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Valerie Plame Speaks--Finally--About CIA Leak Case

Okay, can we finally get rid of one of the Libby Lobby's key talking points--that Valerie Plame Wilson was not an undercover CIA employee? This should be one outcome of the House oversight and government reform committee hearing on Friday, at which Valerie Wilson spoke for the first time at length about the leak case.

From the start of this scandal, confederates of the Bush White House (and backers of the war) have tried to diminish the significance of the administration leak that outed her as a CIA officer (as both legal and national security matters). Conservatives insisted she was not a clandestine officer doing anything important and that her employment at the CIA was either no big secret or no secret at all. A brief sampling:

* On September 29, 2003, former Republican Party spokesman Clifford May wrote that the July 14, 2003 Robert Novak column that disclosed Valerie Wilson's CIA connection "wasn't news to me. I had been told that--but not by anyone working in the White House. Rather, I learned it from someone who formerly worked in the government and he mentioned it in an offhand manner, leading me to infer it was something that insiders were well aware of."

* On September 30, 2003, National Review writer Jonah Goldberg huffed, "Wilson's wife is a desk jockey and much of the Washington cocktail circuit knew that already."

* On October 1, 2003, Novak wrote, "How big a secret was it? It was well known around Washington that Wilson's wife worked for the CIA....[A]n unofficial source at the agency says she has been an analyst, not in covert operations."

* On July 17, 2005, Republican Representative Roy Blunt, then the House majority leader, said on Face the Nation, "This was a job that the ambassador's wife had that she went to every day. It was a desk job. I think many people in Washington understood that her employment was at the CIA, and she went to that office every day."

* On February 18, 2007, as the Libby trial was under way, Republican lawyer/operative Victoria Toensing asserted in The Washington Post, "Plame was not covert."

Anyone who has read Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War, by Michael Isikoff and me, would know (as we disclosed for the first time) that Valerie Wilson was the undercover operations chief for the Joint Task Force on Iraq of the Counterproliferation Division, a unit of the agency's clandestine operations directorate. (See my piece, "What Valerie Plame Really Did at the CIA," here.) Both the book and the article reported that she had traveled overseas--undercover--within the five years before her name appeared in the Novak column.

There was other evidence--official evidence--that she had been a covert officer at the CIA. When special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald indicted Libby in October 2005, he said that Valerie Wilson's employment at the CIA was classified information. (He repeated that at the trial.) And in a January 2004 letter to Democratic Representative John Conyers, the CIA noted that the Valerie Wilson's CIA employment status was "classified information."

Now comes the victim of the leak. Testifying to the committee, Valerie Wilson reported that the CIA still prohibits her from saying much about her CIA career. (The agency has held up the publication of her memoirs, claiming at one point that she cannot acknowledge working for the CIA prior to 2002.) But Plame was able to tell the committee, "I was a covert officer." She said she helped to "manage and run operations." She noted that prior to the Iraq war she had "raced to discover intelligence" on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. "I also traveled to foreign countries on secret missions," she said under oath, "to find vital intelligence." She said these trips had occurred within the past five years. She added that she could "count on one hand" the number of people outside the CIA who knew of her employment at the agency: "It was not common knowledge on the Georgetown cocktail circuit." She also explained that a covert officer at the CIA is "just like a general" who may spend time commanding troops in Afghanistan and then return to the Pentagon before heading off to another theater: "Covert operations officers, when they rotate back for temporary assignment in Washington, are still covert."

Before she testified, Representative Henry Waxman, the committee chairman, read an opening statement in which he said that Valerie Wilson had been a "covert" officer" who had "served at various times overseas" and "worked on the prevention of the development and use of weapons of mass destruction against the United States." Waxman noted that the CIA had cleared this statement. And during the questioning period, Democratic Representative Elijah Cummings reported that General Michael Hayden, the CIA director, had told him, "Ms. Wilson was covert."

Will Toensing, Novak, May, Blunt, Goldberg and others admit they got this wrong? Perhaps even apologize to Valerie Wilson for misinforming the public about her clandestine public service? At the least, they should stop repeating the canard she was not a covert officer. (Victoria Toensing, this means you.)

