Tag Archives: wiretapping

Jay Rockefeller Awarded Intelligence Public Service Medal: For Telecom and Torture Immunity?

Hollywood launched its annual award season Sunday night with the star studded extravaganza that is the Golden Globes. While many of the celebs were kicking off their Jimmy Choos and nursing hangovers, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) was preparing for an awards program of its own.

 On Monday, the ODNI awarded the recently established National Intelligence Distinguished Public Service Medal to Senator John D. Rockefeller IV. It’s not known if there were others in the running, but a prior commitment to keeping numerous briefings about wiretapping and torture on the down-low and opposing the appointment of special counsel to investigate the destruction of the infamous “torture tapes” may have sealed the deal.

This A-list recipient and outgoing chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) fought valiantly at the behest of the telecom companies who aided the NSA in warrantless wiretapping. This not only provided a public service to telecom giants like Verizon and AT&T, but likely prevented unsavory details about the Bush administration and the National Security Agency from surfacing. The little people would just have to deal while the big boys – including Rockefeller – could breathe a sigh of relief.

Senator Rockefeller’s public service credentials also include a vote to suspend habeas corpus for anyone designated an unlawful combatant by an unlawful president. This act would prevent them from challenging their detention in court – a right spelled out in the increasingly redacted document that President George W. Bush referred to as “just a g-damned piece of paper.”

In addition, the senator’s vote gave sole power to the president to “interpret the meaning and application of the Geneva Conventions.” No death, organ failure or permanent damage? No whining. There are plenty of other ways for the CIA to gather flawed intelligence.

Going above and beyond the call of duty, Senator Rockefeller voted for retroactive immunity to save the hides of U.S. officials who authorized or engaged in torture. One could conclude that it would also protect those who were briefed on methods like waterboarding and raised no objections.

For those who couldn’t withstand the act of drowning, extreme temperatures, sensory deprivation, or excruciating stress positions, he helped to ensure that whatever they spilled could be used against them in military tribunals provided the “enhanced” interrogations occurred before December 30, 2005. They did confess after all – right?

During the ceremony, Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell, remarked that “Senator Rockefeller’s advocacy for the change in the law provided the Intelligence Community with a critical capability for ensuring national security while respecting the privacy and civil liberties of Americans.”

Mr. Rockefeller – wearing a Navy blue suit and lavender tie – graciously accepted the medal “with gratitude and with a deep appreciation for the men and women of the Intelligence Community.”

In a post ceremony photo-op, the senator held a commanding presence towering over Director McConnell and Principal Deputy Director, Donald Kerr. But, it was McConnell’s mischievous grin and Kerr’s strained smile that served as a visual reminder that something was amiss in the awarding of this newly founded Distinguished Public Service Medal by the Director of National Intelligence.

That something can be found in the jurisdiction of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence which was established “to provide vigilant legislative oversight over the intelligence activities of the United States to assure that such activities are in conformity with the Constitution and laws of the United States.”

Former CIA analyst Ray McGovern, who conducted one-on-one presidential daily briefings of Reagan’s most senior advisers, remarked that the award “Really points to the pernicious marriage of the intelligence committees and the spies who con them.”

Without a director who demonstrates integrity and courage, he added “The committees are the only check to the CIA becoming the personal Gestapo of the president and vice president . . . look at torture, eavesdropping, and the rest of it. The key committee members were all compromised, coopted, and, I’ll bet, eavesdropped upon, to ensure complicity and silence.”

That both Sen. Dianne Feinstein, incoming chair to the SSCI, and Sen. Jay Rockefeller made such a stink at the unexpected announcement of Leon Panetta as Obama’s pick for CIA director – a man that McGovern believes embodies the necessary courage and integrity – is rather telling.

Meanwhile, politicians from both parties, with the help of the corporate media, are working overtime to convince president-elect Obama that the Bush methods have been essential to keeping America safe. If Obama can be persuaded to continue some of these practices, even in an altered form, they’ll have successfully eliminated any real chance for investigation and prosecution.

The Wall Street Journal threw a fit when the Senate Armed Services Committee Inquiry into the Treatment of Detainees in U.S. Custody found abuses were authorized at the highest levels of the Bush administration thus opening the door for prosecutions. The WSJ called the report a “disgrace” and charged that Bush officials were simply “protecting the country.”

The Washington Post pointed out last week that president-elect Obama has a tough decision ahead of him. They suggested that the Bush administration’s “detention and interrogation policies” have “ensured the nation’s security.” In demonstrating the case for these policies, they deferred to Vice President Dick Cheney – of all people – who declared “Those were programs that have been absolutely essential to maintaining our capacity to interfere with and defeat all further attacks against the United States.”

Somehow the WSJ, WashPost and Dick Cheney know more than men like Lt. Gen. John Kimmons, who as Army deputy chief of staff for intelligence said, “No good intelligence is going to come from abusive practices” adding “It would do more harm than good when it inevitably became known that abusive practices were used. We can’t afford to go there.”

No, we can’t. And neither can Barack Obama.

 

Nancy Pelosi Book Signing: Know Your Power, Just Don’t Speak Truth to It

Crossposted at OpEdNews
 

Inside Nancy Pelosi’s book signing in Philadelphia. Her remarks on Iran, Iraq – impeachment? And, what did this writer ask that caused her to be escorted out of the building? 

Arriving at the steps of the Free Library of Philadelphia Tuesday night where House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was promoting her book, “Know Your Power,” I was promptly scolded by my good friend, activist Joanne O’Neill.

