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Trial by Constitution

Trial by Constitution
By Stirling Newberry
t r u t h o u t | Perspective

Thirty-one years ago, on August 8th, Richard Nixon addressed the American public for the 37th time from the Oval Office. His message was that he was resigning the Presidency "effective noon tomorrow." It was the fall of a man who had risen in public life under a cloud, and had participated in five national elections on a major party ticket, more than any one else except Franklin Delano Roosevelt. For many who had been opposed to him from the beginning, it was a great weight lifted from the country. GB Trudeau had a metaphorical brick wall removed from in front of Doonesbury's White House.

In his speech Nixon acknowledged what had come to be recognized as the reality of impeachment: that it was a constitutional and deliberative process, and, at its root, a means for the American people to determine the destiny of the Executive. There have been four serious attempts at impeachment: Clinton and Nixon are both within living memory, and the impeachment of Andrew Johnson has entered into legend, both because of its metaphorical significance, and because the outcome was so decisive for politics in America. But the fourth serious attempt is almost forgotten, though it was the model for the Andrew Johnson impeachment: John Tyler.

Tyler is a historical oddity. He was the first President to come to office through the death of the President. He was also the first President to be voted out of his own party when the Whigs in Congress expelled him, and all but one member of his cabinet resigned. This made him, arguably, the only independent to occupy the Oval Office. The Whig Party, formed in response to what was perceived as Andrew Jackson's monarchical ways, found itself with a man as hard-willed as Jackson. When Tyler vetoed the Bank of the United States, which was the most important policy to the Whig Party, it precipitated a crisis within American governance.

After expelling Tyler, the Whigs attempted to introduce an amendment that would have made a simple majority of Congress capable of over-riding a veto. When this failed, and when they lost control of Congress, they turned to impeachment, hoping that enough Democrats would join the motion. The articles accused Tyler of using the veto wrongly, and of lying to the American public, for abusing his power as President. As later scholars would determine, "high crimes and misdemeanors" is constitutional language for "abuse of power."

The articles of impeachment failed, but they would leave behind a model which would be adopted in Johnson's case. History wasn't quite finished with Tyler though: he would also become the first President to have a Veto over-ridden by Congress, and would end his life by being elected to the Confederate Congress. The man who decided the South was more important than his party also decided it was more important than the Union.

Tyler's impeachment was a civil war within the Whig Party. While Johnson's impeachment is often cast as the Republicans in Congress against a Democratic President, the parallel to Tyler is closer than people realize. Lincoln ran in his second term as a "Unionist," as did many members of Congress. William Henry Harrison of Ohio picked John Tyler, who was a Virginian, to balance the ticket. Twenty years later, the same would be the case with Lincoln of Illinois choosing Andrew Johnson of Tennessee: a Northwesterner at the top of the ticket, with a Southerner on the bottom to balance it. Lincoln was hoping to revive the Whig coalition.

Johnson's battle, like Tyler's, was not merely a conflict of parties, but of the very shape of party politics. Each man had been the hope to bind at least some of the South to a national and progressive ticket, rather than a regional one. Each man faced a hostile Congress when that coalition failed.


In the four major attempts at impeachment, the conflict has been over the mandate of an Executive against the mandate of Congress. Each one was the result of a "broken election," where conflicting mandates were created by the electorate. Under the Constitution the President or the Congress can be the center of power, but it is not possible for both to be dominant at the same time. There have been nine attempts at impeachment all together; in each case a Congress attempted to hold an Executive who had, rightly or wrongly, lost the faith of the electorate.

Looking at those who have faced such charges, one thing unifies all of them: they were all headstrong Presidents who collided with legislatures that had a very different vision of the public good and the public trust.

In his book Warrior King, John Bonifaz lays out what he feels to be a legal case for impeachment of the President. His case argues for particular constitutional boundaries to Presidential action. Like any legal case, it is phrased in ringing language and argues for deep principles. It argues eloquently and passionately for a Presidency that must report truthfully to the public, and a Congress that has limits on what it can delegate to the Executive.

The problem is not finding a legal case, but a finding a political one. Impeachment and Declaration of War are the two most extreme powers in the arsenal of Congress. Both have been used sparingly, because in both cases successive generations of politicians have found better and less drastic ways of attaining the same end.

