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In light of the news that President Bush authorized a top Administration aide to use previously classified information as part of an orchestrated political attack on a prominent critic of the Administration, a radio host asked me over the weekend: "What will it take to get Republicans to break with Bush? How bad will things have to get before they realize that he's a disaster for the country?"
I answered that, in small but significant ways, Republicans have been breaking with Bush for some time now. When the President travels to states around the country to pump up support for his war, he often does so without the accompaniment of GOP members of Congress who find that they are otherwise engaged on the days that the Commander in Chief drops by their hometowns. While most leading Republicans refuse to admit as much publicly, they are putting more and more distance between themselves and a President whose approval rating has dropped to Nixon-in-Watergate depths.
When Congress voted recently on whether to extend the Patriot Act, some of the loudest "no" votes came from conservative Republicans such as Don Young of Alaska and Butch Otter of Idaho, who argued with Democratic US Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin that the legislation was an assault on basic liberties and Constitutional standards. As but a handful of Senate Democrats and key House Democrats such as Minority Whip Steny Hoyer and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chair Rahm Emanuel were lining up with the Bush Administration to curtail civil liberties, Texas Republican Ron Paul, perhaps the most consistent critic of the Patriot Act in the House, complained that "one prominent Democrat opined on national television that 'most of the 170-page Patriot Act is fine,' but that it needs some fine tuning. He then stated that he opposed the ten-year reauthorization bill on the grounds that Americans should not have their constitutional rights put on hold for a decade. His party's proposal, however, was to reauthorize the Patriot Act for only four years, as though a shorter moratorium on constitutional rights would be acceptable! So much for the opposition party and its claim to stand for civil liberties."
Perhaps even more significant than GOP opposition to the Patriot Act is the opposition from some of the most conservative Republicans in the House--including Paul, Walter Jones and Howard Coble of North Carolina, and John Duncan of Tennessee--to the war in Iraq. These Republicans, among others, are now among the most ardent and articulate Congressional critics of the Administration's policies in the Middle East.
Last week, Paul, Jones and a moderate Republican, Wayne Gilchrest of Maryland, joined with three Democrats--Neil Abercrombie of Hawaii, Ike Skelton of Missouri and Marty Meehan of Massachusetts-–in a push to get the House to hold a daylong debate on the war, declaring that: "Americans deserve an open and honest debate about the future of US policy in Iraq by their Representatives in Congress." While the debate demand of these Republicans stalwarts was stymied by their party leadership in the House, it is notable that House Republican leaders chose not to block a March 16 amendment by US Representative Barbara Lee, a Democrat from California, which put the House on record as opposing the construction of permanent US bases in Iraq. The decision not to fight Lee's amendment, which passed by an overwhelming voice vote, was a tacit acknowledgment by GOP leaders of the reality, pointed up in a recent University of Maryland Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) poll, that 60 percent of Republican voters oppose a permanent US presence in that country.
Indeed, while a predictable 80 percent of Democrats support moves to begin withdrawal of US troops from Iraq, according to the PIPA poll, a rather more remarkable 52 percent of Republicans now want Washington to begin bringing the troops home.
Although their President and Vice President and a few key Congressional leaders may still be clinging to neoconservative fantasies, Republicans who actually care about their country-–as well as Republicans who care about the political viability of their party at a time when a new Associated Press/Ipsos poll finds that Americans would prefer a Democrat-led House by the widest margin in recent history, 49 percent to 33 percent-–are indeed beginning to make meaningful breaks with Bush.
So the question of the moment is not "What will it take to get Republicans to break with Bush?" The question is: "What will it take to get Congressional Democrats to break with Bush?"
Despite mounting evidence not just of the President's unpopularity but of his reckless disregard for the law-–which was again confirmed by last week's news of former Cheney chief of staff I. "Scooter" Libby's testimony that Bush authorized distribution of previously classified data as part of a concerted effort to undermine the credibility of former Ambassador Joe Wilson, who had revealed that the "case" for going to war in Iraq was based on false premises-–most Congressional Democrats continue to resist calls to hold the President accountable.
An American Research Group poll conducted in March found that 70 percent of Democrats, 42 percent of independents and 29 percent of Republicans surveyed favor censuring Bush for authorizing wiretaps of Americans within the United States without obtaining court orders. Yet Feingold's motion to censure Bush has drawn just two Democratic co-sponsors in the Senate, Barbara Boxer of California and Tom Harkin of Iowa.
The same American Research Group poll found that 61 percent of Democrats, 47 percent of independents and 18 percent of Republicans are supportive of moves to impeach Bush. Yet Representative John Conyers, the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, has attracted just 33 co-sponsors for his resolution calling for the creation of "a select committee to investigate the administration's intent to go to war before Congressional authorization, manipulation of pre-war intelligence, encouraging and countenancing torture, retaliating against critics, and to make recommendations regarding grounds for possible impeachment." Most Democratic members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, along with Vermont Independent Bernie Sanders, have signed on. But House minority leader Nancy Pelosi and others in leadership positions remain aggressively critical of the initiative.
Where, at the very least, is the united Democratic support for Representative Maurice Hinchey's call for the expansion of Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald's investigation into White House leaks-–which produced the indictment of Libby and last week's revelation about the role of the President and Vice President-–to examine the motivations of all of those involved in the White House's political assault on Joe Wilson? Hinchey, a New York Democrat, has been on the case since last summer, when he got thirty-nine other House members to sign a letter he wrote to Fitzgerald calling for the expanded investigation. As Hinchey says, "Justice will not be served until all of these matters are fully addressed in the courts and in the Congress."
Hinchey's right. But the fundamental truth of American politics remains that justice will only be served when the opposition party moves, as a united force encouraged and supported by its leadership in the House and Senate, to demand accountability from this Administration. For most Democrats, that will demand something they have not yet been willing to make: a break from Bush. And Democrats had better be quick about making that break, unless they want their Republicans colleagues to beat them to the punch.