“What? No impeach sign? Here, take a sign,” Jo insisted. “Nope,” I replied. “I’m goin’ in.”

An hour earlier, I swallowed my pride – along with some bitter acid reflux – as I shelled out 17 bucks to purchase a book about “knowing my power” authored by a woman who spent the last few years wielding very little of it when it mattered the most. But, a little heartburn and forgoing a few lattes for the rest of the week was what it would take for me to get close enough to pose a question to the “most powerful woman” in America.

Having learned of the event just the day before, I was relegated to the simulcast room with about 60 others as the auditorium was sold out. I spotted one friendly in the crowd, but he was clearly in plotting mode so I decided to crack the binding of my new book while I waited for the Speaker to arrive. It was a quick read at just over 170 pages laced with anecdotes, some touching, some inspiring – okay, not so much.

It did offer some unique insights. A few grabbed my attention, though I am sure not in a way intended by the author. The reader is invited back 60 years to her father’s Mayoral inauguration. Nancy and her brothers were sent to a room to wait quietly before the ceremony.

When a man walked in and engaged them, Nancy upheld the family rule of not speaking to strangers. Her brothers determined it was okay to say hello. When they discovered the man was the outgoing mayor and it was his office, they quickly found themselves in a standoff.

Pelosi recalled, Joey said to me that he was going to tell Mommy that I was not polite to the Mayor. “If you do,” I said calmly, “I will tell Mommy that you talked to a stranger.” I had just turned seven, and Joey was nine. I didn’t squeal on him, and because I’d earned his respect, he didn’t squeal on me.

Anyone with a sibling can easily recall such a moment. It was Pelosi’s assessment, however, that gave me pause. She writes of the occasion, “I had just built my first strategic alliance.”

A common explanation for why the House Speaker took impeachment off the table is that the table could easily be turned on her because of her prior knowledge of and complicity in some of the most egregious offenses by the Bush administration. Perhaps she determined this was one of those times where it would be in her best interest not to “squeal.”

Another charge made against Pelosi and other Democratic leaders is their insistence of putting Party before all else. In “Know Your Power,” Nancy Pelosi recounts the assassination of Bobby Kennedy and the tone of the 1968 Democratic Convention.

She writes, “Hubert Humphrey won the nomination, but the Democratic Party was still divided, particularly because Vice President Humphrey did not disassociate himself from Johnson’s Vietnam War Policy. I, too, opposed the war, but, wanting to get a Democrat in the White House, I stuffed many ‘Humphrey for President’ leaflets under apartment doors that fall.” Need I remind anyone we ended up with Nixon?

In her book, Nancy Pelosi tells us how much she admires “disrupters.” Yes, disrupters. “Sometimes,” she explains “it is necessary to disrupt the status quo. That is the tradition of our country. Our Founders were disrupters – magnificent disrupters. Martin Luther King Jr. was a disrupter, as were the suffragettes. It is the American way. The change that resulted from these leaders has made our country greater. How can we follow their lead?”

Funny, I don’t recall in the time that Ms. Pelosi has served as House Speaker her appreciating our nation’s wave of disrupters all that much.

I would learn first hand later that evening in a not so subtle way by the Speaker and her security detail that not only does she not appreciate disrupters, she doesn’t take kindly to anyone like myself who would dare…ask a question.

I was deep in thought about Nancy and the Disrupters and it was beginning to give me a headache when suddenly the energy in the room changed. The women around me perked up, inched to the edge of their seats, and leaned forward in eager anticipation. Nancy Pelosi was about to make her entrance.

Tamala Edwards, morning show anchor for 6abc Action News was selected to moderate the evening. Did I mention she was with ABC? As Ms. Edwards sat with a small pile of index cards, Madame Speaker made it clear who was going to guide the discussion. She regaled the audience with vignettes from her book and they ate it up and swallowed it whole. Tamala allowed the Speaker to take her monologue as far and away from it’s starting point as she cared. Occasionally, when Pelosi’s voice tapered off and she allowed for an opening, Tamala would inject an innocuous question like, “Do you ever get scared?”

To this, Ms. Pelosi offered sage advice worth repeating here. “People always ask aren’t you scared and I say just strike that word from your vocabulary. This is not for the faint of heart. You can’t be afraid. You have a vision, knowledge, a plan. You have support. This is what you believe in. If you show one cent of being afraid, your options are destroyed. So you have to believe in what you are doing and you may not win every fight, but you will advance the cause.”

She used the phrase “not for the faint of heart” earlier as it related to success and failure. “We have to understand,” she said “the challenges of success as well as the lessons of failure. Organize, don’t agonize.  Politics is not for the faint of heart. Don’t let me give you this impression that people are waiting with open arms to pull you into power. Nobody. Nobody ever in the history of the world has given away power.”

That Nancy Pelosi would be acutely aware that it is not in human nature to give away power makes her avoidance of accountability over the Bush/Cheney power grab all the more frustrating. That she would expect the current administration or future presidents to willingly and readily relinquish these newfound powers is ludicrous. Only now we know that she already understands that they won’t.

In her presentation, she fashioned herself as a DC outsider. “Let me say that Washington DC is a city that is wedded to the status quo. Change is not what they are about and as a leader I say you must be kidding…the city is wedded to the special interests because they all make a living perpetuating the status quo. It’s the special interests, not the people’s interest and that is why it was so important – if I may have a moment of partisan enjoyment – that we won the last election. I have become the Speaker of the House not because I mastered the inside of things, but because I am an outsider and I want change to happen here.”

