Conyers Plans Impeachment Substitute
By Jason Leopold
Rebuffing Dennis Kucinich’s calls for impeachment hearings on George W. Bush, the House Judiciary Committee instead will hear testimony about Bush’s “imperial presidency” and several of his administration’s scandals.
In a press release issued Thursday, Rep. John Conyers, House Judiciary Committee chairman, said his panel will explore a variety of Bush controversies, including manipulation of prewar Iraq intelligence, politicization of the Justice Department, and refusal to cooperate with congressional investigations.
But the Michigan Democrat also left little doubt that the committee’s review was meant to fend off demands from Rep. Kucinich that Conyers initiate impeachment proceedings against Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.
With impeachment ruled out, it’s unclear how much the Judiciary Committee’s inquiry can accomplish, given Bush’s broad assertion of executive privilege when his subordinates are faced with congressional questions about criminal and other wrongdoing.
Conyers’s committee faced just that dilemma earlier Thursday when former Attorney General John Ashcroft refused to answer an array of questions about his role in decisions regarding warrantless wiretaps and harsh interrogations of detainees in the “war on terror.”
In effect, President Bush keeps broadening his claims of executive privilege – even citing it Wednesday to cover testimony that Cheney gave in 2004 to a federal prosecutor about his role in exposing a covert CIA officer.
Bush knows that Democratic leaders, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Judiciary Committee Chairman Conyers, have long ago rejected impeachment proceedings, the one instrument included in the Constitution for Congress to wield against a President who has abused his powers.
With only six months left in his term, Bush can easily wait out any court challenges to his privilege claims, cases that might take years to litigate.
Nevertheless, in announcing the July 25 hearing, Conyers said his committee would address “possible legal responses” to Bush’s “imperial presidency.”
“As Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, I believe it is imperative that we pursue a comprehensive review commensurate to this constitutionally dangerous combination of circumstances. Next Friday’s hearings will be an important part of that ongoing effort,” Conyers said.
Abuses on Display
Among the topics cited by Conyers for the hearing are:
-- The forced resignation of nine U.S attorneys allegedly because some balked at politically motivated prosecutions.
-- The misuse of the “unitary executive” theory, which involved Bush’s presidential signing statements to negate laws passed by Congress.
-- The abuse of the government’s powers to investigate and detain U.S. citizens and to harm administration critics, including disclosing the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame after her husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, challenged Bush’s use of bogus intelligence to justify invading Iraq.
-- The assertion of executive privilege to prevent Congress and the public from overseeing the administration’s actions and decisions.
Kucinich, D-Ohio, cited those issues and others, such as sanctioning torture and invading Iraq under false pretenses, as part of his 35 articles of impeachment, which were introduced in June.
The House sidetracked Kucinich’s resolution by voting – 251-166 – to send it to the House Judiciary Committee. At the time, Kucinich said he expected Conyers to hold hearings within a 30-day deadline Kucinich had imposed, but Conyers chose not to act.
Kucinich rankled Democratic leaders last week when he stated that he would reintroduce impeachment articles if Conyers and other top Democrats tried to derail his efforts.
Earlier this week, Conyers told Congressional Quarterly that his committee’s actions will be limited to a public hearing.
“We’re not doing impeachment, but [Kucinich] can talk about it,” Conyers told CQ.
While continuing to rule out any attempt to oust Bush, Conyers said Thursday he was alarmed by many of the President’s actions.
“Over the last seven plus years, there have been numerous credible allegations of serious misconduct by officials in the Bush administration,” Conyers said. “At the same time, the administration has adopted what many would describe as a radical view of its own powers and authorities.”
Responding to questions about Kucinich’s impeachment resolution, House Speaker Pelosi told reporters that "this is a Judiciary Committee matter, and I believe we will see some attention being paid to it by the Judiciary Committee. …
"Not necessarily taking up the articles of impeachment because that would have to be approved on the floor, but to have some hearings on the subject."
Before Election 2006, Pelosi declared impeachment “off the table,” in part, to avoid alarming centrist voters. Now, with Democrats hoping to gain additional seats in Election 2008, a similar political calculation applies, fearing a backlash against a last-minute drive to impeach Bush and Cheney.
It wasn't disclosed who would appear before the Judiciary Committee, but Kucinich said one interested party is an unidentified foreign official.
“I’ve been contacted by representatives of a U.S. ally who are seeking an opportunity to appear before the Judiciary Committee,” Kucinich told CQ.
“Legislative leaders of a foreign capital” have a “new angle that I haven’t thought of before but is relevant,” he said. “This interest in whether we’ve been told the truth has extended to other countries.”