Subpoena Dick

By David Swanson

I’ve spoken at impeachment forums, debates, rallies, strategy meetings, and workshops, but tonight’s event in Washington, D.C., will be the first I’ve spoken at since the Vice President’s Chief of Staff was convicted for lying to protect him. So, I’m going in expecting fewer objections and reservations about impeachment. Still, it’s useful to yet again lay out all the familiar ones and why they are more wrong than ever.

I understand that Congressman Henry Waxman may have the prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald testify next week. That’s an excellent start. But if Fitzgerald will not testify voluntarily, he should be subpoenaed, as should Libby, Rove, Armitage, Bartlett, Matalin, Fleischer, and Cheney. Each of these people needs to be put under oath and on camera and questioned.

We know from the Libby trial that they were led by Cheney in a campaign of retribution against Joe Wilson that included telling numerous reporters that Wilson was sent to Niger by his wife Valerie Plame, a CIA operative. Cheney was told by the CIA that Valerie Plame worked as a covert agent in the CIA’s Nonproliferation Division, which is the critical division of the CIA responsible for stopping the spread of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons. Cheney’s efforts to expose Plame exposed her entire covert network. If Plame’s work had been exposed by a double-agent in our government like Aldrich Ames or Robert Hanssen, that person would be facing prosecution for espionage and treason.

Cheney has announced that he will probably refuse to appear if subpoenaed. If so, he can be impeached (which is merely an indictment) and he will show up in the Senate for his trial or resign.

There are more than adequate grounds to impeach Cheney for quite a few different abuses. Cheney led not just a campaign of retribution, but the whole campaign to defraud the nation into an illegal war. Sworn testimony in the Libby trial revealed that Cheney’s office managed the evidence of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, all of which proved to be lies. Cheney personally visited the CIA several times before the invasion to pressure the CIA to distort pre-war intelligence. And Cheney exerted “constant” pressure on the Republican former chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee to stall an investigation into the Bush administration’s use of flawed intelligence on Iraq, according to the new chairman, Senator Jay Rockefeller.

Cheney also created the secret Energy Task Force which operated in defiance of open-government laws. Cheney’s lawyer, David Addington, advocated the “Unitary Executive Theory” which is used by the White House to defy laws duly enacted by Congress and thereby justify dictatorial action. Cheney also directed massive no-bid contracts to his company, Halliburton, and profited from the same illegal war he defrauded the American public to launch.

GQ Magazine, of all places, recently published articles of impeachment against Cheney, which the author summarized thus:

“That in the buildup to war in Iraq, the vice president, lacking confidence in the true casus belli, conspired to invent additional ones, misrepresenting the available intelligence, crafting new “intelligence,” and then spreading these falsehoods to the public, perverting the democratic process that he is sworn to uphold.

“That as the war devolved into occupation, the vice president again sabotaged the democratic system, developing back channels into the Coalition Provisional Authority, a body not under his purview, to remove some of the most effective staff and replace them with his own loyal supplicants—undercutting America’s best effort at war in order to expand his own power.

“That in his domestic capacity, the vice president has been equally reckless with the trust of his office, converting the vice presidency into a de facto prime ministership, conducting secret meetings with secret policy boards to determine national policy and then refusing to share the details of those meetings with the other branches of government.

“Finally, that the vice president has repeatedly promoted the interests of a corporation, Halliburton, over the interests of the nation, causing untold harm to American economic, military, and public health.”


Of course, Cheney is not the only one who needs to be impeached. Bush must be impeached and removed from office as well. The reason is that if he is not, we will have established that it is permissible for US presidents to lie us into wars, torture, murder, detain without charge, spy without warrant, reverse laws with signing statements, make our government secret, and punish those who blow the whistle. This is a precedent we cannot afford to set at any time in our history, much less in the midst of a war with another war threatened and global warming breathing down our necks.

So, why not impeach?

