Impeachment: “off the table”, but…

(Note: I just created a new category here–BushCo Death Watch. I have a feeling there will be many entries in it as this administration goes lame-duck. I retroactively added two more entries, seeing as the death watch has actually been under way since the elections four days ago and the fallout began almost immediately thereafter.)

I admit it, I was (and still am) mad at the Congressional Democrats for not wanting to utter the unspeakable I-word, even though there is more than enough to warrant proceedings. But here are a couple of heartening items I just had to share.

First, from Democracy Now, a prominent former Congresswoman and the author of The Pentagon Papers are spearheading a citizens’ drive for impeachment. Here, Elizabeth Holtzman and Daniel Ellsberg tell why they’re doing it, as well as the historic background of the Nixon resignation and the failed attempt on Bill Clinton:

AMY GOODMAN: What’s your response to the Speaker in waiting, Nancy Pelosi, saying it’s off the table?

ELIZABETH HOLTZMAN: Well, it’s very understandable. It was off the table to the Democrats in 1973, when the Democrats controlled the House and the Senate, and you had Richard Nixon as president.

AMY GOODMAN: He had won by a landslide victory in 1972.

ELIZABETH HOLTZMAN: Correct. He had won by a landslide, and impeachment was off the table then. Nobody — no Democrat was pushing for it. And, in fact, as the revelations came out, it still wasn’t on the table. It took the American people, after the Saturday Night Massacre, sending a clear message to the Congress —

AMY GOODMAN: The Saturday Night Massacre being?

ELIZABETH HOLTZMAN: The firing by Richard Nixon of the special prosecutor who was investigating him. It took that clear signal from the American people, who said, "Enough is enough. We are not a banana republic. A president cannot be above the law. He cannot stop an investigation into possible criminal behavior by him or his top aides. And we want Congress to hold him accountable." So it came from the American people. It didn’t come from the Congress.

It’s understandable that congressional leaders, members of Congress, will be very reluctant to take this enormous step to protect our Constitution and our democracy. But the American people still — we have a democracy. You saw what happened at the polls. Members of Congress will get it, if the American people want it.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Of course, in the Clinton scandal, it wasn’t a demand that came from the American people for impeachment, it was one that came directly from the Congress itself.


JUAN GONZALEZ: And, of course, that was the level of alleged crimes there was certainly not at the level that we’re talking about here.

ELIZABETH HOLTZMAN: Well, remember, under the Constitution, first of all, you don’t need a crime to commit an impeachable offense. It doesn’t have to be a crime. A high crime and misdemeanor is really an archaic British term that means an abuse of power. It’s a political offense, not a criminal offense.

President Clinton did very bad things, but they were not abuses of power. They did not threaten our democracy, and the American people got it. They understand what impeachment’s about, and that’s why they in the end supported the impeachment of Richard Nixon, because what he was doing was an abuse — involved an abuse of power. What he was saying was that he was above the law, and the American people said, "No, we don’t want that kind of abuse of our democracy."

And I think the same thing can happen again. Of course, you can’t have a top-down impeachment. You can’t have a partisan impeachment. If an impeachment happens, it has to be done, I think, the way we did it in Watergate, which was bipartisan, to include the American people, to have a process that was extremely fair, nobody could question the fairness of it.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain how it worked, because Nixon resigned. He wasn’t impeached.

ELIZABETH HOLTZMAN: Nixon resigned, because the process was so fair and so thorough and so honorable that he was going to have no support. Maybe one or two people would have voted for him to stay on as President in the House, and maybe one or two people would have voted for him in the Senate. He had lost all support in the Congress. And that’s why a delegation of top Republican leaders, including Barry Goldwater, went to see Richard Nixon and told him, "You have no support in the House or the Senate. You can go through an impeachment trial. You will be surely impeached in the House, and you will be surely removed from the Senate," because what happened was, all the members — our first vote on the House Judiciary Committee was a bipartisan vote. We had members of the Republicans, as well as Democrats, including very conservative Democrats, voting for impeachment.

Then, the smoking gun tape was released by order of the Supreme Court. That’s a tape that showed that Richard Nixon, from the get-go, had ordered the cover-up, an obstruction of justice. And once that tape came out, every Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, even those who had initially voted against impeachment, said he has committed impeachable offenses. So —

JUAN GONZALEZ: Let me ask you, —

ELIZABETH HOLTZMAN: — it was clear.

