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Conyers Explains Why He Hasn't Impeached

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House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers has released a lengthy new report that updates his previous report originally released in 2005 documenting Bush and Cheney's crimes and impeachable offenses. The new report recommends that the Attorney General appoint a Special Counsel, even while making other recommendations that could delay or prevent prosecutions (including creating a bipartisan commission to spend a year and a half looking at the crimes and potentially immunizing criminals). The report includes 47 recommendations, some better than others, and has a tendency to ask the next president to ignore bad laws while offering that Congress might pass better laws "if necessary." The report takes up some new topics not addressed in the old one, but largely covers familiar ground, with one glaring exception: it virtually ignores what had previously been a major focus, the war. The lies that launched the war receive a few pages toward the end.

Over the past three years, a great many people have lobbied Conyers to impeach Bush and Cheney. I've worked with him and his staff, been arrested protesting in his office, and everything in between. Conyers includes in his new report a foreword that amounts to a seven-page letter to disappointed impeachment advocates. After listing some of the most serious abuses of power imaginable, Conyers writes:

Many think these acts rise to the level of impeachable conduct. I agree. I have never wavered in my belief that this President and Vice-President are among the most impeachable officials in our Nation’s history, and the more we learn the truer that becomes.

This is new for Conyers to be saying this publicly in a formal report. Just as his new report maintains a pretended uncertainty as to whether crimes have been committed, his past reports and statements have maintained a pretended uncertainty as to whether impeachable offenses had been committed. Given that most of the offenses discussed are statutory crimes and that Conyers now admits to the impeachability of the guilty parties, the new pretense is shaky. But if, years from now, Conyers says that he has never wavered from his belief that Bush and Cheney were criminals, it will be appropriate to point out the novelty. Conyers continues:

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Some ardent advocates of impeachment have labeled me a traitor – or worse – for declining to begin a formal impeachment inquiry in the House Judiciary Committee. While I reject that particular criticism, ...

I recall suggesting that Conyers might have "sold-out", after which most of his staff refused to speak to me. I'm sure someone did call him a traitor, and I can't imagine what's worse than that. Perhaps someone said that he was complicit in the death of 1.3 million Iraqis. That's pretty bad. But that charge would not be baseless. We had a situation in which a majority of Americans wanted impeachment, a majority of Conyers' constituents (including his wife) wanted impeachment, 100 cities passed resolutions demanding impeachment, impeachment resolutions were introduced and referred to the House Judiciary Committee, the chairman of that committee believed the offenses were "among the most impeachable in our nation's history," the charges included the launching of the war on Iraq, and the chairman refused to act. It's possible that his actions would have failed in the House or the Senate. It's possible that his actions, whether failing or succeeding, would have had some other negative consequence. But the fact was that he refused to try, and as many of us read the Constitution that was a failure of duty.

The frustration citizens felt with Chairman Conyers was amplified by the fact that he had a book in the bookstores (the print edition of his first report) that said on the top of the back cover "The Foundation for Possible Articles of Impeachment," and a little further down had this quote "Before reading the report, I wouldn't have expected to find myself thinking that such a course of action was either likely or possible; after reading the report, I don't know why we would run the risk of not impeaching the man." The foreword to the book, by Liz Holtzman, said "Impeaching President Bush for lying to get us into a war will not only protect us from him, but also send an unmistakable message to future presidents: never again." And yet, when we asked Conyers' staff about impeachment, they couldn't be bothered. They were too busy writing the second book (the new report), at taxpayer expense.

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And it wasn't just the book. In 2005 Conyers introduced a bill to create a preliminary investigation into impeachment. Throughout the past three years, Conyers has spoken at rallies and events, leading crowds to believe he favored impeachment just as clearly as Bush led crowds to believe Saddam Hussein destroyed the World Trade Center. As the 110th Congress began in January 2007, Conyers addressed a huge crowd on the national mall and shouted "We can fire him!" about Bush, leading to a chant of "Impeach Bush!" Then Conyers told a reporter that what he'd meant was that if we waited until 2009, Bush would complete his term. This was not an isolated incident, but an example of what came to be a pattern in public events in Detroit and elsewhere at which Conyers suggested he was for impeachment and then assured reporters he was not. Perhaps that behavior doesn't justify shouts of "Traitor!" but it does explain them.