At the hearing, other aspects of the leak affair were discussed. Valerie Wilson noted she certainly didn't know if any of the administration officials who disseminated information about her (Libby, Karl Rove, Dick Cheney, Richard Armitage) realized she was undercover. But she added, "They should have been diligent in protecting me and other CIA officers." She explained that many employees of the CPD--where she worked--are covert, suggesting that Cheney and Libby (who both knew she was employed in that division) should have been careful in handling information about her.

One lingering question in the leak scandal is how much damage was done by the disclosure of her CIA connection. Her career as an operations officer was derailed. But were past or present operations blown? Specific sources and contacts endangered? Wilson testified that the CIA did a damage assessment but did not share it with her.

Wilson also addressed the issue of whether she dispatched her husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, on his February 2002 trip to Niger, where he concluded there was not much to the allegation that Iraq had been uranium-shopping there. For years, White House allies have tried to dismiss the importance of Wilson's trip by suggesting he was not qualified for the mission and had been sent (perhaps on a nepotistic junket) by his wife. They have pointed to a Senate intelligence committee report that suggested Valerie Wilson was instrumental in sending him. Before the House committee, she testified that she did not have the authority to dispatch her husband on such a trip, that a coworker had the idea to send Joe Wilson (who years earlier had taken on a similar assignment for the Counterproliferation Division), and that she had merely been asked to write a note confirming her husband's credentials. She also said that a colleague was misquoted within the Senate intelligence committee report (saying she had proposed her husband for the trip) and that this colleague subsequently was prevented by a superior from sending the committee a memo correcting the record. In other words, her husband's detractors have overplayed this angle. (By he way, much of this story was reported in Hubris.) Democrats on the committee said they would ask the CIA for a copy of the smothered memo.

After Valerie Wilson, who left the CIA in early 2006, finished, Waxman declared, "We need an investigation. This is not about Scooter Libby and not just about Valerie Plame Wilson." Waxman was right in that the Libby trial did not answer all the questions about the leak affair, especially those about the roles of Bush administration officials other than Libby. How did Cheney learn of Valerie Wilson's employment at the Counterproliferation Division and what did he do with that information? How did Karl Rove learn of her CIA connection? How did Rove manage to keep his job after the White House declared anyone involved in the leak would be fired? (Rove confirmed Armitage's leak to Novak and leaked information about Valerie Wilson's CIA employment to Matt Cooper, then of Time.) What did Bush know about Cheney's and Rove's actions? What did Bush do in response to the disclosure that Rove had leaked and had falsely claimed to White House press secretary Scott McClellan that he wasn't involved in the leak?

Representative Tom Davis, the senior Republican on the committee, seemed rather unhappy about the prospect of a committee inquiry and noted that Fitzgerald already had investigated the leak for years. Fitzgerald's mission, though, was to determine if a crime had been committed. Not all wrongdoing in Washington is criminal. Valerie Wilson's presence at the hearing was a reminder that White House officials (beyond Libby) engaged in improper conduct (which possibly threatened national security) and lied about it--while their comrades in the commentariat spinned away to distort the public debate.

The world's most famous CIA officer finally had her say in public. Her testimony showed that critical parts of the leak story remain unknown. Given that she and her husband are pursuing a civil lawsuit against the leakers (Rove, Libby, Armitage, Cheney and others), that she is battling the CIA to publish her memoirs, and that Waxman is considering mounting a congressional investigation, the tale of the CIA officer outed into the cold is not yet done.

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DON"T FORGET ABOUT HUBRIS: THE INSIDE STORY OF SPIN, SCANDAL, AND THE SELLING OF THE IRAQ WAR, the best-selling book by David Corn and Michael Isikoff. Click here for information on the book. The New York Times calls Hubris "the most comprehensive account of the White House's political machinations" and "fascinating reading." The Washington Post says, "There have been many books about the Iraq war....This one, however, pulls together with unusually shocking clarity the multiple failures of process and statecraft." Tom Brokaw notes Hubris "is a bold and provocative book that will quickly become an explosive part of the national debate on how we got involved in Iraq." Hendrik Hertzberg, senior editor of The New Yorker notes, "The selling of Bush's Iraq debacle is one of the most important--and appalling--stories of the last half-century, and Michael Isikoff and David Corn have reported the hell out of it." For highlights from Hubris, click here.