President Bush told Vice President Cheney to tell the vice president's chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, to disclose highly classified information regarding Iraq intelligence in order to try and discredit legitimate criticism of the administration.
What's this? The latest line from proponents of impeachment?
No, according to court records that became available Thursday, it is what Libby testified was the scenario that played out before he began contacting reporters in an effort to undermine the reputation of former Ambassador Joe Wilson.
According to a National Journal report on the documents: "I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby testified to a federal grand jury that he had received 'approval from the President through the Vice President' to divulge portions of a National Intelligence Estimate regarding Saddam Hussein's purported efforts to develop nuclear weapons, according to the court papers. Libby was said to have testified that such presidential authorization to disclose classified information was 'unique in his recollection,' the court papers further said."
The Journal report, which is based on both the court papers and interviews with senior government officials familiar with the investigation of Libby's actions by Patrick J. Fitzgerald, the specialprosecutor in the CIA leak case, suggests that a fast-and-loose approach to the release of classified information was authorized by Bush and Cheney before the war as part of an effort to "make the case" for the invasion of Iraq.
After the invasion, when Wilson raised questions about the validity of claims made by the president, the Journal report suggests that the gloves came off, and the weapon of choice was classified information.
"Bush and Cheney authorized the release of the information regarding the NIE (National Intelligence Estimate) in the summer of 2003, according to court documents, as part of a damage-control effort undertaken only days after former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV alleged in an op-ed in The New York Times that claims by Bush thatSaddam Hussein had attempted to procure uranium from the African nation of Niger were most likely a hoax."
The White House initial response Thursday was to refuse to comment on Libby's testimony, which has called into serious question the president's October, 2003, assertion that: "I don't know of anyone in my administration who has leaked. If somebody did leak classified information, I'd like to know it, and we'll take the appropriate action."
But if the president is not now in a position to take appropriate action, members of Congress are.
U.S. Representative Maurice Hinchey, D-New York, who has been the most determined Congressional watchdog with regard to the administration's misuse of intelligence information, says that, "If what Scooter Libby said to the grand jury is true, then this latest development clearly reveals yet again that the CIA leak case goes much deeper than the disclosure of a CIA agent's identity to the press. The heart and motive of this case is about the deliberate attempt at the highest levels of this administration to discredit those who were publicly revealing that the White House lied about its uranium claims leading up to the war. The Bush Administration knew that Iraq had not sought uranium from Africa for a nuclear weapon, yet they went around telling the Congress, the country, and the world just the opposite. When Ambassador Joseph Wilson, Valerie Wilson's husband, publicly spoke out with proof that the administration was not telling the truth on uranium, the administration engaged in an orchestrated plot, which now reportedly includes President Bush, to discredit Ambassador Wilson and dismiss any notion that they had lied about pre-war intelligence."
Hinchey, one of the rare members of the House who has made it his business to monitor and police abuses of executive powers, wrote the 1999 amendment to intelligence reauthorization legislation that forced the declassification of documents that revealed the role played by former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and other members of the Nixon administration in the illegal 1973 overthrow of Chilean President Salvador Allende.
The congressman is one of 33 cosponsors of Representative John Conyers' resolution calling for the creation of a select committee to investigate, among other issues, the Bush administration's manipulation of pre-war and retaliating against critics. That committee would be charged with making recommendations regarding grounds for possible impeachment, which would, of course, require a finding that high crimes and misdemeanors had been committed by the president and vice president.
Hinchey's says that Libby's testimony adds to the mounting body of evidence that rules, regulations and laws have been bent far beyond the breaking point.
"It is an absolute disgrace to the institution of the presidency that President Bush authorized members of his administration to disclose select parts of highly classified information from a National Intelligence Estimate in order to make political advances and gain public support," says Hinchey. "How dare President Bush and Vice President Cheney say they want to prosecute those who leaked the NSA domestic surveillance program when they themselves authorized the disclosure of information from some of the most highly sensitive documents in the government. The White House opposes leaks when the disclosed information hurts them politically, but supports leaks when information advances their political cause."
Hinchey has for months been urging Fitzgerald to officially expand his investigation to include an examination of the motives behind the leaks by Libby, focusing in particular on the question of whether the administration's intent was to discredit Ambassador Wilson's revelation that Iraq had never sought uranium from Niger or other African countries. If that is proven to be the case, Hinchey has argued, "President Bush and other top members of his administration knowingly lied about uranium to the Congress, which is a crime."
"It is my belief, as well as the belief of my 39 House colleagues who signed my original letter to Special Counsel Fitzgerald, that he has the authority and obligation to expand his investigation to investigate the lies about uranium, which are the true heart of this case," Hinchey explained Thursday, in a statement outlining his intention to step up efforts to press for the expansion of the investigation.
The congressman is laying down the line that members of Congress, be they members of the Democratic opposition or honest Republicans who are beginning to recognize the extent to which they have been deceived by Bush, Cheney and their aides, will need to embrace at a moment when the administration and its media echo chamber will be doing everything in their power to constrain Fitzgerald's investigation.
Says Hinchey: "The heart of the CIA leak case cannot and must not be ignored."
In November 2004, the village of Luxemburg, Wisconsin, voted to re-elect George W. Bush by a hefty margin of 701 to 431. Always a GOP stronghold, the community voted for other Republicans as well, even the challenger to popular Democratic Senator Russ Feingold, who was winning by a landslide statewide.
There's not much question that the majority of the 2,000 residents of this rural northeastern Wisconsin village of well-maintained homes, neat storefronts and large churches think of themselves as old-fashioned Midwestern conservatives.
