The Impeachment of George W. Bush
on this page:
A Message from Ramsey Clark
Impeaching George W. Bush
Articles of Impeachment - Excerpt from a new book lays out four clear legal arguments that point to impeachment of President Bush as a necessary remedy for the violation of our Constitution.
Illinois bill to impeach
California bill to impeach
Vermont bill to impeach
Impeaching Bush, State by State
A Message from Ramsey Clark:
Hurricane Katrina, Another Impeachable Crime
The stunning human tragedy of Katrina makes the impeachment of President Bush more urgent. His priority is not poor people, but militarism to exploit the poor at home and abroad.
President Bush sent National Guard units to Iraq from Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi in a criminal war of aggression and military occupation. They were thus unavailable to provide emergency services in their own states, or protect their own families. He refused to return them from Iraq to save and serve their own people, instead only authorizing the return of some Air National Guard personnel to protect and repair equipment at an Air Force Base. These forces and the resources that they command should be used to meet people's needs, not for violence.
His tax cuts for the rich, huge increases in military spending and deliberate slashes in social programs, including those funds specifically requested for flood control and to strengthen dikes in New Orleans and the surrounding areas, and his complete failure to even consider emergency transportation for the known poor in the path of a level-5 hurricane, followed by days of failure to send federal emergency relief personnel to seek and save the many thousands whose lives were known to be threatened, who were pleading for help on television and who faced death, was criminal negligence at best, and a failure to faithfully perform his duties as President.
George W. Bush will never recognize the rights or human dignity of the immense and growing population of Americans - overwhelmingly African American and other minorities and elderly - living in Third World conditions here at home. They were the principal victims of Katrina, as they are of his failure to assure equal protection of the laws to all. Their plight and peril will worsen while President Bush remains President.
The only act that can stop President Bush from continuing his criminal war of aggression against Iraq and his arrogant criminal acts and threats against Cuba, Haiti, Iran, Korea, Syria, Venezuela and any country in his path is impeachment. Impeachment is an act already two years past due. The cost of delay is staggering: two thousand U.S. military deaths, ten thousand and more wounded, many thousands more disabled, more than 100,000 Iraqi deaths, several hundred thousand injured, nearly $200,000,000 in federal funds, and even greater damage to Iraq in shattered lives and smashed cities and infrastructure. The cost of delay, already staggering, is greater every day.
While proclaiming freedom his credo, George W. Bush has done more to destroy freedom and the human dignity which it nourishes than all other Presidents in our history. Who would have dreamed of Abu Ghraib, scores of prisoners murdered, assassinations and summary executions, Guantanamo, thousands imprisoned in the U.S. without Constitutional protections, or sent to be tortured in client states with impunity, all for a President and those acting for him? What prior President has proclaimed himself above the law, coerced more than 100 countries into bilateral treaties promising never to surrender a U.S. citizen to the International Criminal Court?
The world watches and wonders why, if the American people are free, they fail to resist the criminal violence of their President.
The only act that can redeem the United States in the hearts and minds of those still capable of forgiving and believing our government can change its violent ways is the impeachment of George W. Bush and the responsible officials of his administration before it is too late.
The time to begin a final drive for impeachment is now. Together, we are not helpless. Power is in the people united for peace. Perseverance through the midterm Congressional elections in November 2006 can force incumbent members of the House of Representatives to impeach President Bush or face defeat. Failing that, it can restore integrity and honor to the President's oath to "preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."
The Constitution, written with the abuses of King George III painfully in mind, is unequivocal in the action required for criminal conduct of civil officers of the United States:
"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." Article II, Section 4.
The Nuremberg Judgment proclaimed war of aggression "the Supreme international crime." World War II was comprised of wars of aggression. President Bush boasted assassination and summary executions in his 2003 State of the Union message.
We need your help. Vote to Impeach. Click to ImpeachBush.org
Ramsey Clark (former Attorney General of the United States)
return to page index
Impeaching George W. Bush
By Onnesha Roychoudhuri, AlterNet
Posted on March 6, 2006, Printed on March 7, 2006
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/32977/
Until recently, talk of ousting President George W. Bush has proved little more than a distant rumbling. For too long, impeachment has been deemed implausible. It’s not going to happen with a Republican Congress, so the argument goes. Not with the president finishing his second term, not while we're at war.
But the distant rumbling is growing louder by the day, creating a resonant echo that is rapidly taking root in public discourse. “Impeach Him,” reads the cover of this month’s Harper’s magazine. And in a public forum in New York City last week, journalists, lawyers, and political figures came together to discuss the case against our president.
Since September 11th, 2001, there has been no shortage of news regarding this administration’s involvement in torture, lies, secrecy and obstruction of the law. Yet, there has been little discussion in the mainstream media of holding those in power accountable for the actions so diligently catalogued by the press. It is a conspicuous vacuum that helps to explain why calls for impeachment are rapidly gaining currency.
