Vincent Bugliosi goes after the president in his new book, "The Prosecution of George W. Bush for Murder"
Mark Rahner interviews Vincent Bugliosi ("Helter Skelter") about his new book, "The Prosecution of George W. Bush for Murder."
Seattle Times staff reporter; Seattle Times staff reporter
The man who put Charles Manson in the big house wants to do the same thing for the occupant of the White House. At the very least. Just the title of legendary prosecutor and best-selling true-crime author Vincent Bugliosi's new book makes it a hot potato: "The Prosecution of George W. Bush for Murder" (Vanguard Press, $26.95, currently No. 12 on The New York Times hardcover nonfiction list). Nutshell: Because the president lied America into war, he's responsible for every resulting death.
In other words, light reading.
Bugliosi, 73, told me by phone from his Los Angeles home I was the only one from a major paper to interview him so far, and no TV either. Said he's been "blacked out" for the first time.
Q: I know someone who can expect an audit this year.
A: (Laughs.) Oh boy, that's funny. I don't know, that's not too serious a response to me. People say to me all the time, "You've got to be crazy to take on the president of the United States, you've got to have a lot of courage." I don't think in terms of courage, I don't think I'm the craziest guy. This is all motivated by anger.
Q: Your reception for this book has been a little different from previous ones.
A: Well, you know, I've never thought about a publisher. That's an automatic, you know? Every true-crime book of mine has been a best-seller. I've had three that got up to number one, and no other true-crime author has had more than one. With this case I had a very difficult time getting a publisher, to the point where I had to fly back east, and the fear was palpable when I met with the publishers. The publishing industry is fairly liberal, and they were sympathetic to the book and they realized immediately the marketability of the book but they'd say things like this to me: "Mr. Bugliosi, are you sure you want to publish this book?" So I had a very difficult time getting a publisher, for the first time in my over-30-year career. The next level is getting the audio. Well that was always an automatic, I never even spent a moment talking about it. This time I get a call from my agent. "Vince I can't get any audio company in America to do the audio on this book." So we had to get the British Broadcasting Company to do it, and it's available now in America.
Right now as I'm talking to you, Mark, there is a documentary for the big screen being produced. It's going through editing now, based on my book. The producers couldn't raise one penny in America for it. The money had to come in from Canada. With all my other books, the only question I asked was "What day am I flying back to New York City?" You fly back to New York City. That's where you start the tour. You start out on one of the morning shows, you do other national TV shows, and you start traveling around the country. They couldn't get one booking on one show. Not one. Over a 30-year history, never got rejections like this. The fear, again, was palpable. Liberal as well as conservative, totally blacked me out.
Q: I'll tell you the reason for that: No sex.
A: That's why I'm being blacked out? No, no, no.
Q: Sex equals outrage. I thought Clinton proved it.
A: Oh, yeah, yeah, right. No, it's fear. The left wing fears the right wing. The right wing doesn't fear the left. But the left one is fearful. They're not going to put me on, because if they do they're fearful of being savaged by the right wing. And the right wing doesn't want to put me on where I'm talking about prosecuting their guy for murder and he could end up on death row. So they're just terrified of it.
Q: You say you're a Democrat, but you go to some lengths to show that your argument and motivation are nonpartisan.
A: The main reason I'm a Democrat is, in the absence of some compelling reason to be otherwise, I am always for the little guy. But my orientation is not rigid. I supported John McCain in 2000 in his run for the presidency. I think if you were to ask my peers around the country, the main word that they apply to me more than any other word is the word "credibility." And the reason I have credibility is that no one knows what I'm going to say until I open my mouth. Because the evidence takes me where I end up talking about it. I have no predisposition toward a certain side, so if a Democratic president did what George Bush did, I would have written the same identical book. My only master, my only mistress, are the facts and objectivity.
Q: You say that life imprisonment should only be a fallback position. If this seems like a radical idea at first, then you haul off and cite the law.
A: What is radical is the notion that the president is above the law, and there's just absolutely no support for that proposition. The U.S. Constitution is very clear. After the president leaves office, he can be prosecuted for all crimes he committed while he was in office. Why do you think Ford pardoned Nixon? After Nixon resigned ... there was quite a demand in this country to prosecute him for Watergate-related crimes — I think they were, well, let's see, there was wiretapping, obstruction of justice, subornation of perjury — infinitely less serious crimes than what George Bush has done.
Q: A specific law relates to the way you prosecuted Manson.
A: It's the law of what they call "vicarious liability," that you yourself have not physically committed the act, but you're guilty for the act being committed by another party. If a person deliberately sets in motion a chain of events which he knows will cause — that's the key word — cause a third-party innocent agent, here Iraqis killing Americans, to commit an act, he is criminally responsible for that act. Under the law, he cannot immunize himself from criminal responsibility by causing a third party to do the killing. He's still responsible. So here's Bush then deliberately setting in motion a chain of events which he knows — unless he's going to argue, "Well your honor, I was planning a war without casualties." If he wants to sound silly, OK, but that would be rejected out of hand. He had to know that he was setting in motion a chain of events that would inevitably result in the death of American lives.
