By Ray McGovern
July 2, 2007
Last week’s four-part Washington Post feature on Vice President Dick Cheney removed any doubt in my mind as to whether he and President George W. Bush have committed the kinds of high crimes and misdemeanors that warrant impeachment.
While President George W. Bush bears the ultimate responsibility, the nature of the evidence against Cheney and his closest associates is so specific and overwhelming that it makes sense to impeach and bring him to trial first.
Subpoenas from Capitol Hill are flying downtown into executive office buildings like paper airplanes, but the potential for obfuscation and delay is immense, and the danger to the Republic speaks for a more urgent, simpler approach.
As hundreds are killed each day in the misbegotten war in Iraq with no end in sight, the same officials who brought us Iraq—with the vice president in the lead— are salivating for war on Iran.
There is a blizzard of possible charges warranting impeachment, and that is part of the problem. It’s not only outrage fatigue, it is knowing how to sort through what Thomas Jefferson called “a long train of abuses and usurpations” to select the most heinous, when it is difficult to discern which of them most offends our Constitution and the rule of law.
Suggestion: From the most heinous, select just one for which there is ready proof—one not susceptible of the kind of diddling that has been so prevalent in Washington these past several years.
Why not focus on a high crime that the Bush administration has already admitted to, with claims it is above the law and the Constitution: electronic eavesdropping on Americans without the required court warrant.
This charge has the additional advantage of precedent. It was included in the second (of three) Articles of Impeachment voted against President Richard Nixon by a 28 to 10 vote by the House Committee on the Judiciary on July 27, 1974.
That charge was “electronic surveillance of private citizens” in violation of the law and similar illegalities. Impeachment Article 2 stated that for these abuses:
“Richard M. Nixon has acted in a manner contrary to his trust as President and subversive of constitutional government, to the great prejudice of the cause of law and justice and to the manifest injury of the people of the United States. Wherefore Richard M. Nixon, by such conduct, warrants impeachment and trial, and removal from office.”
Similarly, as William Goodman, former legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, has suggested, pride of place among the various possible charges against those of the George W. Bush administration should be given to the crime of unlawful electronic surveillance; namely, failing to take care that the laws were faithfully executed, by directing or authorizing the National Security Agency and various other agencies within the intelligence community to conduct electronic surveillance outside the statutes Congress has prescribed as the exclusive means for such surveillance.
What makes this a no-brainer is that the administration has proudly admitted to sponsoring an electronic surveillance program that violates the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) of 1978.
On Dec.17, 2005, a day after the New York Times front-paged an article on the administration practice of eavesdropping on Americans without the required court warrant, administration front man George W. Bush bragged about authorizing the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on U.S. citizens without the court order required by FISA.
The president stated defiantly, “I have reauthorized this program more than 30 times since the September 11th attacks, and I intend to do so for as long as our nation faces a continuing threat from al-Qaeda and related groups.”
By what authority did the Bush administration ignore the FISA requirement for a court order for such eavesdropping? “The authority vested in me by Congress, including the Joint Authorization for Use of Military Force [and] constitutional authority vested in me as commander-in-chief.”
That these arguments are quite a stretch is clear from the adjectives used by respected jurists to describe them. “Ludicrous” is the one most often applied. “The program appears on its face to violate existing law,” wrote a group of distinguished lawyers, several of whom worked in senior positions in Republican as well as Democratic administrations.