The I-Word Is Gaining Ground

05/25/2011 11:50 am ET

In the late 1990s, House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, currently under indictment on corruption charges, proclaimed: "This nation sits at a crossroads. One direction points to the higher road of the rule of law.... The other road is the path of least resistance" in which "we pitch the law completely overboard when the mood fits us...[and] close our eyes to the potential lawbreaking...and tear an unfixable hole in our legal system." That arbiter of moral politics, Tom DeLay, was incensed about the danger of letting Bill Clinton escape unpunished for his "crimes"--lying about sex.

Fast-forward to December 2005. Nobody in the entire Bush administration has been fired, not to mention impeached, for shedding of American blood in Iraq or for shredding of our Constitution at home. As Newsweek columnist Jonathan Alter put it--hours after The New York Times reported that Bush had authorized NSA wiretapping of U.S. citizens without a warrant-- this President has committed a real transgression that "goes beyond sex, corruption and political intrigue to big issues like security versus liberty and the reasonable bounds of presidential power."

In these last months, several organizations have formed to urge Bush's impeachment. AfterDowningStreet, Impeach Central and are some of the best known. But until very recently, their views were virtually absent from the broadcast and print media, and could only be found on the Internet and in street protests.

But the times they are a-changin’. The I-word has moved from the marginal to the mainstream -- although columnists like torture-is-fine-by-me Charles Krauthammer would like us to believe that "only the most brazen and reckless and partisan" could support the idea. In fact, as Michelle Goldberg reports in Salon, “in the past few days, impeachment has become a topic of considered discussion among constitutional scholars and experts (including a few Republicans), former intelligence officers, and even a few politicians.” Even a moderately liberal columnist like Newsweek's Alter sounds like The Nation's editorials of the last few years, observing: "We're seeing clearly now that Bush thought 9/11 gave him license to act like a dictator."

As Editor & Publisher recently reported, the possibility of impeaching Bush has entered the mainstream media's circulatory system --with each day producing more op-eds and articles on the subject. As if in confirmation, on Christmas Eve, conservative business magazine Barron's published a long editorial excoriating Bush for committing a potentially impeachable offense. "If we don't discuss the program and lack of authority of it," wrote Barron's editorial-page editor, Thomas Donlan, "we are meeting the enemy--in the mirror.”

Public opinion is also growing more comfortable with the idea of impeaching this president. A Zogby International poll conducted this summer found that 42 percent of Americans felt that impeaching Bush would be justified, if it was shown that he had manipulated intelligence in going to war in Iraq. (John Zogby admitted that this number "was much higher than I expected.") By November, the number of those who favored impeaching Bush stood at 53 percent--if it was in fact proven that Bush had lied about the basis for invading Iraq. (The Washington Post's polling editor has refused, until now, to poll on public support for impeaching Bush--prompting fury in the blogosphere.)

For those interested in some of the most cogent and compelling charges against Bush (which should figure into any impeachment proceeding), I offer a brief summary:

Former Nixon White House counsel John Dean argued in Worse than Watergate (his aptly titled book) that Bush's false statements about WMDs in Iraq deceived the American people and the Congress and were used to drum up congressional support for an invasion of Iraq. This constituted "an impeachable offense," Dean told PBS' Bill Moyers in 2004. "I think the case is overwhelming that these people presented false information to the Congress and to the American people." Bush's actions were actually worse than Watergate, Dean argued, because "no one died for Nixon's so-called Watergate abuses."

In the Downing Street Memo, Britain's MI-6 director, Richard Dearlove, acknowledged that "the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy" by the Bush administration. John Bonifaz, a Boston-based attorney and expert on constitutional law, told Rep. John Conyers that Bush "must certainly be punishable for giving false information to the Senate" and had seemingly "concealed important intelligence which he ought to have communicated." Bush deceived "the American people as to the basis for taking the nation into war against Iraq," Bonifaz argued--impeachable offenses.

Rep. Conyers argued as well that the president committed impeachable offenses because he and senior administration officials "countenanced torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in Iraq" and elsewhere, such as human rights' violations at Abu Ghraib prison.

Conyers concluded that Bush also "permitted inappropriate retaliation against critics of [his] Administration" --as in the case of the outing of undercover CIA operative Valerie Plame. (Reps. Barney Frank and Conyers have sent a letter to the Congressional Research Service asking whether Congress has the power to impeach presidential advisor Karl Rove for leaking Plame's name to the press and blowing her CIA cover.)

The most compelling evidence of Bush's high crimes and misdemeanors is the revelation that he authorized NSA spying on U.S. citizens without having a warrant from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance court. Constitutional experts, politicians and ex-intelligence experts agree that Bush "committed a federal crime by wiretapping Americans." Rep. John Lewis-- "the first major House figure to suggest impeaching Bush," said the AP--argued that the president "deliberately, systematically violated the law" in authorizing the wiretapping. Lewis added: "He is not King, he is president." Sen. Barbara Boxer has asked four presidential scholars whether or not Bush's NSA wiretapping decision constituted an impeachable offense. One of them, Professor Jonathan Turley, told Knight-Ridder Newspapers that it did indeed: "The president's dead wrong," he said. "It's not a close question. Federal law is clear." Turley--a specialist in surveillance law--said that Bush's actions "violated federal law" and raise "serious constitutional questions of high crimes and misdemeanors." It is worth remembering that an abuse of power --similar to Bush's NSA wiretapping decision-- was part of the impeachment charge brought against Richard Nixon in 1974. [This comparison was brought home in the ACLU's powerful full-page ad in the NYT on December 22.]

There are many reasons why it is crucial that the Democrats regain control of Congress in '06, but consider this: If they do, there may be articles of impeachment introduced and John Conyers, who has led the fight to stop the shredding of our constitution, would become Chair of the House Judiciary Committee. Wouldn't that be a truly just response to the real high crimes and misdemeanors that this lawbreaking president has so clearly committed?