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The White House Criminal Conspiracy | The Nation

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The White House Criminal Conspiracy

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Legally, there are no significant differences between the investor fraud perpetrated by Enron CEO Ken Lay and the prewar intelligence fraud perpetrated by George W. Bush. Both involved persons in authority who used half-truths and recklessly false statements to manipulate people who trusted them. There is, however, a practical difference: The presidential fraud is wider in scope and far graver in its consequences than the Enron fraud. Yet thus far the public seems paralyzed.

This article is being shared with TomDispatch.com.

About the Author

Elizabeth de la Vega
Elizabeth de la Vega is a former federal prosecutor with more than twenty years of experience. During her tenure, she...

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OK, everyone who has studied the unitary executive theory of the presidency, raise your hand. Anyone? A former prosecutor examines what's behind Bush's legal fig leaf.

In response to the outcry raised by Enron and other scandals, Congress passed the Corporate Corruption Bill, which President Bush signed on July 30, 2002, amid great fanfare. Bush declared that he was signing the bill because of his strong belief that corporate officers must be straightforward and honest. If they were not, he said, they would be held accountable.

Ironically, the day Bush signed the Corporate Corruption Bill, he and his aides were enmeshed in an orchestrated campaign to trick the country into taking the biggest risk imaginable--a war. Indeed, plans to attack Iraq were already in motion. In June Bush announced his "new" pre-emptive strike strategy. On July 23, 2002, the head of British intelligence advised Prime Minister Tony Blair, in the then-secret Downing Street Memo, that "military action was now seen as inevitable" and that "intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy." Bush had also authorized the transfer of $700 million from Afghanistan war funds to prepare for an invasion of Iraq. Yet all the while, with the sincerity of Marc Antony protesting that "Brutus is an honorable man," Bush insisted he wanted peace.

Americans may have been unaware of this deceit then, but they have since learned the truth. According to a Washington Post/ABC News poll conducted in June, 52 percent of Americans now believe the President deliberately distorted intelligence to make a case for war. In an Ipsos Public Affairs poll, commissioned by AfterDowningStreet.org and completed October 9, 50 percent said that if Bush lied about his reasons for going to war Congress should consider impeaching him. The President's deceit is not only an abuse of power; it is a federal crime. Specifically, it is a violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 371, which prohibits conspiracies to defraud the United States.

So what do citizens do? First, they must insist that the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence complete Phase II of its investigation, which was to be an analysis of whether the Administration manipulated or misrepresented prewar intelligence. The focus of Phase II was to determine whether the Administration misrepresented the information it received about Iraq from intelligence agencies. Second, we need to convince Congress to demand that the Justice Department appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the Administration's deceptions about the war, using the same mechanism that led to the appointment of Patrick Fitzgerald to investigate the outing of Valerie Plame. (As it happens, Congressman Jerrold Nadler and others have recently written to Acting Deputy Attorney General Robert McCallum Jr. pointing out that the Plame leak is just the "tip of the iceberg" and asking that Fitzgerald's authority be expanded to include an investigation into whether the White House conspired to mislead the country into war. )

Third, we can no longer shrink from the prospect of impeachment. Impeachment would require, as John Bonifaz, constitutional attorney, author of Warrior-King: The Case for Impeaching George Bush and co-founder of AfterDowningStreet.org, has explained, that the House pass a "resolution of inquiry or impeachment calling on the Judiciary Committee to launch an investigation into whether grounds exist for the House to exercise its constitutional power to impeach George W. Bush." If the committee found such grounds, it would draft articles of impeachment and submit them to the full House for a vote. If those articles passed, the President would be tried by the Senate. Resolutions of inquiry, such as already have been introduced by Representatives Barbara Lee and Dennis Kucinich demanding that the Administration produce key information about its decision-making, could also lead to impeachment.

These three actions can be called for simultaneously. Obviously we face a GOP-dominated House and Senate, but the same outrage that led the public to demand action against corporate law-breakers should be harnessed behind an outcry against government law-breakers. As we now know, it was not a failure of intelligence that led us to war. It was a deliberate distortion of intelligence by the Bush Administration. But it is a failure of courage, on the part of Congress (with notable exceptions) and the mainstream media, that seems to have left us helpless to address this crime. Speaking as a former federal prosecutor, I offer the following legal analysis to encourage people to press their representatives to act.

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