The political case for impeachment rests on the nature of impeachment itself. Looking back at every serious attempt to impeach a sitting President, certain historical features leap out: the Presidential party has lost the next election in 8 of the 9 times that impeachment articles have been filed, and the Congressional party has only lost Congress in the next election twice. In short, the political meaning of impeachment is as the culmination of conflict. In the case of Tyler and Johnson, it would involve the disintegration of parties and the invocation of amending the constitution itself. In the case of Nixon and Clinton, it would involve the entrenched Congressional Party attempting to restrain what they saw as an imperial Presidency.

There are those who would argue that unless and until the Democrats win the elections in 2006, there is no impeachment process. However, the reality is that the movement toward impeachment has already begun, because it is not impeachment which is the objective: the bar to actual removal of the Executive is so high that either impeachment of the President is dead letter, or it has another meaning.

That other meaning has been a trial by Constitution over the limits of executive power. John Bonifaz's case is not a question of whether the law was broken, but whether there is any law all. Impeachment has been the recourse of lawless Congress, and it has been the tool to restrain a lawless Executive. But which is which is only decided in retrospect. By testing the limits of Constitutional procedure, and forcing the public to face whether an Executive has exceed the bounds of the power granted him by the public, it settles the matter. We hold impeachments, in short, for the same reason we hold Superbowls: because there is no other way.


One way to tell that the movement toward impeachment has already begun, and that it has members in the most unlikely of places, and indeed members who will publicly deny they are moving in that direction at all, is the introduction of the language of Constitutional conflict. The current slogan of the Democrats in both House and Senate is that the Republicans are guilty of "Abuse of Power." It is a phrase that should be familiar: it is the title of Article II of the Impeachment Articles passed by the House Judiciary Committee on July 29th, 1974.

Frank Lautenberg has also brought forth the language of impeachment: by using the word "Treason" to describe the breach of national security by Karl Rove. The word "impeachment" has, itself, surfaced in connection with Rove, floated by John Conyers, who wrote the introduction for John Bonifaz's book. The language of impeachment has not just surfaced in rhetorical ways, but in an even more portentious place: in the proceedings of the Grand Jury that has been empanelled to investigate whether crimes were committed in connection with the outing of Valerie Wilson a.k.a. Valerie Plame.

It should be remembered that one of the killing blows against Nixon was that he was named as an "unindicted co-conspirator." It was not Congress that began the real inquiry into Nixon, it was the judicial process. Just as revelations discovered by a grand jury in 1973 and 1974 placed the scandal "inside the White House," so too have revelations in 2004 and 2005 placed the scandal inside the Oval Office: with Karl Rove and Scooter Libby, two top aids to the President and Vice President respectively.

This is a stark change from standing "shoulder to shoulder" with the President. It should be noted that the Congressional leaders who said this, Tom Daschle and Dick Gephardt, along with DNC Chair Terry McAuliffe, are now all in private life. The new leadership is both more liberal and more aggressive than the old. The public has also soured on Iraq, and on George Bush. No President has ever been less popular with an economy that is not in recession. One has to look back to the pit of 1982 to find Reagan's numbers as bad for as long as George Bush's are now.

But the most important sign of the movement toward impeachment is a growing demand for answers. Once upon a time, Dick Cheney could have snarled at the cameras that the public had "moved on," now he cannot. Inquiry is the seed of impeachment, and resolutions of inquiry are being pressed on the floor of the House. It is true that these resolutions will be tabled, and left for dead. But they then give the Democrats something to run on: a demand for answers. The results from Ohio's Second District show that while the public may not accept a case for impeachment based entirely on how we went to war in Iraq, it is more than willing to listen to charges that Iraq has been mishandled.

This is an important, if subtle, distinction. To make a case solely on how America went to war is to ask the public to face its own complicity in the rush to Iraq. However, to make a case that Bush has abused the trust that War creates, that lies were told before, during and after the invasion, allows the public to set aside, rather than take, responsibility for Iraq. They can tell themselves that Bush mishandled the trust they gave him, and that he lied to cover up his failures. And it is almost always the cover up, more than the crime, that angers people.

Impeachment, remember, is when a Congress attempts to hold a stiff-necked Executive to account. The very trait that makes a stubborn man capable of playing a weak hand against an opposition Congress is the trait that becomes a liability once inquiry and impeachment are invoked. The march to impeachment gives a President chance after chance to prove that he neither learns, nor listens. With each denial, with each attempt to change the subject, with each imperious declaration that he is right, the Executive builds the case against himself in the public mind. He is on the stand in a trial, each and every day, and is, in the end, the most devastating witness against himself.

