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Edging Impeachment Back Onto the Table | The Nation

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John Nichols

John Nichols

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Edging Impeachment Back Onto the Table

The news from former vice presidential chief of staff "Scooter" Libby's trial on charges of obstructing a federal investigation -- particularly the revelation that Vice President Dick Cheney wrote a memo that effectively confirms his intimate involvement in strategizing about how to counter the inquiry into the Bush administration's politically-motivated outing of CIA operative Valarie Plame -- should slowly but surely edge the prospect of impeachment back onto the table from which Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi removed it.

Cheney is expected to testify in the Libby trial and, if a federal jury rejects his testimony as less than credible, that would seem to create an appropriate opening for members of the House who take seriously their oaths to protect and defend the Constitution to entertain a discussion of impeaching the vice president.

Intriguingly, Cheney almost found himself in the middle of the discussion this week.

Prior to CNN personality Wolf Blitzer's testy-if-not-particularly substantive interview with the vice president on Wednesday, the network's resident rabble rouser, commentator Jack Cafferty, presented a reasonably favorable feature on a move by New Mexico state Senators Jerry Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, and John Grubesic, D-Santa Fe, to get that state's legislature to petition Congress to impeach both Cheney and Bush.

The New Mexico impeachment initiative, one of several currently moving forward in state legislatures around the country, is designed to force members of Congress to take seriously the increasingly-popular demand that the president and vice president be held to account for misleading Congress over the Iraq war, supporting torture, engaging in illegal spying on U.S. citizens and using their offices to punish critics. "I am an American citizen that believes that the Constitution is a sacred document and that the Bush administration clearly does not share this sentiment," explains Grubesic, while Ortiz y Pino says, "We're simply doing what all elected officials should be doing. That is, listening to the voice of the people and trying to carry it out as best we can."

The New Mexico legislators have taken their cue from Thomas Jefferson, who in a manual of congressional procedures written more than two centuries ago affirmed that state legislatures could petition the House to impeach federal officials. The third president explained in Section 603 of his Manual on Parliamentary Practice and Rules of the House of Representatives, a volume that is still referred to by House leaders for precedents and guidance, that: "there are various methods of setting an impeachment in motion": 1) By charges made on the floor by a member of the House; 2) By charges preferred by a memorial filed by a House member; 3) By charges contained in a Resolution introduced by a House member; 4) By a message from the President; 5) By charges transmitted by a State legislature, or a grand jury; 5) By facts developed and reported by an investigating committee of the House."

Most of the media and the political class has been inclined to neglect -- or in some cases ridicule -- efforts by state legislators to move the impeachment process along. But U.S. Rep. Tom Udall, a Democrat who represents much of New Mexico, expressed respect for the initiative. "These legislators speak for many of my constituents," explains Udall, who says he plans to talk with supporters of the impeachment resolution and closely monitor its progress.

Cafferty was similarly respectful. "[Although] House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said impeachment is quote, 'off the table' not everybody is so sure about that," explained Cafferty. "Two New Mexico state senators have introduced a resolution calling on Congress to impeach President Bush and Vice President Cheney. The measure accuses Mr. Bush and Cheney of misleading Congress about the war in Iraq, torturing prisoners and violating Americans' civil liberties through the domestic spy program. One of the sponsors told a crowd of supporters 'We created a ripple. Your voice is going to turn it into a tidal wave hopefully.' Well the way it works is that a state of course, cannot mandate impeachment of a president but the impeachment charges can be forwarded to the House of Representatives. The newspaper in Santa Fe, 'The New Mexican' reports the measure already is running into trouble even though Democrats control both chambers of the state legislature, and that's because no Republicans support it. Senate leaders have assigned it to three different committee hearings, meaning that there are more chances to kill the measure before it ever makes it to a vote. But the fact that the issue of impeaching a sitting president is being discussed seriously in a state legislature like New Mexico's speaks volumes."

Cafferty deserves a lot of credit for breaking the silence on impeachment. Unfortunately, Blitzer failed to take the next step.How fascinating it would have been if, finally, a broadcast interviewer had asked Cheney: "Why do you think so many Americans believe you should be impeached?"

It's likely that Cheney would have dismissed that particular question.But would it not have been illuminating to watch his reaction if Blitzer had followed up with another query: "Do you think it might have something to do with the mounting evidence that you were involved in a conspiracy to thwart a federal investigation into efforts by your office to punish a critic of the administration -- the sort of action that, if I'm not mistaken, formed the basis for one of the articles of impeachment against your old boss Richard Nixon?"

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John Nichols' new book, THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure forRoyalism has been hailed by authors and historians Gore Vidal,Studs Terkel and Howard Zinn for its meticulous research into theintentions of the founders and embraced by activists for itsgroundbreaking arguments on behalf of presidential accountability.After reviewing recent books on impeachment, Rolling Stone politicalwriter Tim Dickinson, writes in the latest issue of Mother Jones, "JohnNichols' nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic, TheGenius of Impeachment, stands apart. It concerns itself far less withthe particulars of the legal case against Bush and Cheney, and insteadcombines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use ofthe "heroic medicine" that is impeachment with a call for Democraticleaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by thefounders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"

The Genius of Impeachment can be found at independent bookstores and atwww.amazon.com

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