By Bernard Weiner, The Crisis Papers
By taking impeachment “off the table,” Nancy Pelosi and John Conyers may have made partisan sense during the run-up to the November 2006 midterm election — the Dems didn’t want to scare away any wavering Republicans. Perhaps it even made sense in the first few months of their new majority status in Congress. But it’s now mid-2007 and a whole lot of awful, fetid water has flowed under the political bridge in the interim.
It’s long past time for Dem leaders to re-think their strategy on this issue, and to use the great leverage their majority status now conveys — much of that leverage inadvertently supplied by Bush and Cheney themselves — to help protect the American people from the Administration’s dangerous policies.
The old issues are still there and together would make up formidable reasons to begin impeachment hearings in the House. But some or all of those highly-publicized issues (lying to take the country to war, U.S. attorneys scandal cover-up, torture as state policy, widespread domestic spying without court warrants, et al.) might not fly with many Republicans. They can choose to believe that the Administration has the right to be wrong in its policies but are not generally engaged in anything that would rise to the “high crimes and misdemeanors” required for impeachment.
What I’m proposing here is that the Democrats stick to one simple yet vastly important, impeachment charge that might well garner enormous support from Republicans and Dems alike: that CheneyBush have endangered U.S. national security in a wide variety of ways, and thus have violated their oaths of office to “protect and defend the Constitution of the United States,” and thus the citizens of these United States. Since CheneyBush are not permitted to run for another term, impeachment is the only constitutional form of accountability for such criminal behavior.
NO PERSON IS ABOVE THE LAW
Much of the evidence for such a charge has been revealed only recently. (I’m about to take off for a week’s vacation in a few minutes, so I won’t be able to include whatever further gory details emerge in the next few days, but the essence probably won’t change.)
I think most Americans can be reached on a gut level about both the issue of Bush and Cheney’s endangering America’s national security by their cavalier treatment of classified secrets, documents and personnel and by the generally-accepted principle that “no person is above the law” in our society.
So, let’s do a quick summary of how Bush and Cheney have endangered America’s national security; we won’t even include their launching an unnecessary war of aggression on Iraq based on lies and deceptions, thus putting the U.S. and U.S. citizens in grave danger, all the while serving as al-Qaida’s best recruiting tool. No, for impeachment purposes, we’ll stick with the documented evidence of law-breaking. (Much of what follows in this first section is information gathered from White House insiders by Chairman Henry Waxman’s staff on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee.)
SECURITY OFFICE IS NOT DOING ITS JOB
There is a compliance officer in the White House who heads up the White House Security Office charged with protecting classified information and making sure that whenever lapses occur they are properly reported and corrected. Apparently none of this is being done. It appears that Bush and Cheney have cut out access to and monitoring of classified information and its handling in the White House. This puts the national security of the country at risk.
Even when security breaches are reported to the Security Office by Secret Service agents and others, for example, they are not investigated. Apparently, Bush and Cheney have ruled the White House off-limits to probes of the very actions that Bush made illegal under Executive Order 12958. This puts the national security of the country at risk.
Of course, the most egregious example of endangering America’s security was when Cheney and Libby and Rove (probably with Bush’s knowledge) spread the word around the press that Valerie Plame — wife of Ambassador Joseph Wilson, who had publicly questioned the way intelligence was “twisted” to justify the invasion of Iraq — was a CIA agent. She had been covertly working in the WMD field, and her outing may have resulted in scores of CIA assets around the world being compromised and “neutralized.” Such callous political behavior, to punish a critic (and by doing so warning others not to try something similar) by ruining the career of his wife, put the national security of the country at risk.
Another example: A senior advisor to the President improperly disclosed classified material to a junior aide, who had no security clearance. No investigation of this breach took place at the White House. This puts the national security of the country at risk.
Classified documents were left lying around in open view in White House offices, when they should have been required to be locked away at secure locations. No investigations were carried out, no disciplinary measures applied. This puts the national security of the country at risk.
In short, as Waxman wrote then-White House Chief of Staff Andy Card, there is a “systemic breakdown in security procedures at the White House.” This puts the national security of the country at risk. If doing so is not an impeachable offense, what is?
CHENEY: THE FOURTH BRANCH OF GOVERNMENT
Last week, Josh Meyer of the Los Angeles Times reported:
“The 2003 executive order addressed a system of safeguards for government agencies aimed at ensuring that classified national security information is properly handled so it doesn’t fall into the wrong hands, that improper leaks of such information are investigated promptly, and that government secrets are properly declassified at the appropriate time.