In fact, the case for the impeachment of President Bush is arguably the strongest in American history. The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) makes this amply clear in its recent book, a concise indictment of President Bush that lays out four clear legal arguments that point to impeachment as a necessary remedy for the gross violation of our Constitution. The Articles of Impeachment Against George W. Bush covers illegal wiretapping, torture, rendition, detention and the Iraq war. An appendix compares the impeachment proceedings of Andrew Johnson, Nixon and Clinton to the comparatively more powerful case against Bush.
Lawyers at the CCR, indeed lawyers throughout the world, have been embroiled in litigation with the administration for years. But the administration has consistently demonstrated disdain for the law, with the president effectively thumbing his nose at the Supreme Court, Congress, and the American people. It is this reality that led Michael Ratner and his fellow lawyers at the CCR to provide a clear argument for impeachment to the American people and Congress.
The piecemeal battles that journalists, lawyers and activists fight every day are a testament to the respect many Americans still have for the rule of law. But arguments against the president’s violation of the Constitution have not resulted in any reform or change in behavior. Public shaming and the threat of legal action often work to keep politicians in line. But President Bush is vocally disinterested in the public’s approval of his agenda. Furthermore, he views the law, as evidenced by torture and detainee litigation, as mutable suggestion. For such a president, legal recourse is largely ineffectual -- unless Americans and Congress reclaim the power of the law to remove the offending parties.
As Ratner told AlterNet, "While our battles against illegal wiretaps and Guantanamo are critical for trying to get back legality, until we get rid of what I consider a criminal administration, we will not be able to go back to even a semblance of civil liberties and human rights."
The Articles of Impeachment make clear that this is no longer just about President Bush. Rather, it is about preventing the executive branch from obtaining carte blanche to disregard the two other branches of government. This is a paradigm shift that has already gained substantial footing through this administration's steady erosion of legal precedent.
There is no shortage of diligent documentation of this president's violation of laws and misleading of the public -- from the 1,284-page Torture Papers to congressman John Conyers' 273-page compilation [PDF] of the lies leading to the Iraq war. But behind this incredible ongoing compendium of evidence against President Bush lurks the realization that publicly pointing to criminal behavior is not synonymous with bringing it to an end.
It is the ultimate case of missing the forest for the trees. Behind this massive body of evidence, behind each new report of this president’s transgressions of the law, is the threat of the one and only story that Americans will read for the rest of this presidency, and presidencies to come: The abuse of power, and the destruction of our Constitution.
As Ratner notes, "We need to be as radical as reality, and reality right now is very, very radical." Indeed, after reading through the Articles of Impeachment, readers will find that the only thing radical about impeaching this president is simply that it has not yet happened.
AlterNet spoke with Michael Ratner to discuss the specifics behind the legal arguments for impeachment, and the need for popular protest to restore the rule of law and force Congress to hold this administration accountable.
Onnesha Roychoudhuri: Can you briefly describe the articles of impeachment?
Michael Ratner: We've drafted four articles: Article I concerns the warrantless wiretapping of Americans in the U.S. This constitutes a violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) which prohibits and makes criminal any wiretapping without a warrant. The president has said that he's doing this, and it's a criminal charge that can get you five years in jail for each count. Additionally, it violates the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution, which prohibits unlawful searches and seizures -- this includes electronic surveillance. On a deeper level, these wiretaps deny the efficacy and validity of a congressional act.
Article Two of the impeachment of Richard Nixon is very similar. Nixon went outside of Congressional law and engaged in warrantless wiretapping against domestic dissidents and others who opposed the war in Vietnam. So, this article has a historical relation, obviously solid.
Article II is the falsifications that were used to justify the Iraq war. That's the article that congressman John Conyers has really focused on -- he's written an extensive report that documents this. You reference any particular day and the administration was making statements that Iraq has a relationship to 9/11, al Qaida and Osama bin Laden; that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. In the one and a half years leading up to the war, the time during which they were making these statements, they knew that they were false.
Lying to Congress and the American people got us into a war that has two serious impeachable issues within it: First, it's an aggressive war contrary to the U.N. charter and contrary to law that doesn't allow war unless it's in self-defense. Secondly, it undermines the authority of Congress and the American people to decide when war is necessary. Through the lies, he got a number of Congress people to believe that war was necessary, thereby undercutting their constitutional obligation to decide on war.
Elizabeth Holtzman, who was part of the Judiciary Committee that voted to impeach Nixon, has written a long piece about how this constitutes fraud under criminal law. Of course, you don't need a criminal act to impeach someone, you simply need an act that undermines and subverts the basic constitutional structure of our government, as well as a failure to execute the proper laws.
Article III deals with what the president has done in regard to the issues of torture, arbitrary long-term detentions, disappearances and special trial. Our law is very clear on these things. You can't torture people, you can't commit war crimes, you can't send people to countries where they're tortured and you can't set up special courts for trial. The Geneva Conventions are a part of our law, as is the international covenant of civil and political rights. The president, in authorizing that entire range of activities, has not met with his constitutional obligation to faithfully execute laws.