JUAN GONZALEZ: — John Conyers, who would head the House Judiciary Committee, certainly is not one who is afraid to begin these kinds of investigations. What was the relationship in the House Judiciary Committee then between the chairs there and the leadership?

ELIZABETH HOLTZMAN: Well, it was first the American people that galvanized Congress into action that lit that fire. That’s what happened. The House Judiciary Committee, the leadership had a key decision to make: was it going to be the House Judiciary Committee that undertook this or was there going to be a special select committee? That was the first, I think, strategic and important decision.

They said, "Okay, it’s going to the Judiciary Committee, because if we create a special committee, the American people will say we have stacked the cards. We’re going to take the existing committee and use that committee, and that’s the committee that — warts and all, brand new members and all — that was the committee that was given this assignment. But we never — I never was given any instruction from any member of the leadership or by the chair of the committee, as to how to vote.

AMY GOODMAN: Nancy Pelosi would be president — she’s third in line —


AMY GOODMAN: — that is, if President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney were impeached. But what are you talking about when it comes to Vice President Dick Cheney?

ELIZABETH HOLTZMAN: Well, my view right now is that I’m not sure we have the overwhelming evidence. That’s not to say he hasn’t committed impeachable offenses, just that we don’t have the same level of evidence that we have with respect to President Bush. On the illegal wiretaps, for example, it’s President Bush who repeatedly and admittedly signed these orders directing wiretaps in violation of the explicit language of the statute. We don’t have Dick Cheney signing that. I mean, that’s a very good example of how we have President Bush, but we don’t see Vice President Cheney’s fingerprints. That’s not to say he wasn’t part and parcel to this, but we don’t see that, so —

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to former Congress member Elizabeth Holtzman, who has written a book on impeachment. Daniel Ellsberg is also with us, perhaps the country’s best-known whistleblower. leaked to the press the Pentagon Papers, the 7,000-page top-secret study of U.S. decision-making in Vietnam that set in motion actions that would eventually topple Nixon. He recently published an article in Harper’s magazine about Iran. It’s called “The Next War.” How do you tie this in, what your campaign is now, which is not exactly impeachment, Daniel Ellsberg?

DANIEL ELLSBERG: I think the impeachment process, starting with investigations, is very important, but it’s not the only important thing right now. Actually, Maurice Hinchey introduced a bill on June 20th this year calling for Congress to cut off any funds, to deny any funds of the appropriation bill for an attack on Iran, unless that had followed, as in Article 1, Section 8, from a decision by Congress. And it was a very brief little discussion in the night of June 20th. Two hours later, there was a vote. He had 158 votes in favor of that, somewhat surprisingly. That is the way the Vietnam War was stopped. I don’t think they’ll stop the Iraq war very quickly that way. It takes a long time for a congressman to face the charge that he’s taking money away from t
he troops, no matter how long, and whether they should be there or not.

But the Iran War has not yet started, and a measure to prevent it before it starts has, I think, a lot more promise, and I think that approach with the new Congress has real promise. But even so, you would need, I think, a crucial aspect of that would be information from inside the government, and this applies both to the impeachment process and to measures like this. If you rely entirely on the administration cooperating by providing the documents you’re asking or the witnesses you’re asking, that’s not going to happen. They’ve promised already. I think it’s Cheney who said "a cataclysmic fight to the death," before they will let these documents get out.

Now, a process like that is what finally emboldened Congress or enraged Congress to the point where, in fact, they did begin to cut off the funds for the war and they did seriously begin to look at impeachment. If the President was going to totally subordinate their role, rule it out of the Constitution essentially, that finally got their backs up. That could happen here, as investigations start, on a variety of reasons, which should happen, including Cheney. You’ll get the facts on the table from leakers. The facts you’ll get will be unauthorized.

And now, an unauthorized disclosure, a leak, has a chance of being acted on by Congress, which in the last several years, people have gotten discouraged. They’ve put out the truth to Sy Hersh and to others, and we can all see, not much happens. Congress, the Republican committees are not interested in hearing that. They don’t want to act on it. Now, it’s a challenge. If somebody inside the government gives information either on criminal wrongdoing by their bosses, which bears directly, or, you know, terrible high crimes and misdemeanors, which bears directly on impeachment, if they give that to Congress and the press, Congress can’t — Congress now led by the Democrats cannot just ignore it, at least not if we let them. We can demand that they do act on it, and that’s a great inducement to get.

