Impeachment a hot topic at 'not Impeachment' hearing
After spending long hours, sometimes late into the night, making his case for impeachment before a nearly barren House chamber, Rep. Dennis Kucinich finally got more of an audience for his case against President Bush Friday.
Even though Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers insisted early on that the panel's evaluation of Bush's "imperial presidency" was decidedly not an impeachment hearing, the prospect was not far from many minds during the six hours of testimony.
Kucinich formally introduced his articles of impeachment into the record of the committees proceedings -- although he did not utter the dreaded I-word, instead referring to the resolutions by their more legalistic titles "H. Res. 333, H. Res. 1258 and H. Res. 1345."
A committee aide tells RAW STORY that members were cautioned to abide by the Rules of the House, which prohibit lawmakers from "impugning" the president's character during official debate. Some apparently took this to mean they could not explicitly call for Bush' impeachment. None of this would stop Republicans from accusing the committee's majority of seeking just that.
The prepared text of Conyers opening remarks referred to Congress's "power to impeach." When he spoke before the committee, Conyers modified that line to the "power to remove through the constitutional process" officials who abused their powers.
Kucinich was similarly circumspect in his testimony to the committee.
"The question for Congress is this: what responsibility does the President and members of his Administration have for that unnecessary, unprovoked and unjustified war?" he asked. "The rules of the House prevent me or any witness from utilizing familiar terms. But we can put two and two together in our minds. We can draw inferences about culpability. ...
"I ask this committee to think, and then to act, in order to enable this Congress to right a very great wrong and to hold accountable those who misled this nation," he concluded.
Kucinich's colleague Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) was far more straightforward.
"Based on all of the things this administration has done, it is probably the most impeachable administration in the history of America,” said Hinchey, who appeared alongside Kucinich and North Carolina Reps. Walter Jones and Brad Miller.
The New York lawmaker even accused the administration of deliberately letting America's No. 1 enemy escape after 9/11.
"I think it is very clear they did not want to capture bin Laden," Hinchey told the committee.
That Hinchey referred to "they" was no accident. House rules forbid direct attacks on the president's individual character or motives, so most of the witnesses were sure to couch ther criticisms as aimed at members of the administration generally.
Hinchey explained his assertion to Politico.
"I think the evidence indicates that very clearly ... bin Laden was close to being captured [in December 2001], there was a clear understanding of where he was, heading up to Tora Bora, in those mountains. He could have been captured," Hinchey said. "But there was a decision that was made through the Pentagon, and probably that decision had been made outside the Pentagon as well, within the administration, not to aggressively pursue bin Laden."
Hinchey added: "I believe that the reason for that was that if bin Laden had been captured, it would have been very difficult, if not impossible, for this administration to then justify an attack against another country. Not Afghanistan, another country. And, of course, Iraq is the country. So I think that it was clear, based upon all of the evidence that we have, that this was a purposeful decision that was made not to capture bin Laden."
In his opening statement Friday, Rep. Robert Wexler (D-FL), a Kucinich ally in his push's for impeachment, also threw caution to the wind, outlining an array of Bush administration abuses, he said "certainly include high crimes" including ordering illegal torture and authorizing warrantless wiretapping.
"I am convinced the most appropriate response ... is to hold hearings for impeachment," Wexler said.
Similarly undeterred from mentioning impeachment was Rep. Hank Johnson (D-TX), who echoed Wexler's sentiment and warned of the potential consequences of not pursuing impeachment now.
"If this administration during the last 6 months decides to attack the sovereign nation of Iran," he said, "then Americans will look back and think and rethink whether it would have been worth pursuing impeachment at this time, to deter any further misdoing by this administration."
Committee Republicans weren't having any of the Democrats' hesitance.
"These are impeachment hearings before the United States Congress," said Rep. Steve King (R-IA), pointing out that Conyers's essentially called for impeachment himself even if he didn't precisely say the word.
Several other Republicans echoed the same sentiment, defending Bush from accusations of "high crimes and misdemeanors" that weren't actually the primary issue Friday.
"To the regret of many, this is not an impeachment hearing," Conyers said, pointing out that the full House has not voted to authorize such an inquiry as House rules require.
Hundreds gather for hearing
More than 100 spectators, including dozens of representatives of anti-war group Code Pink, began assembling outside the hearing room more than an hour before the hearing began. The Capitol Hill hearing room was packed to capacity, leaving dozens of activists out in the hallway, unable to enter; some chanted "Shame!" or "We want in!"
The hearing began about 15 minutes after its scheduled start time with Conyers's opening statement.
"We know the executive branch can and does overreach during times of war," Conyers said. "As one who was included on President Nixon's enemies list, I am all too familiar with the specter of an unchecked executive branch. And the risks to our citizens' rights are even graver today, as the war on terror has no specific end point."
More than a dozen witnesses were scheduled to testify, beginning with Kucinich, who accuses Bush and Cheney of lying to Congress in their pursuit of war in Iraq, among a host of other abuses.
"The decision before us is whether Congress will endorse with its silence the methods used to take us into the Iraq war," Kucinich will say, according to his prepared testimony. "The decision before us is whether to demand accountability for one of the gravest injustices imaginable."
The committee's top Republican, Lamar Smith, mocked the proceedings, comparing them to last month's hearing featuring former White House spokesman Scott McClellan, who recently wrote a tell-all memoir about his time as Bush's spokesman.
"If last month it appeared we hosted a 'book of the month club,' this week it seems that we are hosting an anger management class," Smith said. "Nothing is going to come out of this hearing with regard to impeachment of the President. I know it, the media knows it, even the Speaker knows it. ... This hearing will not cause us to impeach the President; it will only serve to impeach our own credibility."
The American Civil Liberties union praised Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers for convening Friday's hearing.
"Every year this administration has been in power has compounded the damage to our ideals and Constitution," Caroline Fredrickson, director the ACLU's Washington legislative office, said in a press release. "An executive branch that demands and holds too much power tips the scales of our system of checks and balances."
A live Web-cast can be viewed here, and RAW STORY will be providing updates on the proceedings throughout the day.
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Rep. Kucinich testifies at executive power hearing