At this, I was compelled to survey the room for reactions. No one batted an eye. Instead of smirking, there was enthusiastic head nodding. Didn’t anyone remember that change was what was promised in that last election and that the Dems didn’t deliver? Now it was being repackaged and they were falling for it hook, line and stinker. For a moment my mind drifted and I imagined one of the pod people turning and pointing their finger at me with my smirking face and I would be descended upon and forced out. But that would come later.

I snapped out of it and sat at attention when Nancy invoked the Disrupters. “We need disruption. We need disruption,” she insisted. “We’ll throw you a crumb and we’ll keep the status quo? That is not the American way. Our Founders in this city where it all started – they were disrupters. Sometimes you wonder why you have to go to such lengths to convince people of the obvious about the future.”  Who you tellin’, I thought. Apparently, my inner-voice now had a Philly accent.

At last, Tamala announced that it would be time for 30 minutes of audience questions as she reached for another batch of index cards. The Speaker smoothly declared that she was going to tell one more story – one very long story. She amused the audience with a tale of being one of three congresswomen outnumbered by a loud group of congressmen who spoke over each other, steered the conversation to their own liking and never asked the opinion of anyone else. Nancy had clearly mastered this technique and was evidencing it at that very moment, but that nuance was somehow lost on the audience members who were instead laughing and clapping.

Pelosi, having already cut into the 30 minutes with her just-one-more story, finally fielded her first question. It was from a 14-year-old boy who asked about off-shore drilling. She gave, what I thought, was a satisfactory answer that could have been summed up in less than five minutes. Instead, she rambled for about 15.

The second question from the audience was very direct and right up my alley. Tamala announced, “We have a foreign policy question. The actual question is – do you think we should blockade Iran?”

Rather than leave it at that and allow the question to be answered, Ms. ABC quickly added “I think we should ask a broader question. Do you think there is a desire and a plan on the part of this administration to engage Iran?” Here, this woman who could barely ask her own questions, was now screwing around with the audience questions.

“Engage?” asked Pelosi. Edwards explained, “Engage – as in militarily.” Pelosi went on to state that she believed there was a debate going on in the administration as to whether we should – interesting choice of words here – “continue a military strike into Iran.” She explained how most of the military opposes it and that it was not a good idea – a military strike, that is. The blockade question vanished down the rabbit hole.

She added for good measure, “Iran keeps insisting that they want to proceed on developing nuclear power, they say, for domestic use. We suspect they have other motives. They cannot be allowed to do this.”

She spoke at length about the dangers of nuclear proliferation. That when discussing WMD’s you had to think of four things: Do they have the technology, the scientific know-how, the delivery system and the intention. The first – technology – was quickly checked off as she described that Iran has received “a lot of technology from China, from Pakistan, probably from Russia and other places and that should never have happened.” As for the three remaining questions, the Speaker said simply, “I hope for the best in terms of Iran. I suspect the worst.”

She balked at an attack on Iran not because they are believed not to have nuclear weapons and not because it would be yet another preemptive, illegal and immoral action.

Her reasons were more closely aligned with talking points that have come from Washington think tanks like WINEP who in June released a report entitled “The Last Resort: Consequences of Preventive Military Action against Iran.” Authors Patrick Clawson and Michael Eisenstadt clearly push for such an action, but address the following conditions as obstacles to be dealt with: “Fears that it would prompt a ‘rally round the flag’ effect in Iran,” the potential for a “parallel clandestine nuclear program,” “world opinion,” and whether the “U.S. is respected for its commitment to multilateral diplomacy.”

 

The House Speaker explained, “But, I don’t think anything can be accomplished by going into Iran to stop them from developing weapons of mass destruction because that would only galvanize the country around the leadership – that’s A. B. We may not accomplish our goal. They may have parallel program where we think we got it, but we didn’t get it or we got part of it and we didn’t get the rest. And, what have we accomplished in terms of world opinion at the same time.”

Pelosi continued, “What we should be doing, and they’re trying to do this more, but we should have been doing it more robust and sooner is to say to Iran ‘don’t even think about having a weapon of mass destruction’ and we’re galvanizing world, international, global forces diplomatically, economically, culturally, financially, economically to pass sanctions to tighten and tighten and tighten if you proceed down this course.”

“The President of Iran has said, ‘I have friends.’ Well, if those friends want to be friends with Iran, then we can’t have them be friends of ours because our foreign policy is that we cannot permit proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.”

That statement was hauntingly similar to one made by President George W. Bush in November 2001. “You’re either with us or against us,” the president announced as we entered the new “war on terror.” Despite the harsh criticism the president received over that remark, Pelosi’s fans nodded along with her more childish sounding “you can’t be friends with me if you’re friends with them” declaration.

She then shifted to Iraq and declared, “And, let me just say this war in Iraq has been a horrendous dilemna, a grotesque mistake.” Cheers rose from the audience even though the Democratically controlled Congress continues to fund said grotesque mistake.

“They went into that war knowing full well there was no intelligence to support the imminent threat that this administration was contending. I was a senior Democrat on the Intelligence Committee at the time. It’s called the ‘gang of four,’ the top Democrats and the top Republicans in the House and in the Senate and we saw all of the intelligence and there was no intelligence to say that there was an imminent threat of weapons of mass destruction from Iraq. It was clear. I voted against the war. I had all the intelligence and I knew the threat wasn’t there. So, this administration knew all this faulty intelligence stuff, they knew it wasn’t there.”

