House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was quick to quash any such idea after the Democratic sweep of Congress in last November's election. And the full-page ads from such groups as Why We Can't Wait, calling for the impeachment of the president, were dismissed as just more national noise from the Looney Left -- hardly to be taken seriously in the raging maelstrom of last fall's election politics.
But that was six months ago. Now, in midsummer and on the eve of a congressionally mandated assessment of the unending madness in Iraq, strange and ominous signs are beginning to appear in all sorts of odd and curious quarters, suggesting that this nation should not have to endure another 18 months of the George W. Bush administration and that, if we do, it well might be at the nation's peril.
Much of the current dismay swirls around Vice President Dick Cheney, who is busily ignoring rules of government he doesn't like and declaring his office to be beyond the purview of anyone's scrutiny, while actively setting about to demolish any government agency that has the impertinence to suggest otherwise. Cheney's advocacy of interrogation techniques for "enemy combatants" that many think tantamount to torture, of monitoring phone calls and e-mails without bothering about warrants, and of ignoring the niceties of the Geneva Conventions when dealing with terrorists has put him out of favor even with a growing number of conservatives. Some want to jettison him as a hopeless drag on the Republican Party's electoral prospects next year; others are beginning to join the throng that is convinced Cheney is out of control and needs to be dispatched for the heath and safety of the republic itself.
According to a senior U.S. diplomat, Cheney "kind of runs by his own rules"; he should, therefore, be a prime target for indictment for having cynically broken a whole bucket of U.S. laws. He has become an arrogant symbol for all that is despicable about the current administration and a contemptible example of the danger of letting such a high office fall into the hands of an ideologue.
The media are also speaking these days of a looming constitutional crisis as committee chairs in the House and the Senate confront a White House refusal to provide requested documents regarding the firings of U.S. attorneys by the Justice Department. The chairs of the two judiciary committees are seasoned, tough-minded Democrats who are not likely to take kindly to a flouting of their authority to look over the shoulder of the executive and his minions as they go about managing and manipulating the affairs of government. It's hard to imagine either of them blinking if the White House tries to stare them down.
The last time the nation heard talk of constitutional crises was in the tumultuous second term of the Nixon administration, when first a vice president and then the president himself bit the dust. That's why an op-ed piece in The New York Times last month takes on heightened significance as yet another warning rumble about the Bush White House and its future.
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The op-ed was written by Egil Krogh, a Seattle attorney whose name figured prominently in the Nixon years when he was deputy assistant to the president. Krogh, by his own account, wrote the memo that recommended, in the name of "national security," the burglary in 1971 that ultimately led to the Watergate scandal. Krogh incurred a two- to six-year sentence and spent almost five months in prison for his efforts.
In the closing paragraph of his column, Krogh describes sending a memo to the White House staff, shortly after the inauguration of George W. Bush, reminding those who would serve the current president of the importance of personal integrity and of relying on "well-established legal precedents and not some hazy, loose notion of what such phrases as 'national security' and 'commander in chief' could be tortured into meaning." In his last sentence, he wonders "if they received my message."
Six months ago, the mayor of Salt Lake City -- a Democrat no less -- appeared before a committee of our state Senate to speak on behalf of a resolution asking Congress to begin impeachment proceedings against Bush for "heinous human rights violations, breaches of trust, abuses of power injurious to the nation, war crimes and misleading Congress and the American people." Six months ago, hardly anyone took such talk seriously.
What a difference six months can make!
Hubert G. Locke, Seattle, is a retired professor and former dean of the Daniel J. Evans Graduate School of Public Affairs at the University of Washington.
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