Congress tried to put some brakes on the president through the McCain amendment, which prohibits cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment. But the president, in a signing statement, essentially said he reserved the right to ignore what Congress says. What he did is not just a violation of the law; he is destroying the checks and balances of our Constitution.
Article IV is a general article that puts all of the prior three articles together. If you look at these things together, you see that they are essentially destroying our republic and our democracy. They are destroying the constitutional structure of our government. Therefore, he should be impeached.
OR: Was it your intent for the book to be utilized by members of Congress to begin impeachment proceedings?
MR: Yes, that's definitely one of our intents. We would also like to see some courage given to our members of Congress. John Conyers has begun the process with 26 people now signed onto the inquiry bill, but that's very small compared to the number that should be there. Similarly with the NSA spying, 18 have signed on to a serious inquiry, but we're talking about the same kinds of conduct that were part of Nixon's impeachment proceedings -- illegal use of electronic surveillance. Even Democrats like Al Gore are calling this a government of tyranny because of the utter and complete subverting of the Constitution.
Another intent is to popularize the issue that what the president has done has got to be looked. These aren't just individual issues, but a destruction of democracy on its deepest level. We want to popularize that idea and get it out there, particularly right now. If you look at the polls on warrantless wiretapping and the Iraq War, over 50 percent of Americans think that Bush could be impeached for these activities. But the media aren't picking this up. No one's talking about impeachment from the New York Times, or the Washington Post or anywhere else.
OR: Why do you think that is?
MR: They claim it's because it's not realistic. But that's not at all the case. When they started with the Clinton impeachment, less than 30 percent of the people were willing to impeach him for his actions. Yet, the media carried it widely. It may be that there's a buy-in by some part of this media leader society -- thinking that this could shake up our government too much. Some people think it's too dangerous to do so, but we would argue that it's much too dangerous not to.
OR: What do you say to Americans who think it isn't worth bothering with impeachment with the president currently in his final term?
MR: This administration has gone so far beyond what the requirements of the Constitution and the law. The question is whether this country can ever come back and resemble a democracy again. Unless you hold accountable the people who actually carried out an illegal war with Iraq, warrantless wiretapping and torture, there's nothing to stop the next administration -- whether it's Republican or Democrat -- from continuing with the same. We have to show that what happened in this country in the past four years is an utter subversion of our Constitution and completely unlawful under domestic and international law. Otherwise, I fear that this country may be changed forever in a very negative direction.
OR: What's at stake here?
MR: What's at stake is a presidency that is becoming an imperial presidency -- in which he's no longer responsible to the judiciary or the Congress. This is a president that thinks that, on his own, he can wiretap people, torture people, pick them up anywhere in the world. This has to be beaten back, and it has to be done soon. It is becoming embedded in our society in a way that is very hard to get rid of.
For instance, we just had a loss in the case of Maher Arar. Part of the judge's thinking in his decision was that, while it may not be okay to torture in a criminal case, it may be okay if it's to prevent terrorism. When that kind of thinking is afoot, something has to be done. Otherwise, it will become embedded in our legal and political thinking in the next generations. There has to be accountability for this.
OR:There's a lot of people, especially on the left, who think of George W. Bush as very self-serving president. This characterization may be preventing people from seeing that he is actually thinking well beyond his presidency -- with the intent to expand executive power for future administrations. Is this a fair characterization?
MR: Yes, this is about a particularly bad president -- a president who doesn't care about constitutional rights. But what's really going on here is what Cheney actually came out and stated a month ago when he talked about warrantless wiretapping. He said that they wanted to overcome what happened to the presidency during the '60s and the '70s.
There's an absolute intent here to make the presidency much more powerful, what they call a unitary presidency where they're not just a co-equal branch, but they are the branch -- no court or Congress can check them. This is not just about the president any longer, it's about these assertions of inherent power in the executive to override constitutional, international, congressional limitations, and judicial limitations. That's a big problem because that's essentially a dictatorship.
OR: With all this gratuitous conduct that has been amassed in the media, the question arises, why haven't there been many legal successes stopping this behavior?
MR: At the CCR, in almost every single action discussed in the articles, we have various lawsuits going. The problem is that they take a long time. Also, the courts are not always in our favor. And, even when we win, the administration is able to undercut them. You don't just win by lawsuits; you win by popular protest, people in the streets. That's the way you have to win. The Center really believes that our lawsuits are important and people have to be represented. We have to stop torture to the extent that we can. But there has to be popular protest in this country, or our lawsuits are not going to change anything.
Onnesha Roychoudhuri is an editorial fellow at AlterNet.
© 2006 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
return to page index
Excerpt: Articles of Impeachment
by the Center for Constitutional Rights
Posted on March 6, 2006, Printed on March 7, 2006
This article may be viewed online at Alternet: http://www.alternet.org/story/32866/
(Editor's Note: this is an excerpt from the Center for Constitutional Right's new book, "Articles of Impeachment Against George W. Bush," reprinted with permission from Melville House, 2006.)