So, by the calculus of the Bush White House and its echo chamber in the national media, Luxemburg ought to be just about the last place in the United States to express doubts about the President's handling of the war in Iraq. And surely, no national pundit would have predicted that the village would vote in favor of a referendum declaring: "Be it hereby resolved, that the Village of Luxemburg urges the United States to begin an immediate withdrawal of its troops from Iraq, beginning with the National Guard and Reserves."
Yet on Tuesday, the citizens of Luxemburg did exactly that, endorsing the immediate withdrawal referendum with a clear majority of their votes.
Luxemburg was not the only Wisconsin community that voted for Bush in 2000 and 2004 but voted against his war Tuesday. Up the road from Luxemburg, the villages of Casco and Ephraim voted for Bush in 2004 and immediate withdrawal in 2006. Across the state in northwest Wisconsin, the towns of Ojibwa, Draper and Edgewater, all of which backed Bush two years ago, voted against the war on Tuesday.
Their votes came as part of a statewide rejection of the war that saw twenty-four of thirty-two communities where Bring the Troops Home Now referendums were on local ballots vote for withdrawal. Added together, the referendums produced a resounding 40,043 to 25,641 vote against the continued US occupation of Iraq--producing an antiwar margin of 61 percent to 39 percent.
Apologists for the war--from the Republican National Committee to conservative talk-radio hosts and Fox TV commentators--are spinning like crazy to suggest that the referendums offer a reflection only of liberal, anti-Bush sentiment in college towns such as Madison, the state capital of Wisconsin.
The problem that the spin doctors are running into is that, while the Bring the Troops Home referendum won Madison by a thumping 68-to-32 margin, similar referendums won by a 70-to-30 margin in the well-to-do Milwaukee suburb of Shorewood and by a dramatic 82-to-18 margin in the community of Couderay in rural Sawyer County.
"These thirty-two communities were a representative sample of the state, with twenty-two of the thirty-two located in counties that George Bush won in the 2004 election," explained Steve Burns, Program Coordinator of the Wisconsin Network for Peace and Justice. "This is yet more evidence of a new antiwar majority in Wisconsin."
It was particularly notable that a Bring the Troops Home referendum won in a LaCrosse, the western Wisconsin city where Democratic and Republican presidential candidates--including Bush--have regularly campaigned over the years because the region around it is seen as a bellwether for national politics. Indeed, despite an aggressive campaign against the withdrawal referendum by LaCrosse County Republicans, the Bring the Troops Home measure won by a solid 55-to-45 margin.
It is true that referendums were defeated in eight cities, villages and towns. But only in two of those communities did the vote for immediate withdrawal fall below 45 percent.
The Wisconsin Network for Peace and Justice, the Green Party and other groups that plotted the campaign for these referendums -- and that received important assistance from new Liberty Tree Foundation and the national Voters for Peace initiative -- took a number of risks. They wrote resolutions with uncompromising "immediate withdrawal" language, and they put them on the ballot not just in traditionally liberal communities but in traditionally conservative cities, villages and towns. They bet that they could win the votes not just of liberals but of honest conservatives, and in so doing they secured a message that--for all the attempts to spin it away--cannot be denied.
By a wide margin, an honest cross-section of communities in a Midwestern "battleground" state--where Bush and Kerry wrestled to a virtual tie in 2004, and where the House delegation is split between four Democrats and four Republicans--have told Washington that it is time to bring the troops home.
When he was making his name in American politics, as then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich's political enforcer, Tom DeLay was confronted by fellow Republicans who urged him to embrace a bipartisan budget compromise. Borrowing an expletive from Dick Cheney, DeLay growled, "F--k that, it's time for all-out war."
DeLay's war on American democracy--which included not just radical gerrymandering of Congressional districts and the formalization of pay-to-play policy-making in Washington but the crude manipulation of the recount that made George Bush President--is now coming to a close. Under indictment, forced from the House leadership by scandal and faced with the prospect of defeat in November, DeLay has signaled that he will quit the House of Representatives that he has effectively run for the better part of a decade.
Histories of this dark passage in the American story will record that no political figure fought harder or longer to dismantle traditions of compromise and cooperation in Congress than DeLay, a man who targeted those with whom he disagreed as zealously as he had once gone after the vermin he chased in his previous career as an exterminator. As far as DeLay was concerned, the niceties of democracy were a cruel impediment to his new career path. So he went to war with the process itself on behalf of his own political advancement--and that of the paymasters in the industries he served more diligently than his Texas constituents, his conservative ideology or his Republican Party.
While it is surely the case that the Texas Congressman's career was in steep decline following his indictment on campaign-corruption charges and his forced resignation from the majority leader position, for so long as Tom DeLay remained within grasping reach of the levers of power in Washington, the prospect of a further dismantling of democracy remained all too real.
It is this truth that makes DeLay's decision to cheat the voters of his Texas district out of an opportunity to remove him from Congress cause for at least a measure of hope with regard to the harrowing circumstance of the American experiment. Yes, of course, it would have been satisfying to watch DeLay defeated on election day. But even the faint risk that this worst of all Washington players might have clawed his way back to another term in the House--and, with that, another chance, however remote, to again take charge of the chamber--was serious enough that the news of his decision to quit rather than fight marks at least a small turning point in the struggle to reconstruct the democracy that the man they called "The Hammer" so consistently and so brutally battered.
In Washington, where the press corps rarely chooses to examine the real political stories of the day, DeLay will be most commonly remembered for his scheming to warp the redistricting processes of his home state in order to gerrymander a half dozen Democrats out of seats they had won fair and square in districts drawn by a judicial panel based on the results of the 2000 Census. His scandalous machinations did more than shift the character of the state's House delegation; they created the opening for a courageous prosecutor, Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle, to win the indictments that hastened the end of DeLay's reign of error.
