Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), the feisty septuagenarian congressman who serves as the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee will issue yet another missive to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales later this week calling for the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate possible criminal misconduct in regard to the Bush Administration's march to war in Iraq.
Just five other Democrats have signed Conyers' letter: Reps. Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) Mike Honda (D-CA) and Jim McDermott (D-WA), Susan Davis (D-CA,) and Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) along with Bernie Sanders (I-VT).
Conyers' move comes on the heels of yet another British memorandum showing that President Bush had conspired with Prime Minister Tony Blair to set a fixed date for war before even bringing Iraq to the United Nations. The memo also asserts that Bush had proposed a plan to paint a U.S. spyplane with UN markings and use it to attempt to lure Saddam Hussein into war.
What's striking isn't that Conyers is calling on Gonzales to appoint a special prosecutor. He's done it before, and he'd likely do it again. But his decision to take public action to seek a Justice Department investigation of pre-war policy and manipulation of the press has met resounding silence among his Democratic Party.
While a handful of House members sign on to Conyers' proposals each time, the leading voices in the party are silent when it comes to formal legal action on Iraq. In other words, Democrats are quick to criticize the Administration, but are loath to make legal attempts to bring them to account. Democratic senators have called for a special prosecutor to investigate both the fallen conservative lobbyist Jack Abramoff and the National Security Administration's domestic surveillance program. But they have yet to seek a criminal inquiry into how the United States got into a war that has cost taxpayers $300 billion dollars and is burning the nation's reserves at the rate of $200,000 a minute.
Conyers says the body of evidence showing that Bush misled Congress into war deserves a special counsel's investigation.
"We write to request that the U.S. Department of Justice appoint an outside special counsel to investigate and prosecute any and all criminal acts committed by members of the Bush Administration in connection with misinformation concerning the decision to go to war in Iraq and other misconduct associated with the war," the Michigan Democrat writes. "We are aware that there may be other legal and congressional avenues being pursued on these matters; however, due to the severe constitutional crisis that they pose, it is imperative that a special counsel undertake a comprehensive and objective criminal investigation."
Democrats won't sign onto Conyers letter - and have ignored his moves on Iraq in the past. Aides tell RAW STORY that Abramoff and the NSA wiretaps are better issues because they feel they have more political resonance, and because their caucus is divided on the handling of Iraq policy. None would be identified by name, and most declined to be quoted - even anonymously.
"The [push] to go after Abramoff is because a lot of Republicans are tied into it," one aide remarked. "The NSA thing splits the Republican base."
With regard to Iraq, the aide added, "Certainly more vulnerable Democratic members that don't like that kind of stuff."
One aide noted that the issues surrounding the lead-up to the Iraq war are a hard issue for Democrats because many believed - and said - they thought Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. President Clinton also took a hard line, saying in 1998, "We want to seriously diminish the threat posed by Iraq's weapons of mass destruction program."
So did House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).
"Saddam Hussein has been engaged in the development of weapons of mass destruction technology which is a threat to countries in the region and he has made a mockery of the weapons inspection process," Pelosi said in 1998.
"Was Clinton lying to the people, was he falsifying that stuff?" one aide asked. "I honestly think [Bush] thought that there were weapons over there. Everybody thought there were weapons over there."
Democrats have pressed for investigations into pre-war intelligence, but not as vociferously as they have for fuller inquiries into Abramoff and domestic eavesdropping.
Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid (D-NV) stunned the nation when he forced the Senate into secret session, angry that a report on pre-war intelligence had not been completed. The report, called Phase II, remains in limbo in the Senate Intelligence Committee because the Pentagon has not finished an internal probe into Douglas Feith, one of the architects of the Iraq war. Senate Democratic aides say they are waiting on that report and have not yet decided on further action.
Democrats are not alone in their silence on the memo. Neither the Washington Post nor the New York Times have published articles about the latest British U-2 document. Both papers also declined to publish any articles about the Downing Street minutes until long after they were printed in Britain. The earlier minutes recorded a meeting between Bush Administration officials and the Blair government at which the director of British intelligence said that intelligence was being "fixed" around a policy for war.
Democratic aides acknowledge, however, that Conyers has been instrumental in orchestrating a fury over the lead-up to war in Iraq.
