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COMMENTARY:

Tipping Point on Impeachment is Approaching

by Dave Lindorff

When someone as conservative as Rep. Michaud calls for impeachment hearings, and accuses the vice president of abuse of power--an impeachable offense under the Constitution--it is no longer so easy for the media to write the idea off as "extremism" or as a "fringe" idea.
Thu, 01/03/2008—Way back in October of 2005, when the publisher of St. Martin's Press contacted my agent and asked if I would do a book on impeaching President Bush, I remember thinking it was a wacky, if interesting, idea. Certainly almost nobody was talking about it. Not in the media, not in Congress, and not even at the occasional anti-war march.

I took the job (who's going to turn down a decent advance?), but had in mind a book written with a light touch--a sense of humor--figuring that as evil as the Bush/Cheney regime was, there was also much to laugh at.

In short order, though, things got serious. There was the "Scooter" Libby investigation into the admiinistration's outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame, and James Risen's belated story in the New York Times about the administration's illegal NSA spying operation on American citizens. And late that year, Rep. John Conyers, the minority leader on the House Judiciary Committee, issued a report (later a book) laying out the impeachable crimes of Bush and Cheney.

As I got down to writing, with my co-author Barbara Olshansky, it was starting to look like impeachment was a serious possibility. Over the months during the early spring that the book, The Case for Impeachment, went through the edit process, the case for impeachment grew even stronger, with news of presidential signing statements and reports that the president was claiming dictatorial powers to ignore laws passed by the Congress, and that he had authorized torture, in violation of international and US criminal law. As well, the extent of his and Cheney's lies about the reasons for invading Iraq became more evident by the day.

Then came the 2006 off-year Congressional election, and the new Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi's arch assertion that impeachment, in a Democratic House, would be "off the table."

Suddenly, no matter how serious the crimes and the abuses of power, no matter that a majority of Americans wanted impeachment hearings, impeachment became, for the power elite and the media, a non-issue. It would go nowhere in Congress, and it would not be reported in the newsmedia. Even when Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), finally, in April of 2007, introduced an actual bill of impeachment against Vice President Cheney, it was hardly even mentioned in the national news.

John Conyers, now Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, where impeachment hearings would be held, was reduced to an embarrassing puppet of Pelosi, repeatedly telling progressive groups that the president needed to be removed, and then just as repeatedly backing away from any kind of action. Kucinich's bill remains stalled in his committee, nine months after it was filed, though over that period, his bill has gained 24 co-sponsors.

But over the past month, things have begun to move. First, three members of the House Judiciary Committee, led by Rep. Robert Wexler, a six-term Democrat from south Florida, announced their intention to ask Conyers and Pelosi to start hearings on whether Cheney had committed impeachable crimes and abuses of power. Wexler and his colleagues, Reps. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), are mainstream members of the House Democratic Caucus, not progressive fire-brands. They were later joined by Rep. Anthony Wiener.

Now, in what could be a tipping point for Cheney's fortunes, another member of the House has issued a call for impeachment hearings. This time it's Rep. Mike Michaud of Maine. What makes Michaud different is that he is a self-described "blue-dog" Democrat--one of those conservative members of the Democratic Party who often vote with Republicans, who originally supported the Iraq War (though he is now for cutting off funding for that criminal adventure), and who tend to look for bi-partisanship instead of political confrontation.

Despite his political predilections, Michaud, in a letter to Rep. Conyers, says:

I write today to request that you include vigorous hearings into the abuses of power by this Administration and include impeachment hearings of Vice President Richard Cheney in the Judiciary Committee schedule for the second session of the 110th Congress.

As you are aware, the House of Representatives voted on November 7th to send a resolution of impeachment of Vice President Cheney to the Judiciary Committee. I urge you to commence these proceedings. There is no doubt that at the very least this Administration has dangerously expanded the scope of executive authority and flaunted the constitutionally defined separation of powers.

Serious allegations have been raised against the Vice President regarding his role in mischaracterizing information that led to the invasion of Iraq, in similarly mischaracterizing information about Iran's nuclear program, the outing of a CIA agent as political retaliation, the abuse of detainees in contravention of the Geneva Conventions, and the illegal wiretapping of American citizens. As a recent poll indicates, 70% of the American public believes that the Vice President has abused his power.

This is not an attack on Vice President Cheney or any other member of this Administration. Impeachment investigations must not be about the man or his personal life; they must focus on whether the office of the Vice President has illegally expanded its power or abused the law. Expansions and potential abuses of power by this Administration become precedents for future ones, which lead to further erosions of our constitutional rights.

When someone as conservative as Rep. Michaud calls for impeachment hearings, and accuses the vice president of abuse of power--an impeachable offense under the Constitution--it is no longer so easy for the media to write the idea off as "extremism" or as a "fringe" idea. It also makes it easier for other members of Congress to step up and take a stand in defense of the Constitution--perhaps even an independent-minded, principled Republican or two.

Michaud is likely taking this plunge into impeachment politics because he realizes impeachment has become a popular issue among voters in Maine, where an independent candidate, peace activist Laurie Dobson, is mounting a campaign for Senate against Republican incumbent Sen. Susan Collins, and Democratic Challenger, Rep. Tom Allen, with impeachment as a key campaign theme. With November 2008 growing closer, other members of the House elsewhere across the nation may also start to see being pro-impeachment as a winning position.

Speaker Pelosi, who faces a re-election herself from independent candidate Cindy Sheehan in her San Francisco district, and whose poll numbers now show her to have a higher negative rating than a positive support rating, is on the wrong side of history and on the wrong side of the Constitution. She may end up being ignored by her caucus.

This impeachment thing could still happen.


Lindorff speakingAbout the author: Philadelphia journalist Dave Lindorff is a 34-year veteran, an award-winning journalist, a former New York Times contributor, a graduate of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, a two-time Journalism Fulbright Scholar, and the co-author, with Barbara Olshansky, of a well-regarded book on impeachment, The Case for Impeachment. His work is available at www.thiscantbehappening.net.


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This story was published on January 3, 2008.