Pelosi, Conyers, the People, and Impeachment

By David Swanson

Speech delivered in Portland, Maine, at rally organized by http://www.maineimpeach.org onApril 28th national day of impeachment events organized by http://www.a28.org

I want to thank Maine Impeach dot org for putting this event together. This is a wonderful crowd! The paper on grounds for impeachment drafted by Maine Lawyers for Democracy is incredibly well done: http://www.afterdowningstreet.org/me

I spoke earlier today at a rally in Boston, Massachusetts, where one of the other speakers was Dan DeWalt, whose leadership and determination after many months led to the Vermont State Senate passing a resolution demanding the impeachment of Bush and Cheney. We spoke at Faneuil Hall, where men like Wendell Phillips led a movement to abolish slavery, something the wise and knowing of that day said could not be done. Those abolitionists made their movement a fight for freedom of the press. And make no mistake: our struggle is the same.

The corporations that control our communications system do not report the grounds for impeachment, do not poll the public’s support for it, and at least until today have not reported on our movement. There have been exceptions, and the most significant has been the Boston Globe’s Charlie Savage, who recently received a Pulitzer Prize for reporting on our President’s habit of violating laws and announcing his intention to do so with so-called signing statements. There can be no better grounds for impeachment than those public advertisements of criminality.

And there is hope that today may mark a breakthrough in compelling the media to cover impeachment. In fact, I just did a television interview in the foyer. Events are being held in 43 states and several foreign countries today. Some are holding rallies. Others are spelling out the word IMPEACH with their bodies on beaches, with boats on lakes, with pizzas on boardwalks. I just got a text message that said “Everyone is taking off their clothes and spelling IMPEACH on the beach at Coney Island.” I just got a phone call from Seattle where they’ve stretched hug IMPEACH banners over the highways. A fleet of seven airplanes is taking the impeachment message to the skies and photographing the displays below. And Bush is giving a speech in Miami where a huge crowd is gathered, but they’re not there to welcome him.

Part of what has given this movement energy is the action that a Congressman from Cleveland, Ohio, took last Tuesday. Rep. Dennis Kucinich introduced House Resolution 333, which contains 3 articles of impeachment against Richard B. Cheney. The Congress Members from Maine need to cosponsor this bill or defend the actions of Dick Cheney. Kucinich is a hero now to millions of Americans and to people around the world, but he merely did his duty, it was a long time coming, and it is his duty to impeach Bush as well.

At stake is not just an offensive use of signing statements. At stake is accountability for (and I am neither exaggerating nor using metaphor) – at stake is accountability for mass murder. A war based on lies and launched by an unelected president and vice president has cost the lives of approximately a million Iraqis, caused millions more to flee their country, and displaced many more within Iraq. In the process, over 3,000 US troops have died, tens of thousands have been wounded, and been driven into debt and divorce and been left to struggle with post traumatic stress disorder.

If one man on the streets of Portland, Maine, or some small American town, murdered one person, would prosecution be optional? Would the local sheriff wait for years before asking the man’s friends to come in and answer a few questions? Would police and prosecutors stake their future careers on keeping the murderer at large? But this is the 2008 election strategy of Sheriff Pelosi and her followers. They want the war makers left free precisely because the public is outraged. They want the war to keep going so that they can benefit by “opposing” it. But November 2008 is too far off, and Pelosi will not be able to hold back the public pressure.

At the start of 2007, which is now one-third wasted, the new Democratic committee chairmen tried to appease the citizenry with talk of investigations and oversight. Four months later, the House and Senate intelligence committees have not investigated the lies that took us to war. The judiciary committees and the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee have looked into some related matters. But officials who have testified have experienced extraordinary lapses of memory. The unitary executive branch has refused to produce subpoenaed documents. And now Condoleezza Rice says she’s “not inclined” to obey a subpoena requiring her to appear and answer questions about forged documents that were used to mislead our nation into war. She’s not claiming executive privilege. What sense would that make these years after the crime was committed? She’s claiming unitary executive privilege – the privilege to violate the law.

Congress can’t compel Rice to appear, and neither can our courts. Law enforcement is handled by the executive branch. But executives who fail to faithfully execute the laws of this land can be removed from office. That power lies solely with Congress and is called impeachment!