How can it be that we are yet again debating another presidential impeachment? Still weary from the Clinton impeachment battles and now completely exhausted from the momentous changes brought about by both 9/11 and this president -- changes that include the Iraq war, indefinite detentions around the world, torture, domestic wiretapping, and more -- we have all we can do to understand and perhaps resist some or all of these measures on an ad hoc basis. While any of the individual acts and policies outlined in the following articles would constitute an impeachable offense, taken as a whole, as a pattern and practice, they constitute something far more sinister, a plan to significantly weaken, if not destroy, our democracy.
As a consequence this nation is confronted with a grave constitutional crisis. We have a president staunchly committed to acquiring unprecedented amounts of power and using it in ways that conflict with the Constitution of the United States, international law, and the common understanding of morality. In short, although the president has sworn to uphold the Constitution, he is doing just the opposite. He is dismantling the Constitution of the United States. Primarily, his apparent purpose is to gather even more power -- power unchecked by judicial or congressional scrutiny -- to a presidency already bloated with power.
Simultaneously, summary arrests, in the United States and around the world, torture, indefinite detention, illegal surveillance, and suppression of free speech and protest have become commonplace. Yet worse, as all of this has happened the government has sought to eliminate any judicial oversight of its activities by weakening the judicial system in innumerable ways. The president has also disregarded Congress and thereby attempted to weaken its role. The consequence has been that the fundamental building block of American democracy, our system of separation of powers, has come under lethal attack.
How did it come about that we are in the constitutional crisis in which we find ourselves today? Before we discuss the reasons for this, or even the historical context, it seems useful to introduce some of the terminology and details that surround impeachment, the Constitution's nuclear option.
Article II, Section 4 of the Constitution provides that the president may be impeached for "Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors." This was the mechanism that the framers of the Constitution provided Congress to protect itself from executive overreaching. Clearly the framers drafted this provision in the context of what they viewed as the history of their time, i.e., the conflict between the actions of the English king and the ideals of the English law. Thus, for the framers, impeachment was a key element of American democracy in that it provided an ultimate means to curtail abuses of, or unconstitutional expansion of, executive powers.
While bribery and treason were technically defined crimes that would inevitably subvert the Constitution, the more general and less defined concept of high crimes and misdemeanors was intended to identify that activity whereby the executive overstepped the bounds of public office or failed to faithfully execute the laws. Hamilton viewed it as an abuse or violation of the public trust. Thereby the framers provided a much more general category whereby the Constitution would also surely be subverted.
To place the present moment into the context of history, in 1868 President Andrew Johnson was acquitted by only one vote of the accusation of denying Congress its power. It was claimed that the president, unmindful of the oath that obliged him to faithfully execute the laws, denied that the legislation passed by Congress was either valid, or that he was required to comply.
President Clinton was impeached in 1999 for perjury and obstruction of justice. The circumstances of this impeachment, involving as they did, a personal affair, were unusual and are not applicable to the current situation. More pertinent, however, is the threatened impeachment and, ultimately, the resignation of Richard Nixon.
In 1974 President Nixon resigned before the House Judiciary Committee could vote on articles of impeachment. Those articles accused him of violating his constitutional oath 1) to faithfully execute the office of the president; 2) to protect and defend the Constitution; and 3) to take care that the laws be faithfully executed. He did this by means of false and misleading statements, withholding information from Congress, condoning false statements, misuse of the CIA, and deceiving the people of the United States, as well, with false or misleading statements.
These are both the formal criteria and the precedents against which, when presented with the evidence, the reader may make a decision as to whether there is a valid basis for the impeachment of the current president.
Nine months after George W. Bush was sworn in as president, terrorists attacked the World Trade Center and murdered thousands. An active negligence of constitutional duties and boundaries commenced.
"You are either with us or you are with the terrorists," proclaimed the president. His attorney general, John Ashcroft, similarly declared:
"[T]o those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty; my message is this: Your tactics only aid terrorists -- for they erode our national unity and diminish our resolve. They give ammunition to America's enemies, and pause to America's friends."
The message was clear: Opposition and dissent were treason and concern for constitutional rights was a technicality, a phantom that played into the hands of terrorism. Out of this antagonism to the Constitution that had long predated the attacks of 9/11 (as will be detailed) grew the full-blown attack on the system of checks and balances and the Bill of Rights that the following articles detail.
While these charges delineate a history for which one person, even the president of the United States, cannot be fully responsible and probably not even fully aware, this president was more than a willing accomplice to the severe damage to which our Constitution has been subjected. He has been an enthusiastic perpetrator of that damage. More importantly, when he swore to "preserve, protect, and defend" the Constitution, he should not have been merely mouthing words or repeating slogans. It is the thesis of this book that this promise must forever be embedded in the protoplasm of the man or woman who takes the oath. If it is not, we will all pay the price. If it is not, and if this oath is violated, the only just remedy is impeachment.