In this particular moment, the struggle that ends with regime change in America has already begun. One of the possible roads to the climax of that struggle lies through inquiry, and if necessary, invocation of power of impeachment, which, like the power to declare war, is in the hands of the Congress alone.

Stirling Newberry is an internet business and strategy consultant, with experience in international telecom, consumer marketing, e-commerce and forensic database analysis. He has acted as an advisor to Democratic political campaigns and organizations and is the co-founder, along with Christopher Lydon, Jay Rosen and Matt Stoller, of BopNews, as well as the military affairs editor of The Agonist.



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"Dear Mr. President,
It is time for this war in Iraq to end as it has been based on complete fiction. Mr. President, you said that Iraq and 9/11 were linked together. You have later admitted that was a lie. Why do you continue to foster this lie upon the American people?
We're not stupid. We see through the bullshit, and further understand why you are lying. Why don't you come out of your delusion in that ranch on Texas, and see Cindy Sheehan directly?
Sir this proves you are a very bad liar, and that the Vice President has been actively promoting these lies. You nonetheless stated 6 days ago that our people have died for a noble cause.
Why don't you come out of your Texas house and tell the American people, including Cindy Sheehan what that noble cause is?
Her son would like to know what he died for, and so would she. My entire close knit group of friends went to Iraq because they thought it was going to defend freedom, but evidently that was a complete lie and now they are dead.
Did you know they can not come back to life? What are you hiding Mr. President? America asked you for answers, so honor the dead and honor those who have gone on. Tell them what they have really died for.
Tell them all that they died in order for your second in command to get his oil. I not only dare you, I strongly ask you now!!!!!!!!!
Stop being a coward and confront us, give us the truth!!!!!!!! The lives of all demand it, and they demand it right now!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Who are these deceitful evil greedy people that you keep around you?
Why do they want a NEW WORLD ORDER? Mr. President, if you are a criminal then admit it to America!!!!!!!!! Hang your head in shame for selling yourself out, and being blackmailed by these traitors to our American soil!!!!!!!!
You said your mission must be for god, then wake UP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! The fundamentalist teachings of christ, teach us we must follow one road and never falter. We must stay true to what we believe, and never question. This is WRONG!!!!!!!! The real teachings of christ tell us that we must follow our own gut, and our internal feelings of what god really wants. God does not really want the Iraq war, and you know this!!!!!!!!!!!!! So stop the lies, stop the game, it is over!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Give up this horrible twisted belief that has consumed you, and turn yourself over so that the truth can be known!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
They have taken our flag Mr. President, and spit upon it. These traitors in Project For New American Century do not represent any type of god!!!!!!!!!!!!!! They are angry, hateful vengeful people who only know greed!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
They have stripped you of your powers, and made you into a foolish gambit. Get out of this delusional fantasy of theirs, and stand up for yourself!!!!!!!!!!!! It is time to come clean with the American people, and tell everyone in Texas what has happened so that we can heal this country and stop the bigotry and hate in its tracks for good now.
Read their mission statement:
"Of course, the United States must be prudent in how it exercises its power. But we cannot safely avoid the responsibilities of global leadership or the costs that are associated with its exercise. America has a vital role in maintaining peace and security in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. If we shirk our responsibilities, we invite challenges to our fundamental interests. The history of the 20th century should have taught us that it is important to shape circumstances before crises emerge, and to meet threats before they become dire. The history of this century should have taught us to embrace the cause of American leadership.
Our aim is to remind Americans of these lessons and to draw their consequences for today. Here are four consequences:
• we need to increase defense spending significantly if we are to carry out our global
responsibilities today and modernize our armed forces for the future;
• we need to strengthen our ties to democratic allies and to challenge regimes hostile to our interests and values;
• we need to promote the cause of political and economic freedom abroad;
• we need to accept responsibility for America's unique role in preserving and extending an international order friendly to our security, our prosperity, and our principles.
Such a Reaganite policy of military strength and moral clarity may not be fashionable today. But it is necessary if the United States is to build on the successes of this past century and to ensure our security and our greatness in the next."
Mr. President, they wanted you and the USA to become police for the entire world and take over as the world's only superpower. They did not care whatsoever about whether it was in God's interest, neither whether democracy was brought about or not. Their only concern has been to take over the entire world's economic policy, and have control of all of its resources to suit its interests.
Mr. President, freedom will never be spread this way. They are full of hate and greed, and a twisted form of Israel policy. You must come clean with the American people!!!! Reject their form of government and tell us the truth and admit what you have done!!!!!!!!!!! Come out President Bush, we're here until the end!!!!!!!!!!!
Doug Eldritch"
NO MORE WAR. It is over, just like VIETNAM. END THE WAR NOW, and for the last time, give up being a crook!!!!!!!!! THE WHOLE CHENEY CRIME GAME SYNIDCATE IS OVER, YOU HEAR ME, OVER!!!!!!
Explosive DOCUMENTS reveal the PNAC coverup!!!!!!
Doug E.

