Thursday, January 11, 2007

Road Map to Impeachment

About a thousand people gathered on the beach in San Francisco last weekend to spell out IMPEACH! in gigantic letters. Sentiment here on the Left Coast is strong for repudiating the illegal policies of the Bush Administration and removing the President and Vice President from office before they can do any further damage to our economic future, our national reputation, or our Constitution. Realistically, I'd say that impeachment is only slightly more likely in the next two years than persuading Moqtada al-Sadr to convert to Judaism, but if it's ever going to happen, here's how we get there.

We begin with Congressional hearings. Not Congressional impeachment hearings, just regular oversight hearings and investigations of specific issues. Those hearings will inevitably request and then require the administration to provide information. The administration will stonewall, and therein lies the kernel of impeachability. For better or worse, Bush will not be impeached for lying to the Congress and the public about the reasons for war. Just as Al Capone wasn't convicted for any of his violent crimes, but rather for income tax evasion, so, too, Bush will be undone by his defiance of Congress.

The signing statements will come into play in that discussion, because they show a manifest intent to disregard, rather than uphold, the laws passed by Congress and duly enacted by his signature. The program of eavesdropping on electronic communications of "U.S. persons" in utter disregard for the law and of the specific language of the Constitution itself, will be a part of the background, but the signing statement in which the President claims the right to open First Class mail without a warrant for "intelligence collection" purposes will ultimately loom much larger, certainly larger if the authority is ever used. The war profiteering abetted by the administration will be a bigger factor than the war itself, because it's a more sharply defined issue. The politicization of the Coalition Provisional Authority — submitting applicants to purely political litmus tests wholly unrelated to the job — might also factor in, because it is specifically and directly a political crime.

The Fourth Amendment is equal to the First in protecting our liberty and our democracy. It is only one sentence, albeit a bit of a run-on sentence:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
In discussing the electronic eavesdropping program, it is easy to drift into discussions about the fact that the Founders could never have anticipated e-mail or even the telephone, but they most certainly did have snail-mail, and there can be no possible doubt that "secure in their papers and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures" applies unambiguously to the mail. That is clear by the wording itself, and it is clearly the intent of the Framers. It makes no mention whatsoever of "except for purposes of collecting intelligence in wartime," and it is abundantly clear that no such exception was intended.

War profiteering will figure more prominently than torture or habeas corpus, simply because it is all too easy to argue that detainee treatment only affects "them"; war profiteering directly affects every American taxpayer, here and now. There have always been and will always be no-bid contracts, but the Bush Administration has raised them to new heights. No-bid contracts can only be justified in cases where there is such an urgent and immediate need that the delay of the bidding process itself is unacceptable. Even then, the administration has a fiduciary duty to ensure that the American people get what they've paid for, which means accounting for, perhaps not every penny, but certainly every million dollars spent. The fact that we are spending more than $10 million an hour on the war doesn't diminish the point: just like with cheap long-distance, we want our six-second billing!

The fact that the Bush Administration sent inexperienced, objectively unqualified people, chosen entirely for their partisan political loyalty rather than for their ability to do the job, should also be brought directly into the glaring light of Congressional oversight. What possible relevance can an applicant's opinion of Roe v. Wade have on his or her ability to help rebuild Iraq's infrastructure? The only loyalties that can legally be required of such a person are to the Constitution of the United States and to the welfare of the Iraqi people. Party registration, religious affiliation, and general political views, are irrelevant.

We start with the hearings. As the hearings uncover and document abuses of the Constitution by President Bush and Vice President Cheney, and as Bush and Cheney illegally disregard Congressional subpoenas when they inevitably arrive, then we will have the beginnings of the case for impeachment. Everything that has happened up to now can't factor into the impeachment discussion until it has been stamped with the seal of a formal Congressional investigation. Those investigations are the prelude to any possible impeachment. Building up such a mountain of documented, corroborated evidence that 68 Senators are compelled by their constituents to vote for removal from office, and doing it all in less than a year, is pretty unlikely. The more fruitful course is to let the investigations shine light on the administration's abuses and rein them in, in such a way as to leave Bush's successor no wiggle room to continue them.

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