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Putting Impeachment Back On the Table

When I interviewed John Conyers last spring, he not only predicted that the Democrats would win at least the House in the 2006 elections (probably the Senate too); he also told me his investigations into Bush’s impeachable offenses would continue, despite pre-election squeamishness of fellow Democrats.

Fearing the Republican fear-mongering machine (i.e. fear itself), would-be House Speaker Nancy Pelosi put the kabosh on talk of impeachment. She wanted discipline, that political synonym for uncritical assent and unanimity; Pelosi even told 60 Minutes that impeachment was “off the table.” The pressure was on Conyers, the rabble rouser in Congress, to toe the party line to help Dems get elected.

But his toes were too keen on that whole checks and balances thingy.

In a San Francisco Chronicle op-ed, Conyers–who has since become chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and who once worked on Nixon’s impeachment–wisely hedged his bets.

In order to appease what he called the Republicans’ “straw man tactics” (over horrors of impeachment proceedings) he promised only he wouldn’t “rush to impeach.” He certainly kept that promise. Though the press pounced on Pelosi’s taking it off the table, the one man who would have quite a bit of say over impeachment of the president, if not the most say, continued to gather evidence.

Things have grown yet more dangerous since then. Here’s a catalogue of just a few of the country’s growing woes (in case you’ve felt the understandable emotional need to tune out)…

The intelligence community admitted in the fall that Americans are less safe as a result of the war in Iraq;

Kerry’s campaign 2004 gripe about nukes floating around unsecured in former Soviet states is still in play, not to mention at home;

60 Minutes reported this week that Islamic jihadists are recruiting all over the web;

Seymour Hersh cites evidence that the US is even funding Al Qaeda in the Middle East now, or at least their Sunni sympathizers;

and Frank Rich wrote a few weeks ago in the Times that terrorists are planning to detonate a nuclear device inside the United States: “Michael Scheuer, the former head of the C.I.A. bin Laden unit, told MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann last week that the Taliban and Al Qaeda, having regrouped in Afghanistan and Pakistan, ”are GOING TO detonate a nuclear device inside the United States” (the real United States, that is, not the fictional stand-in where this same scenario can be found on ”24”).”

What the fuck?

Given the urgency of the situation, both the arrogance and persistent incompetence of the White House have gone so far beyond criminal something must be done–not from a moral perspective, but legally.

Isn’t it appropriate–or even required–now, finally, for Democrats to start talking again about impeachment? If it was disingenuous and irresponsible to promise to take Congress’s oversight role off the table before the election, now it seems cowardly, dangerous and unforgiveable.

As mentioned above, it’s not a matter of whether or not it’s smart strategy for the party. As Elizabeth de la Vega pointed out on, there is a real legal case for impeachment, or at least indictment, of the President.

And the oversight role of Congress should never have been politicized in the first place, which (one could argue easily) began with Clinton’s impeachment. Strictly from a legal perspective, the former federal prosecutor writes, the case against Bush et al is strong: by defrauding the public, just as Enron did, the Bush administration likely broke the law. Period.

One of the coups of the Bush-Cheney-Rove cabal (and their forbear-Republicans) has been to use PR to make everything from war… to war… to getting elected… to war… about strategy, not law. Did it work? is the question burned into our minds. The war was fine while it was working–or seemed to be those first few weeks. Now that it’s not, it will simply cost Republicans seats in government. This appeals to American pragmatism but undermines our love of law.

But calls for impeachment this week are coming not from Democrats in Congress, but from that northern utopia of Birkenstocks and organic farms, the state with the gall to pass its own universal health care legislation. I mean Vermont. On Tuesday, more than 30 towns there passed resolutions calling for Bush’s impeachment. A handful of these also passed resolutions calling for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq.

Well, ok, but what have they got to lose?

In the legislature, it was a Republican, Chuck Hagel, who raised the specter of impeachment, telling Esquire magazine that by no means, at least from his point of view, is impeachment off the table:

“The president says, ‘I don’t care.’ He’s not accountable anymore,” Hagel says, measuring his words by the syllable and his syllables almost by the letter. “He’s not accountable anymore, which isn’t totally true. You can impeach him, and before this is over, you might see calls for his impeachment. I don’t know. It depends how this goes.”

Hagel is playing politics here, wisely distancing himself from the most disastrous presidency of all time (given the stakes, how can anyone deny this?). Still… Chuck, it sounds good to me.

Under any other administration, in a dangerous age like ours, you don’t want your commander-in-chief tied up in impeachment hearings. But with this guy, you just want to keep him indoors and away from pointy furniture.

So, how about it John?

To read other blog entries by Joel Whitney or others at GUERNICA click HERE



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