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This is a transcript of a talk given at the Impeach for Change conference, on November 11, 2006, Veterans Day, at the Constitution Center, in Philadelphia, facing Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell.
I want to talk to you about preserving our constitution. Veterans day is about those who fought and died and gave so much and sacrificed, those who returned healthy and those who didn't.
Why did they do that? To preserve, they were told, our democracy, to preserve our liberty, to preserve the benefits this country provides to so many but not to all. And so, it is an extraordinary subversion of the constitution to send people to die, to be maimed on the basis of a lie. Democracy means you trust people to make their own minds up, But this president knew that if he told the truth, that we wouldn't be in this war.
The framers of the constitution of the constitution knew that someday there was going to be a Richard Nixon who was president of the United States and someday there was going to be a George Bush who was going to be president of the United States, and they gave us the power of impeachment to revoke them.
They put in the impeachment clause because they said that we know that there will be presidents who will commit grave and dangerous offenses that would subvert the constitution. They knew that subverting that constitution was the greatest danger that could befall our country. So all of us here have to be soldiers in that cause.
The Nixon impeachment started-- the act that constitutied the basis for the Nixon impeachement-- started with the illegal bombing of Cambodia. Why? Because it was illegal and it was secret, and when the press began to find out about it, Richard Nixon said, "That can't happen. I don't want the American people to know about this. I don't want the congress to know. So we're going to wiretap... illegally." And that then led to all the rest of the illegalities, because he thought, as president, he could do whatever he wanted, and started out the course of keeping that war going and depriving the American people of the truth. Not too different from today.
The American people get it now on the war in Iraq and they get it on the culture of corruption and arrogance in Washington. And they have said, resoundingly, "No. We're going to have change." An if you think this change doesn't include impeachment, you're wrong. Well some of the people who were running the elections, until September, thought that the war didn't count. They were wrong. When they start seeing polls they understand how wrong they are.
Newsweek did a poll two weeks ago. It is a critical poll. It showed that a majority of Americans are open to the idea of impeaching George W. Bush.
What's amazing is that they got it even though there's no discussion of impeachment on the Today Show... , not even the other side. It's a nonentity, it doesn't exist. The mass media hasn't referred to it, except to say "It's a bad thing. It's the democrats." So there's no discussion of impeachment. Yet the American people get it, that this president has subverted the constitution and represents a threat to our democracy.
The interesting thing is, those opposed to impeachment are 44%, and some of those, I believe, were so disgusted by the partisan impeachment conducted by the Republicans the abusive, improper impeachment conducted by them, that they said-- "impeachment, never again." They don't remember how congress did the right thing in the right way, with regard to Nixon.
I want to give you a comparison of these polls with the polls on Clinton, because it shows you where the American people really are.
44% opposed to impeaching George W. Bush. 63% on average, opposed to the impeachment of Bill Clinton.
51-53% open to impeachment of George W. Bush. 26% in favor of the impeachment of Bill Clinton.
This is a huge, huge, important statement. The American people, not for the first time, are ahead of the politicians in Washington. But I want to tell you that the American people can make Washington sit up and pay attention, because they did it once before.
It's important to consider, because sometimes people get discouraged-- Richard Nixon was elected in November of 1972 with one of the biggest landslides in the history of the United States. That's because the criminal coverup was so successful, no was even mentioning that there was anything with the president and his top people and the break-in at the Watergate otel. But that started to unravel and John Dean and others had revelations.
But did congress talk about impeachment? Absolutely not. The Democrats were in control of the house and senate. Did they say, "Oh, we've got to have an impeachment now." Absolutely not! They did nothing. They did NOTHING!
Then the American people spoke. President Nixon fired the special prosecutor who was trying to get information about him and the American people said, "that's it. Enough is enough. We can't have a president who is above the law. We can't have a president stop investigations. We are not a banana republic, We are the United States of America. And the congress, you have to act." And they forced the congress to act. It was the American people. This is so critical.
