On Thursday, Chairman John Conyers' House Judiciary Committee held a hearing at which Attorney General Michael Mukasey said that he would not investigate torture (video) or warrantless spying (video), he would not enforce contempt citations (video), and he would treat Justice Department opinions as providing immunity for crimes (report).
None of this was new, but perhaps it touched something in Conyers that had not been touched before. Following the hearing, he and two staffers met for an hour and 15 minutes with two members of Code Pink to discuss impeachment.
Conyers expressed fear of what might happen following an impeachment, fear of installing a Bush replacement or losing an election. The "corporate power structure", he said, would not allow impeachment without unleashing "blowback." Conyers told Ellen Taylor and Manijeh Saba: "You need to be more than brave and courageous. You need to be smart."
Their response? They are asking people who care about justice to help them let Conyers know that the smart thing right now would be bravery and courage.
On Rosa Parks' birthday last week, Leslie Angeline began a fast for impeachment. Taylor and over 20 other activists have joined the fast. Conyers has agreed to meet with Angeline to discuss impeachment on Tuesday.
The Chairman told Taylor and Saba that he is listening to several advocates for impeachment, including Liz Holtzman and this author, and asked "So how would it look if I allowed two women to push me over the edge?" Conyers leaned out of his chair for dramatic effect.
A number of organizations will be sending their members this alert Monday morning:
Let's push Conyers over the edge by flooding his office with phone calls, faxes, and Emails on Monday and Tuesday. Let him know that only impeachment hearings
1-will make it on TV,
2-will force compliance with subpoenas by eliminating "executive privilege",
3-will hold brazen criminals accountable, and
4-will convince voters that Democrats care about the Constitution.
Angeline, whose father was on the original Freedom Riders bus that was firebombed in Anniston, Ala., in 1961 began her fast and a sit-in in Conyers' office on Rosa Parks' birthday, and within a few minutes had been granted an appointment with Conyers for Thursday. He postponed it until Tuesday because of the duration of the Mukasey hearing. Taylor, Saba, and others attended the hearing and were told by Conyers' staffer Therise West that they would be removed by force if they did not cover up shirts and pins with messages including "No Torture," "Arrest Bush," "Not One More," and even the text of Article II Section 4 of the U.S. Constitution. Rather than comply, Taylor and Saba wore shirts displaying that section of the Constitution, were not removed, and were granted the meeting with Conyers to discuss it.
The meeting took place in the rooms attached to the committee room. After an hour delay, Conyers came in with three beers, a bag of nuts, and two staffers. Nobody drank the beers. Conyers ate the nuts. The staffers were Perry Appelbaum, who left early, and George Slover.
As Taylor recounted it to me, she and Saba pushed Conyers on the importance of the Constitution, on the crisis it faces, and on Congress's lack of action. Of course, Conyers wrote a book two years ago called "The Constitution in Crisis," which details many of Bush and Cheney's impeachable offenses.
Conyers' initial reply was along the lines of "Didn't you see the hearing we just had? Do you know how many people saw that?" To their credit, the two Code Pink women replied "Not very many, since most people don't get C-Span." Conyers said he would keep following up with Mukasey, but Taylor and Saba asked to what end he would do so and advised him to shift his focus to the executive.
Conyers, Taylor said, then began giving reasons why he was afraid of impeachment. That wasn't the word he used, but Taylor understood his concerns to all be expressions of an inchoate fear. Conyers spoke of "potential ramifications that haven't been examined." Interestingly, among his concerns was not the one he has used a lot recently, namely that impeachment would not pass the House. Instead he was concerned about what might happen after a successful impeachment and removal from office. Of course, the inconsistency in the excuses Conyers uses could simply be a reflection of the lack of importance he places on the choice of excuse.
The two women argued for the wisdom, bravery, and courage of Congressman Robert Wexler's proposal to simply begin impeachment hearings on Dick Cheney and see where they go. The impeachment movement is urging people not only to contact Conyers but also to ask their own representatives to sign onto a letter Wexler has written to Conyers, and to themselves sign Wexler's petition at http://wexlerwantshearings.com
Conyers said that he knew all about Wexler's idea and that he was listening to various impeachment advocates. The two names Taylor remembered him mentioning were mine and Holtzman's. He's certainly not listening closely to me, and I would love to meet with him at his convenience. Holtzman, I know, has wanted to meet with Conyers on this topic for quite some time, but to my knowledge has never been able to do so.
I think the people Conyers is really listening to are too smart for their own good but lacking a bit in the bravery and courage area. Their wise strategy places the outcome of elections ahead of preserving the democracy in which those elections are held or even the verifiability of those elections. And, on their own terms, they are probably wrong. Nothing (except perhaps hand-counted paper ballots) would benefit the Democrats in the next election more than a real fight to stand up for justice. If Congress chooses to cede all power to the White House and move to the back of the bus, Conyers' legacy will not be what it might have been.