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William E. Jackson Jr. Headshot

The Vices of Cheney: Where Impeachment Must Begin

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For several years, in my discussions with Representatives and Senators, it has not been unusual to hear Vice President Dick Cheney referred to as President George Bush's "insurance policy." That is, against the beginning of impeachment proceedings in the House. The prevailing assumption has been that it would be necessary to impeach and convict Cheney, first, so as not to leave the government in his hands should the president leave office before the end of his term. This assumption was, and is correct -- not just due to the fact that the route to holding the president ultimately accountable for "high crimes" goes through Cheney but also because the vice president's "high crimes" are probably much greater.

If the Democrats had gained control of Congress in 2005, the impeachment of Cheney might have happened. But in the summer of 2007, the Democratic members of the House Judiciary Committee have an "out" in that the prevailing political judgment among the majority is that the timing is too close to 2008 to begin such a prolonged and disruptive proceeding.

Thus, as a senior Democratic member of the Judiciary Committee recently argued to me, "we are holding what otherwise would be impeachment hearings under the heading of oversight" and
publicly "embarrassing" the Bush-Cheney White House. He went on to say that his colleagues (Republicans, as well as Democrats) on that committee -- where the impeachment process must start -- often discuss the abundant circumstantial evidence for high crimes having been committed at the highest levels of the Bush administration.

Of course, it would not be so convenient for Speaker Pelosi and the Democratic majority to finesse the constitutional scandal IF special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald--in the trial of Scooter Libby -- had prominently cited, instead of hinting at, the vice president as an unindicted co-conspirator in obstructing justice OR even in committing the original crime of intentionally revealing the identity of a known CIA covert agent. The ball of string might have unwound beyond control, to the point where Chairman John Conyers of the Judiciary Committee could not have shirked from the duty to launch certified impeachment hearings. The "I" word would at least have been on the table.

Alas, the series that began in The Washington Post on June 24 -- "Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency" -- should result in placing it firmly on the agenda of the House. Consider this excerpt from Bart Gellman and Jo Becker's long-overdue exposure of the modus operandi of the sitting vice president:

"Stealth is among Cheney's most effective tools. Man-size Mosler safes, used elsewhere in government for classified secrets, store the workaday business of the office of the vice president. Even talking points for reporters are sometimes stamped 'Treated As: Top Secret/SCI.' Experts in and out of government said Cheney's office appears to have invented that designation, which alludes to 'sensitive compartmented information,' the most closely guarded category of government secrets. By adding the words 'treated as,' they said, Cheney seeks to protect unclassified work as though its disclosure would cause 'exceptionally grave damage to national security.'

"Across the board, the vice president's office goes to unusual lengths to avoid transparency. Cheney declines to disclose the names or even the size of his staff, generally releases no public calendar and ordered the Secret Service to destroy his visitor logs. His general counsel has asserted that 'the vice presidency is a unique office that is neither a part of the executive branch nor a part of the legislative branch,' and is therefore exempt from rules governing either. Cheney is refusing to observe an executive order on the handling of national security secrets, and he proposed to abolish a federal office that insisted on auditing his compliance.

"In the usual business of interagency consultation, proposals and information flow into the vice president's office from around the government, but high-ranking White House officials said in interviews that almost nothing flows out. Close aides to Cheney describe a similar one-way valve inside the office, with information flowing up to the vice president but little or no reaction flowing down."

I submit that only a bunch of Congressional fools, who read The Post and The Times and McClatchy wire stories, could have failed over time to notice that the vice president has been, and still is, systematically destroying the evidence -- the paper and electronic trails -- that document his impeachable offenses. That is, dangerous acts that are high crimes against the State and that subvert the Constitution of the United States. And, moreover, that could be used as evidence, after he is removed or leaves office, when he shall "nevertheless be liable and subject to Indictment, Trial, Judgment and Punishment, according to Law." [Article I, Section 3]

There is a compelling and overriding national interest, if for no other reason than the above, in NOT releasing from a jail sentence, and not excusing with a presidential pardon, live witness Scooter Libby -- the former chief of staff to the vice president known as "Cheney's Cheney."

The subversion of the Republic continues, before our very eyes. What is the House Judiciary Committee under Chairman Conyers prepared to do about it?!

These are very grave matters. It does not take much imagination to draw up articles of impeachment against the vice president of the United States. And let political considerations of timing be damned!

William E. Jackson, Jr.

(To be continued...)

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