Twenty-two members of the House have now signed on as co-sponors of the call by Representative John Conyers, D-Michigan, to establish a select committee of the Congress to investigate whether the Bush administration’s actions before and after the invasion of Iraq violated Constitutional requirements, statutes and standards in a manner that would merit impeachment of the president or vice president.

Conyers introduced the resolution last December, and only a handful of members agreed to cosponsor the measure before Congress went on its long holiday break: California’s Lois Capps, Maxine Waters and Lynn Woolsey, New Jersey’s Donald Payne, New York’s Charles Rangel and Texan Sheila Jackson-Lee. The list of cosponsors swelled after the long holiday break, when ten members from around the country — California’s Barbara Lee and Pete Stark, Hawaii’s Neil Abercrombie, Illinois’ Jan Schakowsky, Minnesota’s Jim Oberstar, Missouri’s William Lacy Clay, New York’s Jerry Nadler and Major Owens, Washington’s Jim McDermott and Wisconsin’s Tammy Baldwin — came back to Washington convinced that the American people are a good deal more interested than most DC insiders recognize in reasserting checks and balances on an administration that has spun out of control.

In the past week, six additional members have signed on: California’s Mike Honda and Sam Farr, Georgia’s John Lewis and Cynthia McKinney, and New York’s Carolyn Maloney and Maurice Hinchey.

There’s a reason why this measure is beginning to draw broader support.

In addition to seeking a review of whether the administration began planning to go to war before obtaining authorization from Congress, along with investigations of the White House’s manipulation of pre-war intelligence and encouragement and countenancing of torture, the Conyers resolution proposes to examine steps taken by the administration to retaliate against critics.

It is that final concern that could prove to be the most immediate threat to a member of the administration — now that National Journal is reporting that Vice President Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff, I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby, has told a federal grand jury that he was “authorized” by Cheney and other White House “superiors” to disclose classified information to journalists as part of a scheme to defend the Bush administration’s manipulation of prewar intelligence in order to make the “case” for going to war with Iraq.

No one who has followed the workings of this White House has ever doubted that Cheney — the administration’s most over-the-top proponent of the war — would turn out to be the ripest target for impeachment. But the leap from Scooter Libby’s charges, if they are confirmed, to actual articles of impeachment is not a long one.

An essential step in that process has already been taken. One of the cosponsors of the Conyers resolution, Maurice Hinchey, is calling for an aggressive Congressional inquiry into the issue, arguing that, “[The] revelation in National Journal that Vice President Cheney and other White House superiors authorized Scooter Libby to disclose classified information to the news media in order to defend the Administration’s use of pre-war intelligence on Iraq is alarming. That the vice president would put his own political gain before the safety and security of the American people by approving the release of classified information to the press warrants a full congressional investigation, including testimony from the vice president himself.”

Hinchey has been dogged in demanding that Cheney come clean about his role in the scandal that has arisen with regard to the administration’s leaking of classified information in an attempt to discredit Ambassador Joseph Wilson, who had raised damning questions with regard to the administration’s pre-war claims about the threat posed by Iraq.

In a statement released after the latest revelations about Cheney, Hinchey said, “While many of us in Congress had long suspected that Vice President Cheney played a central role in the leaking of Valerie Wilson’s name to the press, today’s news report confirms that there is merit to that belief. The leaking of Valerie Wilson’s identity as a covert CIA agent is a very serious crime that jeopardized national security and everyone who was involved must be held accountable and brought to justice. No one, including, Vice President Cheney, should be shielded from prosecution.”

Hinchey, who actually believes in a system of checks and balances where the legislative branch embraces its responsibility to hold the executive branch to account, argues that Cheney — who began his career as a White House aide in the administration of former President Richard Nixon — can no longer be allowed to stonewall this investigation.

“On November 3, 2005, I, along with Congressmen Conyers and Waxman, sent a letter to Vice President Cheney asking that he come to Congress to testify about his involvement in the CIA leak case. The vice president disregarded that letter and never responded. Congress and the American people deserve more than silence from the vice president about such a serious matter. Now is the time for the Vice President Cheney to step forward and answer questions, under oath, as to what his involvement was in the CIA leak case and whether he ever authorized the disclosure of classified information to the press in order to justify going to war in Iraq,” says Hinchey.

“I also renew the call I made in September with 40 House members for Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald to closely examine the motive behind the White House’s disclosure of Valerie Wilson’s name, which I believe was to discredit her husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, who was refuting the White House’s claim that Iraq had sought uranium from Niger. The National Journal article reports that Libby testified to the grand jury in the CIA leak case that he worked closely with Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley and White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove to determine what information the White House should leak to the press in order to gain support for the war in Iraq. It is clear that Libby, Hadley, and Rove worked together to twist, manipulate, and selectively release the intelligence on Iraq in order to gain public approval for the war. All those who leaked classified information and deliberately misled the American people and Congress into thinking Iraq had weapons of mass destruction must be brought to justice so the world can see that the United States holds those accountable who break the law.”

John Nichols’ book, The Rise and Rise of Richard B. Cheney: Unlocking the Mysteries of the Most Powerful Vice President in American History (The New Press) is available nationwide at independent bookstores and at Publisher’s Weekly describes it as “a Fahrenheit 9/11 for Cheney” and Esquire magazine says it “reveals the inner Cheney. The Rise and Rise of Richard B. Cheney includes an interview with Joseph Wilson and details the inner workings of the vice president’s office at the time of the Plame-Wilson leak.