Well, the most common excuse is that… – all together now – “THAT WOULD GIVE US PRESIDENT CHENEY.” The answer to this that works, the answer that persuades people, is that Cheney should be impeached first. And he should. He’s running the show. He’s got to go.

And yet I have a hard time leaving it at that, because the fear of a President Cheney betrays so many misunderstandings of how impeachment works. Impeachment is just indictment. Impeaching Johnson left us with President Johnson. Impeaching Clinton left us with President Clinton. Impeaching Bush would leave us with President Bush. We have to also remove Cheney and Bush from office, through a trial in the Senate. The only way in which we can succeed at that is to expose through the impeachment process so much evidence of their abuses that they will not only both be removed but both face charges in domestic and international court. (More than enough evidence is already public knowledge, but much of the public hasn’t heard about it.) Cheney will almost certainly resign before he becomes the official president, should that possibility occur, but if he became president he would have basically the same powers he has now – except under the shadow of a Congress able to investigate and impeach. Whether or not the replacement president, the new Gerald Ford, pardons Bush and Cheney, he or she will almost certainly lose the next election. But – and this is the important point – the selection or election of a president is of trivial importance beside the need to maintain the presidency within the bounds established by the Constitution. If we do not impeach now, future presidents will be dictators, not presidents at all. We need to face the seriousness of that and quit worrying about who that next dictator will be.

That being said, I’ve learned, and all I’ll say tonight is this: Impeach Cheney first.

Impeachment is going to be hard to do. Well, yes, that’s true, but what isn’t? If impeachment were underway now, would you support it? If you were aware that those who already support it in its absence are a majority in the polls, would you support it? Are you the sort of person who does what your government wants or the sort who tries to get your government to do what the people want?

Impeachment is no more difficult than peace or single-payer health care or any number of other goals, and moving it forward could help achieve other goals. Many of the people brought into political activism by impeachment are not taken away from other campaigns. They are a new and limitless resource, and their energy will be added to other useful projects. The pressure of impeachment has helped to end wars in the past, and Congress clearly needs the help now. During the Nixon impeachment, all sorts of good legislation was passed, including raising the minimum wage and protecting endangered species. Impeachment need take no longer than Congress is taking to bicker over exactly how to end a war, and impeachment would help to end the war. Beyond that, impeachment and removal from office will be required to end the war. The Secretary of State has already indicated that the White House will ignore what Congress does to limit and control the war. And the manner in which the war was begun in secret with misappropriated money suggests what course Bush will take if Congress cuts off the cash flow.

“Bush has not committed perjury.”

Among those who believe Bush has not committed any impeachable offenses, the most common reason is that he has not lied under oath. But impeachment is a political, not a legal, process – Congress is not obliged to let Bush off on any such technicality. And, in any case, it’s a technicality that makes no sense, because perjury is one crime among many. 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 and Cheney said that Saddam had nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons and was behind the attacks of 9-11. True, in many instances he avoided making these claims in so many words, and rather implied them. In other cases, he and his subordinates (for whom he is legally responsible), made these claims in the clearest language. In every such case, fraud was committed. Implying and omitting are legally fraud as much as lying is.

But Bush’s crimes don’t end with fraud or deception. It is illegal to spy in violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, something Bush has confessed to doing. It is illegal to detain without charge and to torture, practices that have been well documented, drafted as official White House policy, lobbied for by the Vice President, and possibly retroactively pardoned by the Military Commissions Act. 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 has published a report listing numerous other laws violated by Bush.

“Bush is too dumb to know he was lying.”
Bush’s comment to Diane Sawyer above belies this, as do other statements he’s made. But as the previous discussion should suggest, Bush’s lying is the least of it. In addition to the crimes mentioned above, Bush has failed to perform his duties as president as required of him by the Constitution. His negligence prior to and after 9-11, prior to and after Katrina, and during the ongoing global warming crisis: these are failures of the highest order. Indeed, these are, in the old British phrase that appears in our Constitution: “high crimes and misdemeanors.”