Last night on PBS, Bill Moyers celebrated the Democrats’ beginning to use subpoenas. For 6 years, he said, they had been suffering from subpoena envy. I’m afraid they now may be experiencing premature congratulation, and self-congratulation. If subpoenas are ignored, the options for Congress Members, including Chairman Henry Waxman, are: backing impeachment, or retiring. And I don’t want Congressman Waxman to retire.

I’m usually asked to speak about the evidence for impeachment, and frankly I’m a little tired of it. We’ve got enough smoking guns to fill an NRA convention. The evidence that Bush and Cheney intentionally lied to Congress (which is a felony) and to the public (which is an assault on democracy) about weapons of mass destruction and alleged Iraqi ties to al Qaeda and 9-11 is overwhelming. The Maine Lawyers have spelled it out, and it is collected at http://www.afterdowningstreet.org

Bush and Cheney are on video telling these lies. Cheney repeatedly visited the CIA headquarters to pressure them to get it wrong – a story we may hear about in George Tenet’s forthcoming book. Cheney set up a phony intelligence operation in the Pentagon, distorted a National Intelligence Estimate, leaked misleading bits of classified information, and helped coordinate a marketing campaign to promote the war. Cheney led a campaign to punish Joe Wilson for exposing one of the lies – the same lie that Rice now refuses to talk about. The campaign involved exposing an undercover CIA agent, and act of TREASON. Cheney has directed contracts to Halliburton and profited there from, an act of BRIBERY. Cheney has allowed secret meetings of corporate executives to determine our national energy and military policies, a HIGH CRIME And MISDEMEANOR. A section of the US Constitution that was displayed last Thursday on a giant banner dropped in the courtyard of the Hart Senate Office Building (for which 14 people were arrested) says that officers of our government shall be removed from office upon impeachment for and conviction of treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors. With Dick Cheney you get the whole package.

With George W. Bush it’s worse. No investigation is needed to expose his war lies, or his spying in violation of the law. He’s on video for years lying about warrantless spying and later brazenly confessing to it. He’s on video being warned about Hurricane Katrina. He’s on video claiming he wasn’t warned. Both Bush and Cheney are on video threatening an aggressive attack on Iran. Such a threat – just the threat – violates the UN Charter and Article 6 of the US Constitution. As does the war on Iraq and all the war crimes that have been part of it. And Bush and Cheney are responsible for the actions of their subordinates, including Alberto Gonzales, especially those actions they do not investigate or hold anyone accountable for.

Bush has detained without charge, held people in secret prisons, and tortured. These facts are not in dispute. The crimes are simply so brazen, so radical, so far over the line of decency, such a retreat to the evils of monarchy that American revolutionaries thought they were leaving behind, that people are pretending not to see, and the media is not helping.

While no investigations are needed, hearings could help better inform the public. But the media only covers hearings with big-name witnesses, and they either forget everything they’ve done or refuse to appear. The problem, in any case, is not the public. It’s Congress. How can we persuade Congress Members, other than Kucinich, maybe even a Congressman from Maine, to act?

The answer is not convincing them that impeachable offenses have been committed. They know it. Thirty-nine Congress Members in early 2006 signed onto House Resolution 635 to create an investigation into impeachment. At least one new freshman member was elected campaigning on impeachment, and many campaigning on accountability. They want impeachment. They know their duty. But Pelosi and the media are against it, with only the public for it. Who wins this struggle is a question of how active the public becomes and how smart we are.

We need to pressure Pelosi directly, but also indirectly. We need to raise hell until the media polls Americans on their support for impeaching Cheney and Bush. Or we need to raise funds to pay for state-level or national polls. We need to take those results to our Congress Members’ offices and put them in their hands. There will be a majority for impeaching Bush and two-thirds for Cheney. I guarantee it.

We need to meet with editorial boards and persuade them to take a position for or against Dick Cheney. We need to demand that the media cover our events, or we need to hold our events in their lobbies and offices. Isn’t there a newspaper near here? If they’re not here with us, we should ALL go pay them a visit when we’re done.