There will, as well, be appropriate if incomplete discussion of DeLay's dirty dealings inside the Beltway--his "K Street Project" to formalize links between campaign giving, lobbying and legislating, his thought-policing of the Republican Party, his sex-crazed impeachment of a President he hated for being popular, his creation of a Potemkin Speaker of the House in the form of the bumbling Denny Hastert--and a few commentators will venture the "bold" suggestion that the Texan might have done a bit of harm to the integrity of the governing process.
But DeLay's crudest dismantling of democracy will be little mentioned today, just as it was barely noted at the time that he brought the hammer down.
On the Wednesday before Thanksgiving 2000, when the eyes of the nation were fixed on the Stephen P. Clark Government Center in downtown Miami, where a Dade County canvassing board was reviewing 10,750 uncounted ballots in Florida's disputed presidential contest between Democrat Al Gore and Republican George W. Bush, a riot orchestrated by DeLay's top aides and allies and carried out by Republican operatives flown in from Washington stopped the count. In so doing, DeLay's Izod-clad minions assured that the Bush campaign's Florida co-chair, Katherine Harris, would, in her capacity as secretary of state, be able to certify a 537-vote "win" for the Republican when the recount deadline arrived. It was that certification that allowed Florida Governor Jeb Bush to sign a Certificate of Ascertainment designating twenty-five Florida electors pledged to his brother. The paperwork was immediately transferred to the National Archives, where it would eventually be cited by the US Supreme Court in its decision to award the Florida electoral votes, and with them the presidency, to Bush.
DeLay's role in the recount, though little reported and even now little understood outside the inner circles of the Republican and Democratic parties, was definitional.
Furious that the Florida Supreme Court had on November 21, 2000, ordered a real recount of disputed ballots in the race that would decide the presidency, the House Republican leader had issued a statement that declared: "I hope this misguided ruling will be vigorously challenged."
DeLay was not making an idle threat. He was delivering marching orders to the troops in his war on democracy.
On the following day, a crowd of Republican aides and lobbyists flown in from Washington swarmed into the Goverment Center, chased Democratic observers out of the building and began banging on the doors of the area in which the recount of the key county's ballots had begun. Leading the "rioters" in chants of "Stop the Count" was Tom Pyle, a policy analyst in DeLay's office. This "vigorous challenge" to the count proved successful. The three-judge panel of canvassers--who after going through only a handful of the disputed ballots had already identified more than 150 additional votes for Gore--was shaken. After a team of sheriff's deputies restored order, the judges asked for a police escort to return them to the recounting room. There, they voted unanimously to stop the count. The additional votes for Gore that had already been discovered were discarded. Vote totals from Florida's most populous county reverted to pre-recount figures.
David Leahy, the supervisor of elections for the country, admitted that the riot "weighed heavy on our minds" as the decision to stop the recount was made. US Representative Carrie Meeks, a Democrat in Miami, was blunter. "The canvassing board bowed under pressure," she said.
That pressure was applied by DeLay, who would say after the US Supreme Court locked in the results for Bush: "This is something I've been working on for twenty-two years. I mean, we got it."
For once, DeLay was being modest. While Jeb Bush and Katherine Harris and Antonin Scalia all played their parts, it was DeLay who brought down the hammer that stopped the recount process at its most critical point.
DeLay will soon be gone, and there is a good chance that he will be convicted of at least a few of his crimes against democracy. But his greatest crimes will go unpunished, at least for so long as the Congress Tom DeLay created and the presidency that he made possible continue to punish America and the world.
John Nichols's book on the Florida recount fight of 2000, Jews for Buchanan (The New Press), features a chapter on DeLay's manipulation of the process. Representative Jesse Jackson Jr. says, "If you care about American democracy, you must read this book."
"[The] president needs to be reminded that separation of powers does not mean an isolation of powers," former White House counsel John Dean told the Senate Judiciary Committee Friday. "He needs to be told he cannot simply ignore a law with no consequences."
Arguing in favor of U.S. Senator Russ Feingold's motion to censure President Bush for illegally authorizing the warrantless wiretapping of the phone conversations of Americans, the man who broke with former President Richard Nixon to challenge the abuses of the Watergate era told the committee that Bush's wrongs were in many senses worse than those of Nixon.
"I recall a morning – and it was just about this time in the morning and it was exactly this time of the year – March 21, 1973 – that I tried to warn a president of the consequences of staying his course. I failed to convince President Nixon that morning, and the rest, as they say, is history," Dean, who famously told Nixon that there was "a cancer growing" on his presidency, explained in testimony submitted to the committee. "I certainly do not claim to be prescient. Then or now. But actions have consequences, and to ignore them is merely denial. Today, it is very obvious that history is repeating itself. It is for that reason I have crossed the country to visit with you, and that I hope that the collective wisdom of this committee will prevail, and you will not place the president above the law by inaction. As I was gathering my thoughts yesterday to respond to the hasty invitation, it occurred to me that had the Senate or House, or both, censured or somehow warned Richard Nixon, the tragedy of Watergate might have been prevented. Hopefully the Senate will not sit by while even more serious abuses unfold before it."
Republicans on the committee attempted to dismiss Feingold's motion as a partisan gesture, rather than a necessary reassertion of the system of checks and balances that has so decayed since Congress ceded its oversight role in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Utah Senator Orrin Hatch was particularly aggressive in echoing Republican National Committee talking points, denouncing Feingold's motion as nothing more than an attempt to "score political points."
But Dean rejected that claim, as did Bruce Fein, a lawyer who served in Ronald Reagan's Justice Department and who joined Dean in testifying in favor of the censure motion.
"To me, this is not really and should not be a partisan question,'' said Dean, who served as chief counsel for the Republican minority on the House Judiciary Committee before joining the Nixon White House. "I think it's a question of institutional pride of this body, of the Congress of the United States.''