“You can’t impeach over policy differences. You must impeach for specific legal violations.”
We’re seeking to impeach over extreme abuses of power. Bush’s specific legal violations are too many to list and can begin, again, with the violations of FISA to which Bush has confessed. But impeachment is not a technical, legal question. Among the grounds for Nixon’s impeachment, in an Article of Impeachment approved by the House Judiciary Committee, was his lying to the public. The lying cited was his lying about an ongoing investigation and cover-up of his crimes, not his lying about, for example, secretly bombing Cambodia. But Nixon’s lying about his investigation, nonetheless, was an impeachable offense without being a crime. It was a “high crime and misdemeanor,” an abuse of power.

“Impeachment is divisive and partisan.”
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 just 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 has spoken in support of impeaching Bush, won. So did Chuck Hagel who has since begun talking about impeachment.

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. Investigations 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.

“Impeachment will make the Democrats lose in 2008.”
The historical record suggests that this is all wrong. When the Democrats held back from impeachment during Iran Contra, they lost the next elections. And many of the people they failed to go after came back in the form of the Bush Jr. Administration to make life hell for the Democrats and the rest of us. 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 ten presidents, usually by Republicans, and usually with electoral success following.

Attempting to impeach Clinton, even as unpopular as that was, did not hurt GOP rule in Washington–they kept both houses of Congress, and took the White House at the next election. In 1998 many of the leaders of the impeachment push actually improved their percentages. Republicans held the House and Senate in 1998 and held the House easily in 2000 (the election following the impeachment votes). Indeed, the place where Republicans had a setback in 2000 was in the Senate, which had failed to convict. 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.

“There are more pressing issues. We must pass positive legislation.”
More pressing 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, to not be sent to 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. Even the restriction on days served in Iraq that Jack Murtha has been advocating for has already been passed and signed into law and thrown out with a signing statement.

Under the new Congress Bush may begin vetoing legislation, but even more so he will continue to use signing statements. In either case, bills will be passed but policy will remain unchanged. And important bills, such as a bill to use the power of the purse to quickly end the war, appear unlikely even to be passed – though we’re all certainly trying to pass them. Impeachment investigations of the war crimes could help build the momentum to end the war. And what if we could end the war? Would that be enough or wouldn’t we want to hold Bush and Cheney accountable and thereby possibly discourage the next war?

Why not just investigations and see where they lead?
Because we have very little time before the 2008 election looms too large. Because people are dying for lies and oil every day. And because the evidence is far more than sufficient already. The signing statements are on the White House website. The FISA violations have been publicly confessed to. The Downing Street Memos and an endless pile of similar evidence are already available. We need investigations for publicity, not to learn anything we don’t already know.

“Impeachment would be depicted as revenge.”
Of course it would. But would you believe that depiction? Do you think everyone else is dumber than you are and would fall for it?

“Impeachment would distract from the debate about the war.”
Impeachment would add to that debate. What do you think we’re impeaching Bush and Cheney FOR?

“Impeachment would split the Democrats.”
What wouldn’t? The war? Where have you been? If the Democrats were united behind impeachment we wouldn’t need to be lobbying them for it. Winning over all of them and some Republicans is precisely what this is all about. Right now the spine exhibited by the Progressive Caucus in splitting with the leadership over the war is the best reason to hope.

“Impeachment works within corrupt parties; we should focus on Green Party campaigns”
We should not focus on elections for two years. Elections are not the only citizen involvement in a democracy. The Green Party admirably stands for impeachment and is working for it as part of the campaign. That does more for the Green Party than just focusing on elections.

“Congress Will Never Impeach Because It’s Complicit”
It’s only partially complicit in some of the offenses. It’s not complicit at all in the signing statements, and very little in the spying, etc. But Congress will make itself fully complicit if it does not impeach.


I’ve borrowed ideas above from John Nichols and Bob Fertik.

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