Conyers continues:

... I want to make clear how much I respect those who have given so much time and energy to the cause of fighting for the impeachment of President Bush and Vice-President Cheney. While we may not agree on the best path forward, I know they are acting on the basis of our shared love of this country. These citizens are not fringe radicals, and they are obviously not motivated simply by personal feelings about President Bush, however strong those feelings may be at times. They are individuals who care deeply about our Constitution and our Nation, and who have stood up to fight for the democracy they love, often at great personal cost. Our country was founded, and our democracy has long been nurtured, by people willing to take such risks, and we should honor their vigilance and courage. However, as I have said, while President Bush and Vice President Cheney have earned the dishonorable eligibility to be impeached, I do not believe that would have been the appropriate step at this time in our history, and I would like again to briefly explain why that is the case.

Conyers has explained this before, many times. He's told us that Fox News would attack him if he moved on impeachment, especially if he failed. He's told us he was guaranteed to fail. He's told us it would be bad for the presidential election. But he hasn't put it into a book before, so this is worth considering:

Contrary to assertions by some advocates, the predecessor to this Report – the Judiciary Committee then-Minority staff's "Constitution in Crisis" – did not call for impeachment. Rather, it concluded that there was substantial evidence of impeachable misconduct and that there should be a full investigation by a select Committee armed with subpoena power.

That's true of the report, but not -- as I've mentioned -- of the book's cover and foreword. While Nancy Pelosi swore she would never impeach in May 2006 in response to a statement from the Republican National Committee, Conyers continued to hedge and fudge and prevaricate enough that a great many people worked hard to elect Democrats they disliked to Congress, in hopes that Conyers would become chair of the Judiciary Committee and impeach. Polls showed Americans believing that a Democratic majority would impeach. The RNC trumpeted this myth. And voters put in 30 new Democrats and not a single new Republican.

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Conyers goes on:

Prior to the 2006 elections, when I saw that my views on impeachment were being misstated by friends and foes alike, I set the record straight in an essay published in The Washington Post titled "No Rush to Impeachment:" The administration's stonewalling, and the lack of oversight by Congress, have left us to guess whether we are dealing with isolated wrongdoing, or mistakes, or something worse. In my view, the American people deserve answers, not guesses. I have proposed that we obtain these answers in a responsible and bipartisan manner. It was House Republicans who took power in 1995 with immediate plans to undermine President Bill Clinton by any means necessary, and they did so in the most autocratic, partisan and destructive ways imaginable. If there is any lesson from those "revolutionaries," it is that partisan vendettas ultimately provoke a public backlash and are never viewed as legitimate. So, rather than seeking impeachment, I have chosen to propose comprehensive oversight of these alleged abuses. The oversight I have suggested would be performed by a select committee made up equally of Democrats and Republicans and chosen by the House speaker and the minority leader. The committee's job would be to obtain answers – finally. At the end of the process, if – and only if – the select committee, acting on a bipartisan basis, finds evidence of potentially impeachable offenses, it would forward that information to the Judiciary Committee. This threshold of bipartisanship is appropriate, I believe, when dealing with an issue of this magnitude.

Conyers was very clear. As I mentioned above, he did NOT communicate his "belief that this President and Vice-President are among the most impeachable officials in our Nation's history." He pretended not to know it. And yet, he had produced a report that laid out indisputable evidence of quintessentially impeachable offenses, and his staff was saying they wanted to get there one step at a time. We thought the "preliminary investigation" nonsense was a step on the way to impeachment, a step taken by a ranking member lacking the power of a chairmanship.

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David Swanson is the author of "When the World Outlawed War," "War Is A Lie" and "Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union." He blogs at http://davidswanson.org and http://warisacrime.org and works for the online (more...)

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