Feingold went even further, suggesting that Congress has a duty to hold president's to account for authorizing a secretive domestic spying program that operates without legal authorization, in clear violation the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
"If we in the Congress don't stand up for ourselves and the American people, we become complicit in the lawbreaking,'' Feingold said. ``The resolution of censure is the appropriate response.''
Predictably, Hatch and several of the more aggressive defenders of the Bush administration on the committee fell back on the "talking points" argument that it would be inappropriate to censure Bush while the country is at war in Iraq. "Wartime is not a time to weaken the commander-in-chief,'' growled the Utah Republican.
But Feingold rejected the suggestion that Congress should surrender its oversight responsibilities in wartime.
"Under this theory, we no longer have a constitutional system consisting of three co-equal branches of government, we have a monarchy," explained the senator, who added that, "We can fight terrorism without breaking the law. The rule of law is central to who we are as a people, and the President must return to the law. He must acknowledge and be held accountable for his illegal actions and for misleading the American people, both before and after the program was revealed."
Congressional Democrats have pretty much abandoned their Constitutionally-mandated responsibility to check and balance the excesses to the executive branch – so much so that the one Democrat who seeks to hold President Bush to account for ordering the warrantless wiretapping of American's telephone conversations accuses for party's leaders of "cowering."
So where is Wisconsin Democrat Russ Feingold finding support?
Among Republicans. Or, more precisely, among prominent alumni of past Republican administrations.
When the Senate Judiciary Committee convenes as extraordinary session on Friday to consider the Feingold's motion to censure the president for ordering federal agencies to engage in eavesdropping in violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act's requirement that judicial approval be obtained for wiretaps of Americans in the United States, the dissenting senator will call two witnesses.
Making arguments about the extreme seriousness of the warrantless wiretapping issue -- and the need for a Congressional response -- will be noted constitutional lawyer Bruce Fein, who served in President Ronald Reagan's Department of Justice as Deputy Attorney General, and author and legal commentator John Dean, who served at Richard Nixon's White House counsel before breaking with the president to reveal the high crimes and misdemeanors of the Watergate era.
Fein has testified before Congress a number of times since leaving the Reagan White House, most recently at a February 28, 2006, Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on President Bush's eavesdropping initiatives.
Dean's testimony will be somewhat more historic in nature. According to the Senate Library, the man who before joining the Nixon administration served as Chief Minority Counsel to the House Judiciary Committee, has not testified before Congress since 1974, the year that his former boss resigned in order to avoid impeachment.
For Feingold's Senate colleagues – defensive Republicans and cautious Democrats alike --- the testimony of Fein and Dean may come as a shock to the system. These veterans of Republican administrations past offer little quarter when it comes to the presidential wrongdoing of the moment.
Fein has argued, with regard to this president's penchant for illegal spying schemes, that: "On its face, if President Bush is totally unapologetic and says I continue to maintain that as a war-time President I can do anything I want – I don't need to consult any other branches' – that is an impeachable offense. It's more dangerous than Clinton's lying under oath because it jeopardizes our democratic dispensation and civil liberties for the ages. It would set a precedent that … would lie around like a loaded gun, able to be used indefinitely for any future occupant."
Dean has echoed those concerns, explaining that: "There can be no serious question that warrantless wiretapping, in violation of the law, is impeachable. After all, Nixon was charged in Article II of his bill of impeachment with illegal wiretapping for what he, too, claimed were national security reasons."
Dean does make a distinction between the misdeeds of the Nixon and Bush administration, however. He has argued for some time that the current administration's reckless disregard for the Constitution and the rule of law is "worse than Watergate."
After Karen Hughes stepped down as a counselor to the president in 2002, White House chief of staff Andy Card, in a rare moment of candor, told Esquire: "She's leaving when the president has one of the highest approval ratings on record. From here, it can only go down. And when it does, you know who they're going to blame."
Then, Card tapped his chest and added, "They're gonna blame Andy Card!"
As it happens, Card was wrong.
No one blamed him. Few even remembered that he was, technically, in charge of managing the Bush White House.
Card will forever be remembered for one thing: Wandering into camera range and then whispering into the ear of President Bush that terrorists had attacked the United States -- and for not, apparently, imparting the information with sufficient force to get the most powerful man in the world to respond with anything more than a quizzical look for the seven agonizing minutes portrayed in Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9-11.
As Bill Maher has suggested: "Watergate was outrageous but it still did not carry the possibility of utter devastation, like a President's freezing at the very moment we needed his immediate focus on an attack on the United States."
Well, Card was the senior aide, who had been placed at the president's side by none other than Father-in-Chief George Herbert Walker Bush, in order to make sure that George II did not freeze at moments such as this. And he failed, miserably. Not only did Bush fail to respond to the whispered news that "America's under attack" for the seven minutes seen on screen, he then spent another twenty minutes posing for "photo-op" pictures afterward.
Bush has taken his share of criticism for fumbling the moment, and then for flying off around the country on a wild goose chase that took him to air bases further and further from where Dick Cheney was actually running things. But Card, as the man the Bush family had positioned to assure that the president didn't fall apart in just these circumstances, was the real fumbler. He did not get the president refocused, he did not rise to the challenge.
As a result, the president was not the president that day. Nora Ephron summed things up well when she wrote last year that, "[If] you remember September 11, 2001 -- and I'm sure you do -- the President had no idea what to do, but the Vice President did. The Vice President took over. He didn't even consult with the President. He put the President on Air Force One and the President spent the day flying from one airport to another, which was something that even the President eventually understood made him look as if he wasn't in charge."
"Cheney was the dominant figure on September 11," observed James Mann, the brilliant analyst of U.S. foreign policy and policy makers who serves as senior writer-in-residence at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Even wire service reports noted that dominance, with United Press International suggesting that it "reintroduced nagging questions about who was realy in charge in the Bush White House." Those questions grew louder after Cheney delivered a minute-by-minute account of the actions he took to secure the nation during an appearance the Sunday after the attacks on NBC's Meet the Press.