Yet, Rep. Pelosi’s House floor statement on October 10, 2002, opposing the resolution authorizing military force against Iraq suggests her main reason for opposing was that unilateral use of force would harm the ‘War on Terrorism.’ There was no concern voiced that Iraq was not an imminent threat or that there was no evidence to support the presence of weapons of mass destruction. In fact, she began her speech with, “I applaud the President’s focusing on this issue, and on taking the lead to disarm Saddam Hussein.” Also, in her speech she said when referring to Hussein, “Yes, he has chemical weapons, he has biological weapons, and he is trying to get nuclear weapons.”

This raises the question if she was briefed as one of the “gang of four” and determined, as she stated Tuesday, that there was no imminent threat of WMDs, that the intelligence was faulty and she knew it and the President knew it, why did she cast a no vote urging her colleagues to follow suit, but on the grounds of other reasons? Did she not know her power?

Finally…the most anticipated question of the evening was clutched in the hand of Tamala Edwards. She began quietly in an almost muted voice, “I would imagine it’s those feelings in Iraq that led to this next question. Are you going to allow a motion to impeach President Bush to come to the floor?” Loud cheers exploded in the auditorium and for the first time in the simulcast room.

Then, I’ll be damned if she didn’t do it again. Tamala Edwards gave Pelosi (and Bush for that matter) an out. Edwards began sputtering something about things coming out before the 2004 elections. The impeachment question was transformed into “And, this all occurs before the election in 2004. Where was the outrage? Why do you think the Democrats lost in 2004?”

Thus began another rambling reply by Nancy Pelosi starting with John Kerry and how even though he was an excellent candidate, he didn’t realize how vicious the attacks would become and slowly she turned it into a one-woman strategy session on the upcoming presidential election. She once again invoked “our Founders” taunting those of us who advocate so strongly for the Constitution and she brings them up knowing full well the original question was about impeachment. She talked about optimism and faith and future and the American dream and how that dream needs to be restored. She concluded,

“The search is for truth. The search is for truth to take our country in the direction of our Founders with their magnificent disruption. We have to continue in the tradition of the magnificent disruption and one way for that to happen is for women to know their power.”

At that, I grabbed my book and got in line brimming with power fueled by knowledge and outrage. I had a swell time in the long line with comedian/reporter, Gregg Gethard, and I could feel my blood pressure that had been teetering at stroke levels ease up. Gregg toyed with what he might say to the one who sits third in line to the throne. He concluded he would shower Nancy with ridiculously absurd praise and perhaps, in the process, hit on her. I began to wonder which of us would upset her more.

It was almost my turn. Two women in front of me were chatting away with the House Speaker, taking their time, laughing and fawning. There was no indication that a time limit would be applied. They eventually stepped aside and the assistant handed Nancy Pelosi my book to be signed.

She smiled and I leaned in and said in a calm voice, “You were briefed about torture and the wiretapping years before the public found out. Why didn’t you use your power to stop it?”

Pelosi was indignant, “We didn’t know.”

In an instant, I felt a very firm grip being placed on my right arm. I chose to ignore the fact that it was beginning to tighten and that the man in the suit who belonged to the hand was now leaning into me and trying to pull me aside.

I looked straight ahead at Pelosi and said, “You knew. You were informed.”

Then my left arm was seized by another guy and Pelosi countered, “No, I was not.”

I dug my feet in and continued, “You were briefed as a member of the gang of four about torture in 2002 and as the gang of eight about wiretapping.”

Pelosi was pushing my book across the table and attempting to turn her attention to Gregg when she replied, “We stopped it.” I was incensed. “What? Uh, no you didn’t.”

Two more goons stepped in, one in front of me and one behind and they pulled me off to the side. I pointed out that other people were having long chats and asking all sorts of questions of the Speaker. “Not these kind of questions. We’re not taking these kinds of questions. You’re done,” was the response.

At that point, Pelosi probably wasn’t listening any longer, but fixated on the word power, I managed to squeeze in “Why don’t you use the power the Constitution granted you to stop a president who abuses his powers?!

They began to escort me out and I wasn’t resisting, but walking slowly as I shouted out, “Know your power Nancy! Stop the torture!” I had had enough and didn’t need their escort anymore and began to leave on my own volition. I glanced over at the long line of people and I realized the incessant chatter had ended all at once like a group of startled crickets. Not one person would make eye contact with me. As I turned the corner under the watchful eye of the security detail, the chatter returned as if nothing had happened.

Outside on the sidewalk, I breathed in the night air – choked a little on the pollution – and began the walk to my car. Then I remembered my new friend, Gregg. Why wasn’t he outside yet I wondered. I pictured him jacked up against the library wall by security, his boyish face pressed into the plaster rendering him unable to speak. All because he decided to hit on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Then the front doors flew open and there was a triumphant Gregg with a mischievous grin (no signs of trauma) and a skip in his step. We walked together to our cars as he delighted me with his story of his newfound love for Nancy Pelosi. Read Gregg’s (way shorter) report on Pelosi’s response to him here. For the record, if you think Gregg’s behavior was sexist, I’m pretty sure he would have done the same with Dick Cheney.

Know your power.