"You've got to remember that Conyers and a few others early on were speaking about the war in Iraq and how wrong it was and that number has grown tremendously," one aide said. "Sometimes it takes someone like him to get the fire up and ignited."
Conyers' latest letter follows.
Re: Request for the Appointment of Outside Special Counsel for the Investigation and Prosecution of Violations, and Conspiracy to Violate, Criminal Laws in Misconduct Associated with the Iraq War
Dear Attorney General Gonzales:
We write to request that the U.S. Department of Justice appoint an outside special counsel to investigate and prosecute any and all criminal acts committed by members of the Bush Administration in connection with misinformation concerning the decision to go to war in Iraq and other misconduct associated with the war. We are aware that there may be other legal and congressional avenues being pursued on these matters; however, due to the severe constitutional crisis that they pose, it is imperative that a special counsel undertake a comprehensive and objective criminal investigation.
There have been recent, startling media and other reports detailing how members of the Administration misled Congress and the American people concerning the decision to go to war. Notably, late last week, a new book by Professor Philipe Sands described minutes of a White House meeting between President Bush and Prime Minister Blair on January 31, 2003 in which President Bush made it clear that he would invade Iraq regardless of whether UN inspectors found evidence of a banned Iraqi weapons program and that "the diplomatic strategy had to be arranged around the military planning."1 President Bush reportedly stated that he was so concerned by the failure to find WMD that he proposed that the US "fly U2 reconnaissance aircraft planes with fighter cover over Iraq, painted in UN colours." President Bush added: "If Saddam fired on them, he would be in breach [of UN resolutions]"2 Neither the Blair nor the Bush Administrations have challenged the accuracy of this new document.
This new disclosure is part of an overwhelming record of evidence of misconduct by the Administration in its war effort that includes misleading Congress and the American public concerning the decision to go to war. As detailed in a report my staff recently released titled, "The Constitution in Crisis," the actions taken by the President, Vice President and other members of the Bush Administration potentially violate a number of federal laws, including Committing a Fraud Against the United States (18 U.S.C. � 371); Making False Statements to Congress (18 U.S.C. � 1001); and numerous other statutory prohibitions as more fully detailed therein.3
As you are aware, under Department of Justice regulations, the Attorney General must appoint a special counsel when (1) a "criminal investigation of a person or matter is warranted," (2) "the investigation or prosecution of that person or matter by a United States Attorney's Office or litigating Division of the Department of Justice would present a conflict of interest for the Department," and (3) "it would be in the public interest to appoint an outside Special Counsel to assume responsibility for the matter."4 Significantly, your obligation under this regulation is mandatory, not discretionary. In the present case, all three factors have been met.
(1) A Criminal Investigation is Warranted
President Bush and members of his Administration made numerous public statements to the effect that a decision had not been made to invade Iraq, when in fact the record indicates that such a decision had been made. As detailed in my staff report, and confirmed even more clearly by Prof. Sands' recent disclosure, there is substantial evidence that these individuals have Conspired to Defraud the United States in violation of 18 U.S.C. �371. 5
Among other things, we have found: Before Mr. Bush was elected President, he stated that he saw Saddam Hussein as "the guy who tried to kill my dad," and numerous key members of his Administration had called for a military invasion of Iraq. Immediately after the September 11 attacks, President Bush and members of his Administration displayed an immediate inclination to blame Iraq - the President asked Richard Clarke to determine if Hussein is "linked in any way;" White House officials instructed Wesley Clarke to state that the attack is "connected to Saddam Hussein;" and Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith proposed that the U.S. select "a non al-Qaeda target like Iraq." The Downing Street Minutes provide unrebutted documentary evidence that in the spring and summer of 2002 it was understood by the Blair government that the Bush Administration had irrevocably decided to invade Iraq. These documents reveal that President Bush had told Prime Minster Blair "when we have dealt with Afghanistan, we must come back to Iraq" (Fall, 2001); "Condi's enthusiasm for regime change is undimmed" (March 14, 2002); the U.S. has "assumed regime change as a means of eliminating Iraq's WMD threat" (March 25, 2002); and "Bush wanted to remove Saddam through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD" (July 23, 2002).6