Presidential historian Douglas Brinkley summed up the point of that appearance in an interview with UPI: "It was Cheney telling the world, 'Don't worry about Shrub, I know what's going on.' "
The question that history will ask with regard to Card -- the only question -- is this: As the senior aide at Bush's side on the most significant day in recent American history, did he fail to get the president to focus on the crisis at hand? Or did he do what he was supposed to do: Get a weak and unprepared president out of the way so that the real boss could take charge?
That's a question for historians to ponder.
In the end, however, no one will spend too much time on Andy Card's role. He won't be blamed, as he once feared, for the decline in Bush's fortunes. His will be, by and large, the forgotten service of a man who managed a White House where powerful players -- Cheney, Donald Rumseld, Karl Rove -- constructed a presidency of their own design, while the elected commander-in-chief vacationed and exercised and generally ambled through history.
The truth is that Andy Card may well have failed not just his president but his country by allowing power and responsibility to drift so far from the hands of the elected president. But such failures are the stuff of footnotes and sidebars, not of the main storyline. Indeed, if Card is remembered at all by the great mass of Americans, it will be for that bit role in a Michael Moore film.
Here's an interesting issue for the "liberal media" to ponder:
In January, 2004, when the Des Moines Register made an unexpected endorsement of John Edwards as the best presidential pick for participants in Iowa's Democratic Caucuses, it was national news. The Register, an extremely influential newspaper because of its wide circulation in a relatively small state, shook up the Democratic dance card. The Register's editors found themselves being interviewed on national television and radio programs, as political writers for daily newspapers across the country stumbled over themselves to assess the significance of this particularly influential newspaper's endorsement of a still relatively unknown senator. As it turned out, the attention to the endorsement was merited, as Edwards himself acknowledged that his strong second place finish in the caucuses owed much to the boost he got from one of Middle America's most historically powerful and respected publications.
So what would happen if the same newspaper were to come out this year with a strong editorial calling for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq? And what if that editorial represented a reversal of the newspaper's previous "stay-the-course position?
Would that be news? Would national media outlets that are supposedly trying to ascertain the changing sentiments of the nation with regard to the war, and that are already busy charting the 2008 presidential competition in Iowa, take notice of an important development in a bellweather state? Might it be considered significant that a large daily newspaper with a national reputation has joined what Editor & Publisher magazine's Greg Mitchell -- who has for two years been noting the lack of serious discussion about ending the war on the nation's editorial pages -- refers to as "the very thin ranks of those proposing an exit strategy"?
The answer, lamentably, is "no."
We know because the Register did endorse a withdrawal timetable in a major editorial published Sunday, March 19, in which the newspaper's editors argued: "The old notion of an open-ended commitment to 'stay the course' no longer makes sense. The nature of the conflict has changed. So must American strategy. A date certain to end the U.S. occupation should be the linchpin of that strategy -- not to abandon Iraq but to put its feuding factions on notice that the United States isn't going to hang around to baby-sit their civil war."
Yet, with the better part of a week gone by, the Register's wise words have barely been noted outside Iowa -- not even by the political reporters who keep every farmer in the state on speed dial in anticipation of the next round of presidential caucuses. (Google "Iowa presidential caucuses" and "200*" and you'll find several hundred articles just from the past few weeks.)
The point here is not to suggest that one Iowa newspaper's shift in stance on the war should dominate the national news. The point is to ask: Why no attention at all?
Why has the same mass media that provides 27/7 coverage of President Bush's latest repetitions of worn arguments for keeping U.S. troops in Iraq displayed no significant interest in the fact that the Register had broken ranks with the lockstep of major American dailies on what is supposed to be a volatile and divisive issue?
Here's one answer: Perhaps, despite all the whining from the White House and its many broadcast, print and digital echo chambers about how the "mainstream media" is too tough on the President and his war, most major news outlets that have taken positions tend to be skeptical but still officially supportive adherents of the president's approach -- as opposed to advocates for the sort of withdrawal timetable that has been advanced by Representative John Murtha, D-Pennsylvania, and that polls suggest the majority of Americans favor. (A recent Gallup Poll found that 54 percent of those surveyed favor withdrawing all U.S. troops from Iraq within a year.)
By endorsing a withdrawal timetable, the Des Moines Register -- the largest-circulation newspaper in one of the most closely watched political environments in the country -- distinguished itself from the vast majority of American daily publications. It also gave voice to popular sentiments that are still too rarely voiced in the major media of the land.
It should have been news. That it was not is one more indictment of the television networks and vast majority of major newspapers of a country where the discourse is far too narrow, and where the term "liberal media" is not merely inaccurate but comic.
Here is the Des Moines Register editorial, "Timetable to Leave Iraq," which appeared March 19, 2006:
The time has come for President Bush to do what he has resolutely insisted he would never do: Set a timetable to end the U.S. occupation of Iraq.
The old notion of an open-ended commitment to "stay the course" no longer makes sense. The nature of the conflict has changed. So must American strategy.
A date certain to end the U.S. occupation should be the linchpin of that strategy -- not to abandon Iraq but to put its feuding factions on notice that the United States isn't going to hang around to baby-sit their civil war.
What was originally thought to be a conflict involving a few insurgents trying to drive out American forces has morphed into something else. The insurgency is no longer about the American occupation. Iraqis are slaughtering Iraqis in a vicious cycle of suicide-bomb atrocities and revenge assassinations.
It¹s a harsh thing to say, but if Sunni and Shiite Iraqis insist on killing one another, let it be without American troops standing in the crossfire.
The United States has no vital interest in taking sides. It does, along with the rest of the world, have an interest in having a peaceful Iraq, but it is increasingly apparent that imposing harmony in a land of centuries-old tribal, religious and ethnic blood feuds is beyond the capacity of 130,000 U.S. troops, no matter how superb their performance and how great their courage.
