introduction of the “spoils systems,” and Ulysses S. Grant’s reputation of “unsurpassed corruption” by subordinates has been challenged by historians. Warren Harding’s reputation is considered to be one of the most tainted (outside of Nixon’s), in terms of cronyism and greed. The George W. Bush administration's erosion of laws protecting civil liberties gets a rather light treatment, while Barack Obama’s chapter, written by Allan J. Lichtman, is dominated by “pseudo-scandals” invented by his opponents.
For students of political science, this is a highly relevant, well-documented study that unfortunately doesn’t encompass the countless scandals of the current administration.