Q: If Americans don't have the stomach for impeachment, what do you think is the real chance of Bush being prosecuted?
A: There's a substantial likelihood as a direct result of this book, that Bush is going to end up in an American courtroom being prosecuted for murder, and the main reason I say that is because of the great number of prosecutors that I've established jurisdiction for in my book. Bush can be prosecuted for two crimes here: conspiracy to commit murder and murder. Under federal law, we're only really talking about one prosecutor, that's the attorney general back in Washington, D.C., operating through his Department of Justice. There are 93 U.S. attorneys throughout the country. Theoretically they could bring an action, but from a practical standpoint it's not going to happen. They're not going to do it without getting the consent of their boss in Washington, D.C. But on a state level, I've established jurisdiction and did a lot of work on it for the attorney general in each of the 50 states and the 950 approximately district attorneys in counties within those states to prosecute Bush for the murder of any soldier or soldiers from their state or county who died fighting in Iraq in George Bush's war. I'm offering my services in any way that the prosecutor sees fit, which would include all the way from being a consultant up to an including being appointed a special prosecutor.
So what I'm telling you here is that this is not just an academic theoretical legal treatise. This is a legal blueprint to bring this guy to justice. I'm very, very serious about it. At my age, I don't have time for fanciful reveries. I mean I've got a good reputation as a prosecutor, I think. And in the area of the criminal law I think I have credibility. I never in a million years would throw all of that out the window — because my legal reputation's on the line here — and talk about prosecuting Bush for murder unless I felt there was more than enough evidence to convict him and I was standing on very strong legal ground.
Q: What do you think are the chief arguments against you?
A: There's one argument of course, "Mr. Bugliosi, how can you prosecute Bush for murder? Congress approved going to war Oct. 11." What they don't know is that it's boilerplate law that fraud vitiates — meaning negates — consent. A consent induced by fraud is no good. Yes, Congress did approve, but they were deceived into war.
The main argument I seem to be getting from people is that the idea, the notion is crazy. How can you prosecute a president for murder when he takes a nation to war? It's the ones that haven't read the book. And I say, "Do you think the president's above the law?" "No." "So, why do you think it's crazy?" "Well, presidents go to war all the time and no one prosecutes them." "Yes, they go to war, but not under false pretenses."
Q: Tell me about the moment you decided you were going to do this.
A: I'll give you one kind of defining moment here in this evolutionary process, and it served as kind of the emotional underpinning of this book, and that's the fact that throughout this hell on earth that Bush has created in Iraq — over 100,000 people dying horrible deaths and hundreds of thousands of their survivors having nightmares over what happened to their loved ones — George Bush has smiled through it all. You look at a photo of Bush and six or seven other people smiling, he's got the biggest smile on his face.
Q: When Bush did the routine in 2004 of looking around his office and joking, "No weapons of mass destruction here," I thought, Hey, people died for that.
A: I know that, I know, he's just joking around. Listen, March of this year he shows up at a press conference to endorse John McCain and McCain is late. What does George Bush do? Big smile on his face, spontaneously he goes into a soft shoe tap dance routine to entertain the assembled media. This is a happy man.
Q: If there's no precedent for such a case, you also say there's no precedent for any of this whole scenario.
A: Yeah, there's never been a prosecution of an American president for murder, or actually for any crime that I know of. But that doesn't mean that the law is not already on the books. There's no federal or state statute that says that murder only applies to certain people, not to presidents or hairstylists or engineers, and only when the killing takes place in certain places like a car, a home or out in the street, not a battlefield. So the legal architecture is already there. And what I had to do was to see whether a president taking a nation to war fell within the existing legal architecture. No one has ever tried to do that before.
Q: Your anger throughout the book is palpable.
A: Yeah, I'm very, very angry at this guy. Very angry. And it may sound presumptuous, but I can tell you — and people will say, "He sounds like a loudmouth," whatever. I'm going after George Bush, OK? Now whether I succeed or not, that's a totally different issue. But I'm personally not going to be satisfied until I see him in an American courtroom being prosecuted for murder. I want an American jury to decide whether Bush is guilty or not guilty of murder, and if they conclude that he is, and they convict him of first-degree murder, then it'll be up the jury to decide what the appropriate punishment is.
Q: I think even people who don't agree with you can agree on one thing: Man, you've got cojones.
A: It's all anger. That's all it is. I don't want to see anyone even get away with one murder, OK? O.J. Simpson got away with two murders, and I was so outraged that I wrote a book, "Outrage, the Five Reasons Why O.J. Simpson Got Away with Murder." Shot up to number one on The New York Times.
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