 

 

The Democratic Majority: Enabling a Rogue Presidency and Stonewalling the American People

Tomorrow, Rep. Conyers will hold a hearing entitled, “Executive Power and its Constitutional Limitations.” This article is a reprint from March 2008. It illustrates Conyers’ impeachment rhetoric since ’06 and details the failed attempts at accountability by the Democratic majority of the Bush/Cheney crimes. Let them know our country deserves better.

 

Lawless. Imperial. Rogue.

These labels have been attached to the Bush administration for the last three Take Back America (TBA) conferences. The annual conference hosted by the Campaign for America’s Future, does a bang up job each year highlighting the dark deeds of President Bush and Vice President Cheney. And, what better man for the job than House Judiciary Chair John Conyers. Turns out, the better man for the job may be the pre-House Judiciary Chair John Conyers.

TBA 2006: Challenging Lawlessness

In June 2006, Congressman Conyers was on fire at the TBA session “Challenging a Lawless President.” Still in the House minority, the great congressman from Michigan was hot on the trail of a lawless President Bush and his unbridled sidekick, Vice President Cheney.

Six months earlier, the congressman issued a report declaring, “We have found that there is substantial evidence the president, the vice-president and other high ranking members of the Bush administration misled Congress and the American people regarding the decision to go to war in Iraq; misstated and manipulated intelligence information regarding the justification for such war; countenanced torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in Iraq; and permitted inappropriate retaliation against critics of their administration.”

Just before the conference, Representative Nancy Pelosi fearful of emboldening the Republicans during a critical election season, declared impeachment to be “off the table.” But when Representative Conyers approached the podium, he brought the TBA participants to their feet as he announced his next course of action. In brief, he introduced a resolution (H. Res. 635) that would create a select committee with subpoena authority to investigate the misconduct of the Bush administration with regard to the Iraq war and report on possible impeachable offenses.

Inspired and hopeful, progressives hit the streets to help the Democrats take back the House and restore order in the government.

By August, Mr. Conyers had released the final version of the “Constitution in Crisis.” He described the report as “some 350 pages in length and is supported by more than 1,400 footnotes, compiles the accumulated evidence that the Bush administration has thumbed its nose at our nation’s laws, and the Constitution itself. Approximately 26 laws and regulations may have been violated by this administration’s conduct.” Certainly enough to begin impeachment hearings when one considers President Nixon’s were prompted by a simple burglary.

Mr. Conyers went on to say that “The administration also appears to have used the war on terror as an excuse to eviscerate the basic protections afforded to us in the Constitution. There have been warrantless wiretaps of law-abiding Americans, in clear contravention of federal law, not to mention the creation of a huge unchecked database on the phone records of innocent Americans.”

He lamented that “All the while, the Republican Congress sits idly by. Rather than performing its constitutional duty as a coequal branch. It has chosen to stymie any and all efforts at oversight. After six long years of deception, attacks and yes, outright lies, I am convinced the American people have had enough.”

Indeed the American people had had enough and three months later they handed the Democrats both the House and the Senate.

TBA 2007: Curbing Imperialism

Fast forward to June 2007, when the Take Back America crowd descended once again on the Washington Hilton. This time Congressman Conyers was to discuss Curbing an Imperial Presidency.” Senior staff member to John Conyers, Burt Wides, delivered a prepared speech while the congressman tended to business on the Hill.

“Since the last election we have begun to shrink Bush’s imperial presidency,” Wides read. In what manner the “imperial presidency” was shrinking remained unclear. “President Bush has subverted the checks and balances that are the cornerstone of our freedoms. In most instances, the Republican Congress just went along with those abuses. The founding fathers must be spinning in their graves, not merely at Bush’s blatant erosion of their system, but also and perhaps more at Congress’ supine failure to protect the Constitution. Now that Democrats control Congress, we have a very clear and heavy responsibility to take back the Constitution.”

It wasn’t enough that the American people elected a Democratic majority that promised to rein in Bush and Cheney and hold them accountable. They were now charged with a new task. These efforts, according to Conyers, would only succeed with support of citizen groups committed to the Constitution. These groups had already been popping up across the country for years. Many were part of a broad coalition that makes up the organization AfterDowningStreet.org.  

 

AfterDowningStreet, led by activist David Swanson, sprang to life in May 2005 to pressure both Congress and the media to investigate whether President Bush had committed impeachable offenses. The coalition borrowed its name from the incriminating Downing Street Memos that emerged in May and June of 2005.

Despite the subject matter, impeachment was never offered as a viable solution to “curbing the imperial presidency” by the TBA panelists. It was, however, on the minds of the audience and questions on impeachment dominated the Q&A session.

After all questions on impeachment were shot down by the panelists, Bob Fertik of Democrats.com addressed the panel. To a cheering audience, Fertik asserted “I think you’re completely misreading the politics in the country. All of the polls report that the majority of Americans support impeachment hearings, a solid majority of Americans and it’s not even being discussed. The American people were way ahead of Congress on Iraq and the American people are way ahead of Congress on impeachment. It’s just time to stop with the ridiculous excuses. The American people know the only way to hold Bush accountable is through impeachment.”

Grassroots Action

Determined to restore the Constitution and rule of law, groups made up of ordinary citizens, veterans, and constitutional experts forged ahead on their own. John Conyers had called for this and the people responded. Five weeks later, on July 23, an impeachment petition containing more than one million signatures was delivered directly to the congressman. When he told the participants that there were “not enough votes for” impeachment, a peaceful sit-in was held in his office. The group was promptly arrested and hauled off to be processed.