JUAN GONZALEZ: So, what you’re saying in essence is that another Daniel Ellsberg is needed, and then maybe even another John Dean, to come forward from the inner circle.

DANIEL ELLSBERG: Both of those and more are needed, and we need them in a more timely way than either of us did it. Dean knew about the burglary of my psychiatrist’s office years before he revealed it under pressure. I knew about what was happening in Nixon years before I finally saw the light, that it had to be given not only to Congress, which was sitting on it, but to the press. And I’m sorry it took that long, but when it comes to impeachment, say I have a full disclosure here to make, it was crimes that Nixon did against me, in part we learned by leaking, that were a major part of the impeachment process, that you were looking at, that he was committing those crimes.

If Dean had not revealed them in order to cop a plea himself in the process and not told the truth, they would not have called other people back to the grand jury and discovered they had enough basis for an impeachment. And likewise, if I hadn’t put the documents out, Nixon wouldn’t have been so afraid of me as to commit the crimes to shut me up.

I don’t suppose I’ve made Bush as afraid of me then, I’m sorry to say. If he has committed crimes against me, I don’t know them yet. If I have been listened in on warrant-less wiretaps — I imagine I have, but it may be a while before I learn it. But there are others who could supply the names of who — which Specter was not able to get from the President. Republican head of the Judiciary Committee was not able to get the names or even the programs. There are people in NSA who could tell him that. And if a Democrat now wants to hear that, which Specter didn’t, he can call those people, he can put them under oath, and he can hear their testimony, people like Sibel Edmonds, Russell Tice, and people in NSA, who know the crimes that have been committed.

Links to other Democracy Now interviews added; DN has been covering the impeachable offences of BushCo for as long as they’ve been going on, as they’ve happened. Several important people, sure to be key in the investigations to come, have come forward to them since the major media are not covering the stories.

And speaking of “investigations to come”, let’s hear it for Congressman Henry Waxman of California:

The Democratic congressman who will investigate the Bush administration’s running of the government says there are so many areas of possible wrongdoing, his biggest problem will be deciding which ones to pursue.

There’s the response to Hurricane Katrina, government contracting in Iraq and on homeland security, political interference in regulatory decisions by theEnvironmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration, and allegations of war profiteering, Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., told the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce.

“I’m going to have an interesting time because the Government Reform Committee has jurisdiction over everything,” Waxman said Friday, three days after his party’s capture of Congress put him in line to chair the panel. “The most difficult thing will be to pick and choose.”

Waxman, who’s in his 16th term representing West Los Angeles, had plenty of experience leading congressional investigations before the Democrats lost control of the House to Republicans in 1994.


Republicans have speculated that a Democratic congressional majority will mean a flurry of subpoenas and investigations into everything under the sun as retaliation against the GOP and President Bush.

Not so, Waxman said.

“A lot of people have said to me, `Are you going to now go out and issue a lot of subpoenas and go on a wild payback time?’ Well, payback is unworthy,” he said. “Doing oversight doesn’t mean issuing subpoenas. It means trying to get information.”

Subpoenas would be used only as a last result, Waxman said, taking a jab at a previous committee chairman, GOP Rep. Dan Burton of Indiana, who led the committee during part of the Clinton administration.

“He issued a subpoena like most people write a letter,” Waxman said.

Waxman complained that Republicans, while in power, shut Democrats out of decision-making and abdicated oversight responsibilities, focusing only on maintaining their own power.

In contrast to the many investigations the GOP launched of the Clinton administration, “when Bush came into power there wasn’t a scandal too big for them to ignore,” Waxman said.

Among the issues that should have been investigated but weren’t, Waxman contended, were the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal, the controversy over the leak of CIA operative Valerie Plame’s name, and the pre-Iraq war use of intelligence.

He said Congress must restore accountability and function as an independent branch of government. “It’s our obligation not to be repeating with the Republicans have done,” Waxman said.

The dreaded A-word–like the I-word, unspeakable for the last five years–is finally on the table.

And where the one goes, can the other truly be far behind?

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