"Malfeasance in Office"

Henry Waxman knows a thing or two about the Constitution, and the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee displayed that knowledge at the opening of Friday's extraordinary morning of testimony by outed CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson.

While appropriate attention will be paid to the remarks by the woman whose identity was exposed in a pattern of leaks that appears to have been coordinated by Vice President Dick Cheney's office, what Waxman said at the opening of the hearing sent the essential message.

"It's not our job to determine criminal culpability," the congressman said of the committee he heads, "but it is out job to determine what went wrong and insist on accountability."

The founders established parallel tracks for dealing with government wrongdoing.

A judicial process has already begun to hold members of the administration to account for violating laws protecting the identity of Central Intelligence Agency operatives by outing Plame in an apparent attempt to harm her husband, former Ambassador Joe Wilson. Wilson had earned the administration's wrath by revealing evidence of manipulation of intelligence by an administration that was attempted to convince Congress to authorize an attack on Iraq.

But the essential process for dealing with government wrongdoing is that established in the Constitution as the authority of Congress to examine and sanction presidents, vice presidents and their aides.

The legislative branch of the federal government is fully empowered to check and balance the executive branch, especially in times of war and national crisis. Those checks and balances begin to be applied when Congressional committees open investigations and when the elected representatives of the people begin to demand accountability.

Plame left no doubt that wrongdoing occurred. "My name and identity were carelessly and recklessly abused by senior official in White House and State Department," she testified. "I could no longer perform the work for which I had been highly trained."

As Massachusetts Congressman John Lynch explained before initiating his questions, the pattern of leaks suggested to him that members of the administration engaged in "a deliberate attempt to destroy your status as a covert agent."

Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich got to the heart of the matter, asking rhetorically: "Why? Why did this happen to you? Was it an unintentional mistake or part of a wider pattern."

Holding a chart detailing the leaks that targeted Plame, Kucinich spoke of a "coordinated" effort to discredit her and her husband, and suggested that it was indeed part of a broader pattern of administration attacks on critics. The congressman then detailed a long list of moves by the White House to intimidate and punish former Cabinet secretaries, aides and others who had questioned the actions of the president or vice president.

California Congresswoman Diane Watson picked up on the critique, suggesting that there had indeed been "malfeasance in office" by members of the Bush administration.

Waxman's inquiry is in its early stages. But Watson's choice of the term "malfeasance in office" points to where this inquiry can – and almost certainly should – proceed.

In the early years of the American experiment, when the founders of the republic still served in the executive and legislative branches, the term commonly used to describe the wrongdoing that might meet the deliberately vague "high crimes and misdemeanors" standard established in the Constitutional provisions for the impeachment of presidents, vice presidents and other top officials was: "malfeasance in office."

James Madison used the term, or variations on it, frequently in his writing about executive power and its abuse. The first great impeachment trial of a national political figure, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Chase in 1804, was on the specific charge of "malfeasance in office."

Two hundred years later, the term "malfeasance in office" remains the standard reference phrase for official misconduct of the most serious sort. It is used in state Constitutions and has been specifically and frequently been used during impeachment proceeding against presidents – including those of Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton.

That a reference to "malfeasance in office" would be featured on the first day of a congressional inquiry that is charged with determining what went wrong in the CIA leak case and insisting on accountability offers at least a measure of hope that the process unfolding today may yet lead to the appropriate checking and balancing of an errant executive branch and its lawless leaders.

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John Nichols' new book is THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure forRoyalism. Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson hails it as a "nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic [that] combines 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.'"

Baucus'd in on Trade

A coalition of groups are organizing to oppose renewing President Bush's fast-track authority for international trade deals. Their main target of the moment is Senator Max Baucus, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction over trade issues. Baucus favors extending fast-track, albeit with additional environmental and labor protections and added Congressional oversight.

