In 1998, House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, currently under indictment on corruption charges, proclaimed: “This nation sits at a crossroads. One direction points to the higher road of the rule of law…The other road is the path of least resistance” in which “we pitch the law completely overboard when the mood fits us…[and] close our eyes to the potential lawbreaking…and tear an unfixable hole in our legal system.” That arbiter of moral politics was incensed about the possibility of Bill Clinton escaping unpunished for his “crimes.”
Fast forward to December 2005. Not one official in the entire Bush Administration has been fired or indicted, not to mention impeached, for the shedding of American blood in Iraq or for the shredding of our Constitution at home. As Newsweek columnist Jonathan Alter put it–hours after the New York Times reported that Bush had authorized NSA wiretapping of US citizens without judicial warrants–this President has committed a real transgression that “goes beyond sex, corruption and political intrigue to big issues like security versus liberty and the reasonable bounds of presidential power.”
In the last months, several organizations, including AfterDowningStreet, Impeach Central and ImpeachPAC.org, have formed to urge Bush’s impeachment. But until very recently, their views were virtually absent in the so-called “liberal” MSM, and could only be found on the Internet and in street protests.
But the times they are a’ changin’. The I-word has moved from the marginal to the mainstream–although columnists like Charles “torture-is-fine-by-me” Krauthammer would like us to believe that “only the most brazen and reckless and partisan” could support the idea. In fact, as Michelle Goldberg reports in Salon, “in the past few days, impeachment “has become a topic of considered discussion among constitutional scholars and experts (including a few Republicans), former intelligence officers, and even a few politicians.” Even a moderately liberal columnist like Newsweek‘s Alter sounds like The Nation, observing: “We’re seeing clearly now that Bush thought 9/11 gave him license to act like a dictator.”
As Editor & Publisher recently reported, the idea of impeaching Bush has entered the mainstream media’s circulatory system–with each day producing more op-eds and articles on the subject. Joining the chorus on Christmas Eve, conservative business magazine Barron’s published a lengthy editorial excoriating the president for committing a potentially impeachable offense. “If we don’t discuss the program and lack of authority of it,” wrote Barron’s editorial page editor Thomas Donlan, “we are meeting the enemy–in the mirror.”
Public opinion is also growing more comfortable with the idea of impeaching this president. A Zogby International poll conducted this summer found that 42 percent of Americans felt that impeaching Bush would be justified if it was shown that he had manipulated intelligence in going to war in Iraq. (John Zogby admitted that “it was much higher than I expected.”) By November, the number of those who favored impeaching Bush stood at 53 percent–if it was in fact proven that Bush had lied about the basis for invading Iraq. (And these polls were taken before the revelations of Bush’s domestic spying.)
For those interested in some of the most compelling charges against the president, I offer a brief summary:
* Former Nixon White House counsel John Dean argued in his aptly-named book Worse than Watergate that Bush’s false statements about WMDs in Iraq–used to drum up support for an invasion–deceived the American people and Congress. This constituted “an impeachable offense,” Dean told PBS’ Bill Moyers in 2004. “I think the case is overwhelming that these people presented false information to the Congress and to the American people.” Bush’s actions were actually far worse than Watergate, Dean contends, because “no one died for Nixon’s so-called Watergate abuses.”
Lending credence to Dean’s arguments, the Downing Street Memo revealed that Britain’s MI-6 Director Richard Dearlove had told Tony Blair that “the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy” by the Bush Administration. John Bonifaz, a Boston-based attorney and constitutional law expert, said that Bush seemingly “concealed important intelligence which he ought to have communicated,” and “must certainly be punished for giving false information to the Senate.” Bush deceived “the American people as to the basis for taking the nation into war against Iraq,” Bonifaz argued–an impeachable offense.
* Rep. John Conyers argued as well that the president committed impeachable offenses” because he and senior administration officials “countenanced torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in Iraq” at Abu Ghraib, and elsewhere, including Guantanamo Bay and the now-notorious “black sites” around the world.
* The most compelling evidence of Bush’s high crimes and misdemeanors is the revelation that he repeatedly authorized NSA spying on US citizens without obtaining the required warrants from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance court. Constitutional experts, politicians and ex-intelligence experts agree that Bush “committed a federal crime by wiretapping Americans.” Rep. John Lewis–“the first major House figure to suggest impeaching Bush,” said the AP–argued that the president “deliberately, systematically violated the law” in authorizing the wiretapping. Lewis added: “He is not King, he is president.”
Meanwhile, Professor Jonathan Turley of George Washington University School of Law–a specialist in surveillance law–told Knight Ridder that Bush’s actions “violated federal law” and raised “serious constitutional questions of high crimes and misdemeanors.” It is worth remembering that an abuse of power similar to Bush’s NSA wiretapping decision was part of the impeachment charge brought against Richard Nixon in 1974. [This comparison was brought home in the ACLU’s powerful full page ad in the New York Times of December 22nd.]
And at the end of the year, John Dean weighed in on the parallels between the two Presidents. In his powerful article, George W. Bush as the New Richard M. Nixon: Both Wiretapped Illegally, and Impeachably, Dean documents how these new revelations add weight to the case for impeaching Bush: “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. …Indeed, here, Bush may have outdone Nixon: Nixon’s illegal surveillance was limited; Bush’s, it is developing, may be extraordinarily broad in scope….Reports have suggested that NSA is ‘data mining’ literally millions of calls–and has been given access to the telecommunications companies to ‘switching’ stations through which foreign communications traffic flows. In sum, this is big-time. Big Brother electronic surveillance.”
There are many reasons why it is crucial that the Democrats regain control of Congress in ’06, but consider this one: If they do, there may be articles of impeachment introduced and the estimable John Conyers, who has led the fight to defend our constitution, would become Chair of the House Judiciary Committee. Wouldn’t that be a truly just response to the real high crimes and misdemeanors that this lawbreaking president has so clearly committed?