Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Congress Has Enough Evidence for an Impeachment Inquiry

Detractors of an impeachment inquiry by the House judiciary committee into whether President George W. Bush has committed impeachable offenses contend that no questions should be asked until conclusive incriminating evidence is either volunteered up by the suspects themselves or appears before them by spontaneous combustion. In other words, they say, no inquiry should commence until proof of the president's guilt has been unearthed—proof which would, of course, make the inquiry superfluous! The Watergate investigation that dethroned President Richard M. Nixon would never have been launched under such an Alice in Wonderland standard of proof, because it began with nothing more than two obscure figures, E. Howard Hunt and Gordon Liddy, known to have both White House connections and associations with the Watergate burglars.

Article II, Section 4 of the Constitution stipulates: "The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors." Article I, Section 2 endows the House of Representatives with "the sole Power of impeachment." And Article I, Section 3 entrusts the trial of impeachments to the Senate and requires a two-thirds vote for conviction.

The impeachment process thus envisions the House as operating like a sort of grand jury and the Senate like a trial jury. The House investigates to determine whether evidence can be marshaled to prove impeachable high crimes and misdemeanors. And if the answer to that question is affirmative, the House then decides whether to vote articles of impeachment. That judgment represents a collection of prudence, politics, and law akin to prosecutorial discretion. If articles are approved, a trial is held before the Senate with the chief justice of the United States presiding if the president is the accused.

The House does not require, nor should it await, proof beyond a reasonable doubt of misconduct. To wait for such proof subverts the whole purpose of an impeachment inquiry.

According to the Founding Fathers, impeachable offenses are crimes against the Constitution, which may or may not include violations of the federal criminal code. As Alexander Hamilton elaborated in Federalist 65, impeachment cannot be "tied down" by "strict rules, either in the delineation of the offense" by the House, or "in the construction of it" by the Senate. James Iredell sermonized to North Carolina's ratification convention that "giving false information to the Senate" was characteristic "of great injury to the community" that would warrant impeachment. False information distorts legislative judgments and makes a farce of congressional oversight to detect lawlessness or maladministration by the executive branch.

Articles of impeachment were voted against President Nixon by the House judiciary committee for flouting his constitutional obligation to "take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed" and for refusing to comply with congressional subpoenas issued in conjunction with the impeachment inquiry. The twin articles of impeachment against President William Jefferson Clinton accused the chief executive of perjury and obstruction of justice in violation of his duty to enforce, not sabotage, the law.

Impeachment precedents fortified by the original intent of the Constitution's makers provide ample justification for a House judiciary committee impeachment inquiry targeting President Bush for—among other things—multiple criminal violations of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and frustration of legitimate congressional oversight with preposterous claims of executive privilege.

FISA makes it a federal felony for the president or vice president to "intentionally engage … in electronic surveillance [to gather foreign intelligence or otherwise] under color of law except as authorized by statute." A companion provision provides that the FISA's procedures are the "exclusive means" for conducting electronic surveillance. After a leak to the New York Times published on Dec. 16, 2005, Bush confessed that in the aftermath of 9/11, he instructed the National Security Agency to flout FISA by targeting Americans for electronic surveillance on his say-so, a spying program styled the "Terrorist Surveillance Program." The president's apparently criminal spying continued until at least January 2007—or for more than five years—when Attorney General Alberto Gonzales declared that FISA warrants, whose nature remains classified, would replace the TSP. (The attorney general maintained, however, that Bush continued to be crowned with Article II powers to ignore the warrant requirement and to do so secretly whenever he wished.)

The president has labored successfully through legal technicalities such as a lack of "standing" or the "state secrets doctrine" to circumvent a definitive judicial ruling on the legality of the TSP. One could have been quickly obtained if the attorney general had submitted in an application for a FISA warrant evidence obtained under the TSP. In determining whether probable cause had been established, the FISA court would have been required to decide whether the TSP was legal and its intelligence admissible.

An impeachment inquiry should demand the president's defense of the TSP's violations of FISA's criminal prohibition for many years. Soon-to-be-former Attorney General Gonzales has asserted that crafting a legal rationale has been a dynamic, not a static, exercise. The committee should insist on access to the attorney general's legal evolution from the inception of the TSP. The inquiry should also demand to know, among other things, how many Americans were targeted by the TSP, how they were selected, what was the intelligence yield from the FISA violations, and what safeguards were erected to prevent misuse of the intelligence collected. Moreover, the committee should demand an explanation of why statutory amendments to FISA to correct perceived deficiencies were bypassed in favor of flouting the law.

This information is necessary before the committee can assess whether mitigating factors partially justified Bush's criminal violations of FISA. During the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln, in explaining to Congress his unilateral suspension of the Great Writ of habeas corpus, rhetorically asked whether a republic must inescapably be too strong for the liberties of its people or too weak to maintain its existence. The committee should similarly explore whether in the aftermath of 9/11, Bush was confronting such a dilemma.