WILLIAM GOODMAN, Legal Director, Center for Constitutional Rights
© 2006 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
return to page index
Illinois Legislators Introduce Bill for Bush Impeachment
Three members of the Illinois General Assembly have introduced a bill that urges the General Assembly to submit charges to the U. S. House of Representatives to initiate impeachment proceedings against the President of the United States, George W. Bush, for willfully violating his Oath of Office to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States and if found guilty urges his removal from office and disqualification to hold any other office in the United States.
The Jefferson Manual of rules for the U.S. House of Representatives makes clear that impeachment proceedings can be initiated by a state legislature submitting charges. The state of Illinois is on its way toward forcing on the House what not a single one of its members has yet had the courage to propose: Articles of Impeachment.
The text of the Illinois bill and information on its status are available here: http://tinyurl.com/nhs3r
The bill takes up the issues of illegal spying, torture, detentions without charge or trial, manipulation of pre-war intelligence, and the leaking of classified information. Here is a kit to help with promoting this resolution and with passing others in your towns and cities. Also on this page is information on activities in other states and localities:
return to page index
April 24, 2006
California Becomes Second State to Introduce Bush Impeachment
Joining Illinois, California has become the second state in which a proposal to impeach President Bush has been introduced in the state legislature. And this one includes Cheney as well.
California Assemblyman Paul Koretz of Los Angeles (where the LA Times has now called for Cheney's resignation) has submitted amendments to Assembly Joint Resolution No. 39, calling for the impeachment of President George W. Bush and Vice President Richard Cheney. The amendments reference Section 603 of Jefferson's Manual of the Rules of the United States House of Representatives, which allows federal impeachment proceedings to be initiated by joint resolution of a state legislature.
The resolution, in the words of Koretz's press release, "bases the call for impeachment upon the Bush Administration intentionally misleading the Congress and the American people regarding the threat from Iraq in order to justify an unnecessary war that has cost billions of dollars and thousands of lives and casualties; exceeding constitutional authority to wage war by invading Iraq; exceeding constitutional authority by Federalizing the National Guard; conspiring to torture prisoners in violation of the 'Federal Torture Act' and indicating intent to continue such actions; spying on American citizens in violation of the 1978 Foreign Agency Surveillance Act; leaking and covering up the leak of the identity of Valerie Plame Wilson, and holding American citizens without charge or trial."
Koretz submitted amendments gutting AJR No. 39, a resolution unrelated to impeachment, to the Assembly Rules Committee. The Rules Committee may take up the bill this week for referral, allowing him to formally introduce the amended resolution.
AJR 39 is a bill introduced in January by Koretz calling for a moratorium on depleted uranium:
"At both the state and national levels," Koretz said, "we will be paying for the Bush Administration's illegal actions and terrible lack of judgment and competence for decadesnot only in the billions of dollars wasted on the war and welfare for the rich, but in the worldwide loss of respect for America and Americans. Bush and Cheney must be impeached and removed from office before they undertake even deadlier misdeeds, such as the use of nuclear weapons. There are no bounds to their willingness to ignore the Constitution and world opinionwe can't afford to wait for the next disaster and hope that we can survive it."
For more inormation and to thank this American hero, contact Paul Michael Neuman in Koretz's District Office: (310) 285-5490 firstname.lastname@example.org or go here: http://democrats.assembly.ca.gov/members/a42/contact.htm
return to page index
Impeaching Bush, State by State
by Evan Derkacz, AlterNet
Posted on April 26, 2006, Printed on April 26, 2006
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/35467/
Forget bird flu, impeachment is spreading across the nation, state by state.
On Tuesday afternoon, Rep. Dave Zuckerman (Prog.-VT) dropped the third of three nearly unreported bombshells on the Bush administration. Zuckerman, along with 12 fellow lawmakers, introduced a formal resolution for the Vermont state legislature to call on the U.S. House of Representatives to impeach President George W. Bush.
With this resolution, Vermont joined the California and Illinois state legislatures, already embroiled in impeachment debates of their own.
For those who still believe impeachment's just a pipe dream, there are several key developments to consider beyond this burgeoning state movement. In addition to the hawkish Zbigniew Brzezinski's op-ed in Tuesday's International Herald Tribune warning that an attack on Iran could merit impeachment, Salon's Michelle Goldberg and my colleague Onnesha Roychoudhuri both noted last month that the "i-word" had gone public.
In an interview with impeachment expert Michael Ratner, Roychoudhuri observed that:
"[T]he distant rumbling is growing louder by the day, creating a resonant echo that is rapidly taking root in public discourse. 'Impeach Him,' reads the cover of this month's Harper's Magazine. And in a public forum in New York City last week, journalists, lawyers and political figures came together to discuss the case against our president."