The U.S. invasion produced chaos and unleashed ancient hatreds, as experts on the Middle East warned it would. President Bush chose not to listen, preferring to believe his own fairy-tale vision of happy Iraqis welcoming Americans. Now, in the words of the nursery rhyme, all the king¹s horses and all the king's men can't put Iraq back together again.
Only the Iraqis themselves can halt the madness.
The last hope for averting all-out civil war and the possible breakup of Iraq is if a national unity government can be established, but members of the ethnically divided parliament have been unable to form such a government. An announcement by the United States that our troops will pull out might help focus the minds of the Baghdad politicians. It would force them to stare into the abyss of a full-blown ethnic civil war with no American troops around to keep the country in one piece.
Once they're on notice of an American departure, Iraqi elected leaders and insurgents alike will have a powerful incentive to reach an accommodation.
Withdrawing U.S. troops does not mean abandoning the region. American diplomats should continue encouraging the formation of a unity government during a phased withdrawal, and the United States should remain obligated to help rebuild the country if order returns. Regardless of what happens, American air power should guarantee the security and autonomy of the Kurds in northern Iraq, who have achieved relative stability in their region and have been staunch friends.
The United States should maintain forces nearby and stand ready to confront any terrorist regime that might emerge in some part of Iraq. The international force must be maintained in Afghanistan, too, to prevent the return of the Taliban and keep up the hunt for Osama bin Laden.
But the military occupation of Iraq has achieved all it can. It's time to redeploy the troops, keeping in mind that the original mission has long since been achieved. No weapons of mass destruction in Iraq threaten America, and a dictator has been deposed. A democratically elected parliament is in place.
Whatever happens from here must be left up to the Iraqis themselves.
Tossed a softball question during Tuesday morning's press conference about whether he should be censured for ordering warrantless wiretapping of phone conversations "during a time of war," President Bush fell back on the lie that Americans must surrender liberties -- and the rule of law, itself -- in order to be made safe from terrorism.
The question, a virtually verbatim repeat of talking points circulated by the Republican National Committee, was about as generous a set-up as a president has ever gotten in a press conference.
"Thank you, sir," began Carl Cameron, who serves as Fox News' always-on-bended-knee chief correspondent in the court of King George. "On the subject of the terrorist surveillance program -- not to change the tone from all this emphasis on bipartisanship -- but there have been now three sponsors to a measure to censure you for the implementation of that program. The primary sponsor, Russ Feingold, has suggested that impeachment is not out of the question. And on Sunday, the number two Democrat in the Senate refused to rule that out pending an investigation. What, sir, do you think the impact of the discussion of impeachment and censure does to you and this office, and to the nation during a time of war, and in the context of the election?"
Bush was, needless to say, ready for the Cameron's inquiry.Grabbing hold of the "time-of-war" reference as the lifesaver it was intended to be, the president said, "I think during these difficult times -- and they are difficult when we're at war -- the American people expect there to be a honest and open debate without needless partisanship. And that's how I view it. I did notice that nobody from the Democrat Party has actually stood up and called for getting rid of the terrorist surveillance program. You know, if that's what they believe, if people in the party believe that, then they ought to stand up and say it. They ought to stand up and say the tools we're using to protect the American people shouldn't be used. They ought to take their message to the people and say, vote for me, I promise we're not going to have a terrorist surveillance program. That's what they ought to be doing. That's part of what is an open and honest debate. "
Of course, no prominent Democrat has ever suggested publicly or -- to the extent that reporting has revealed -- privately that it would be wise to do away with surveillance programs that are designed to thwart terrorism. What Democrats and Republicans have suggested is that the president ought to obey the law when ordering federal agencies to eavesdrop on U.S. citizens.
As Feingold, the Democratic senator from Wisconsin who raised the issue of censure last week, noted on Monday: "At his press conference today, the President once again failed to tell the American people why he decided to break the law by authorizing a program to spy on Americans on American soil without court orders. Instead of offering any defense of the program's legality, the President shamelessly played partisan politics by implying that Democrats don't want to wiretap terrorists. That is flat-out wrong, and the President knows it. Of course we should wiretap suspected terrorists, and under current law, we can. The question is why the President believes he needs to break the law to do so."
If Bush had acknowledged the legitimate bipartisan concerns about his spying program, and if he had pledged to obey the law in the future, it is doubtful that the issue of censure would ever have arisen.Bush knows this. Yet, despite his pronouncements Monday, he is doing everything he can to prevent an "open and honest debate" by murking things up with false charges and claims regarding his critics.
The prepped president used Cameron's question as a jumping off point for an even more surreal assault on the truth when he attempted to confuse Americans with regard to the recent Patriot Act debate.
"I did notice that, at one point in time, they didn't think the Patriot Act ought to be reauthorized -- 'they' being at least the Minority Leader in the Senate. He openly said, as I understand -- I don't want to misquote him -- something along the lines that, 'We killed the Patriot Act,'" said Bush. "And if that's what the party believes, they ought to go around the country saying we shouldn't give the people on the front line of protecting us the tools necessary to do so. That's a debate I think the country ought to have."
What the president conveniently failed to mention is that the Senate Minority Leader, Nevada's Harry Reid, voted with the vast majority of Senate Democrats this month to reauthorize the Patriot Act in the form favored by the administration.
While Reid and a number of Republican senators had earlier expressed support for efforts to temper some of the Patriot Act's most clearly unconstitutional components, they fell in line with the president when the votes were counted.
To their credit, a bipartisan coalition of House and Senate members refused to do back the Patriot Act in that final version, not because they want to take away the tools that fight terrorism but because they believe, as did Benjamin Franklin, that: "Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety."
