If the state of Washington ends up passing a joint legislative resolution next month calling on the US House of Representatives to initiate impeachment proceedings against President Bush and Vice President Cheney, it will because 900 people who crammed into this capital city's Center for the Performing Arts last Tuesday evening, and countless others across the state, pushed them into it.
The crowd at the arts center had come to attend an event organized by the Citizens Movement to Impeach Bush/Cheney, a local ad hoc citizens' organization in this little burg that had convinced the local city council to make the 1000-seat auditorium available for a hearing on impeachment.
When I and my two co-speakers, CIA veteran Ray McGovern and former federal prosecutor Elizabeth de la Vega, came out on the stage, we all felt not like political speakers or authors, but like rock stars. The applause was deafening, not just at the start of the program, but after each speaker's points were made.
It was clear that even if the Speaker of the House, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) says impeachment is "off the table," a sizeable hunk of the American public is hungering for a taste of it.
Washington is one of a group of states where a serious effort is underway to pass joint legislative resolutions that, thanks to Rules of the House penned by Thomas Jefferson and in effect for nearly length of the Republic, would put impeachment back on the table at the House right under Speaker Pelosi's nose. The significance of the gathering in Olympia is that a freshman senator from Olympia, Eric Oemig, has introduced a bill in the state senate calling for such a resolution. His bill, S8018, is slated to go to a hearing on March 1, to determine whether it can be considered by the full senate, and impeachment activists are planning to have hundreds -- perhaps thousands -- of backers on hand to make sure it gains committee approval.
"We don't hear any of our leaders today talking about impeachment," Oemig told the crowd. "So the fact that the grass roots have built up the way they have is remarkable!"
Oemig brushed aside what he said was a common argument among colleagues in the legislature that impeachment was not the state's business, and that it would "interfere" with more pressing state matters. Noting that the war in Iraq -- one of the key impeachable crimes because of the lies that were used to justify it -- is costing hundreds of billions of dollars, Oemig pointed out how many crucial projects affecting Washington State residents were in jeopardy because of lack of federal funding. He noted too that issues like the president's violation of civil liberties and his abuses of power directly affect citizens of the state. "I don't think this is a partisan issue," he said. "Many of my Republican colleagues have grave concerns about some of the Constitutional violations of this administration."
In my own address, I focused on some key Bush constitutional violations and crimes which I believe are the best arguments to use in convincing conservatives and Republicans of the importance of impeachment. Among these are Bush's order for the National Security Agency (NSA) to spy on American citizens, his use of so-called "signing statements" to invalidate (so far) 1200 laws or parts of laws passed by the Congress, and his authorization of torture. In the first case, I noted that the president has already been declared, by a federal judge, to have committed a felony by violating the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. In the second case, I explained that Bush is claiming -- illegally--that the so-called "War" on Terror makes him a commander in chief unfettered by the Constitution, with not just executive, but also legislative and judicial authority -- a claim of dictatorial power that has no basis in the Constitution. Finally, I pointed out that in authorizing and failing to punish torture, the president, by making it less likely that enemy fighters will surrender, has been directly causing death and injury among US troops.
The biggest laugh came when I pointed out that failing to impeach Bush over the signing statements issue would mean that the next president -- perhaps Hillary -- would be able to cite Bush as a precedent and also ignore Congress. "That," I said, "should put the fear of god into Republicans."
McGovern told the crowd that the administration had destroyed the CIA, preferring "faith-based" to real, hard-nosed intelligence. With the angry intensity of a man who has given nearly 30 years of service to the government only to see it trashed by a know-nothing, criminal administration, he suggested that impeachment was the best way to bring the War in Iraq to an end and to prevent the launching of yet another illegal war -- this time against Iran.
De la Vega, a veteran federal prosecutor, and author of a new book, The U.S. v. Bush, which imagines a grand jury investigation and indictment of the president and vice president on a charge of fraud, laid out the case that the Bush administration has in essence been a criminal syndicate defrauding the American public on a scale far worse than Enron. Meanwhile, she said, the Congress, the media and the American public have, like the Queens neighbors of stabbing victim Kitty Genovese, averted their eyes from the crime.
Questions following the three presentations focused on why the Congress has been so unwilling to act to initiate impeachment, and on what the American people can do.
The answer all the speakers gave in one way or another was to organize -- to convince neighbors, co-workers and friends of the need to impeach the president, to lobby a cowardly Congress to act, and, most importantly, to help move Sen. Oemig's bill forward in the Washington Senate and House.
At present, three states, Washington, Vermont and New Mexico, have bills calling for joint impeachment resolutions (other states, including Rhode Island, New Jersey and California, may also see bills submitted). Under Thomas Jefferson's Rules of the House, any one of those resolutions, if passed and forwarded to the House of Representatives, could start the process of impeachment.
It seems likely that if Washington passed Oemig's bill (it currently has eight co-sponsors), or if one of the ones moving through the legislatures of Vermont or New Mexico were to pass, the other states might follow suit. As well, representatives in Congress could feel emboldened to submit their own bills of impeachment.
In other words, the dam will burst, and impeachment will be underway.
In Olympia, as 900 fired-up and fed-up citizens left the hall last Tuesday -- signing impeachment petitions on the way out -- it was clear that the dam had already burst, at least locally.
Dave Lindorff is co-author, with Barbara Olshansky, of "The Case for Impeachment: The Legal Argument for Removing President George W. Bush from Office" (St. Martin's Press, 2006). His work may be found at www.thiscantbehappening.net and at www.counterpunch.org