A few days before the New Year, soon after the New York Times reported that Bush had authorized the warrantless wiretapping of thousands of Americans, I called Elizabeth Holtzman. I remembered that Nixon was charged in Article II of his bill of impeachment with illegal wiretapping for what he, too, claimed were national security reasons. And memories of Holtzman as a young leader on the House Judiciary Committee, during Watergate, made me sure she’d be a rigorous, thoughtful voice on this gravest of issues.
I reached Holtzman at her New York city law office. Anyone who knows Holtzman respects her level-headed, no-nonsense manner. That afternoon, however, her voice rose as she expressed outrage about the recent revelations of Bush’s wiretapping, and she was quick to drew parallels to Watergate-era abuses. But Holtzman hesitated before agreeing to take on this assignment, asking for a few days to pull together her material and arguments. A few days later, she sent me an e-mail saying I’d have it a few days after the new year.
As promised, Holtzman got us the piece. Over the course of a week, working with senior editor Betsy Reed, Holtzman revised the article–adding more facts, reviewing arguments with legal colleagues, and updating (for example, the Pentagon study disclosing that proper bulletproof vests would have saved hundreds of lives came out just days before press date).
So, today, some thirty years after Watergate, a leader in the impeachment of Richard Nixon–former member of the House Judiciary Committee Elizabeth Holtzman–returns to the national stage, with her cover story in this week’s Nation, to make the case for impeachment again: this time against President George W. Bush.
The article is especially powerful because of its sober tone, its rigorous argumentation and fastidious documentation. It is also moving because it is informed by Holtzman’s personal experience and political history.
“I can still remember the sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach,” Holtzman writes, “during those [Watergate] proceedings, when it became clear that the President had so systematically abused the powers of the Presidency and so threatened the rule of law that he had to be removed from office.” Holtzman understood then, and understands now, that impeachment is a “tortuous process”– the most extreme Constitutional act in a democracy, a “last resort.” Voting for impeachment, she remembers, was “one of the most sobering and unpleasant tasks I ever had to undertake…[And] At the time, I hoped that our committee’s work would send a strong signal to future Presidents that they had to obey the rule of law.”
“I was wrong,” Holtzman admits. And “now that President Bush has thrown down the gauntlet and virtually dared Congress to stop him from violating the law, nothing less [than impeachment] is necessary to protect our constitutional system and preserve our democracy.”
This is not a partisan argument. In fact , as Steve Clemons notes in his fine blog, The Washington Note, “there are many moderate Republicans and Democracts who are disgusted by many of the same issues that Holtzman documents.” And, as Holtzman argues eloquently, appealing to all citizens who care about our democracy: “A President, any President, who maintains that he is above the law—and repeatedly violates the law–thereby commits high crimes and misdemeanors, the constitutional standard for impeachment and removal from office.”
For all Americans who want to preserve and protect our democracy, please read and circulate Elizabeth Holtzman’s Nation article.
Use it to spearhead letter-writing campaigns to newspapers, to organize petition drives, and send it to your Representatives demanding that they support hearings and investigations into Presidential deceptions and abuses. And, as we head into this crucial 2006 election year, remember, as Holtzman points out, ” If a Republican Congress is unwilling to investigate and take appropriate action against a Republican President, then a Democratic Congress should replace it.”