As I reported in a recent profile of Baucus, the Montana Senate overwhelmingly passed a resolution last month, by a vote of 45-5, urging their senior senator to oppose fast-track reauthorization. Subsequently, a group of seven US senators, led by Senator Sherrod Brown, asked for a meeting with Baucus to voice their concerns. "Years of job-killing trade agreements are taking their toll on workers and small business owners alike," Brown says.

A new progressive group, They Work For Us, began running radio ads against Baucus's position in Montana this week. "The Bush administration, surprisingly with Senator Max Baucus' support, wants the power to fast track these bad trade deals, costing Montana thousands of good-paying jobs and undermining our state's rights," the ad states.

Fast-track expires in June. We'll keep you on the legislative fight.

McCain? Hagel? No, Gordon Smith Emerges As GOP Maverick

Forget about John McCain and Chuck Hagel.

If you are looking for a maverick Republican in the Senate, consider Oregon Senator Gordon Smith.

Smith made headlines last December when he bitterly denounced the Bush administration's management of the Iraq war on the Senate floor.

"I, for one, am at the end of my rope when it comes to supporting a policy that has our soldiers patrolling the same streets in the same way being blown up by the same bombs day after day," said the moderate senator who faces reelection next year. "That is absurd. It may even be criminal. I cannot support that any more. I believe we need to figure out not just how to leave Iraq but how to fight the War on Terror and to do it right."

Predictably, Smith's use of the word "criminal" garnered a lot of attention.

Republicans were furious with the senator. Democrats were delighted on one hand – it is always good to have a member of the president's party unleash on the White House – but frustrated on another, since Smith poke at the president made it harder dismiss him as "just another Republican" going into the 2008 election season. (So far, no serious Democratic challenger has emerged for Smith who, in a poll of likely Oregon voters released this week, enjoyed a 57 percent approval rating among Republicans and a 55 percent approval rating among Democrats.)

Skeptics questioned whether Smith, who voted to authorize Bush to attack Iraq and generally supported the war until last year, was just spouting off or had experienced a fundamental change of heart. After all, aside from the "c" word, Smith's comments were not all that much more condemnatory of the White House's approach in the Middle East than those of Hagel, the Nebraska Republican who frequently compares the Iraq quagmire to the Vietnam war but who can never be counted on to vote for an exit strategy.

On Thursday, however, Smith distinguished himself by going beyond rhetoric.

When the Senate voted on a plan advanced by Senate Democratic leaders to try and begin a troop withdrawal from Iraq within 120 days in Iraq – with a goal of getting all U.S. troops out by March 2008 – Smith was the sole Republican to cast an anti-war vote.

The measure that was considered by the Senate needed 60 votes to pass. It got just 48 – those of 46 Democrats, Vermont Independent Bernie Sanders and Smith.

Two Democratic senators, Nebraska's Ben Nelson and Arkansas's Mark Pryor, voted with 47 Republicans and Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman to block the measure.

Hagel, for all his bluster, voted for the president's position.

McCain was too busy campaigning for president to show up for the vote.

Smith was the only Republican maverick in the chamber.

Smith explained that, while he was not entirely in agreement with the Democratic plan, he felt it was necessary to send an anti-war message.

"Setting specific dates for withdrawal is unwise, but what is worse is remaining mired in the quicksand of the Sunni-Shia civil war," said Smith. "It is imperative that we continue to pressure the Iraqi government to govern."

Notably, on the same day that he voted against the administration on the war, Smith also broke with the White House on the question of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales's future.

Gonzales is at the center of a burgeoning scandal over the firing of U.S. Attorneys who would not mount politically-motivated prosecutions. While President Bush is expressing confidence in his Attorney General, Smith said that Gonzales had lost the confidence of the Congress.

Asked by USA Today whether the embattled Gonzales should quit, Smith said, "For the Justice Department to be effective before the U.S. Senate, it would be helpful."

Smith's line was softer than that of New Hampshire Republican Senator John Sununu, who has called on President Bush to fire the Attorney General. But, in combination with his vote on the war resolution, Smith's statement on Gonzales gave him a better claim than John McCain or Chuck Hagel to status as the genuine independent thinker in the Senate Republican caucus.

