Virginians created and may end the right of impeachment
By David Swanson, Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star
CHARLOTTESVILLE– A recent national poll on impeachment, conducted by the American Research Group last November, found that 52 percent of Americans believed Vice President Dick Cheney had committed impeachable offenses.
The numbers for President George W. Bush were only slightly lower.
The governor of Virginia has spoken up for impeachment, saying “Guilt wherever found ought to be punished.”
Sadly, that was Gov. Edmund Randolph in 1787, arguing for making impeachment central to the system of checks and balances in the new U.S. Constitution. Our current governor has not said a word about impeaching our current president.
Two other Virginians, George Mason and James Madison, worked out the language for what would constitute an impeachable offense: “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.”
“No point is of more importance,” Mason said of the Constitution, “than that the right of impeachment should be continued.”
Jefferson’s fear was of “elected despotism.” Leaving an impeachable president in place for months or years because eventually there would be another election (the plan openly advocated by some members of Congress today) would have seemed to Jefferson to mean the end of the republic.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers has published a book on Bush and Cheney’s alleged impeachable offenses, but refuses to hold impeachment hearings.
The Richmond City Democratic Committee, the Virginia Antiwar Network, and activist groups all over the state have been holding rallies for impeachment for years now. Planes have flown impeachment banners back and forth over Virginia Beach. Larry Wilkerson, a William & Mary professor and former chief of staff to Colin Powell, has spoken up for impeachment at events in Virginia. Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul spoke in support of impeaching Bush up until he became a candidate, and many of his supporters believe he would support impeachment if Democrats led the way.
Paul’s campaign advisor and former Justice Department official under President Reagan, Bruce Fein, has been a leading advocate for impeachment. Dennis Kucinich, at the time a Democratic presidential candidate, packed a large hall in Charlottesville in December to speak on the need for impeachment. And candidates for Congress across the commonwealth this year are using the failure of the Congress to impeach as a talking point in their campaigns, including Andrea Miller in the 4th District, Sam Rasoul (6th), and Matthew Famiglietti and Ron Fisher (both in the 8th).
The movement to impeach Cheney and Bush has almost no support from Virginians now in Congress. Since Rep. Kucinich, D-Ohio, introduced a resolution to impeach Cheney in April 2007, 24 members of Congress have signed on, only one from Virginia: Jim Moran, D-8th.
Since Judiciary Committee member Robert Wexler, D-Fla., drafted a letter to Conyers last month urging him to begin impeachment hearings; 14 members of Congress have signed on, with only Moran from Virginia. Of the 35 members of Congress either co-sponsoring articles of impeachment or expressing support for impeachment hearings, Moran is the only one from Virginia.
Within the House Judiciary Committee, nine members led by Wexler are urging the initiation of hearings on the possible impeachment of Cheney. Among the alleged offenses mentioned are: misleading the public and Congress about Iraq and Iran, outing a CIA agent, torture, spying programs that violate the Fourth Amendment, refusing to comply with subpoenas, and promoting the use of signing statements to unconstitutionally claim the right to violate laws.
Virginia’s four members of the Judiciary Committee, including two Democrats, all oppose impeachment hearings. The two Democrats, Bobby Scott (3rd) and Rick Boucher (9th), support non-impeachment hearings into some of the same abuses.
One drawback to that approach is that witnesses now routinely refuse to comply with subpoenas. Another is that several of these hearings have been conducted over the past 12 months, with no consequences. If Scott, Boucher, and one more were to join their nine colleagues, there would then be a majority of Democrats on the committee in favor of impeachment hearings.
Hours before delivering his State of the Union address, the president published a “signing statement” announcing his right to violate measures in the new Defense Authorization Act, including: the establishment of a commission to investigate U.S. contractor fraud in Iraq and Afghanistan, the expansion of whistle-blower protections, a requirement that U.S. intelligence agencies respond to congressional requests for documents, a ban on funding permanent bases in Iraq, and a ban on funding any actions that exercise U.S. control over Iraq’s oil money.
Sen. Jim Webb responded by defending the merits of a fraud investigation. No elected officials from Virginia reacted as our Founding Fathers would have, or even as our schoolchildren would have. They are still taught that Congress makes laws, which the president can sign and enforce, or veto, but not rewrite.
Is it too late for impeachment? The movements to impeach Truman and Hoover came later than the current one and served to restore our Constitution even without achieving impeachment. If we do not use the impeachment process this year, it may be too late to preserve the system of government Virginians gave to the world.
David Swanson is a writer and creator of impeachcheney.org.
Copyright 2008 The Free Lance-Star Publishing Company.