FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT IMPEACHMENT
By Charlottesville Center for Peace and Justice
Why would we want a President Cheney? Or why would we want a new Republican who could run as an incumbent? Or why would we want a President Pelosi?
We propose impeaching Cheney first or together with Bush. The first Articles of Impeachment to be introduced (H Res 333) are addressed only to Cheney. Impeaching Cheney first ought to put the fear of a President Cheney to rest. But there remains the possibility of fearing his replacement or even of not wanting Nancy Pelosi to be president or not wanting her to become president in this way. She won’t. We will never succeed in removing Bush and Cheney from office simultaneously and by surprise. We will remove them, but they will be replaced by a new President Ford, who will operate within the rule of law and lose the next election.
But this whole discussion misses the point. The question of who holds which office for the next year or six months, as well as the question of who wins the next election, is of very minor importance in comparison with the question of whether future administrations will be compelled to operate within the limitations of the law. If we do not impeach Cheney and Bush, we will establish that it is permitted for future presidents and vice presidents to mislead the Congress and the public into wars, spy in violation of the law, detain without charge, torture, operate in secrecy, and rewrite laws with signing statements. Those powers in the wrong hands could do far more serious damage than Bush and Cheney have done.
So, if we keep this in perspective, the fear of Cheney appears trivial. It appears even more so when we consider that impeachment and removal from office are two separate steps and that we’re only working on the first one so far, and when we recognize the extent to which Cheney has been running the country already for years. Were Cheney officially president, most policies would remain unchanged, but the public face of the White House and of the Republican party would be that of a man whose approval rating has been unable to top 20 percent. The Republicans will never allow this, so it would be rather foolish for the Democrats to retreat out of fear of it.
Whoever is president next will have to operate under fear of being impeached next. That is the point of impeachment. In the case of Cheney, he would be operating under the high probability of being impeached. No serious discussion of the evidence can incriminate Bush or Cheney but not the other. And, in any event, we will be impeaching Cheney first.
Why not just wait for the next election?
The authors of our Constitution established the schedule for elections, but devoted a lot more attention to the mechanism of impeachment as a check on elected despotism in between elections. They had recently thrown off a king and had no interest in electing temporary kings every four years. Neither should we.
Bush and Cheney can still do a great deal of damage before the end of their term. People are dying every day as a result of their policies. There is an urgent need to remove them from office in order to end the brutal occupation of Iraq and prevent an attack on Iran.
But we would need to impeach them were this January 2009 or had they already left office. The purpose of impeachment, again, is to set standards for future administrations. We cannot give the powers assumed by this administration (to mislead the Congress and the public into wars, spy in violation of the law, detain without charge, torture, operate in secrecy, and rewrite laws with signing statements) to future presidents and vice presidents without expecting similar or worse abuses.
Won’t impeachment take up too much time and distract from other goals?
Nixon’s impeachment took three months. Clinton’s impeachment and trial combined took four months. The current Congress has wasted more than that amount of time already in avoiding impeachment, and has almost nothing to show for it (a minimal partial and gradual correction to the plummeting minimum wage). Congress has taken no serious steps toward ending the occupation of Iraq, and has in fact provided major new funding for it. During Nixon’s impeachment and the lead up to it, in contrast, the threat of impeachment allowed Congress to raise the minimum wage, create the Endangered Species Act, and end a war.
Important as stem cell research and immigration policy may be, when did the Bill of Rights become a distraction? What is more important than restoring the right to not be spied on, to not be picked up without charge and locked away to be tortured with no access to a lawyer, a trial, or your family, not to be sent into an aggressive war for greed and power? Of course, there are many pressing areas in which we need to pass legislation. But the outgoing Republican Congress passed some important bills, including those banning torture and illegal spying. But Bush used signing statements to announce his intention to disobey those laws. Under the new Democratic Congress, Bush has made clear that he will either veto or signing statement any bill he disapproves of.
Isn’t it more important to end the war?
Ending the war is a task that could best be accomplished by inaction, by Congress refusing to provide any more funding. Or it could be accomplished by a bill created by one committee. It is not a fulltime task for the entire Congress.