The following month, Congressman Conyers traveled to Newark, New Jersey to promote his national health care bill, H.R. 676 at the People’s March for Peace, Equality, Jobs and Justice. He found himself facing a diverse crowd of a few thousand calling for impeachment. The article, Dancing With Conyers, describes what happened next.

“In what has become routine now, Conyers fed into the momentum asking ‘What should we do?’ ‘Impeach!’ cried the crowd. ‘What should we do?’ ‘Impeach’ and so it was repeated. The congressman went on to declare that we needed to bring back Rumsfeld and put him on trial and the big question was to decide who ought to go first.‘Cheney!’ shouted the crowd enthusiastically.”

To settle the crowd, Conyers offered to meet with activists afterwards. Leaders from the New Jersey Impeach Groups asked the congressman to initiate impeachment hearings. They were told to “work hard” and get one representative from New Jersey to sign onto Representative Kucinich’s resolution (H. Res. 333) to impeach Vice President Cheney. They explained that Congressman Donald Payne, who was on his way to the rally, had signed on a few weeks earlier.

The chair of the House Judiciary Committee grew solemn telling the group the risk of failing was too great. It was too risky to use powers granted by the Constitution to remove a few rogue leaders regardless of the consequences of not removing them. This type of exchange was becoming familiar to activists. A few weeks earlier at a meeting with progressive democrats in San Diego, Conyers told the group to get just three more members of Congress to back impeachment. At the time, there were 14 sponsors. Since the offer, 13 more members of Congress cosponsored H. Res. 333 with no movement within the House Judiciary Committee.

During the summer of 2007, Congressman Conyers crisscrossed the country. At every turn he was met with citizens who implored him to move on impeachment. In response, he coined a new phrase. At an August 28 town hall meeting in his home district in Michigan, constituents clamored for impeachment. Conyers announced, “Nancy Pelosi has impeachment ‘off the table,’ but that’s off her table, it is not off John Conyers’ table.” The crowd erupted in applause.The same day in a telephone interview, the congressman discussed impeachment with journalist Amy Goodman. From the Democracy Now website:

‘”I’ve got the constitution in one hand and a calculator in the other,” House Judiciary Chair John Conyers (D–MI) said today on Democracy Now! when asked about the possibility of impeachment. Conyers said hearings could “make the record clear that there has been a great deal of violation of the sworn oath of office, abuses of power…but there isn’t the time for it.’ He also said he doesn’t think there are enough votes in the House and Senate to support impeachment.’

Clearly, rogue administrations aren’t the only ones adept at stonewalling.

Failed Strategies

Members of Congress have inexplicably chosen not to harness their duly granted powers to take on a criminal administration. Instead, they cling to previously failed efforts.

The Letters

A very small sampling finds letters about “fixed” intelligence, letters spanning two years from John Conyers to Fred Fielding requesting information and documents concerning warrantless wiretapping, and a letter from John Conyers to President Bush requesting the release of the Hadley memo related to claims of uranium from Africa and the “16 words.”

There were several letters regarding the president’s signing statements including one from Senator Dick Durbin requesting confirmation from President Bush that he would indeed enforce legislation that was just enacted. Two years ago, Senator Leahy sent a letter to the president urging him to “cease and desist” from his unconstitutional use of presidential signing statements. GOP Senator Susan Collins sent President Bush a letter about opening letters.

 

The chair of the House Oversight Committee, Henry Waxman, sent letters to Fred Fielding on the mystery of the missing White House e-mails. Recently, there was a letter to Attorney General Michael Mukasey from 46 House Democrats asking how he will ensure the President follows Congress’ ban on permanent bases in Iraq. Congress is now relegated to asking an uncooperative Attorney General to make sure the President takes care that the laws be faithfully executed.

The Subpoenas

When a few years of polite inquiries fail to produce results, Congress moves onto subpoenas. When used within the context of a healthy government, subpoenas prove to be quite effective. Why Democrats think that an overreaching, unaccountable administration would readily respond or cooperate fully is mind boggling.

Last April, House Democrats issued five subpoenas in a single morning related to the U.S. attorney firings, the use of RNC email accounts, and the claim that Iraq sought uranium from Niger for a nuclear weapons program. According to the Washington Post, “The White House signaled that it will continue to resist efforts to secure testimony from Rice, Rove and other aides.” Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice stated that she was “not inclined” to appear. To date, none of these issues have been resolved to the satisfaction of the House Democrats.

Contempt

In February, eight months after issuing subpoenas to Harriet Miers and Josh Bolten, the House moved to initiate civil contempt proceedings. John Bresnahan of Politico.com reported, “Pelosi noted that Conyers had sent nine different letters to current White House Counsel Fred Fielding seeking a compromise that would allow Bolten and Miers to appear, but Fielding refused to allow either aide, or former White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove, to testify in public or under oath.”

 

Two weeks later, the Attorney General wrote a letter to Pelosi stating he would not refer congressional contempt citations to a grand jury or take any other action on the matter.

The Lawsuits

When all else fails, take ‘em to court. In 2006, John Conyers announced he was “Taking the President to Court. After a battle over a Republican budget bill, the president despite being warned by Democrats, signed a Senate version that Democrats claimed had not been passed by the House. The purpose of the lawsuit? To seek confirmation from the court that a bill not passed by the House and Senate is not a law. The lawsuit never made it to court. Perhaps he never sung along with School House Rock.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced last May that she would sue the President if he attached a signing statement to Congress’s Iraq funding bill. Of course, a simple and effective solution would be for the House Speaker to turn to Article II, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution then quickly drop down to Section 4. [Note: There is no clause about the 2008 elections, time left or predetermining votes.]