McCain and Hagel can both be counted on for rhetorical flourishes when a television studio is available. But if you are looking for a Republican senator who is willing to break when it matters with the failed policies and the flawed appointees of a Republican president, Gordon Smith is the one to watch.

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John Nichols' new book is THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure forRoyalism. Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson hails it as a "nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic [that] combines 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.'"

Fitzgerald Turns Down Waxman in CIA Leak Case

Members of the Libby Lobby--those conservatives who have urged George W. Bush to pardon Scooter Libby--have decried special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald and derided the case he brought against Dick Cheney's former chief of staff as a political persecution. "The criminalization of politics," virtue cop/gambling addict Bill Bennett called it. This attack is the culmination of a campaign that has depicted Fitzgerald as a run-amok prosecutor who abused his power to follow an agenda.

Fitzgerald, though, has refused to cooperate with this campaign. Just ask Representative Henry Waxman, who was hoping to draw the prosecutor as a witness to a congressional hearing this week on the CIA leak case. Fitzgerald apparently had no interest in appearing at an event where he would have an easy opportunity to score political points and settle scores. More on that in a moment.

Fitzgerald has taken plenty of incoming from various quarters. For years, he has been pummeled by media rights champions for his decision to pursue reporters with subpoenas (which led to the imprisonment of then-New York Times reporter Judith Miller for 85 days). But Jack Shafer, media follower for Slate and once a denouncer of Fitzgerald and his methods, recently offered a post-verdict reassessment:

The press (including me) may have overreacted in regarding special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald as some sort of Torquemada, and our fears of a shredded First Amendment are starting to look a little overwrought.

Like other journalists, I had shared Shafer's concern about the precedent Fitzgerald established. (Conspiracy declared: Shafer is a friend.) But it's clear that there has not been a tremendous chilling effect, in that stories about CIA prisons, fired US attorneys, FBI abuses, and the like continue to appear. Official sources still leak--whether as whistleblowers informing the public of government misdeeds or as bureaucratic feuders looking to stab a foe in the neck.

So the portrayal of Fitzgerald as Wrecker of the First Amendment has been overblown, though--to be nuanced about it--he leaves behind a record that could be cited by other prosecutors to come. But what about the rightwing complaint that the Libby case was a political assault?

Fitzgerald claims to be an independent (in political party terms), and throughout the case he insisted the prosecution of Libby was not about the Iraq war or how the Bush administration had steered the country into the mess there. Libby advocates can dismiss these indicators; they can note it's easy to claim partisan independence (what's really in his heart?) and argue it was tactically wise for Fitzgerald to deny the case was related to the war. But there's more that undermines the conservative case against Fitzgerald.

At the trial, Fitzgerald chose not to call Dick Cheney or Karl Rove to the stand. If this prosecutor was looking to cause political damage, he passed up two grand opportunities. He could have grilled each for hours. With the vice president, he could have asked a series of potentially embarrassing questions about Cheney's involvement in the campaign to undermine former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, an administration critic. Cheney, according to Libby, was the first official to tell Libby that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA's Counterproliferation Division, which is a unit in the agency's clandestine operations directorate. Fitzgerald could have questioned Cheney about that and about Cheney's own efforts to gather information on the Wilsons and to leak selective pieces of intelligence to administration-friendly reporters (such as Judy Miller and the editorial page editors of The Wall Street Journal. He could have interrogated Cheney about the vice president's curious lack of curiosity when Libby volunteered to tell the boss everything about his involvement in the leak affair. Cheney, according to Libby, indicated to Libby he didn't want to know. (See here.)

Fitzgerald could have had a field day with the vice president. And he was prepared to do so--if Libby's defense attorneys were to place Cheney on the stand. But after Fitzgerald refrained from calling the vice president as a witness, Libby's lawyers decided it would be risky, if not foolish, to do so.

Ditto for Rove. With Rove on the stand, Fitzgerald could have asked Bush's top strategist about his role in the leak. (Rove leaked to Bob Novak for the column that outed Valerie Wilson as a CIA officer, and he also disclosed information about her to Matt Cooper, then of Time.) Fitzgerald could have also asked Rove why he told White House press secretary Scott McClellan that he was not involved in the leak, how he managed to keep his job (given the White House position that anyone connected to the leak would be dismissed), and what Bush had known about Rove's leak-related shenanigans.