While the main impediment continues to be a sycophantic Republican majority, polls show that more Americans favor impeachment hearings than currently approve of the job Bush is doing (33 to 32 percent). In addition, as Bob Geiger notes, Bush's state-by-state popularity is lower than even his anemic nationwide figures suggest, with a paltry four states remaining red two years into his second term. In other words, the population has the stomach for it even if the representatives don't.
The legal basis for these unprecedented state-level actions was discovered when, according to Steven Leser, Illinois Rep. Karen A. Yarbrough "stumbled on a little known and never utlitized rule of the U.S. House of Representatives." The rule was written in a book formerly known as Jefferson's Manual, which, according to C-SPAN, "is a book of rules of procedure and parliamentary philosophy … written by Thomas Jefferson in 1801 … [used by the House] as a supplement to its standing rules." Section LIII, sec. 603 states, "There are various methods of setting an impeachment in motion … [one of them is] by charges transmitted from the legislature of a State …"
Each of the three resolutions mentions Iraq lies, torture and illegal spying, with slight variations in tone and specifics. Assemblyman Paul Koretz's California resolution (which includes Dick Cheney) and the Illinois resolution both include the leak of Valerie Plame's identity, while Vermont's focuses almost exclusively on Bush's most salient transgression, his illegal spying on Americans. The spying charge leads the other two resolutions' list of charges as well.
In December, cringing at the prospect of getting scooped by its own reporter's upcoming book on the subject, the New York Times published a story it'd been sitting on for months at the behest of the Bush administration. The front page story by James Risen and Eric Lichtblau outlined a program for illegally spying on American citizens, which had been explicitly authorized by the president. It became popularly known as the NSA Wiretapping Scandal.
Having failed at pressuring the Times into hiding the story for another three years, the Bush administration opted for its signature blend of hubris and fear, at once admitting publicly to having violated the law but hiding beneath the smoke of "terrorism prevention" and the mirrors of the Nixonian prerogative: "When the president does it, that means that it is not illegal." Of course, we now know precisely how much water that explanation holds, even if reworded for maximum terror exploitation: "When the commander-in-chief does it, it is not illegal."
Still, despite the fact that no attempt was made to cover up this blatant violation of the law, political will in the Republican-controlled House to bring impeachment was harder to find than a fact in the mouth of Scotty McClellan. Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold's resolution to censure the president (impeachment is a House-only proposition) -- a measure supported by a plurality of American voters -- included a crystal-clear retort to partisan claims that the illegal wiretapping was necessary:
This issue is not about whether the government should be wiretapping terrorists -- of course it should, and it can under current law … But this president and this administration decided to break the law, and they have yet to give a convincing explanation of why their actions were necessary, appropriate or legal.
But the president and his spin doctors had successfully grabbed the reins of the debate by framing the question thusly: "Do you, or do you not, want us to be able to spy on terrorists?" The fact that this and other myths surrounding the president's violation of the law were easily debunked did little to shake Republican Bush worship or Democratic defeatism.
As Feingold's legally toothless censure proposal went into that good night, impeachment took a back seat. Criticism of Rumsfeld took the front seat, and congressional Republicans, with one eye on Bush's tanking popularity and the other on the increasingly ominous midterm elections, began to back away from the president and tentatively joined the calls for an exit strategy -- any strategy really -- from Iraq.
Enter the blogs. On Jan. 24, well before the Illinois legislator Karen Yarbrough stumbled over this state legislature loophole, blogger arbortender of DailyKos had unearthed the rule that another writer dubbed "Jefferson's Revenge". Fellow blogger Kagro X took the baton, and the blogs have been pushing the story and building the momentum ever since, from Vermont's various town- and countywide resolutions to the Illinois bombshell, through California's and now Vermont's state-level proposals. According to Steve Leser, Democratic state legislators in Wisconsin, New Mexico, Nevada and North Carolina are also considering either impeachment or censure proposals.
In any case, the three states already debating impeachment represent nearly 50 million Americans, or roughly 16 percent of the total U.S. population.
As promising as this development is, serious questions remain unanswered. If Americans perceive that voting the Republicans out of the House will lead directly to a vote for impeachment hearings, will they instinctively rally around the president despite his unpopularity specifically and the unpopularity of Republicans in general?
Or, more ominously, will an unpopular president, terrified at the possibility of a crushing Republican defeat in '06 and facing impeachment hearings, launch some sort of "October Surprise?"
October Surprise speculation ranges from my colleague Joshua Holland's prediction that measures will be taken to significantly lower gas prices to Dave Lindorff's claim that:
"a number of journalists told me they worried that Bush, Rove and Cheney, if they thought they were going to lose the House in November and face serious investigations into their crimes and deceits, would do something treasonous, like launching a war against Iran, or perhaps allowing another major terrorist attack against a U.S. target, so that they could then clamp down further on domestic freedom and ramp up jingoistic support among their wavering base."
In the final tally, the state-sponsored impeachment resolutions remain more symbolic than anything -- which may be just as well. By building a public case against Bush for his clear violations of U.S. law, Republicans are left with the albatross of Bush around their necks as they tiptoe into the '06 elections. As pollster Jan van Lohuizen wrote to Republican Chairman Ken Mehlman in a memo: "We are now 'brand W.' Republicans."
