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Rep. John Conyers Discusses Impeachment
The distinguished Chair of the House Judiciary Committee and National PDA Advisory Board Member Rep. John Conyers (D-Michigan) attended the Tri-Caucus Minority Health Summit in San Diego, California on July 20-21, 2007, along with PDA Board Member Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Arizona) and several other elected, including other Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) members, Rep.William "Lacy" Clay (D-Missouri), Rep. Bob Filner (D-California), Rep. Mike Honda (D-California), Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-Ohio), Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wisconsin), and Rep. Hilda Solis (D-California). Mansoor Sabbagh, Director of Global Voices for Justice ( www.globalvoicesforjustice.org ), traveled from Los Angeles to San Diego to record Congressman Conyers’ talk, and was also able to conduct an interview with him that evening (as well with Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones).
Following is a transcript of those interviews:
(Jeanne Kyle, Production Manager, edited the transcription.)
Mansoor Sabbagh: Thank you very much for giving a few minutes of your time.
John Conyers: Tell me who you are and what organization?
MS: My name is Mansoor Sabbagh and I have an organization called Global Voices for Justice and I work with Pacifica Radio Stations.
JC: Pacifica! Pacifica is the best radio station in America, bar none.
MS: Thank you very much, yes. Sir if you do not mind, to just get to the point of now that you are the chair of Judiciary Committee, the question comes up that where is the impeachment at right now. Because Nancy Pelosi has sort of have muzzled the whole issue. Where do we stand on that?
JC: Well, Kucinich has introduced impeachment of, uh…
MS: HRes 333
JC: …of Vice President Cheney. Jessie Jackson has introduced impeachment resolution of Bush, and the numbers are growing – that’s where we stand. And of course the President is out of touch with reality. And, he acts like everything is going great as he goes lower and lower in the polls. It’s amazing! We’re thinking about bringing in psychiatrists with political backgrounds to help us figure out how to deal with him. It’s really bad! We’ve never been in this situation in America before with someone like this in the White House.
MS: Sir, but the question is now that you chair the Judiciary Committee, it feels like that you and the issues that you brought up before November 2006 election been put on the back burner.
JC: Well, everybody’s entitled to their opinion. There are 435 members of Congress. Nancy Pelosi is entitled to hers, you know, because – she’s more than entitled to hers – she’s the Speaker, the first woman Speaker. But then I’m entitled to mine. So every member can do what they want. I don’t check with Nancy Pelosi to do what I feel I need to do when I introduce consideration of impeachment.
MS: Sir, the next question is with all that is happening, with the gag rule that’s been put forth by George Bush, especially with Harriet Meirs, and with the people who are supposed to be subpoenaed and appear in front of the Congress and he’s telling them, “Don’t show,” what do we do from here? Where do we go from here?
JC: We hold them in contempt of Congress for not responding to a legal subpoena.
MS: And what is the “contempt of Congress” – what are the consequences?
JC: Well, two. Route number one: the U.S. Attorney processes it and we order her to come before the Congress. Route number two: We send out the Marshals in the house and we arrest the person and bring them in in handcuffs.
MS: The latter option is when the first option, which is when the Attorney General will not carry out his duty.
JC: Well that would be my impression. You see are very nice people in the Judiciary Committee. So we, first we write a friendly letter asking you to come before the Committee. The second, we urge that you come. The third, we point out that there is a subpoena process. Now Harriet Meirs is a former Adviser to the President and a candidate to the United States Supreme Court. I think she knows all these rules – you learned this in maybe your first year in law school. So, she agreed to come, and then she announced she wasn’t going to come. Now, you can come, if you are polite, you bring your lawyer, you come before the Committee, and you explain that because of the Fifth Amendment, because of Executive Privilege, because of something you read, you’re not going to testify. And we say, well, okay, it’s your prerogative. We have other ways, we have other means, you know, I’ve got quite a few lawyers around the Judiciary Committee, so it’s not like we don’t know what the process is. But yesterday the President of the United States said he was ordering his U.S. Attorneys not to honor our process to bring Harriet Meirs before the Committee. In other words, he’s determining the question of Executive Privilege on his own. I mean, he doesn’t need a court; he doesn’t need the Judiciary Committee, and he’s just saying, “Forget it.” Well… I don’t think the American people will want me to say, “Well, I can’t – I tried, and it didn’t work.” They want me to take action. And in this case, I don’t mind taking action. I’ve got a duty, and an obligation, and they gave me a responsibility that I really didn’t want. I didn’t want to do it the more difficult way. I wanted to do it smoothly, without personality, without rancor. But, they thumbed their nose at us, and then, of course, that gets members' emotions up. So we’ve got to do what they are forcing us to do. In other words, we’re going to have to make sure that we get her before the Committee, because if we don’t, it means that everybody that doesn’t want to testify can do the same thing.
MS: That is exactly takes me to my next question. What if we don’t, we cannot, he doesn’t, or he won't or we cannot get him to come, and then the next President in 2008 gets elected and they can follow suit.
JC: No, they can’t.
MS: Could you explain that please?
JC: Illegal precedent isn’t a basis to be followed. I mean, doing the wrong thing doesn’t help here. Sooner or later this will get into the courts, and even with all the conservative people that Mr. Bush has appointed, we think this is pretty fundamental.
MS: Earlier you have mentioned that there is a chance still to impeach him after he has…
JC: Oh, well, impeachment can follow a person – you don’t have to be in office to get impeached. You can get impeached for something you did while you were in office. I hope that some of the people that want action now become aware of that, because we’re caught between all the legislation, you know, we’re supposed to be doing something besides finding out what he did before it was leaked, the warrantless wire taps, politicization of the Department of Justice – all of this – it keeps going on and on. But we’ve got a job – we’re supposed to be creating legislation for the country! This wasn’t…we didn’t plan all this. But they keep forcing us to divert our attention from very important issues, like correcting the criminal justice system, like dealing with medical bankruptcy, which is a Judiciary Committee issue. So… We’ve got to make sure that we don’t let – even with these things – that they block us. And if we start an impeachment, I want everybody to know that means there’s no more legislation. The Congress will become divided, the White House will enter into this, pro and con, and that’s it.
MS: Sir, right now we are in a constitutional crisis. Could you elaborate on that?
JC: Well, the President has uh…We found out that he has signed over 750 Signing Statements, in which he takes Constitutional exception to the laws that he signed. We didn’t know about it. He was allowing warrantless wiretaps of American citizens. He was saying he can name anybody an Enemy Combatant, including American citizens. We didn’t know that. He was condoning torture of prisoners that we captured, which is very dangerous because they captured some of our troops as prisoners. We found out the FBI was signing National Security letters which require people to divulge personal interests without going to court, and that there were many more of these letters going on than we ever knew about. And, of course, we found out that there were no weapons of mass destruction to begin with, so to claim that America was being jeopardized by Iraq is almost laughable now. And then they outed a CIA agent, because they didn’t like her husband’s comments.
MS: Sir, you have dedicated your life to peace and justice movement in this country over four decades. How would you like us to remember you – what would be your legacy?
JC: I cannot dictate how my legacy should be appreciated by those who will be measuring me. I don’t want to tell them what I want them to do – I want them to come to their own conclusions.
MS: Thank you very much sir.
Mansoor Sabbagh is the director of Global Voices for Justice,(www.globalvoicesforjustice.org ) a non-profit media organization based in Los Angeles, California. We record talks, speeches, and community events within greater Southern California. Mansoor Sabbagh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org also via phone at 323.850.4464.