 

This month after Mukasey refused to enforce Congressional subpoenas, House Democrats filed a lawsuit against White House chief of staff Joshua Bolten and former White House counsel Harriet Miers. And thus, the cycle continues.

New Legislation

In response to the Bush administration’s assertion that it did not require congressional approval for establishing any long-term security agreement with Iraq, the Congressional Progressive Caucus announced they were introducing new legislation to combat the situation. The legislation seeks to “reassert the constitutional powers of Congress in the shaping and conduct of U.S. foreign policy.”

A move like this is not without inherent risk. If the legislation fails to pass, it can serve to bolster the administration’s arguments. If it does pass, we’re right back to the signing statement which is what brought this whole issue out in the open in the first place. If Congress starts making a habit of creating new legislation to reinforce already established laws the country is headed down another dangerous path.

With a Heavy Heart

Whether a principled response to the administration’s lack of cooperation with Congress or a growing concern that a Democratic President might be equally uncooperative, Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), railed against the Bush administration last month. Rohrabacher whose aggressive support of rendition and lack of compassion for Iraqi refugees has upset many, has spoken out strongly against the administration for its “contemptuous disregard for Congress.”

 

In a lengthy speech the Republican member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee said, I have come to the sad conclusion that this administration has intentionally obstructed Congress’ rightful and constitutional duties.” Rohrabacher offers “When I hear my friends on the other side of the aisle accusing this administration of stonewalling, of coverups, or thwarting investigations, I sadly must concur with them.” He concludes, “We should not be setting precedents that the President of the United States has the lion’s share of the power in this great democracy of ours.” Are you listening, Nancy?

The Pelosi Factor

“I have said it before and I will say it again: Impeachment is off the table.”

When all efforts to effect checks and balances are thwarted and there is no other recourse to restore order in an administration gone wild, taking impeachment “off the table” really boils down to a matter of obstruction of justice. This begs the question why would the House Speaker obstruct justice?

Rarely discussed in the corporate media since initial reports is the fact that two of the most abhorrent impeachable offenses in the eyes of the American people were disclosed to Nancy Pelosi several years before they went public.

As the Washington Post reported late last year, in September 2002, along with three other members of Congress, Nancy Pelosi was briefed on “overseas detention sites and the harsh techniques interrogators had devised to try to make their prisoners talk. Among the techniques described, said two officials present, was water boarding.” The Washington Post reported that Pelosi did not raise any objections at the time.

In a 2006 oped, Nancy Pelosi remarked that the president’s admission that he authorized the electronic surveillance on Americans is a “wake-up call for intensive congressional oversight of intelligence activities.” With no expression of constitutional responsibility, she acknowledges that she, herself, had been informed of the president’s authorization. She went on to excuse herself by stating “But when the administration notifies Congress in this manner, it is not seeking approval.”

 

Former CIA analyst, Ray McGovern, raises another unsettling question. According to the former head of Qwest Communications, the NSA sought assistance with surveillance in February 2001, challenging the repeated claim that 9/11 “changed everything.” The question then, isWhat Did Pelosi Know about NSA, and When Did She Know It?

An Impeachment Groundswell

Despite the lack of cooperation from the Congress, the movement to impeach continues to gain traction in communities throughout the country.

According to AfterDowningStreet.org, impeachment resolutions have passed in Vermont’s state legislature (introduced in 11 other states), 26 statewide and national political committees, 19 state legislative districts, 91 cities, towns and counties, 54 local political groups/parties/jurisdictions, and several unions, seven ACLU chapters, with dozens more pending or in the works. Organizations well versed in constitutional law like the National Lawyers Guild and the Center for Constitutional Rights have also called for impeachment.

In addition, indictment resolutions against the president and vice president have been introduced in three jurisdictions including Kennebunkport, Maine, summer home of the Bush family. In Brattleboro, Vermont, the votes were cast and the president and vice President may be wise not to tread on that town any time soon.

These actions stand in stark contrast with John Conyers’ assertion in his prepared speech at last year’s Take Back America conference that “Too many Americans, however, feel that Bush’s assault on civil liberties are not really their concern.”

Congressional Rebuffs

Refusal by many members of Congress to support impeachment has little to do with whether or not they believe serious offenses have been committed as evidenced by letters to constituents.

 

Steve Rothman (D-NJ) is “outraged” over the president’s “overreaching intelligence gathering measures” and for “misleading the American people about the basis for going to war in Iraq.” He’s just not sure there is enough evidence. Perhaps John Conyers can lend him a copy of the “Constitution in Crisis.”

Representative Joe Sestak (D-PA) wrote “we have witnessed our government ignore the freedoms established in the Constitution on countless occasions and flaunted national security as justification.” While Sestak lays out numerous “egregious” abuses that “strike at the heart of our democracy,” he contends that congressional oversight will do the trick. One after another, members of Congress outline assaults on the Constitution by the president and vice president, but choose to ride out the next 10 months with little regard to the consequences.

Jerrold Nadler, chair of the Subcommittee on the Constitution has, in essence, altered the Constitution by ruling out impeachment as a viable tool for this and future administrations. By doing so, he opens the door to certain abuse of power. Impeachment, he says, “Doesn’t work. It doesn’t work because essentially the framers of the Constitution did not foresee political parties.” It’s a wonder George Mason, himself, hasn’t risen up to demand that Nadler step down from his chairmanship.