An impeachment inquiry should further examine Bush's repeated assertions of executive privilege to operate a secret government eavesdropping program. He has refused to disclose to Congress details of the TSP redacted to protect intelligence sources and methods. Other spying programs that have not yet leaked to the media remain secret. The president has additionally prohibited current and former White House aides and advisers, including Karl Rove, Harriet Miers, and Joshua Bolten, from appearing before Congress. Their testimonies have been sought to probe suspected perjury or obstruction of a congressional investigation by Gonzales and the manipulation of U.S. attorneys and civil servants in the Department of Justice to advance the political fortunes of the Republican Party. If Bush's conception of executive privilege had been asserted by Nixon, the Watergate investigation starring former White House counsel John Dean would have been stillborn.

If what Bush has said and done falls short of warranting an impeachment inquiry, then impeachment of the president has become a virtual dead letter.

Bruce Fein is a constitutional lawyer at Bruce Fein & Associates and chairman of the American Freedom Agenda. He is author of the forthcoming book Constitutional Peril: The Life and Death Struggle Over the Constitution and Democracy.

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Let's Impeach the President

Neil Young sums the case up quite well:

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Add Up the Damage

Bob Herbert:
When Mr. Bush officially takes his leave in three weeks (in reality, he checked out long ago), most Americans will be content to sigh good riddance. I disagree. I don’t think he should be allowed to slip quietly out of town. There should be a great hue and cry — a loud, collective angry howl, demonstrations with signs and bullhorns and fiery speeches — over the damage he’s done to this country.

This is the man who gave us the war in Iraq and Guantánamo and torture and rendition; who turned the Clinton economy and the budget surplus into fool’s gold; who dithered while New Orleans drowned; who trampled our civil liberties at home and ruined our reputation abroad; who let Dick Cheney run hog wild and thought Brownie was doing a heckuva job.

The Bush administration specialized in deceit. How else could you get the public (and a feckless Congress) to go along with an invasion of Iraq as an absolutely essential response to the Sept. 11 attacks, when Iraq had had nothing to do with the Sept. 11 attacks?

Exploiting the public’s understandable fears, Mr. Bush made it sound as if Iraq was about to nuke us: “We cannot wait,” he said, “for the final proof — the smoking gun that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud.”

He then set the blaze that has continued to rage for nearly six years, consuming more than 4,000 American lives and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. (A car bomb over the weekend killed two dozen more Iraqis, many of them religious pilgrims.) The financial cost to the U.S. will eventually reach $3 trillion or more, according to the Nobel laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Mission Accomplished

Three Out of Four Americans Glad to See Bush Go

Three-fourths of those polled are glad to see Bush's presidency end.
Three-fourths of those polled are glad to see Bush's presidency end.

(CNN) — As President George W. Bush gets ready to leave the White House in three-and-a-half weeks, and [sic] a new national poll suggests that three out of four Americans feel his departure is coming not a moment too soon.

Seventy-five percent of those questioned in a new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey released Friday say they're glad President Bush is going, with 23 percent indicating they'll miss him.

"Earlier this year, Bush scored some of the lowest presidential approval ratings we've seen in half a century, so it's understandable that the public is eager for a new president to step in," says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland.

The three-quarters of Americans surveyed who say they won't miss Bush is 24 points higher than the 51 percent who said they wouldn't miss Bill Clinton when he left office in January 2001. Forty-five percent of those questioned at that time said they would miss Clinton.

"As President Bush prepares to leave office, the American public has a parting thought: Good riddance. At least that's the way three-quarters feel," says CNN Senior Political Analyst Bill Schneider.

The poll indicates that Bush has been compared poorly to his predecessors, with 28 percent saying that he's the worst ever when compared to other presidents in American history.

Reversed a Pardon???

A pardon should never have been given in the first place!
WASHINGTON - President George W. Bush on Wednesday took the extraordinary step of reversing a pardon issued the day before to Isaac Robert Toussie, the Brooklyn developer convicted of a large-scale Suffolk real estate scam, the White House said.

Victims of the scam and Suffolk elected officials rejoiced at the revocation of the pardon, which the White House said was made Tuesday without the usual Justice Department review.

Bush reversed the pardon after learning more about the nature of Toussie's crimes and political contributions to the Republican Party this year by Toussie's father, Robert Toussie, said White House spokeswoman Dana Perino.

Beverly Sanchez, 42, one of hundreds of minority homebuyers who said they were fleeced by Toussie, expressed delight Wednesday.

Bush Role in the Mortgage Mess

WASHINGTON — The global financial system was teetering on the edge of collapse when President Bush and his economics team huddled in the Roosevelt Room of the White House for a briefing that, in the words of one participant, “scared the hell out of everybody.”

It was Sept. 18. Lehman Brothers had just gone belly-up, overwhelmed by toxic mortgages. Bank of America had swallowed Merrill Lynch in a hastily arranged sale. Two days earlier, Mr. Bush had agreed to pump $85 billion into the failing insurance giant American International Group.