Evan Derkacz is AlterNet's associate editor and writer of Peek, the blog of blogs.
© 2006 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
return to page index
Impeachment, Vermont Style
A former Justice Department official finds a back-door congressional maneuver and launches his own campaign to impeach President Bush.
By Joseph Rosenbloom
Web Exclusive to The American Prospect: 04.25.06
A. Jeffry Taylor is a 62-year-old lawyer and Democratic activist in Rutland, Vermont. As a young lawyer in the Los Angeles office of the Justice Department, he prosecuted antitrust cases during the Watergate era. The corruption he witnessed firsthand within the Nixon administration (a high-ranking Justice official once told him not to pursue a case, he recalls, because the suspects were “friends of the President, and we don’t sue friends of the President. Are you dumb?”) gnaws at him still. His blood is boiling now because of what he regards as another President’s unlawful conduct -- namely, what he regards as President George W. Bush’s flagrant violations of the Constitution’s due-process guarantees.
In December, when Michigan Congressman John Conyers introduced an impeachment resolution in Congress, Taylor welcomed it with open arms. The resolution, H. Res. 635, would create a select committee to investigate possible impeachable offenses by Bush.
To Taylor’s dismay, however, the resolution bogged down in the GOP-controlled House. Three months after Conyers filed his resolution, only 32 congressmen had signed on as co-sponsors. The resolution was mired in the Rules Committee and was going nowhere fast.
That Congress must act to defend the Constitution by impeaching the President is a matter of blindingly-obvious urgency, as Taylor sees it. “The issue is so large and is affecting so many Americans that it would be an act of almost dishonesty on my part not to do something about it,” he says. “I look on it as an act of patriotism. It is not a choice but a moral imperative.”
While surfing a political blog in February, Taylor happened upon a reference to a back-door congressional maneuver and recognized it instantly as a means to dramatize the impeachment issue. Though members may file an impeachment bill in the House, which has the sole power to impeach a President, there is another way. A state legislature, too, may initiate impeachment proceedings, as according to the blog posting that caught Taylor’s eye.
Taylor took the blog’s cue and looked into a provision in a parliamentary manual penned by Thomas Jefferson and incorporated into the rules of the House. In Section 603, the manual provides that charges transmitted to the House from a state legislature can set “impeachment in motion.”
Taylor seized on the idea. If the Vermont Legislature were to vote for impeachment, he imagined, that would raise the temperature on the issue. “That’s much more powerful in that you’d have a legislature in a state actually file charges,” he explains.
Not that the imprimatur of the Vermont Legislature alone would cause the House to budge on impeachment as long as the GOP retained control, Taylor figured. Still, if the Vermont Legislature went on the record as favoring impeachment, such an official, dramatic validation of the idea was bound to intensify public scrutiny of Bush’s conduct.
If any state’s legislature was fertile ground to nurture the impeachment movement, Vermont’s looked promising. There would be no Republican stonewall to block such a resolution in either the Vermont Senate or House, both of which are predominantly Democratic (by 21-9 in the Senate and by 83-60 in the House, not counting the five Progressives and one independent in the latter chamber). Nor was there a risk of a gubernatorial veto, even though Vermont Governor James Douglas is a Republican, because an impeachment resolution adopted by a state legislature does not require a governor’s signature.
Taylor reckoned that the Vermont Legislature would respond to the clamor from a pro-impeachment grass-roots movement, which he considered feasible in Vermont because it is a small state where, he says, “we all know each other.” Even if the prime movers were Democrats like himself, the drive to impeach would be “a matter not for party affiliation, but for Americans to right the wrongs and prevent further damage” from Bush’s presidency, Taylor says.
Taylor set to work. He drafted a resolution, which urges the Vermont Legislature to initiate impeachment proceedings under Section 603 of the Jefferson Manual. Accusing Bush of high crimes and misdemeanors, the resolution says the President has “repeatedly and intentionally” violated the Constitution and other laws, particularly the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and the Torture Convention (a treaty subsumed into U.S. law). The alleged offenses that Taylor specifically cites include the “indefinite detention” of citizens and the warrantless wiretapping by the National Security Agency.
“As a prosecutor, I said, here’s a good case of a suspect -- I call him a subversive -- who not only admits what he did but was proud of it,” Taylor recounts, referring to Bush’s acknowledgement that he ordered the warrantless wiretapping. (Bush’s position is that the NSA did not have to obtain a warrant before conducting electronic surveillance in the war against terrorism, despite FISA language requiring it, and that in any case he has the authority to disregard that law.)
On February 28, Taylor proposed the resolution to the Rutland County Democratic Committee, which adopted it. At meetings during the next few weeks, the Democratic committees in seven of the state’s 13 other counties did so as well. In a ninth, Grand Isle, the Democrats endorsed Taylor’s reasons for impeachment but called on Congress, rather than the Vermont Legislature, to begin an impeachment investigation of Bush.