Cindy Sheehan was so correct when she said "People have to walk and educate their congresspeople." They have to educate other Americans that this is possible. I believe it is mandatory, because the constitution was given to us as a precious legacy from those before us. How are we going to hand it down to our children? Shriveled, shrunken, torn? Scratched, stained? That's what we want? I don't think so.
Let me give you the "weapons" for those who are going to be the naysayers here.Plenty of people didn't want to do it. They were forced to do it because of the American people.
People say, "Why should we have impeachement? We now have the democrats in charge. that'enough. Checks and balances are restored. Who needs it?
Well, we had checks and balances in regard to Nixon. We had the democrats controlling the house and senate and we had the president of the United States. Why'd we have to do impeachment if we had checks and balances?
The constitution doesn't require the minimum. It requires the maximum. We can't have a president of the United States who puts himself above the rule of law if we want to continue with this democracy.That's it. No ifs ands or buts.
The fact that we have checks and balances does not mean that we are not obliged to remove the person who threatens our democracy from the presidency.
Secondly, it's not about revenge. The effort against Richard Nixon was not about revenge. Far from it. It was a bi-partisan effort. it was supported by an overwhelming majority of the American people, most of whom had voted for Nixon. The same people who had voted for Nixon where the ones who phoned and telegrammed their members of congress and wrote the them and protested in front of them, because they understood that this man was shredding the constitution. It's not a partisan thing, not a matter of revenge. It's a matter of setting the right standards and holding those accountable who lied and deceived the American people and who want to shred the constitution still.
There are also those who say that this will disrupt congress. There are some people who say that congress can't walk and chew gum at the same time. Congress, during the impeachment of Richard Nixon, did all the other business of the country and the house judiciary committee did its job. Nothing was disrupted.
And to those who say it divided the country-- the impeachment of Richard Nixon brought it together. How? We all recognized that we shared the same values as a country-- the values being, not a president, one person, not a party, not a political situation, but our commitment to the constitution and to the rule of law. When we discovered that we shared those values, it strengthened us and united us.
Some say that Americans only care about improving the minimum wage, about lower interest for student loans, about health care. But don't Americans care about the constitution? Don't we care about freedom? Don't we care about liberty? Of course we do. And anyone who says that (that we need to focus on getting legislation done on healthcare, etc.) is denigrating the intelligence of the American people, because it is our constitution and our democracy that makes all of those other things possible.
We need to investigate. There's no formula for how you conduct an impeachment. You don't need a Conyers investigation., Actually, if you go back to Watergate, you had a select senate committee that began the investigation-- started in the senate, bipartisan, equal representation. That's where Howard Baker asked the famous quesion, "What did the president know and when did he know it?" The same question is applicable to George W. Bush. What did the president know before the war started and when did he know it.
Same questions. There's no formula. The house can conduct inquiries. The senate can conduct inquiries. Those inquiries have to be focused though, on getting us the answers to the basic questions. What are those?
Why did the president drive us into war on the basis of deception? And how did he do it and document what he knew and when he knew it. That's critical, because no American should have to give one drop of blood for a lie, ever.
What exactly did the president know about the torture and the mistreatment of detainees? What was he told and when was he told it? Why didn't he ever follow the law and bring to punishment and bring to accountability, those, even up to the top, who ordered or engaged in torture?
And what about katrina? We never got all the emails from the Whitehouse... Yes, we need investigations of Haliburton and yes we need investigations of corruption, but we need to get investigations that will ultimately expose the lies and misconduct that amount to impeachable offenses.
I believe we have the evidence we need. As a former prosecutor, I would like to have more. It's good to have your quiver full of a lot of arrows.
We could do those investigations. We have to have a process that's fair, bipartisan, that the American people can support. We're here today, to assure the framers of the constitution, the veterans who fought in our wars and the prior generations who brought us to where we are today, that we are going to hold up our end of the bargain and preserve the constitution for future generations and bring George W. Bush and Richard Cheney to account and to impeachment.
Elizabeth Holtzman, is a former Congresswoman and Brooklyn District Attorney who was a vital member of the House Judiciary Committee during the impeachment of President Richard Nixon. She is the co-author, with Cynthia Cooper, of The Impeachment of George W. Bush: A Practical Guide for (more...)