STATEMENT BY JOHN C. BONIFAZ
CONSTITUTIONAL ATTORNEY AND CO-FOUNDER, AFTERDOWNINGSTREET.ORG
BEFORE THE CONGRESSIONAL FORUM
ON THE DOWNING STREET MINUTES
THURSDAY, JUNE 16, 2005
Congressman Conyers and Members of the Committee: Thank you for hosting this congressional forum today and thank you for your leadership.
My name is John Bonifaz. I am a Boston-based attorney specializing in constitutional litigation and the co-founder of AfterDowningStreet.org. AfterDowningStreet.org is a national coalition of veterans groups, peace groups, public interest organizations and ordinary citizens across this country calling for a formal congressional investigation into whether the President of the United States has committed impeachable offenses in connection with the Iraq war. We launched this campaign on May 26 of this year in response to the revelations which have emerged from the release of the Downing Street Minutes.
The recent release of the Downing Street Minutes provides new and compelling evidence that the President of the United States has been actively engaged in a conspiracy to deceive and mislead the United States Congress and the American people about the basis for going to war against Iraq. If true, such conduct constitutes a High Crime under Article II, Section 4 of the United States Constitution: 'The President, Vice President, and all civil officers of the United States shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.'
The Downing Street Minutes
On May 1, 2005, The Sunday Times of London published the Downing Street Minutes. The document, marked 'Secret and strictly personal ' UK eyes only,' consists of the official minutes of a briefing by Richard Dearlove, then-director of Britain's CIA equivalent, MI-6, to British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his top national security officials. Dearlove, having just returned from meetings with high U.S. Government officials in Washington, reported to Blair and members of his Cabinet on the Bush administration's plans to start a preemptive war against Iraq.
The briefing occurred on July 23, 2002, months before President Bush submitted his resolution on Iraq to the United States Congress and months before Bush and Blair asked the United Nations to resume its inspections for alleged weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
The document reveals that, by the summer of 2002, President Bush had decided to overthrow Iraqi President Saddam Hussein by launching a war which, Dearlove reports, would be 'justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD [weapons of mass destruction].' Dearlove continues: 'But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.' Dearlove also states that '[t]here was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action.'
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw states that '[i]t seemed clear that Bush had made up his mind to take military action, even if the timing was not yet decided.' 'But,' he continues, 'the case was thin. Saddam was not threatening his neighbours, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea, and Iran.'
British officials do not dispute the document's authenticity, and, on May 6, 2005, Knight Ridder Newspapers reported that '[a] former senior U.S. official called [the document] 'an absolutely accurate description of what transpired' during the senior British intelligence officer's visit to Washington.' 'Memo: Bush made intel fit Iraq policy,' The State, Knight Ridder Newspapers, May 6, 2005.
Why a Resolution of Inquiry is Justified
On May 5, 2005, you and 88 other Members of Congress submitted a letter to President Bush, asking the President to answer several questions arising from the Downing Street Minutes. On May 17, 2005, White House press secretary Scott McClellan told reporters that the White House saw 'no need' to respond to the letter. 'British Memo on U.S. Plans for Iraq War Fuels Critics,' The New York Times, May 20, 2005, A8. The letter has since been joined by other Members of Congress and by more than half a million people across the country.
The Framers of the United States Constitution drafted Article II, Section 4 to ensure that the people of the United States, through their representatives in the United States Congress, could hold a President accountable for an abuse of power and an abuse of the public trust. James Madison, speaking at Virginia's ratification convention stated: 'A President is impeachable if he attempts to subvert the Constitution.' Alexander Hamilton, writing in The Federalist, stated that impeachment is for 'the misconduct of public men...from the abuse or violation of some public trust.' James Iredell, who later became a Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, stated at North Carolina's ratification convention:
The President must certainly be punishable for giving false information to the Senate. He is to regulate all intercourse with foreign powers, and it is his duty to impart to the Senate every material intelligence he receives. If it should appear that he has not given them full information, but has concealed important intelligence which he ought to have communicated, and by that means induced them to enter into measures injurious to their country, and which they would not have consented to had the true state of things been disclosed to them, - in this case, I ask whether, upon an impeachment for a misdemeanor upon such an account, the Senate would probably favor him.
On July 25, 1974, then-Representative Barbara Jordan spoke to her colleagues on the House Judiciary Committee of the constitutional basis for impeachment. 'The powers relating to impeachment,' Jordan said, 'are an essential check in the hands of this body, the legislature, against and upon the encroachment of the Executive.' Impeachment, she added,
is chiefly designed for the President and his high ministers to somehow be called into account. It is designed to 'bridle' the Executive if he engages in excesses. It is designed as a method of national inquest into the conduct of public men. The framers confined in the Congress the power, if need be, to remove the President in order to strike a delicate balance between a President swollen with power and grown tyrannical and preservation of the independence of the Executive.
The question must now be asked, with the release of the Downing Street Minutes, whether the President has committed impeachable offenses. Is it a High Crime to engage in a conspiracy to deceive and mislead the United States Congress and the American people about the basis for taking the nation into war? Is it a High Crime to manipulate intelligence so as to allege falsely a national security threat posed to the United States as a means of trying to justify a war against another nation based on 'preemptive' purposes? Is it a High Crime to commit a felony via the submission of an official report to the United States Congress falsifying the reasons for launching military action?
In his book Worse Than Watergate (Little, Brown and Company-NY, 2004), John W. Dean writes that 'the evidence is overwhelming, certainly sufficient for a prima facie case, that George W. Bush and Richard B. Cheney have engaged in deceit and deception over going to war in Iraq. This is an impeachable offense.' Id. at 155. Dean focuses, in particular, on a formal letter and report which the President submitted to the United States Congress within forty-eight hours after having launched the invasion of Iraq. In the letter, dated March 18, 2003, the President makes a formal determination, as required by the Joint Resolution on Iraq passed by the U.S. Congress in October 2002, that military action against Iraq was necessary to 'protect the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq...' Dean states that the report accompanying the letter 'is closer to a blatant fraud than to a fulfillment of the president's constitutional responsibility to faithfully execute the law.' Worse Than Watergate at 148.
If the evidence revealed by the Downing Street Minutes is true, then the President's submission of his March 18, 2003 letter and report to the United States Congress would violate federal criminal law, including: the federal anti-conspiracy statute, 18 U.S.C. ' 371, which makes it a felony 'to commit any offense against the United States, or to defraud the United States, or any agency thereof in any manner or for any purpose...'; and The False Statements Accountability Act of 1996, 18 U.S.C. ' 1001, which makes it a felony to issue knowingly and willfully false statements to the United States Congress.
The United States House of Representatives has a constitutional duty to investigate fully and comprehensively the evidence revealed by the Downing Street Minutes and other related evidence and to determine whether there are sufficient grounds to impeach George W. Bush, the President of the United States. A Resolution of Inquiry is the appropriate first step in launching this investigation.
The Iraq war has led to the deaths of more than 1,700 United States soldiers and tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians. Thousands more have been permanently and severely injured on both sides. More than two years after the invasion, Iraq remains unstable and its future unclear. The war has already cost the American people tens of billions of taxpayer dollars at the expense of basic human needs here at home. More than 135,000 U.S. soldiers remain in Iraq without any stated exit plan.
If the President has committed High Crimes in connection with this war, he must be held accountable. The United States Constitution demands no less.