After months of revelations about his ham-handed attempts to politicize investigations and prosecutions by U.S. Attorneys and sections of the Department of Justice he heads, after his repeated refusals to cooperate with Congress and his deliberate attempts to deceive the House and Senate judiciary committees, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has invited impeachment to an extent rarely seen in the long and sordid history of executive assaults on the rule of law.
And Congressman Jay Inslee is answering the invitation.
The Washington Democrat moved Tuesday to introduce a resolution that directs the House Judiciary Committee to investigate whether Alberto R. Gonzales, Attorney General of the United States, should be impeached for high crimes and misdemeanors.
Inslee’s initiative is a serious one, and he is in many senses precisely the right member of the House to be making this push.
As a former prosecutor, he is well acquainted with the requirements of the oath that all House members swear to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign or domestic.” He is, as well, a member of the Democratic establishment in the House, a relatively moderate representative who is on good terms with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. But, most significantly, he is a representative from a state with an active impeachment movement.
For more than a year, the Washington for Impeachment campaign has demanded that Congress act to hold members of the Bush-Cheney administration to account for their high crimes and misdemeanors. Inslee has heard those demands, loud and clear, and he recognizes their broad appeal. Thus, his move to open an impeachment inquiry is proceeding on the precise lines that the founders intended.
Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, George Mason and their compatriots believed that impeachment should be an organic process, driven by public outrage over executive excess. They intended that the people would raise the call for accountability and that the federal legislators closest to the grassroots, members of the House, would take it up.
Pelosi — who today admitted that as member of her caucus, as opposed to its leader, she “would probably advocate” for impeachment — upset the organic process with her declaration last year that “impeachment is off the table.” She was speaking specifically about President Bush, but her words chilled efforts to hold any members of the administration to account.
The chill began to come off in a meaningful way when a maverick member of the Democratic caucus, Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich, introduced articles of impeachment against Vice President Cheney. Fourteen House members, most of them stalwart progressives who are made of sturdier stuff than Pelosi and her lieutenants, have agreed so far to cosponsor Kucinich’s resolution. They have taken the right stand and their numbers will grow.
But Inslee’s initiative is of a different character. He is no maverick. And he has attracted cosponsors from the mainstream of the caucus, including a number of former prosecutors. Initial cosponsors included Xavier Becerra of California, Michael Arcuri of New York, Ben Chandler of Kentucky, Dennis Moore of Kansas, Bruce Braley of Iowa and Tom Udall of New Mexico. And as word of the initiative spread, more members indicated that they would sign on, including Oregon Democrats Earl Blumenauer and Peter DeFazio.