We need to lobby the progressive Democrats to join Kucinich, especially those on the House Judiciary Committee and especially Chairman John Conyers. And we need to talk to these politicians in terms they understand: election gains and losses. Impeachment, for many of us, is not about elections or parties or individuals. It is about restoring limitations to the offices of the presidency and the vice presidency. But that won’t move Pelosi or persuade many Democrats to defy her. It is, however, what they should talk about when they do step forward. And they should ask Republicans to join them. At least one Republican, Ron Paul, has said he favors impeachment. Many rank and file Republicans cannot possibly want a Democrat to hold the powers Bush has assumed. I certainly don’t.

What Democrats in Congress need to feel is immediate public pressure painting them as defenders of Dick Cheney. And what they need to be told is that impeachment is good for elections. It is. The Democrats held Nixon to account and won, and let Reagan off easy and lost. The Republicans went after Truman and won. They went after Clinton despite public opposition and still held onto power and began expanding it. If the Democrats do not act, the public will see Iraq as their war and Bush as their president long before November 2008, and when election day comes, voters will stay home.

Democrats in Congress also have to be told that impeachment is not a distraction from ending the war or anything else worthwhile, but rather the way to achieve those goals. Four months of avoiding impeachment has accomplished virtually nothing. Anything that is accomplished will be vetoed or signing statemented. In contrast, during Nixon’s impeachment, Congress raised the minimum wage, created the Endangered Species Act, and ended a war. And it was the pressure of impeachment that made those things possible. And, as my friend and fellow agitator John Nichols points out, in 1973 the Speaker of the House Carl Albert said impeachment was off the table. The Speaker clearly does not get the final word, because the table belongs to us.

Of course, it’s worse when the Speaker is taking her talking points from the White House. That’s what Pelosi did a year ago when the Republican National Committee announced with no evidence the absurd fantasy that talk of impeachment would be good for Republicans in the 2006 elections. Pelosi immediately made the same announcement. This bit of recent history needs to be made known, because what popular support the Democrats have comes from their opposing, not obeying, Bush.

In at least 16 states, the state Democratic Party has passed a resolution asking for impeachment. The California Democratic Party is expected to pass such a resolution tomorrow, and when Pelosi hosts the dinner tonight, delegates plan to dramatically put impeachment on the table. I got a phone call from San Diego, where they say they’ve spelled IMPEACH on the beach, and no one can get into the Democratic Convention without being greeted by impeachment advocates. The right-wing San Diego Union Tribune has even run a story about it, featuring a photo of impeachment advocates Marcy Winograd and Cindy Asner, the wife of impeachment advocate and actor Ed Asner.

Ultimately, all we want from Pelosi is neutrality. If she won’t lead or follow, she should step out of the way. The minute she does, John Conyers will lead.

“I have a choice,” Conyers said last year. “I can either stand by and lead my constituents to believe I do not care that the president apparently no longer believes he is bound by any law or code of decency. Or I can act.”

We need to remind John Conyers of this choice every day until he does act. If he acts, he will be remembered as a hero. If he does not act, some future Emerson will write of him words like those Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote of Webster:

Why did all manly gifts in Webster fail?
He wrote on Nature’s grandest brow For Sale.

John Conyers’ legacy deserves better than that. For his own sake, we must pressure him to do what he knows is right. I’m convinced that he wants us to pressure him. I’m confident we will do so. And I’m certain that Bush and Cheney will be impeached and removed from office before the end of their terms.

But if someone asks you whether impeachment is likely of unlikely, guaranteed or impossible, tell them that you are not a spectator, you’re a citizen, and impeachment will happen because you’re going to make it happen. In two days it will be four years since Mission Accomplished was declared, and two years since the Downing Street Minutes were published. We have our own mission to accomplish. With no fear, no hesitation, and no sleep till impeachment.

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David Swanson is the Washington Director of Democrats.com and co-founder of the AfterDowningStreet.org coalition, a board member of Progressive Democrats of America, and of the Backbone Campaign. He serves on a working group of United for Peace and Justice. He has worked as a newspaper reporter and as a communications director, with jobs including Press Secretary for Dennis Kucinich’s 2004 presidential campaign. His website is www.davidswanson.org. In April 2007, Swanson began consulting part-time for Kucinich for President 2008.