Although Taylor’s proposal, which became known as the Rutland Resolution, was capturing Democrats’ hearts on a county level, the party’s statewide leaders either stayed mum or rebuffed the idea. House Speaker Gaye Symington gave it a thumbs down. The Senate’s top Democratic leader, President Pro Tem Peter Welch, had nothing to say. Welch is running for Congress this year.
Even Congressman Bernie Sanders, an independent and one of the Bush administration’s severest critics did not endorse the Rutland Resolution, though he favors an investigation of Bush for possible censure or impeachment. Sanders is a candidate for the U.S. Senate. His chief of staff, Jeff Weaver, had dismissed demands for impeachment as premature, saying that “we don’t have the kind of proof needed.”
Despite the lack of support from on high for the Rutland Resolution, the Vermont Democratic state committee reacted to the groundswell for it on the county level by calling a special meeting to decide whether to back it. Meanwhile, starting in late March, six town meetings in Vermont had heightened interest in the impeachment issue by endorsing resolutions calling on Congress either to oust Bush from office or at least to investigate him for possible impeachable offenses.
On the bleak Saturday morning of April 8, about 100 Democrats dressed mostly in casual clothes of wool, fleece and denim gathered at a red-brick elementary school in the central Vermont town of Randolph. The meeting was open to the public. Before the state-committee members debated the resolution, they invited comment from spectators.
Twenty-five of them spoke, including Taylor. Virtually all the speakers inveighed against the Bush administration. Matthew Burgess of Morristown accused it of “deceit, despotism and disregard of the law.” Most of the speakers urged a vote for the Rutland Resolution, no matter what the cost to Democrats. Bob Hawk of Walden, said: “There is a time to set political expediency aside and do what’s right. I think that moment has come.”
Taylor, a slip of a man wearing large glasses, said: “Little did I expect, when we drafted this resolution, that it would catch fire. But it really has.” Speaking in a soft, reedy voice, he parsed Section 603 of the Jefferson Manual. An impeachment motion filed under Section 603 “takes precedence over everything and eventually has to be heard,” he pointed out. When he finished talking, he received a standing ovation.
The tone of the meeting shifted once the state committee members had the floor. Their remarks about Bush’s allegedly impeachable offenses were generally scathing, but they differed sharply about the wisdom of adopting the Rutland Resolution.
“Vermont has the opportunity to actually stand up and do something,” said Steve Schlipf of Georgia, urging a yes vote for the resolution. “Yes, it’s symbolic. It’s also very real.”
Opponents, however, noted that, if the Vermont Legislature had to grapple with the impeachment issue in the one or two months likely remaining in this year’s session, the lawmakers would have too little time to do it justice. “If [the resolution] comes to my committee,” said Rep. Richard Marek, who represents three towns near Brattleboro and is a member of the House Judiciary Committee, “I think there will be an obligation to treat it in a very thoughtful and deliberative fashion.” When the House completed its inquiry -- a job complicated by the lack of the necessary subpoena power, according to Marek -- the matter would have to go to the Vermont Senate for further deliberations.
Some critics of the resolution warned that banging the impeachment drum could be politically stupid for Democrats in an election year -- a period when the target of the Rutland Resolution happens to be the commander in chief at a time of war. “Is it worth losing a single legislative seat in order to move the legislation forward?” asked Bob Bland of Vershire. “I doubt that.”
After more than two hours of to-and-fro, the state committee voted on the Rutland Resolution. It failed, by a margin of 26 to 18. The Vermont Democrats then swiftly and unanimously adopted a resolution calling on Congress to investigate grounds for impeaching Bush. For good measure they endorsed Conyers’ impeachment resolution and Wisconsin Senator Russell Feingold’s proposal to censure Bush.
Looking back on the defeat of his impeachment-via-Montpelier initiative, Taylor is unbowed. Yes, he concedes, the legislature might have had too little time to deal with the matter this year. “Time was the enemy,” he says. Not that he swallows the argument that the legislature would require subpoena power or would have to undertake an exhaustive investigation before it could justify advancing impeachment charges to the Congress. He likens the impeachment proceedings by a state legislature under Section 603 to a probable-cause hearing in a criminal case: “Those charges don’t have to be proven at the time of the filing.”
Nor does Taylor agree that championing the impeachment cause would be disadvantageous to Democratic candidates. On the contrary, he says: “I think they should not be making excuses for speaking truth to power. I think it would strengthen a campaign.”
In fact, Taylor says, the seeming corpse of the Rutland Resolution may have breath left in it yet, especially if the Democrats regain a majority in the U.S. House. “The next goal is changing the Congress,” he says. “Then Section 603 can be resurrected. Call it Son of 603.”
Joseph Rosenbloom is a Prospect senior correspondent.
© 2006 by The American Prospect, Inc.
return to page index
return to reinform.org