The president listened as Ben S. Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve, laid out the latest terrifying news: The credit markets, gripped by panic, had frozen overnight, and banks were refusing to lend money.

Then his Treasury secretary, Henry M. Paulson Jr., told him that to stave off disaster, he would have to sign off on the biggest government bailout in history.

Mr. Bush, according to several people in the room, paused for a single, stunned moment to take it all in.

“How,” he wondered aloud, “did we get here?”

Eight years after arriving in Washington vowing to spread the dream of homeownership, Mr. Bush is leaving office, as he himself said recently, “faced with the prospect of a global meltdown” with roots in the housing sector he so ardently championed.

There are plenty of culprits, like lenders who peddled easy credit, consumers who took on mortgages they could not afford and Wall Street chieftains who loaded up on mortgage-backed securities without regard to the risk.

But the story of how we got here is partly one of Mr. Bush’s own making, according to a review of his tenure that included interviews with dozens of current and former administration officials.

From his earliest days in office, Mr. Bush paired his belief that Americans do best when they own their own home with his conviction that markets do best when let alone.

He pushed hard to expand homeownership, especially among minorities, an initiative that dovetailed with his ambition to expand the Republican tent — and with the business interests of some of his biggest donors. But his housing policies and hands-off approach to regulation encouraged lax lending standards.

As early as 2006, top advisers to Mr. Bush dismissed warnings from people inside and outside the White House that housing prices were inflated and that a foreclosure crisis was looming. And when the economy deteriorated, Mr. Bush and his team misdiagnosed the reasons and scope of the downturn; as recently as February, for example, Mr. Bush was still calling it a “rough patch.”

The result was a series of piecemeal policy prescriptions that lagged behind the escalating crisis.

“There is no question we did not recognize the severity of the problems,” said Al Hubbard, Mr. Bush’s former chief economics adviser, who left the White House in December 2007. “Had we, we would have attacked them.”

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Grand Iraq Failure

NEW YORK (Reuters) - An unpublished federal draft report depicts the U.S.-led reconstruction of Iraq as a $100 billion failure doomed by bureaucratic infighting, ignorance of basic elements of Iraqi society and waves of violence there, The New York Times reported in its Sunday editions.

The Pentagon issued inflated progress reports to cover up the reconstruction's failure once the effort began to lag, according to the Times, which received copies of the document from two people who had read the draft but were not authorized to comment publicly about it.

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell is cited as saying, for example, that in the months after the 2003 invasion the Defense Department "kept inventing numbers of Iraqi security forces -- the number would jump 20,000 a week! 'We now have 80,000, we now have 100,000, we now have 120,000.'"

Powell's contention was supported by both the former ground troops commander in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, and L. Paul Bremer, the civilian administrator before the Iraqi government takeover in June 2004. Powell declined to comment on his quoted remarks, the Times said.

The report, "Hard Lessons: The Iraq Reconstruction Experience," was compiled by the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, led by Stuart Bowen Jr., a Republican lawyer who visits Iraq often and maintains a staff of engineers and auditors there, the newspaper said.

Iraqi Shoe Throwing Incident

Friday, December 05, 2008

Modern Day Nero

It looks like George W. Bush is determined to add Detroit to New Orleans, as this modern-day Nero fiddles while a second American city drowns. Bush says he is concerned that the automakers will not survive, but he is totally unwilling to take any action. It's clear that General Motors will be forced into bankruptcy by the end of the month and that Chrysler will fail no later than late January. Those collapses will then eat away at Ford's supply base and ultimately destroy whatever is left of the auto industry in the upper Midwest. Dealerships will close, tool-and-dye shops will close, subcontractors of all kinds will either slash their work force or go straight out of business. All autommakers will then be disrupted. The United Auto Workers will basically cease to exist.

That's the kind of legacy Bush is going to leave to the country and to the Republican Party.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Not Prepared for War?

For fuck's sake:
Five years after he declared victory in Iraq on the US aircraft carrier USS Lincoln, President George W. Bush says he was "unprepared" for a war in Iraq that has gone on to claim thousands of American lives and tens of thousands of Iraqis.

"I wish the intelligence had been different, I guess," Bush tells ABC's Charlie Gibson in an interview to be broadcast tonight, and said he didn't know if he'd have gone to war if he didn't think there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

"That is a do-over that I can't do," Bush said.

He said incorrect intelligence about Saddam Hussein's arsenal was the "biggest regret of all the presidency."

"I think I was unprepared for war," Bush remarked. "In other words, I didn't campaign and say, 'Please vote for me, I'll be able to handle an attack,'" he said. "In other words, I didn't anticipate war. Presidents -- one of the things about the modern presidency is that the unexpected will happen."

But also he tried to spread the blame -- and his credulity -- for bad intelligence on others.

Asleep at the Switch on Mortgages