Monday, December 19, 2005

So How Many High Crimes and Misdemeanors is Enough to Impeach?

Many of us thought that the Downing Street Memo was the smoking gun, that a president knowingly and with malice aforethought violated both national and international law to lead us into a unnecessary war.

There have been numerous smoking guns since then without any effect. Now after the New York Times uncovers another high crime -- George Bush almost dares the Congress to do something about. He seems to be saying, "I did it -- what are you going to do about it? Let the terrorists have their way?"

Former Nixon advisor John Dean says it is the first time in American history a president has actually admitted he broke the law. Now, finally, even a few Republicans are among those wondering if a president can do anything he wants in the so-called war on terrorism.

Assume that there are people actively plotting to kill Americans. Few us would argue they should not be placed under surveillance. Our laws already provided the mechanism to do exactly that by getting secret warrants from a secret court. But Bush wanted to do it his way regardless of what the law said. The law was written specifically to avoid having innocent people swept up in a wave of hysteria.

But now comes a bunch of Democratic Party heroes who are willing to stand up, some more strongly than others, to denounce the latest outrage of the Bush administration. Count among them Michigan's two U.S. Senators who voted against a tainted Patriot Act which also fails to distinguish between probable suspects and fishing expeditions.

Now, today, Monday Dec. 19, 2005, comes the white-maned dean of constitutional law, the conscience of the Senate, the fiddle-playing, Shakespeare-quoting Senator from the great state of West Virginia, Robert Byrd, in what may well be seen as the old man's finest hour he tells the president he is not above the law:

I continue to be shocked and astounded by the breadth with which the Administration undermines the constitutional protections afforded to the people, and the arrogance with which it rebukes the powers held by the Legislative and Judicial Branches. The President has cast off federal law, enacted by Congress, often bearing his own signature, as mere formality. He has rebuffed the rule of law, and he has trivialized and trampled upon the prohibitions against unreasonable search and seizures guaranteed to Americans by the United States Constitution.

We are supposed to accept these dirty little secrets. We are told that it is irresponsible to draw attention to President Bush’s gross abuse of power and Constitutional violations. But what is truly irresponsible is to neglect to uphold the rule of law. We listened to the President speak last night on the potential for democracy in Iraq. He claims to want to instill in the Iraqi people a tangible freedom and a working democracy, at the same time he violates our own U.S. laws and checks and balances? President Bush called the recent Iraqi election “a landmark day in the history of liberty.” I dare say in this country we may have reached our own sort of landmark. Never have the promises and protections of Liberty seemed so illusory. Never have the freedoms we cherish seemed so imperiled.

These renegade assaults on the Constitution and our system of laws strike at the very core of our values, and foster a sense of mistrust and apprehension about the reach of government.

I am reminded of Thomas Payne’s famous words, “These are the times that try men’s souls.”

These astounding revelations about the bending and contorting of the Constitution to justify a grasping, irresponsible Administration under the banner of “national security” are an outrage. Congress can no longer sit on the sidelines. It is time to ask hard questions of the Attorney General, the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, and the Director of the CIA. The White House should not be allowed to exempt itself from answering the same questions simply because it might assert some kind of “executive privilege” in order to avoid further embarrassment.

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