Rove and Cheney on the stand--it would have been murder for the administration. Fitzgerald, though, didn't pull the trigger. Such restraint undercuts the charge he mounted a political prosecution.

After the verdict, Representative Waxman, the Democratic chairman of the government reform committee, wrote to Fitzgerald and asked the prosecutor to talk to him and Representative Tom Davis, the senior Republican on the committee, about meeting with and/or testifying before the committee regarding "your views and the insights you obtained during the course of your investigation." In a March 14 letter, Fitzgerald, who is also US attorney in Chicago, turned them down, explaining that the Libby case was still pending (due to possible appeals) and that he did not believe "it would be appropriate for me to offer opinions." In a polite brush-off, he suggested that Waxman review the material introduced during the trial. (Despite receiving regrets from Fitzgerald, Waxman is going ahead with the March 17 hearing featuring Valerie Wilson.)

Fitzgerald is no grandstander. He did not exploit the opportunity to inflict maximum damage on the Bush administration. He brought a narrow case against Libby and convinced a jury. Trying to distort the narrative, Libby's comrades claim that Fitzgerald's endeavor was pure politics. The evidence shows they don't have a case.

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DON"T FORGET ABOUT HUBRIS: THE INSIDE STORY OF SPIN, SCANDAL, AND THE SELLING OF THE IRAQ WAR, the best-selling book by David Corn and Michael Isikoff. Click here for information on the book. The New York Times calls Hubris "the most comprehensive account of the White House's political machinations" and "fascinating reading." The Washington Post says, "There have been many books about the Iraq war....This one, however, pulls together with unusually shocking clarity the multiple failures of process and statecraft." Tom Brokaw notes Hubris "is a bold and provocative book that will quickly become an explosive part of the national debate on how we got involved in Iraq." Hendrik Hertzberg, senior editor of The New Yorker notes, "The selling of Bush's Iraq debacle is one of the most important--and appalling--stories of the last half-century, and Michael Isikoff and David Corn have reported the hell out of it." For highlights from Hubris, click here.

Legislation Watch

Senator Bernie Sanders – founder and current member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus – wants to raise $100 billion to address the needs of ordinary Americans who are currently struggling, and another $30 billion to lower the deficit.

"It's very, very simple," Sanders told me, "if we have the guts to stand up to the wealthiest one percent of America."

Sanders has introduced the National Priorities Act to "expand the middle class, reduce the gap between the rich and the poor, and lower the poverty rate" – largely through rescinding the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest 1 percent of American taxpayers.

Speaking at a Senate Budget Committee meeting yesterday, Sanders said of a current Senate Budget Resolution for FY 2008: "While the Budget Resolution… is far from perfect, it is much more responsive to the needs of ordinary Americans than the President's….But I think that over the long-term, we can and must do much better in establishing our budgetary priorities than this budget does."

Sanders' National Priorities Act makes his budgetary priorities crystal clear: providing primary and dental care to millions of Americans and health insurance for children; full funding for veterans health care; increasing access to affordable childcare and fully funding Head Start; lowering property taxes by federally covering 40 percent of special education costs for kids; providing 330,000 additional Pell Grants and doubling the maximum allowable amount; creating 200,000 jobs by investing in renewable energy, public transit, and high speed rail; creating 180,000 jobs by constructing, preserving, and rehabilitating at least 150,000 affordable housing rental units; reducing taxes for 10 million working families by expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit; and reducing the deficit by $30 billion.

"We're going to make people discuss the idea that if we were to rescind the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest 1 percent, this is what we could do," Sanders said. Not surprisingly, there are still plenty of Democrats – especially in the Senate – who don't want to have that discussion at all. The Republicans have had great success in scaring the bejeezus out of Democrats that come election year, any tax increase on the rich will be misconstrued (through successful Republican spin – and Fox) as raising taxes on everyone.