However, this Congress has already demonstrated that it has no intention of ending the war. Pelosi has sworn that cutting off the funding is “off the table.”
What could help move Congress would be the same thing that helped a previous Congress find the nerve to end the Vietnam War and convinced Nixon not to veto the cut-off in funding: impeachment. In this case, even more so than Nixon’s, impeachment would drive the war debate in the right direction, because impeachment would be for offenses either directly connected to the war or offenses that have been justified by “war on terror” propaganda.
In addition, should Congress actually cut off the funding and end the war, it is very likely that Bush and Cheney would misappropriate funds from the Pentagon to keep the occupation going. They did so in order to secretly begin the war, and they have never been held accountable for it. So, removing them from office is not only needed in order to give Congress the nerve to end the war, but is also needed if the war is ever to actually end.
Isn’t it more important to win the next election(s)?
No. It isn’t. But if it were, we would be wise to recognize that impeachment is the best guarantee of electoral success for Democrats and Republicans alike. Voters appreciate efforts to push for a cause. Cowardice and restraint are not very popular.
When the Democrats held back from impeachment during Iran Contra, they lost the next elections. When the Democrats led the effort to investigate and impeach Nixon, they won big in the next election, even though Ford was running as an incumbent. When the Republicans tried to impeach Truman, they got what they wanted out of the Supreme Court and then won the next elections. Articles of Impeachment have been filed against 10 presidents, usually by Republicans, and usually with electoral success following. When the Republicans impeached Clinton, impeachment was actually unpopular with the public. Even so, the Republicans lost far fewer seats than is the norm for a majority party at that point in its tenure. Two years later, they lost seats in the Senate, which had acquitted, but maintained their strength in the House, with representatives who had led the impeachment charge winning big.
Parties that seek to impeach are not punished at the next election. In fact, they frequently improve their position — as evidenced by Dems in 1974, Republicans in 1952, and all the way back to the Whigs of last century. In every election back to 1842 where House members of an opposition party to a sitting president have — as a whole or a significant caucus within the party — proposed impeachment of the president, that opposition party retained or improved its position in the House at the following election. There is no instance of voters responding to a significant impeachment effort by sweeping its advocates out of office. In fact, history points in a different direction — suggesting that voters frequently reward parties for taking the Constitution and the rule of law seriously.
Wouldn’t impeachment split the Democrats?
It is splitting them now, but wouldn’t if they united behind it. At least 80 percent of Democrats want impeachment. If 80 percent of Democratic elected representatives were pushing for impeachment, the Bush presidency would be over quite quickly. The Democrats in Congress tried to avoid the topic of the war, for fear it would split them. Iraq went unmentioned in Pelosi’s plan for her first 100 hours. But the majority of the country wants to see the issues it cares about dealt with, and there are some Democrats who will stand with the people. The Democratic Party could unite by supporting peace and impeachment.
Why not do investigations and see where they lead?
They have led to the Bush administration refusing to comply with a growing list of subpoenas: http://democrats.com/subpoenas . The House Judiciary Committee passed three articles of impeachment against Nixon. Article 3 was for refusal to comply with subpoenas.
Impeachment is an investigation, leading to an indictment. A preliminary investigation is not possible when subpoenas are ignored, and is not needed when indisputable evidence is already public knowledge.
Has Bush announced his intention to violate numerous laws? The signing statements are on the White House website. The Supreme Court has begun citing them in rulings, as if they have the force of law.
Has Bush authorized spying programs knowing they violated the law and the Bill of Rights? He’s on videotape lying about it for years. He’s on videotape confessing to it. A federal court has already ruled what he’s done a felony, finding in NSA vs. ACLU that the NSA program of broad data-mining and warrantless wire-tapping of U.S. citizens is illegal and unconstitutional, violating the Fourth Amendment.
Have Bush and Cheney threatened an aggressive war on Iran? They’re both on videotape doing so.
Was Bush criminally negligent during Hurricane Katrina? He’s on videotape being warned of the danger. He’s on videotape claiming he was never warned.