“The Information Security Oversight Office, an agency within the federal National Archives and Records Administration, is in charge of the effort, with broad authorities that include inspections of government agencies to make sure that they are in compliance.
“The president’s and vice president’s offices handle some of the most highly classified national security information.
“The controversy flared up last week when Waxman criticized Cheney for rebuffing the agency’s oversight efforts, saying his office’s refusal to file annual reports on how much information it was classifying and declassifying had created a potential national security risk.
“Waxman also released letters showing that Cheney’s office had blocked efforts by the oversight agency’s director, J. William Leonard, to inspect the vice president’s office in 2003.”
In addition, in 2005 similar attempts to monitor the offices of Bush’s advisors in the West Wing were blocked. Meyer writes:
“The security officers reported that after an initial meeting, a senior White House official intervened and instructed the White House Security Office to block any inspection of the West Wing. The security officers expressed shock that the Information Security Oversight Office was not permitted to conduct an inspection.”
The story gets even more strange and scary. A few days later, Cheney, speaking for himself and Bush, claimed that he was not part of the Executive Branch and thus did not have to obey Bush’s Executive Order and neither did Bush. They were exempting themselves from any monitoring of their handling of classified information. In effect, devoid of oversight by anyone, Cheney had established a Fourth Branch of government, beholden to no one and accountable to no one. This puts our country’s national security — and our Constitution — at risk.
But Cheney, presumably knowing Bush would not object, went even further. He attempted to get the office in the National Archives responsible for classification oversight — which Bush’s Executive Order had set up — abolished. This would have put the national security of this country at risk.
Now Bush has chosen to ignore subpoenas from Congress for information vital to the Legislative oversight of Bush Administration programs. He asserts “executive privilege” when it’s clear that he’s hiding something likely criminal in nature. The courts may have to sort out the legal issues, with no guarantee of resolution anytime soon.
THE DANGERS OF SECRECY
As many Washington observers have pointed out, the M.O. from the establishment of the CheneyBush Administration in 2001 until now has been to concentrate all power and all accountability in their own hands. The Legislative Branch had to be dealt with, to be sure, but the idea was to keep them more in an advisory role, never having any real say-so in how the Executive Branch carries out its activities. (Bush operates under the cockamamie theory that as “commander-in-chief” during “wartime,” he can do whatever he wants, and ignore whatever laws he wants.) The Judicial Branch has been warned many times to stay out of Executive Branch matters.
The ramifications of such secrecy and paranoia are frightening. Writes former Republican and D.C. insider John W. Dean, author of “Worse Than Watergate: The Secret Presidency of George W. Bush”:
“Their secrecy is extreme — not merely unjustified and excessive but obsessive…It has given us a presidency that operates on hidden agendas. To protect their secrets, Bush and Cheney dissemble as a matter of policy…Cheney openly declares that he wants to turn the clock back to the pre-Watergate years — a time of an unaccountable and extraconstitutional imperial presidency. To say that their secret presidency is undemocratic is an understatement….Cheney formed what is, in effect, a shadow NSC [National Security Council]…It is a secret government — beyond the reach of Congress, and everyone else as well…”
“Worse Than Watergate” was written in 2004; things have gotten even worse in the past three years, to the point where Dean in his most recent book, “Conservatives Without Conscience,” writes that under Cheney and Bush, the country is perilously close to a kind of American fascism:
“It would not take much more misguided authoritarian leadership, or thoughtless following of such leaders, to find ourselves there.”
Dean’s conclusion is worth highlighting:
“Democracy is not a spectator sport that can be simply observed. To the contrary, it is difficult and demanding, and its very survival depends on active participation. Take it for granted, and the authoritarians, who have already taken control, will take American democracy where no freedom-loving person would want it to go. But time has run out, and the next two or three national election cycles will define America in the twenty-first century, for better or worse.”
That is our challenge. We need to rid ourselves of the reckless, ultra-secretive, paranoid crew in the White House bunker before they take the entire country down with them. That means impeaching Cheney and Bush, and casting out their legislative enablers in 2008, regardless of party. If we do nothing, and simply let CheneyBush run out the clock of their tenure, we ourselves will be putting our country’s security gravely at risk. #
Bernard Weiner, Ph.D. in government & international relations, has taught at universities in California and Washington, worked as a writer/editor for the San Francisco Chronicle for nearly two decades, and currently co-edits The Crisis Papers ( http://www.crisispapers.org ). To comment: email@example.com .
First published by The Crisis Papers and Democratic Underground 7/3/07.
Copyright 2007 by Bernard Weiner.