Among other things, my staff report also details the following: The "marketing" campaign for the war which included the creation of the so-called "White House Iraq Group;" the "rollout of speeches and documents;" the release of a white paper inaccurately describing a "grave and gathering danger" of Iraq's allegedly "reconstituted" nuclear weapons program; and the deliberate downplaying of the risks of occupation. The plan by which the Bush and Blair Administration sought to use the UN to "wrongfoot Saddam on the inspectors and the UN SCRs [Security Council Resolutions]" in the winter of 2002 and spring of 2003, constitutes further evidence that the decision to invade Iraq had been made; this is reflected by the fact that Defense Policy Board Member, Richard Perle admitted the U.S. "would attack Iraq even if UN inspectors fail to find weapons;" Vice President Cheney reportedly admitted to Hans Blix that the U.S. was "ready to discredit inspectors in favor of disarmament;" and President Bush was "infuriated" by reports of Iraq's cooperating with UN inspectors.7
It is important to note that the phrase "defraud the United States" in 18 U.S.C � 371 is broadly applicable, and there is ample precedent for applying the law to false and misleading statements by high government officials. In Hammerschmidt v. United States, 265 U.S. 182 (1924) the Supreme Court held that the law applies to those who "interfere with or obstruct one of its lawful governmental functions by deceit, craft or trickery, or at least by means that are dishonest. It is not necessary that the Government shall be subjected to property or pecuniary loss by the fraud, but only that its legitimate official action and purpose shall be defeated by misrepresentation, chicanery or the overreaching of those charged with carrying out the governmental intention." This statute has been used in the prosecution of numerous Administration and military officials in the Watergate and Iran-Contra scandal, with Judge Walsh writing in his final report on Iran-Contra that "[f]raud is criminal even when those who engage in the fraud are Government officials pursuing presidential policy."8
2) A Conflict of Interest Exists in this Case
Because the allegations of misconduct involve the President, Vice President, and other high ranking members of the Bush Administration, there is little doubt that the Justice Department would have an unavoidable conflict of interest in fully investigating and prosecuting possible violations. This is in fact a textbook case of a conflict of interest. You were directly appointed by the President, previously served as White House Counsel and have close connections to President Bush dating back decades. For a Justice Department inquiry to be credible, an outside special counsel with no ties to the Justice Department and no close ties to the President, Vice President or other high ranking Bush Administration officials is essential.
3) The Public Interest Demands the Appointment of an Outside Special Counsel
The public interest demands that this prima facie case of criminal activity be referred to a special counsel who has the independence to investigate the violation of these criminal laws. For example, there can be no doubt that the public interest is served by a full and unbiased investigation into the decision to go to war. In fact, on June 16, 2005, I delivered to the White House more than 560,000 citizen petitions from Americans who, along with 122 Members of Congress, requested information from the President on these issues. To date, no response has been received.
Moreover, the public interest is heightened on this issue because no entity has ever considered whether the Administration misled Americans about the decision to go to war, and the Senate Intelligence Committee has not yet conducted a review of pre-war intelligence information, while the Silberman-Robb report specifically cautioned, that intelligence manipulation "was not part of our inquiry." There has also not been any independent inquiry concerning torture and other legal violations in Iraq; nor has there been an independent review of the pattern of cover-ups and political retribution by the Bush Administration against its critics, other than the very narrow and still ongoing inquiry of Special Counsel Fitzgerald.
As a general matter, the violation of criminal laws is to be investigated by prosecutors and tried by independent federal courts. Regardless of whether Congress chooses to vigorously exercise its oversight powers and try to repair this breach of trust with the American people, the matters at issue are also serious criminal matters.
It is important to note that despite widespread allegations of misconduct by numerous members of the Bush Administration, neither you nor your predecessor, John Ashcroft, have chosen to appoint a single special prosecutor under the applicable regulation. We believe it is no longer tolerable that high ranking members of the Bush Administration avoid the independent legal scrutiny called for by our nation's laws.
We await your response to this important matter. Please reply through the House Judiciary Committee Democratic office, 2142 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, DC, 20515. Or, you may reply by telephone: (202) 225-6504; or, fax: (202) 226-4423.
Rep. John Conyers
cc: Hon. F. James Sensenbrenner
Chairman, House Judiciary Committee
Correction: The first edition of this article incorrectly identified Bernie Sanders as a Democrat. He is an independent.