The Rev. Jesse Jackson is prodding the incoming Democratic Congress to take more seriously its duty to hold President Bush and members of his administration to account for engaging in abuses of power that overtly and aggressively affront the strict controls on executive power detailed in the Constitution.
“How do we hold presidents accountable when they trample these limits?” asks Jackson. “Presidents cannot be indicted. They are immune from civil lawsuits on the basis of their official actions. The only recourse in the Constitution is impeachment.”
The two-time candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination who remains an influential player within the party and in the broader progressive movement acknowledges that soon-to-be House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, has been saying that the question of impeaching the president is “off the table.” He recognizes that most of Washington’s political and media elites are ill at ease with talk of accountability in general and of impeachment in particular. And he admits to a measure of personal caution — rooted in memories of abuses of the impeachment process by Republican critics of former President Bill Clinton — with regard to the remedy recommended by the founders for the controlling errant executives.
Jackson is not saying that a new Democratic Congress should rush to impeach a Republican president.
“But in the current circumstances, the question isn’t merely rhetorical or partisan,” he argues in a provocative assessment of the impeachment debate offered in advance of the pro-impeachment rallies and forums that are being organized for Sunday by activists across the country.
“While in office, Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have asserted an extraordinary array of extra-constitutional powers,” he explains. “Bush argues that he has the right to declare war on his own. He claims he can designate any American an ‘enemy combatant.’ For those under that suspicion, he claims the right to wiretap them without warrants, arrest them without charges, detain them without lawyers, torture them without judicial review and hold them until the war ends. He also says that neither Congress nor the public has any right to review his decisions, or to gain access to the papers that he chooses to keep secret. Because Bush himself says the war on terror will last for decades, the scope of this assertion is staggering.”
Using powers that were never afforded by the founders to the executive branch, Jackson notes, “Bush and his men drove us into the war of choice in Iraq, distorting intelligence to gain public support and undermining our credibility across the world. His policies led directly to the disgraces of Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib. His assertions have trampled the rights of American citizens, as well as those from other countries. Lack of accountability squandered billions in taxpayer dollars on waste, fraud and abuse of major contractors in Iraq. The list goes on.”