“No point,” said Mason, “is of more importance than that the right of impeachment should be continued.”Upholding the Oath

Conservative Bruce Fein, a constitutional lawyer who served as associate deputy attorney general under President Ronald Reagan had a message for the Democratic leadership in a radio interview with Rob Kall of OpEdNews.com.

“It is quite clear,” Fein remarked, “that they will not move because they think collectively that it will not be advantageous politically for the Democratic Party. I have retorted, you have taken an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States which includes the impeachment clause.”

His voice rising, he stressed “That’s the only oath that you have taken. You have taken not an oath to support the Democratic Party. You’ve not taken an oath to support your political ambitions. The only unflagging obligation that you have is to defend and protect the Constitution of the United States. You are violating your oath when the reason for not going forward is not because they are not impeachable offenses, but you make a political calculation that it wouldn’t be healthy for your party – even if it would be healthy for the government of the United States and for the American people.”

When Kall commented that some worried that impeachment proceedings would hurt the candidates, Fein was even more blunt than before. “I think that is nauseating. When you think about all the risks that the founding fathers took, death, their fortunes, [ . . . ] and these people say ‘yea there are impeachable offenses, but if we have to choose between the Constitution which so many have died to preserve and our party’s gains at the next election so let’s throw the Constitution out the window’ – that is nauseating. That kind of attitude would have left us a colony of Great Britain and it’s not American.”

Congressional Courage

There are members of Congress who are undeterred by the Democratic leadership stance. In April 2007, Representative Dennis Kucinich introduced House Resolution 333 that, if passed, would impeach Vice President Dick Cheney. Each time an old offense was exposed or a new one committed, representatives would add their support.

 

In November 2007, when public pressure failed to move the resolution out of the House Judiciary where it languished, Kucinich introduced a privileged resolution to force a vote. After an afternoon of partisan politicking, the resolution landed back in the House Judiciary Committee with a new title, H. Res. 799. To date, there are 27 sponsors of H. Res. 799. Six of the 27 also serve on the House Judiciary Committee.

Moved by pressure from his constituents and a strong allegiance to the Constitution, Representative Robert Wexler (D-FL) rose up to lead the charge for impeachment hearings. In December, he authored an oped “A Case for Hearings” along with Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) also members of the House Judiciary Committee.

 

In addition, he setup the website WexlerWantsHearings.com where he asked the public to lend their support. His long-term goal was 50,000 online signatures. Within the first 24 hours, 30,000 Americans had added their names. Currently, there are more than 233,000 supporters.Wexler, along with 19 House members – five on the House Judiciary Committee – have written to chairman John Conyers urging support for impeachment hearings. In a New Year’s Eve post, The Nation named Robert Wexler, “The Most Valuable Congressman” stating, “If he keeps this up in 2008, Wexler could yet force the House to be what the founders intended: a check and balance on executive lawlessness.”

TBA 2008: The Republic Against the Rogue Presidency

Based on the reports from last week’s Take Back America conference, it appears that John Conyers has turned back the clock two years. It’s all about winning the elections.

One blogger writes that the reason Conyers gave for not pursuing impeachment now is that “it would jeopardize the chance of a young, excellent man running for the White House,” referring to Senator Barack Obama. Sam Stein reports that “Conyers offered a strong suggestion that he intends to consider legal action against Bush and Company once they leave office.” Stein quotes Conyers as saying “We can win this thing and go get these guys after [they leave office].”

Conyers, like Senator Joe Biden (D-DE), offered that if Bush attacks Iran he should be impeached. It is disturbing to watch seasoned leaders, who have already witnessed this president wage a war on a country preemptively and on false pretenses, decide to “wait and see” rather than preventing more carngage by removing the rogue president for crimes already committed.

Activist David Swanson pulls no punches, “The congress that we elected in 2006 to end the occupation and hold Bush and Cheney accountable immediately decided to pretend to attempt to do its job for two years in hopes of winning more seats in 2008 by opposing the occupation and Bush and Cheney.”

“That this would mean hundreds of thousands of unnecessary deaths, two years off the clock on global warming, our nation and others in ever greater danger of attack, and the continued erosion of our rights – these things didn’t faze Reid or Pelosi,” charged the activist. “The pretenses they’ve put up have included hearings, letters, subpoenas, contempt citations, and bills recriminalizing already illegal and unconstitutional actions. They’ve also pretended to try to pass all sorts of other legislation, such as a children’s health care bill, knowing full well that they would be vetoed or signing statemented. It’s a two-year election campaign at taxpayer expense.”

Regarding impeachment and the elections, Swanson contends “Forcing John McCain to choose between the Constitution and the least popular president and vice president ever would be a gold mine immediately apparent to any entity capable of playing offense. The Democratic Party only plays defense.”

Conyers and Nixon

Congressman Conyers might well be served, and the nation in turn, by recalling his 1974 article published in The Black Scholar entitled “Why Nixon Should Have Been Impeached.”

The 45-year-old Conyers wrote, “In calling him to account, we also reestablish the proper parameters of presidential conduct. It is essential, therefore, that the record of our inquiry be complete so that no future president may infer that we have implicitly sanctioned what we have not explicitly condemned.”

He closed by remarking, “Impeachment is difficult and it is painful, but the courage to do what must be done is the price of remaining free.”