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Feingold won't rule out Bush impeachment

Feingold won't rule out Bush impeachment
By Shay Totten & Kathryn Casa | Vermont Guardian
Vermont Guardian
posted January 8, 2006

BURLINGTON — If Pres. George Bush broke laws when ordering wiretaps and secret spying on U.S. citizens, a key Senate Democrat said he would not rule out calling for his impeachment.

"I think there is an orderly and dignified way to find out what happened," said Russ Feingold of Wisconsin. "And, if there was a legal violation there needs to be accountability ... you can't put the cart before the horse, but I would not rule out any form of accountability."

That would include impeachment, Feingold told reporters.

Feingold, who is eyeing a run for president in 2008, was in Vermont Saturday to stump for Rep. Bernie Sanders, an independent, who is running for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by retiring Jim Jeffords.

The pair held a morning press conference before making stops throughout Vermont, including Brattleboro, where enthusiastic supporters packed the high school auditorium for what Sanders said was the first formal event of his official Senate campaign. The mid-day meeting drew supporters from New Hampshire and Massachusetts as well as throughout southern Vermont.

The senator, who sits on the Judiciary Committee, said in Brattleboro that committee chairman Arlen Specter has already scheduled hearings on the administration's surveillance activities, which will follow this week's confirmation hearings of Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito.

Asked by a supporter whether there was a way citizens could impeach Bush "here and now," Feingold said he first wants to hear the administration's justification for conducting domestic surveillance before determining what, if any, punishment should occur.

Once that is known he said, there should be accountability. "I'm not going to prejudge what that accountability should be."

The Congressional Research Service, a nonpartisan arm of Congress, released an analysis Friday that said Bush's rationale for eavesdropping on U.S. citizens without warrants rests on questionable legal ground.

"Terrorism is a serious issue in my view, and in the United States we've got to do everything we can to protect the American people," Sanders told supporters to applause. "We can do that without undermining the constitutional rights which have made us a free country. We're not going to let George Bush mistake the fact that he is president with being king; we got rid of a king 200 years ago."

Feingold, who was slated to head to New Hampshire after his Vermont visits, told supporters in Brattleboro that he was considering a presidential bid.

In Burlington, Feingold, who is about to become a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said he was skeptical of Bush's defense of the secret spying and wiretapping. Bush has claimed that the president has the power, during a time of war, to enact such secret programs.

The activities came to light last month in press reports, which also revealed that the Pentagon has been monitoring anti-war, and other peaceful, assemblies around the country, including two in Vermont. Bush has admitted that the National Security Administration has been secretly wiretapping domestic phone calls of thousands of U.S. citizens as administration's efforts to thwart terrorist attacks.

"I think [Bush] probably broke the law here, but we need to know why they did it this way and what the legal justifications were, and then we need to determine what kind of accountability will occur if laws were broken," said Feingold.

The judiciary and intelligence committees are likely to play key roles investigating these programs, Feingold said.

Sanders, who sits on the House Government Reform Committee, said his panel has been very inactive during the Bush administration. In contrast, Sanders said, during the Clinton administration there were dozens of hearings.

Sanders said that is because Republicans in Congress have largely ignored their responsibility to oversee the actions of the administration.

"If you think about everything that has happened under the current administration — the NSA spying program, the war in Iraq, and the fact that the actuaries were not allowed by the White House to tell us the real cost of the prescription drug bill; guess how many hearings our committee has had? Zero," Sanders said.

"What the current administration is scared of," said Sanders, is losing GOP control of either the House, the Senate or both. Because, if that happens, he predicted, "there will be hearings to ask some of the fundamental questions about the Bush administration's actions that have not been asked in five years."

In Brattleboro, Sanders, who appeared with several members of Windham County's legislative delegation, was also campaigning with state Sen. Peter Welch, the Democratic candidate for Sanders congressional seat.

Welch's presence was a passing cloud at an otherwise enthusiastic gathering that had all the spirit of a religious tent revival meeting. Brattleboro Democrats and Progressives have charged the Windsor Democrat with selling out their interests by helping forge an agreement that allows Vermont Yankee to store nuclear waste in Vernon.

"I'm glad to have the opportunity to have you here, Bernie Sanders, but Peter Welch, I feel you sold us down the river in regard to Vermont Yankee,"said Brattleboro Progressive Party member Peter Cooper. "You did not take the opportunity you had to see an orderly close to Vermont Yankee at the end of 2012. We did not have to have dry cask storage. We did not have to have a deal that you were part of working out behind closed doors that does not represent well the safety, environmental and health concerns of the people of Vermont."

Welch asked the crowd to defer their questions, and promised to meet separately with them to address to their concerns. Later, in response to another question, he said he would take no campaign contributions from Entergy, the Louisiana corporation that owns the nuclear plant.

Welch told a reporter after the meeting that he will review his existing contributions and return any he may have received from Entergy. He drew the line at refusing contributions from utilities, saying Vermont Yankee was a separate issue.

Both Sanders and Feingold called for increased investment in renewable energy sources and said the country must wean itself from dependence on fossil fuels and foreign oil.


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