Have Bush and Cheney used unlawful detentions and torture? The Supreme Court in Rosul v. George W. Bush ruled detainees were being wrongfully imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay Detention Center in Cuba. The Bush Administration’s detainment policies and actions were ruled unconstitutional and illegal – in violation of Amendments V, VI &VII. The use of torture, legally justified by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and thus condoned by President Bush and Vice President Cheney is an additional violation to the 8th Amendment. The Supreme Court again in Hamdan v. Donald Rumsfeld, George W. Bush, et al. ruled that the Military Commissions instituted by the Bush Administration violate the Universal Code of Military Justice and the Geneva Conventions to which we are bound by American law. Again, the Bush Administration’s actions were found by the highest court of the land to be illegal and unconstitutional – violating Amendments V, VI, VII . Bush and Cheney and their staffs have defended these policies on video and in writing. The practice of detaining without charge and the numerous victims of it are undisputed public knowledge. Evidence of torture is voluminous and indisputable and includes public photographs.
Did Bush and Cheney intentionally mislead the Congress and the public into the invasion and occupation of Iraq? They are on videotape doing so, and the evidence that they knew exactly what they were doing is overwhelming and has been collected here: http://afterdowningstreet.org/keydocuments
Isn’t impeachment an extreme remedy? Doesn’t there have to be an actual crime committed? Doesn’t there have to be perjury?
There’s nothing extreme about it. The authors of the Constitution expected it to be used frequently. The U.S. House of Representatives has impeached 16 people, two of them presidents.
One of the better lists of the specific criminal violations is found in Congressman John Conyers’ report: http://www.afterdowningstreet.org/downloads/crisis/summary.pdf
Impeachment is the penalty for treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors. The Constitution says nothing about perjury as a ground for impeachment. And it is a crime to mislead or to defraud Congress, whether or not you do so under oath.
When Diane Sawyer asked Bush on television why he had made the claims he had about Iraq’s supposed weapons of mass destruction, he replied:
“What’s the difference? The possibility that [Saddam] could acquire weapons, if he were to acquire weapons, he would be the danger.”
What’s the difference? The difference is that had the President merely said that Saddam Hussein could conceivably acquire weapons someday, many people would have opposed his war who supported it. They supported it because Bush said that Saddam had nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons and was behind the attacks of 9-11. He and his subordinates (for whom he is legally responsible) made these claims in the clearest language. In every such case, fraud was committed. And instances of implying and omitting are legally fraud as much as lying is.
When Bush lies, he is well aware of what he is doing. The day after the 2004 elections, he told reporters that he had lied to them about keeping Rumsfeld on as Secretary of Defense so that they wouldn’t write anything about it.
It is illegal to spy in violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. It is illegal to detain without charge and to torture. It is illegal to take funds from other projects to begin a war before it has been authorized. It is illegal to target civilians and hospitals and journalists, and to use white phosphorous and napalm as weapons. It is a fundamental violation of the U.S. Constitution to alter laws with signing statements. Congressman John Conyers’ report lists numerous other laws violated by Bush.
So what purpose does impeachment serve?
It denies future presidents and vice presidents the power to mislead the Congress and the public into wars, spy in violation of the law, detain without charge, torture, operate in secrecy, and rewrite laws with signing statements. Again, those powers in the wrong hands could do far more serious damage than Bush and Cheney have done.
If we do not impeach when the case is as compelling as it is now, we are effectively removing impeachment from the Constitution. Secretly, almost everyone agrees that the Bush/Cheney Administration has committed impeachable offenses. That’s why even the pundits and Republicans are not arguing the case on its merits, but trying to scare the Democrats off based on politics. Given that, how can we not pursue accountability?
Isn’t impeachment divisive and unpleasant and traumatic and catastrophic and unsettling and partisan?
No. Impeachment is a remedy for trauma, and one that the majority of Americans long for. Here are the polls: http://www.afterdowningstreet.org/polling
Our President belongs to a political party, it’s true. But that does not make him any less of a threat to our system of government. Voters in 2006 rejected his party overwhelmingly. Not a single new Republican was elected, and enough new Democrats won to achieve a substantial majority in the House and a slim one in the Senate. Voters opposed the party of Bush and Cheney, who are incredibly unpopular. Even some Republicans who spoke against the war lost, primarily because they were Republicans. But Republican Ron Paul of Texas, who had spoken in support of impeaching Bush, won.
