House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers says President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney committed impeachment-worthy offenses which must be thoroughly investigated even after the two men leave office as a means of reaffirming U.S. constitutional principles.
“The Bush Administration’s approach to power is, at its core, little more than a restatement of Mr. Nixon’s famous rationalization of presidential misdeeds: ‘When the President does it, that means it’s not illegal,’” Conyers said in a foreword to a 487-page report entitled "Reining in the Imperial Presidency: Lessons and Recommendations Relating to the Presidency of George W. Bush."
“Under this view, laws that forbid torturing or degrading prisoners cannot constrain the President because, if the President ordered such acts as Commander in Chief, ‘that means it’s not illegal.’” Conyers continued. “Under this view, it is not the courts that decide the reach of the law – it is the President – and neither the Judiciary nor Congress can constrain him.”
Conyers also seemed to acknowledge what many Bush critics had long suspected, that the Michigan Democrat evaded an impeachment battle the past two years out of concern that the political repercussions might have kept the Democrats from winning larger congressional majorities and the White House in Election 2008.
Noting that “some ardent advocates of impeachment have labeled me a traitor – or worse – for declining to begin a formal impeachment inquiry in the House Judiciary Committee,” Conyers said he disagreed with some of their political judgments but concurred with their assessments of the seriousness of Bush-Cheney misconduct.
“Many think these acts rise to the level of impeachable conduct. I agree,” Conyers said. “I have never wavered in my belief that this President and Vice-President are among the most impeachable officials in our Nation’s history, and the more we learn the truer that becomes.”
Conyers also praised the many citizens who petitioned him for action on impeaching Bush and Cheney.
“I want to make clear how much I respect those who have given so much time and energy to the cause of fighting for the impeachment of President Bush and Vice President Cheney,” Conyers said. “While we may not agree on the best path forward, I know they are acting on the basis of our shared love of this country. These citizens are not fringe radicals. ...
“They are individuals who care deeply about our Constitution and our Nation, and who have stood up to fight for the democracy they love, often at great personal cost. However, as I have said, while President Bush and Vice President Cheney have earned the dishonorable eligibility to be impeached, I do not believe that would have been the appropriate step at this time in our history.”
The 487-page report, released Tuesday, documents what Conyers called Bush’s excessive claims of executive power and illegal acts. It is the clearest sign yet that the 111th Congress plans to probe the depths of the Bush administration’s most controversial policies.
The report contains 47 separate recommendations, including calls for a blue-ribbon commission and independent criminal probes. Conyers said the recommendations are not intended as political “payback or revenge,” rather the goal is to “restore the traditional checks and balances of our constitutional system ... and to set an appropriate baseline of conduct for future administrations.”
Conyers noted that earlier investigations failed to get to the bottom of many “questions left in the wake of Bush’s Imperial Presidency,” including allegations of torture, “extraordinary rendition” (shipping prisoners to countries known to torture), warrantless domestic surveillance, leaking the CIA identity of Valerie Plame Wilson, and the firing of nine U.S. Attorneys.
Last week, Conyers proposed legislation to create a blue-ribbon panel of outside experts to probe the “broad range” of policies pursued by the Bush administration “under claims of unreviewable war powers,” including torture and warrantless wiretaps.
Tuesday’s report sought to arm lawmakers with the documentary evidence to support action on the bill, which currently has 10 sponsors
Last year, Conyers called on Attorney General Michael Mukasey to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate whether the Bush administration committed war crimes, a proposal that Mukasey rebuffed.
Conyers came under criticism from impeachment advocates last year when he refused to allow his committee to vote on articles of impeachment against Bush proposed by Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio. Instead, Conyers’ committee held an impeachment substitute of sorts; a one-day hearing devoted to testimony by Bush’s critics about the administration’s alleged abuses of power.
The new report suggests that Conyers is not inclined to immediately “move forward” now that Barack Obama has been elected President. In fact, Conyers said he firmly rejects “the notion that we should move on from these matters simply because a new administration is set to take office.”
On Sunday, Obama signaled in an interview on ABC’s “This Week With George Stephanopoulus,” that he will not likely recommend that his Justice Department launch a criminal probe into the Bush administration’s past practices, particularly policies that authorized torture.
Obama told Stephanopolous that he held “a belief that we need to look forward as opposed to looking backward.”
Also, on Tuesday, a federal judge ruled that the Bush administration must turn over to President-elect Obama’s staff documents Bush has been withholding from Congress related to the White House’s role in the firing of the nine U.S. Attorneys.
Conyers’s committee has been pursuing testimony and documents from White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten and former White House Counsel Harriet Miers about their involvement in the decision to fire the federal prosecutors, a move that a senior Justice Department official said was designed to remove U.S. Attorneys who were deemed not “loyal Bushies.”
President Bush has asserted executive privilege in blocking Bolten and Miers from testifying before Congress. Last week, a new set of House rules was passed reviving subpoenas issued during the 110th Congress. In addition to Miers, Conyers’s committee subpoenaed former White House political adviser Karl Rove.
Conyers also said he wants to find out “to what extent were President Bush and Vice President Cheney involved in the outing of Valerie Plame Wilson and its aftermath.”
Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Cheney’s chief of staff, was convicted of obstruction of justice and perjury in the Plame case, but his prison sentence was commuted by Bush. “There is considerable evidence that culpability for the outing of Valerie Plame Wilson and subsequent obstruction goes above and beyond Scooter Libby,” Conyers said.
Conyers subpoenaed documents last year related to the Plame leak, including closed-door testimony that Bush and Cheney gave to special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald. But the Justice Department refused to turn over the materials.
“Given that so many significant questions remain unanswered relating to these core constitutional and legal matters, many of which implicate basic premises of our national honor, it seems clear that our country cannot simply move on,” Conyers said.
“As easy or convenient as it would be to turn the page, our Nation’s respect for the rule of law and its role as a moral leader in the world demand that we finally and without obstruction conduct and complete these inquiries. This can and should be done without rancor or partisanship.”
Jason Leopold has launched his own Web site, The Public Record, at www.pubrecord.org.
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This story was published on January 14, 2009.