Both the US and UK public have been faced with the real misery of watching their political leaders dismiss very serious concerns about how we got into Iraq, whilst shameslessly playing the 'patriot card' to silence their critics. Asking a Government to account for its behaviour is now linked to 'not supporting our troops'. The intelligence was used by the politicians, the most decisive act that led to war, is apparently not worthy of investigation. The trouble with saying that, is who's saying it - the very politicians who decided to invade Iraq. The no-fly zones, set up by the US and UK without UN authorisation, were used to conduct stepped-up bombing campaigns before ths war debate at the UN. That fact alone demands explanation.

Troops are best supported when they have a clear idea what their mission is - this war's mission changed according to the prevailing headlines. That fact alone suggests that we, the public, were by our behaviour, determining which cause for war would finally be used. If we didn't believe the link with 9/11, we would believe the threat from WMD, if that failed our humanitarian instincts would want to bring an end to the suffering of the Iraqi people.

Next we saw chaos ensue and our troops must have seen first-hand that little was being offered to the Iraqi people in the way of liberation. We entered Iraq and sought to divide - we allowed looting, the loss of precious records that would have helped ensure a more orderly transition. We dismissed the army and even though we understood Saddam Hussein ran a dictatorship - we threw many people onto the scrapheap - people who could in fact have been invaluable in stopping Iraq descend into chaos. We saw the rush for the 'spoils of war' - the recuperation of the 'blood price' paid for by our troops and Iraqi civilians, given as rewards to big corporations. These same politicians admit it - 'things were mishandled'. They ignored the warnings and advice of specialists on the region. They say 'lessons have been learnt' - the public must move on. They are the ones who failed our troops, how are you meant to have a mindset for 'peace-keeping' when you're head is filled with the propaganda of 9/11 - you're led to believe you'll be fighting the monsters that did that and then you're faced with the very real distress of seeing your friends being killed and injured. The violence escalates till it becomes self-fulfilling, Iraqis end up hating us, we end up hating them. What kind of politicians across all parties can claim to have the interest of their people at heart when they remain silent about such an obvious abuse of power. Not all have, but such politicians should have the support of us all to get to the 'truth' that has so studiously been avoided.

I think there ia a real concern that we cannot hold our leaders to account during a conflict of their making - because of our troops and the situation that would place them in. Admit to an abuse of power and then what ? That is an issue that must be dealt with - right out in the open, soldiers are there by mandate of the politicans and rather than keep them there hoping for the best, a US that can show a real democracy in action, a US that can be fearless in stating that truth is freedom's greatest ally, a US that is ready to ensure that it's own democracy works - that is a US that will win hearts and minds the world over. Americans are capable of breathtaking, wonderful honesty, capable of believing everything is possible and working to make the impossible happen. I don't believe we've reached a time when the US is willing to let any Administration who fails to hold itself to account, have the last word. Our troops deserve 'democratic countries' to come home to - that's what supporting them means.

President Indicted: Federal Grand Jury Digging Deep Into Bush Crimes

American Free Press/Greg Szymanski | August 8 2005

Comment: As stated before we are aware of the possibility that this could be akin to a dying soldier seeing a mirage in the desert, false hope, but we will continue to track it to its conclusion.

A federal whistleblower close to the Chicago federal grand jury probe into perjury and obstruction charges against President Bush and others said indictments of top officials were handed down this week. A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Northern District of Illinois, however, refused to confirm or deny the source’s account.

“We are not talking about any aspect of this case, and our office is not commenting on anything regarding the investigation at this time,

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