What Bush, in a call for "open and honest debate" that was really a carefully choreographed attempt to create a false divide between supposedly tough-on-terror Republicans and supposedly soft-on-terror Democrats, is the fact that some of the most conservative Republicans in Congress -- including California Representative Dana Dohrabacher, the chairman of the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee of the House International Relations Committee, and Alaska Representative Don Young, the 3rd ranking Republican in the House who serves as a key member of the House Select Committee on Homeland Security -- sided with Feingold in opposing reauthorization of the Patriot Act in the form promoted by the Bush White House.
Arguing that "there are enough laws already enacted on our books today that we don't need to create further laws that infringe upon the constitutional rights of every Alaskan," Young said in announcing his opposition to the Patriot Act that, "I still feel this legislation was never fully thought out. We rushed to put together legislation that we thought would safeguard us from another terrorist attack. In the process we have created a bill that I feel takes away our constitutional freedom. Over four years have past and there have only been a few essential elements added to this bill. However, overall this is still a bad piece of legislation."
Those are the words of a prominent member of the president's own party. If George Bush was genuinely interested in "open and honest" debate," he would acknowledge that the issue is not whether Republicans or Democrats want to fight terrorism. The issue is whether it is necessary to disregard the Constitution in that fight. If Bush believes that his is the appropriate course then, to paraphrase the president himself, he ought to take that message to the people and say, "I promise that I won't be bothered by the Bill of Rights."
That, not his attempts to create a false discourse, would make George Bush a part of the "open and honest debate" he so disingenuously claims to desire.
With the third anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq approaching, Congress rejected reality once more and provided another infusion of funding to continue the open-ended occupation of that increasing disordered and volatile land. Nothing, not even the Bush administration's deception and intransigence, has done so much to continue the quagmire as the failure of Congress to check and balance the madness of President George.
Even as Iraq has become the "Bloody Kansas" of the Middle East, with a horrific explosion of sectarian violence that even some of the administration's most ardent apologists admit could well be a precursor to civil war, Congress remains the rubberstamp that it has always been – a fact confirmed Thursday by the lopsided House vote to meet another of the president's demands for more money to pay for his military misadventure.
By a vote of 348-71, the House approved a $91.9 billion supplemental spending bill, with the lion's share of the new funding earmarked for Iraq. Three years into a war that 60 percent of Americans now tell pollsters has not been worth the cost in lives and dollars that it has extracted from the United States, overwhelming majorities of both the Republican and Democratic caucuses in the House backed a measure that demands no real accountability of the administration – and that perpetuates a war that, according to a new Gallup Poll, 58 percent of Americans believe has had a generally negative effect on life in the United States generally.
The new money for the Iraq occupation comes on top of the $50 billion in supplemental war funding that the Congress had already approved for the current fiscal year, after spending $100 billion last year. And the administration says it will be back soon seeking another $50 billion for the coming fiscal year. All of this spending is in addition to the record $439.3 billion defense budget the president submitted to Congress.
This additional spending will push the federal budget deficit to a record $423 billion in fiscal year 2006, up more than $100 billion over the past year. That fact, along with concerns about the attachment of $19 billion for Hurricane Katrina relief to what started as a military supplemental, led roughly a dozen Republican fiscal hawks to oppose the measure – including Judiciary Committee chair James Sensenbrenner and Budget Committee stalwart Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas. It was also opposed by several Republicans who have rejected past war supplementals, such as Texan Ron Paul and Wisconsin's Tom Petri.
But the bulk of the opposition votes came from 52 Democrats, most of them members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, who believe as Ohio Representative Dennis Kucinich said before the vote: "After three years arrogance and incompetence, contempt and lies, death and destruction, Congress should say enough is enough and provide not one more dime for this Administration's ill-conceived, ill-advised, misguided and failed Iraq policy. Iraq has held three elections and is now a sovereign nation. Meanwhile, our troops are caught in the middle of a civil war that our own generals say cannot be won by military force. To funnel more money into this failed misadventure would serve only to throw good money after bad. Congress should not serve as a rubber stamp of this Administration's failed policies. Congress should reject this Supplemental request, along with the Administration's failed policy in Iraq, and work to bring all our troops home."
Missing from the list of those calling the administration to account were House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California; House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Maryland; and, of course, the militantly pro-war chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Illinoisan Rahm Emanuel.
Most voters won't have a chance to send a signal to Emanuel anytime soon. But, in Illinois's 6th Congressional District, Democratic primary voters will have a chance to choose on Tuesday between the DCCC chair's handpicked candidate, Tammy Duckworth, who does not live in the district, and grassroots Democrat Christine Cegelis, who lives in the district and who stunned analysts by winning almost 45 percent of the vote as the Democratic nominee in 2004.
Duckworth, an Iraq veteran, has a compelling personal story, but she has refused to endorse a clear timetable for bringing the troops home. Cegalis supports a timetable, saying, "I have opposed this war from the start. But revisiting what brought us to this disastrous point does not solve the problem. It is time for us to bring our troops home." Cegalis explains that: "The failures of this war must prevent the United States from making similar mistakes in the future. And the only way we can make sure that lesson is learned is to elect leaders who understand that lesson."
After Thursday night's vote in the House, it is more evident than ever that the inability to understand that lesson is not merely a Republican infirmity. And it is equally evident that the appropriate response to the crisis will require voters, not just in Illinois but nationwide, to follow their own good judgment – as opposed to the dictates of Democratic "leaders" in Washington.
That's the message of the new group Vote for Peace, which is asking voters to take a pledge before they go to the polls: "I will not vote for or support any candidate for Congress or President who does not make a speedy end to the war in Iraq, and preventing any future war of aggression, a public position in his or her campaign."
Visit the Vote for Peace website at www.votersforpeace.us and learn more about this nonpartisan anti-war campaign.