"It's like Bush with the so-called ‘death tax,'" Sanders says. "Never mind that the estate tax only impacts the wealthiest 3/10th of 1 percent of our population – the Republicans have people thinking it's about small businessmen, family farmers, and ordinary Americans…. And in this case – with my legislation – they scare good people into thinking that it's ‘radical' to rescind taxes on the top 1 percent… even though it's been poll tested and the American people support it!"

Because of the "radical" label there are currently no cosponsors of this legislation and Sanders doesn't seem to be holding his breath for any sudden rush.

"I'm in this for the long haul," he says. "We're going to push Democrats to begin to take on the Big Money interests that have held sway in this institution for too many years."

This truly independent Senator from Vermont has done a great service in providing a simple yet powerful vision of what might be achieved with the right priorities and a dose of courage.

How to Handle a Lawless Attorney General

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales says he is not going anywhere.

Never mind that he is caught up in the biggest scandal involving a sitting Attorney General since the sordid days of the 192Os.

Never mind that the scandal that plagues Gonzales involves the same sort of concerns about the politicization of the Department of Justice and the federal bureaucracy that ultimately forced Richard Nixon from office in the 197Os.

Never mind that even Republicans are saying the firing of US attorneys who would not agree to launch pre-election prosecutions of Democrats has created "a crisis with the Justice Department"--to borrow a phrase from conservative Nevada Senator John Ensign--while Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee are beginning to echo the assessment of New York Senator Charles Schumer, who says that Gonzales has engaged in an "unprecedented breach of trust and abuse of power."

Never mind that Schumer well sums of the crisis when he says that Gonzales has "either forgotten the oath he took to uphold the Constitution or doesn't understand that his duty to uphold the law is greater than his duty to protect the president."

Never mind that Schumer and a growing number of senators and presidential candidates have called on Gonzales to step down.

Gonzales knows that calls for his resignation are no more consequential than complaints about his disregard for the rule of law when it comes to torture and civil liberties.

While he may in fact have violated his oath of office and placed himself in direct conflict with the Constitution, the Attorney General claims that he is accountable only to his president.

"I work for the American people and serve at the pleasure of the president," says Gonzales.

Bush, the Attorney General argues, will decide whether he will continue to run the Justice Department.

Gonazales ought to peruse his Constitution a little more closely.

The Attorney General does serve at the pleasure of the president, who nominated him to serve in the position two years ago and who, according to initial White House statements, "has all the confidence in the world" in Gonzales.

But Gonzales occupies the venerable position of Attorney General because the Senate, which is empowered by the Constitution to provide the president with advice and consent regarding Cabinet picks, consented to his becoming the nation's chief law enforcement officer.

The Congress has the power to withdraw that consent via the process of impeachment.

If Gonzales refuses to do the honorable thing and resign of his own accord, and if Bush refuses to cause his appointee to surrender control of the Department of Justice, Congress is fully empowered to force the hand of the Attorney General.

The Constitution is clear on this point. "The President, Vice President and all civil officers of the United States, shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors," reads Section 4 of Article 2.

Congress has a rich and healthy history of withdrawing its consent and aggressively challenging lawbreaking attorneys general. In 1923, after Republican political fixer Harry Micajah Daugherty turned the Department of Justice into a den of iniquity, the great Montana populist Senator Burton K. Wheeler led progressives in a fight to bring Daugherty down for protecting the oil profiteers involved in the Teapot Dome scandal and a host of other wrongs. The Attorney General and his allies in the Department of Justice fought back by securing an indictment against Wheeler on trumped up charges, but the progressive reformers stood their ground.

Allies in the House launched impeachment initiatives, and Wheeler and his compatriots in both the Democratic and Republican parties made it clear that the Senate was ready to try the Attorney General. In short order, Daugherty was forced to resign.

Two years later, after Harlan Fiske Stone had cleaned up the mess Daugherty created, Republican President Calvin Coolidge nominated corporate lawyer Charles Warren, another conservative political operative, to serve as attorney general. Prodded by Wheeler and his fellow progressives, a Republican-controlled Senate rejected the Warren nomination twice in a week.

Wheeler said his purpose in refusing to allow attorneys general to serve merely at the president's pleasure was to restore the rule of law and respect for a Constitution "from which we have wandered in recent times."

