The California state Democratic Party called for a "vigorous investigation" into the "possible criminal actions of Judge Jay Bybee and others" on Sunday at the party's annual convention in Sacramento.
The resolution supporting the investigation passed by a voice vote and stops short of calling for immediate impeachment. "The thinking is, if you're having hearings, don't announce on the first day that you're convicting," said Bob Mulholland, a state party adviser. "In this case, the evidence is overwhelming, but clearly it's going to be up to Congress and the U.S. Justice Department to pursue anything."
John Heaner, one of the author's of the resolution, said that its passage is significant because it means investigations have support not just at the grassroots level but among elected California leaders.
"The state party doesn't act unilaterally on these sorts of things. There are consultations behind the scenes," said Heaner. "At some level there was a go-ahead given."
Heaner noted that the House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, is a California Democrat and that her daughter Christine Pelosi is an active member of the state party and head of the platform committee. "Yes, it was a grassroots effort but we are united in a way that hasn't come to the surface yet," he said. "When a resolution comes in that may be controversial, we work carefully within the party mechanism."
The Washington Post quoted a number of friends of Bybee's on Saturday saying that he regretted having signed the torture memos. But Bybee continues to serve as a judge on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, based in San Francisco, a position he was appointed to because the Bush administration was pleased with the work he did for the White House.
Impeachment hearings would begin in the House Judiciary Committee, where chairman John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) has vowed to look into the role that Bush administration attorneys such as Bybee played in illegally authorizing torture. The state party's action is meant to encourage those hearings and demonstrate that support for investigations is a mainstream Democratic Party position.
"This is a message to them: 'Hey, we're backing you up, Congress, so continue the investigations and the hearings,'" said Mulholland. "I would think an overwhelming number of Democratic voters in California would agree with this."
David Dayen, a blogger and a delegate to past conventions, helped push the resolution through committee and onto the floor. The statement is meant to let California Democratic lawmakers know that "their state party just supported immediate congressional inquiry and need you as members of the state party to follow that."
Dayen said backers of the resolution will focus specifically on the six California Democrats on the Judiciary Committee: Howard Berman, Linda Sanchez, Brad Sherman, Zoe Lofgren, Maxine Waters and Adam Schiff.
Sanchez, a key subcommittee chairwoman in the judiciary committee, previously told the Huffington Post she is "not comfortable" with Bybee serving a lifelong term on the federal bench. "I feel that if we fail to act on these detestable facts, we are sending the wrong message," she said.
On Saturday, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) expressed openness to investigations, which party activists took as a sign that state party leaders were on board. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) is leading an investigation as chairwoman of the intelligence committee, but much of her report may end up classified.
Another subcommittee chairman, Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), has called for Bybee's impeachment, as has the New York Times editorial board.
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has said that if Bybee is "decent and honorable" he will resign. John Podesta, the head of Obama's transition team, said much the same on CNN over the weekend.
"If he would do the right thing, he should just simply resign. If he doesn't, I think this is one matter where he continues to sit -- he doesn't have the moral or legal authority to continue to do that. And I think a simple matter would be to remove him from office," he said.
CALLING FOR THE INVESTIGATION OF JUDGE JAY BYBEE AND OTHERS FOR THEIR ROLE IN ALLOWING TORTURE AS PART OF "ENHANCED INTERROGATION"
Whereas, former Assistant Attorney General, and current Federal Judge of the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit Jay Bybee signed the "Bybee Memo," or "Torture Memo" of August 1, 2002, which advised the C.I.A. that "cruel, inhuman or degrading" treatment was at times allowable under U.S. law, and authored, co-authored and signed other memos on "extraordinary rendition" and "enhanced interrogation," more of which are being currently revealed to the American public as the new Administration brings them to light; and
Whereas the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment, the supreme law of the land under Article VI of our Constitution, requires the prosecution of those who authorize torture, and it has been established that waterboarding is torture; and
Whereas, on January 15, 2009 before leaving office, President George W. Bush, in an effort to cover his culpability, and the culpability of others, had his Office of Legal Counsel in the Department of Justice issue a memo stating that certain opinions issued in 2001-2003 with respect to "the allocation of authorities between President and Congress in matters of war and national security do not reflect the current view of this Office;"
Therefore be it resolved that the California Democratic Party supports resolution of inquiry and vigorous investigation of these and related actions by the Congress of the United States, including the full use of Congressional subpoena power authority and all appropriate remedies, to disclose completely the possible criminal actions of Judge Jay Bybee and others to the American people and to take necessary and available action with appropriate remedies and punishment allowed by law; and
Be it further resolved, that a copy of this resolution with its original authorization be sent to the Office of the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, the Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, and the Majority Leader of the United States Senate, and that copies of the signed resolution be sent to each Democratic member of the California delegation to the United States Senate and House of Representatives.
Ryan Grim is the author of the forthcoming book This Is Your Country On Drugs: The Secret History of Getting High in America