Saturday, July 14, 2007

Some Thoughts on Impeachment

One of the disturbing things about Bush's lawyers is the irritating habit they have of combing through history to look for precedents to justify the president's and vice president's actions. Of course, some of the precedents that Bush's lawyers use were made unlawful a long time ago and in other cases they have to do some fancy topological pretzel-twisting to make their precendents fit the current era, but that doesn't seem to stop them. And it's disturbing that there are so many people in the media that take the Bush Administration's convoluted arguments seriously. So everything I say about impeachment should be taken with a grain of salt. In fact, we are, as a nation, in very dangerous, uncharted territory.

We as a nation do not like to see our laws broken, even by very powerful politicians. In particular, we do not like to see anyone set themselves above the law. But the tools for holding the president and vice president accountable to the American people are damaged. Most of those tools ultimately require the cooperation of the Bush Administration in one way or another. In the past, there were enough officials with integrity to see to it that the law was observed to its fullest. When President Nixon tried to sabotage the investigation of his White House, there was enough integrity in the Justice Department and enough pressure from both parties in Congress to resist Nixon and to continue the investigations, but it was a near thing at the time.

There are other legal alternatives (see John Dean's latest article) that do not require relying on Bush's Justice Department but the means of accountability mentioned the most often in recent months is impeachment. But impeachment carries a bad taste these days because of its association with political motivations, Congressional grandstanding and even vengeance. We are in uncharted waters and there aren't many places to look for leadership on the issue of accountability. But there are some if one cares to look around and think about these things. Two who come to mind, at least in terms of discussing impeachment, democracy, and the law, are John Dean and Bill Moyers. Crooks and Liars has a video on a Moyers' discussion of impeachment; below the video is a quick summary that quickly gets to the issue that concerns so many of us:
In this clip PBS’ Bill Moyers sits down with The Nation’s John Nichols and conservative constitutional attorney Bruce Fein from the American Freedom Agenda to discuss the crimes and abuse of power by George Bush and Dick Cheney and the need to impeach them both. While Nichols and Fein come from different ends of the political spectrum, they are in total agreement on this issue. Congress must put impeachment on the table because if they do nothing to stop Bush and Cheney now, we will see future presidents follow in their footsteps which would be a disaster for our country.

Maybe our next president will undo much of the damage that Bush and Cheney have done. But in 2012 or 2016, if we allow the nonsense of the last six years to go unchallenged, we could elect a resentful Republican or an over-zealous Democrat who might dangerously take things further than Bush and Cheney. It's not an abstraction. These kind of things have happened in other countries.

I don't know if impeachment is going to happen or not. I don't even know if it's wise for the Democrats to pursue impeachment in terms of what may happen in November 2008—and that has to be a consideration because if Congress is returned to the Republicans without the Republicans reforming themselves, we can only expect more trouble. The Republican Noise machine is alive and well and an impeachment proceeding might be just the thing to rejuvenate sympathy for Bush, Cheney and the Republicans. On some serious abuses of the US Constitution and violations by the Bush Administration, the mainstream media has been irresponsibly slow to acknowledge what is happening and the media stars, in particular, have often done a poor job of informing themselves. Clearly, there are obstacles. But, if it's possible to do impeachment proceedings right, it would be the responsible thing to do.

Impeachment, however, would not be easy to pull off. It's up to the House to indict or impeach a government official and that requires a simple majority. To convict a government official (and thereby remove that official from office), however, would require two-thirds of the Senate. The Senate is where the key problem would be. Even if the Democrats can get all their members and two independents to go along with conviction, it's very difficult to imagine getting 17 Republicans to vote for conviction. These are not the Republicans of thirty years ago. Republicans in the Senate had six years to hold Bush and Cheney accountable when they had the majority but they refused to do so. It would have taken only a dozen or so joining the Democratic minority to hold the president and vice president accountable simply in terms of legislation and oversight; but a dozen responsible and courageous Republicans could not be found. Political courage, in fact, is not in abundance in either party these days.

I'm in sympathy with people pushing for impeachment and it's clear the momentum for impeachment, in fact, is going to have to come from the people. I know when she first became Speaker of the House that Nancy Pelosi said impeachment is not on the table, but we've been learning a lot since then. It heartens me that Senator Barbara Boxer said recently that impeachment, in fact, is on the table. That doesn't mean it will happen.

One thing to keep in mind is that the Bush Administration has had plenty of time in the last six years to cover its tracks. Even when Democrats knew something was going very wrong over at the White House, they didn't have the authority and the power to gather real information and real evidence with the subpoena and oversight powers needed to properly gather the needed material. The Republicans in Congress did everything they could to impede and obstruct investigations and oversight, both traditional and perfectly normal functions of Congress. Give a couple of criminals four or five years to cover up their crimes, as the Congressional Republicans appear to have done, and they just may get away with it, particularly if they have a rather large retinue of lawyers. And there's another issue involving the duties of Congress. Clearly, the Bush Administration has broken any number of specific laws, including those involving habeas corpus and domestic surveillance. But again, without the kind of Congressional hearings that can clearly explain to the public what the problem is and why these things matter, it is difficult to pursue these issues along lines of impeachment (and in the current environment, we can't necessarily expect much clarification from the media). If impeachment is to take place in the next six to eight months, there's a lot of ground to cover. The public, at long last, knows something is very wrong with the Bush Administration but articulating what is wrong is going to take some doing even at this late date. And just because the public is having difficulty trusting Bush and Cheney, that does not mean the public will trust those bringing impeachment proceeding against the president and vice president.

I've been browsing some discussions on impeachment that one can find on blogs. Keep in mind that I fully believe the president and vice president are liars, that they launched a campaign of deliberate deception and that they lied their way into a war in Iraq, a war we did not need, a war, in fact, that seems to have no particular purpose (at least one that Bush will admit) after four years of White House recklessness and incompetence. If the evidence can be found and presented, the campaign of deliberate deception is clearly the most impeachable offense. But there's the catch. I suspect finding concrete evidence of deliberate deception is not as easy as it sounds (the Nixon tapes, for example, were vitally important as far as evidence that the public could understand and accept). I have spent probably hundreds of hours poring over various materials and there's no question in my mind that the president and vice president actively deceived the American people. But there's very little that is concrete. No matter what issue is used to bring charges against Bush and Cheney, impeachment will require more concrete and understandable evidence that we have seen so far.

Dennis Kucinich has offered documentation for the impeachment of Cheney
but much of the 'evidence' consists of press briefing transcripts. Impeachment will require much stronger material than that. Being wrong is not impeachable. Being incompetent is not impeachable. I worry that all Bush and Cheney need to do when it comes to the deceptive statements they made about Iraq is say that it's what they believed at the time, and that in 'their judgment,' what they said was reasonably true. Even Cheney's aggressive assertions of things he supposedly knew with certainty would require nothing more than a simple apology from Cheney to get him off the hook (one of the reasons the impeachment of Clinton was such a fiasco is that once Clinton apologized for his perjury, the impeachment proceeding had no real justification). Impeachment proceedings are going to require powerful evidence and very coherent arguments. And above all else, the proceeding have to be convincing to a majority of Americans. If impeachment is to succeed, there's a great deal of work to do.

I hope to say more on this in the coming weeks. My blogging time is limited these days but I think about these things all the time and there's a great deal more to discuss.

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Anonymous Terrell said...

They ought to be impeached. They deserve it. But, unless a "smoking gun" like the Nixon tapes is found, it is probably not worth the further division and distraction that it would cause. Let's just let them continue to create new Democratic voters and whip 'em good in the next election.

7:48 PM  

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