In this time when another attorney general has wandered from Constitutional fundamentals, the question is not: "Will Alberto Gonzales, of his own accord, do the right thing?" It has been confirmed, time and again, that he won't.

Nor is the question: "Will George Bush, of his own accord, do the right thing?" It has been confirmed, time and again, that he won't.

The question is whether there is a Burton K. Wheeler in this Congress, a member of the House or Senate who is willing to utter the "i" word with regard to Alberto Gonzales and to fight to restore the rule of law and respect for a Constitution "from which we have wandered in recent times."

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John Nichols' new book is THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure forRoyalism. Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson hails it as a "nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic [that] combines 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 Ambassador, the Iraqi, and the Penguin

An ambassador--his name happens to be Timothy Carney--an Iraqi, and a penguin walk into a bar. The bartender asks how the Iraqi will ever possibly pay for his drink. The ambassador replies:

"The point to make there is that Iraq is basically a rich country; that in fact there's been a successful effort to mightily reduce the debt that Iraq had incurred during the Saddam Hussein era. I would argue that as Iraq returns to its former levels of 3 million-plus barrels a day of oil exported, that you're going to find as much money as the country needs for the major portion of this effort at maintenance and sustainment as you've defined it."

Oh wait, I think I've already heard this joke before; but back in March 2003, it went like this:

A Deputy Secretary of Defense--his name was Paul Wolfowitz--an Iraqi exile, and a penguin walk into the House Committee on Appropriations. A Congressman asks how the invasion and occupation the Bush administration has just launched will be paid for. The Deputy Secretary of Defense replies that our "Second Iraq War" won't be "overly expensive for American taxpayers": "There's a lot of money to pay for this that doesn't have to be U.S. taxpayer money, and it starts with the assets of the Iraqi people… and on a rough recollection, the oil revenues of that country could bring between $50 and $100 billion over the course of the next two or three years… We're dealing with a country that can really finance its own reconstruction, and relatively soon."

Oh, and ambassador Carney, who is officially in Baghdad as the "coordinator for Economic Transition in Iraq," offered his gem on how the Iraqis could take over paying for the "reconstruction" of their country in a March 9th, 2007 Department of Defense briefing in the Iraqi capital.

When you hear jokes like this repeated almost four years later, head for the exits… fast.

The Last Anniversary?

March 19 update:
Click here to read hundreds of reports on this past weekend's antiwar events.

Monday marks the fourth anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq. The carnage and waste of the war are obvious to all. As Stephen F. Cohen writes in The Nation, "complete and immediate withdrawal is the only way to redeem our nation for its role the catastrophe." This is what antiwar groups are demanding in a series of protests, demonstrations, rallies and concerts this weekend.

There's a national March on the Pentagon in Washington March 17 and lots and lots of small, local actions taking place nationwide.

An understandable march fatigue has set in among many progressives, but it still seems important to me to mark this terrible anniversary with as much noise as possible. Yes, we've done it before and the war still rages on. And I'm personally glad that the entire antiwar movement, such as it is, hasn't put its energy into bringing as many people as possible to DC this month. Seems better to me at this moment to invest the resources in other forms of opposition and outreach. But I'm also pleased to see that there are at least 1,000 antiwar events planned for this weekend across the US.

In Fayetteville, NC, the home of Fort Bragg, a peace fair with live music from Holly Near and others will start at 10:00am on Saturday.

In Tulsa, there'll be a peace rally and vigil for Oklahoma's war dead starting at 1 pm on Sunday, featuring short speeches, a performance from the All Souls' Unitarian choir and an address by Marlin Lavanhar, All Souls' senior pastor.

In Nashville, musicians, speakers and marchers will gather on Saturday at 2:00 pm at Owen Bradley Park at 16th and Division for a rally and march to the Federal Building at Broadway and 9th Avenue.

Across the state of Maine, more than 100 rural towns will participate in a campaign called "From Every Village Green."

In New York City, marchers will assemble on Sunday at 1:00 pm at 35th Street east of Sixth Avenue for a walk along 42nd St. to Dag Hammarskjold Plaza.

The weather is expected to be bright and sunny across America this weekend. Click here to see what's going on near you.