If Paul and other Republicans manage to put their country ahead of their party’s president, as Republicans did during Nixon’s presidency, impeachment will not look so partisan. But if Republicans fail to stand for impeachment, then Democrats must do it alone, and doing so will be partisan in the best sense. It will build the Democratic Party into a powerful force for years to come, and it will be divisive primarily on Capitol Hill and in the world of media pundits.
Around the country it will bring us together. Hearings that expose Bush and Cheney’s abuses of power will serve to educate many of those who still support them, including those who believe there really were WMDs, there really was a tie to 9-11, Bush was honestly mistaken but meant well, illegal spying is saving us from terrorists, nobody has been tortured, and a signing statement is just something a deaf person tells you with his hands.
Wouldn’t impeachment be depicted as revenge?
Probably. But would you believe that depiction? Do you think everyone else is dumber than you are and would fall for it? The coverage thus far of the initial push for impeachment in Congress does not depict it as revenge.
What Articles of Impeachment have been introduced thus far?
Only three against Cheney, contained in H. Res. 333. (Not H.R. 333, but H. Res. 333. Let’s say that one more time: You will not find it under H.R. 333, but must look up H. Res. 333.) You can find all the details at http://www.impeachcheney.org
How many towns, cities, states, state political parties, labor unions, and other groups have passed resolutions calling for impeachment?
The list grows every day at http://impeachpac.org/resolutions-list
Why should a small town or large city or county or state pass a resolution for impeachment?
Impeachment was placed in the House of Representatives as the part of our government closest to the people. Closer still are states and cities and towns and counties. The people can speak through their local governments. This is how impeachment is supposed to happen. There are precedents: state legislatures have petitioned Congress successfully to impeach. This tradition is laid out in the Jefferson Manual, a rule book for the House of Representatives originally written by Thomas Jefferson. The actions of local governments and state governments are heard by Congress Members.
But isn’t impeachment a national issue?
As pointed out at http://www.impeachbush.tv , most city council members take an oath of office promising to “protect and defend the Constitution from enemies foreign and domestic.” They don’t take an oath to fix potholes. If the Constitution is in danger, then their primary duty is to defend it. If it is safe, and they have time on their hands, then they can fix potholes.
Cities and towns routinely send petitions to Congress for all kinds of requests. This is allowed under Clause 3, Rule XII, Section 819, of the Rules of the House of Representatives. This clause is routinely used to accept petitions from cities, and memorials from states, all across America.
If a federal action has a significant negative impact on a city, then it is appropriate for the city to defend itself. Citizens from this city may be sent, or have been sent, to Iraq to fight in an illegal and unjustified war. Tax funds from this city that could have been spent locally have been spent in Iraq for war. Tax money from this city has been wasted in no-bid contracts with companies like Halliburton with deep ties to the Bush administration. Yet this city can barely afford the emergency services, libraries, and schools that we need. For the specific cost, see http://www.costofwar.com
The state National Guard should be available to protect this city from floods, hurricanes, earthquakes or other disasters. But instead they have been sent to Iraq by President Bush.
What slogans can we put on posters?
Impeach Cheney and Bush
Impeach Cheney First
Business Before Pleasure: Impeach Cheney First
Rule of Law or Rule of Cheney
Rule of Law or Rule of Cheney: Time to Choose
Get Tough on Crime: Impeach
Get Tough on Crime: Impeach W and Dick
Impeach the Son of a Bush
Impeach Bush for Blowing the Job
Regime Change Begins at Home
The End Is Near: Article II, Section 4
Nixon Ignored Subpoenas Too
Impeach for Peace
Impeachment Is the Only Exit Strategy
Benching Bush Is the Only Benchmark
How can someone get involved and learn more?
What are the grounds for impeachment and where can I sign a petition?
ADD MORE QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS AS COMMENTS BELOW