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Impeachment is off the table, but not far off it

By John Bender
web posted December 18, 2006

The nut job, defeated congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, in what is mercifully her last act as a member of Congress, filed a bill to impeach Bush.  As is generally the case with McKinney, the charges in the bill, for the most part, show a complete disconnect from reality.

Charges like: "George Walker Bush … in preparing the invasion of Iraq, did withhold intelligence from the Congress, by refusing to provide Congress with the full intelligence picture that he was being given, by redacting information …" and, "failed to take responsibility for, investigate or discipline those responsible for an ongoing pattern of negligence, incompetence and malfeasance to the detriment of the American people.", are not impeachable offences.  If negligence, incompetence and malfeasance were impeachable offences, about 90% of both houses of Congress (higher in the Senate) would be impeachable.

However, McKinney finally stumbles on an impeachable offence in Article III. The bill states in part: "… by circumventing the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act courts established by Congress, whose express purpose is to check such abuses of executive power, provoking the presiding judge of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to file a complaint and another judge to resign in protest, the said program having been subsequently ruled illegal; he has also concealed the existence of this unlawful program of spying on American citizens from the people and all but a few of their representatives in Congress, even resorting to outright public deceit."  Most legal scholars agree that Bush's warrantless eavesdropping program is not just an impeachable offence, but a felony as well.

Republican bloggers, and Bush apologists in the press, made fun of McKinney's bill and trumpeted Speaker of the House Elect Nancy Pelosi's statement that impeachment was "off the table".  But inside the administration and among their supporters on Capital Hill there is concern because S. 2453, a bill drafted by Senator Specter and Vice President Cheney, did not get passed in the final session of the Republican controlled congress.

Specter's bill would give Bush immunity from impeachment based on the illegal NSA surveillance program and provide retroactive amnesty from criminal prosecution to Bush, administration officials, Telecom corporate executives, and others who participated in the illegal NSA spying.  Had the bill become law, there would be no chance of impeaching Bush for the warrantless eavesdropping.  It is not likely to pass after the Democrats take control of Congress in January, leaving Bush and others at risk.

Bush and his political operatives understand this, and understand that impeachment is only off the table until the Democrats are ready to make their move.  They also realize that it will temporarily remain off the table only if Bush cooperates by supporting most of the Democrats' radical and unpopular laws, such as tax increases.  The real kicker, and worry in Republican circles, is that even if Bush cooperates impeachment is only off the table until he is so unpopular that impeachment is a political winner for Democrats.

In fact, there is talk in Washington that Democrat staffers are quietly preparing a case for prosecuting Bush and others for violating the FISA law AFTER he leaves office.  Their thought here is, they will signal this is coming before his term ends thereby forcing him to pardon himself or risk a trial (at worst) or a lengthy legal battle over whether or not they can do that (at best).  Either way they have him and Republicans in an embarrassing position during the 08 campaign.

Watch the Senate.  They are going to lay the groundwork for the House with hearings into Bush's FISA violations.  Senate staffers are already making a list of legal scholars who think Bush committed federal crimes when he authorized the warrantless eavesdropping to testify in the hearings. 

The scheduling of these hearings will depend on how much Bush alienates Republican members of Congress and when.  And to a lesser extent, it will depend on how low his standing is among the American people.  If the Senate's Democrat leaders think they have the juice they'll schedule them early next year.  If not it will be in 2008.

Once the hearings are announced, the Democrat bloggers will swing into action, as will the leftists in the press.  Staffers will work the bloggs and message boards fanning the flames and encouraging people to call and write Congress demanding action.  Democrat operatives will be on every television show they can on fanning the flames.  Democrat elected officials will be all over the media expressing shock and sadness that this came up, while telling everyone they wanted to investigate this in ‘06 but were "stonewalled" by the administration and the Republican Congress.

Impeachment has to come in the House, but many Democrats believe the Senate hearings will make the House leaders put it back "on the table".  They believe that once the public is sufficiently stirred up about the issue, Nancy Pelosi will claim she has no choice but to hold hearings on the subject. 

It's all about ‘08 now.  The Democrats are looking at the warrantless eavesdropping program as their ticket to a landslide in both houses of Congress and the Presidency.  They believe they don't have to actually impeach Bush to do that.  They think that all they have to do is convince a large portion of the public that he is a criminal and that Republicans protected him.

That's not going to satisfy the most extreme elements of the Democrat party.  Nothing short of impeachment will do that.  But, the party elites don't care.  They want the White House and both houses of Congress and many of them think that Bush's warrantless eavesdropping is their new Watergate and ticket to accomplishing that goal.

This isn't going to be pretty.  It's going to make the fight to impeach Clinton look like bean-bag compared to the knife fight this will be. ESR

John Bender is a freelance writer living in Dallas. He is a past columnist for EtherZone and his columns have been published both online and in print.  He has been a guest on radio shows including Ken Hamblin's show, the Mark Davis show, and is a regular guest on the Bill Boshears show. He can be reached at jbender@columnist.com.


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