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Cheney's Actions Put Impeachment on the Table

by John Nichols

Four more members of the U.S. House signed on this week as cosponsors of H. Res. 333, the measure that outlines articles of impeachment against Vice President Dick Cheney for actively and systematically seeking to deceive citizens and Congress about an alleged threat of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and an alleged relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda and for openly threatening aggression against Iran.

Congressman Bob Filner, the chair of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, added his name, along with another veteran Democratic representative from California, Sam Farr.

The additional cosponsorships from Washington Democrat Jim McDermott, a Vietnam-era veteran who has been one of the House's sharpest critics of the war in Iraq, and Virginia Democrat James Moran bring the number of supporters for the articles to 14, including sponsor Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio.

House Members are backing impeachment for a number of reasons, including anger with Cheney's involvement with manipulations of intelligence regarding Iraq, illegal spying on Americans and the promotion of torture, as well his recent attempt to avoid scrutiny by claiming that the Office of the Vice President was not part of the executive branch. And then there was President Bush's decision to commute the 30-month prison sentence of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Cheney's former chief of staff and co-conspirator in moves to punish former Ambassador Joe Wilson for exposing the deceptions that led to war.

The founders were very clear about the fact that abuses of the presidential authority to pardon or otherwise lift the burden of the law from subordinates was an impeachable offense. And a number of House members who take constitutional matters seriously have spoken up for impeachment since the commutation of Libby's sentence.

As Illinois Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. said after Bush commuted the sentence of a former aide who could connect the dots outlining presidential and vice presidential wrongdoing, "In her first weeks as leader of the Congress, Speaker Nancy Pelosi withdrew the notion of impeachment proceedings against either President Bush or Vice President Cheney. With the president's decision to once again subvert the legal process and the will of the American people by commuting the sentence of convicted felon Lewis 'Scooter' Libby, I call on House Democrats to reconsider impeachment proceedings."

That's an increasingly popular sentiment among Congressional Democrats, who are breaking with Pelosi to speak the "i" word.

It is an even more popular sentiment among the American people.

According to recent polling by the American Research Group, 54 percent of Americans want Cheney impeached. Among Democrats, that number rises to 76 percent. A majority of self-described independents back action to hold the vice president to account, as do a striking 17 percent of Republicans. With conservatives such as former Reagan administration lawyer Bruce Fein coming out strongly for Cheney's impeachment, the numbers of Republicans who are pulling for accountability is likely to grow.

Local pro-impeachment initiatives around the country -- coordinated at the national level by the brilliant www.afterdowningstreet.org website and its driving force, activist David Swanson -- have kept the pressure on House members to sign on to Kucinich's resolution.

California's Farr, for instance, felt the heat from constituents in the Santa Cruz area. Last year, at the behest of the local Coalition for Impeachment Now (COIN) group, the Santa Cruz City Council voted unanimously to endorse impeachment -- as have close to 80 cities and towns nationwide.

In Congress, impeachment of Cheney is now formally supported by the co-chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, California Democrats Lynn Woolsey and Barbara Lee, as well as the founder of the Out of Iraq Caucus, California Democrat Maxine Waters.

Also on board are three members of the House Judiciary Committee, California's Waters, Georgia's Hank Johnson and Minnesota's Keith Ellison. It is the Judiciary Committee that would take up the issue of impeachment, under the chairmanship of Michigan Democrat John Conyers.

Conyers, who has made little secret of his belief that the president and vice president have taken actions that are in conflict with the Constitution, has yet to endorse H. Res. 333. But he is feeling pressure to do so. In May, the Detroit City Council voted to support impeachment of Bush and Cheney for misleading Congress and the public regarding the threat from Iraq, approving spying on the American people, conspiring to encourage the use of torture and acting to strip American citizens of their constitutional rights by ordering indefinite detention without access to legal counsel.

The arguments for impeachment are varied, to be sure.

But at the heart of the growing enthusiasm for putting the process in motion is a sense that Congress can no longer neglect abuses of power by a lawless executive branch.

"The Founders intended impeachment to be used when those running the government forgot that they worked for the people, and the Founders intended impeachment to be used when those running the government acted as though they were above the law," explains Congressman McDermott, who argues that, "The vice president holds himself above the law, and it is time for the Congress to enforce the law."

John Nichols' new book is The Genius of Impeachment: The Founders' Cure for Royalism. Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson hails it as a "nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic [that] combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use of the 'heroic medicine' that is impeachment with a call for Democratic leaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by the founders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"

Copyright © 2007 The Nation

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