The Impeachment of a President (The Recipe for Haggis)

“Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders… All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to greater danger.”
Hermann Goering, Nazi Reich Marshall, at the Nuremberg trials


Ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee (The HJC, a committee of congressmen responsible for governmental ethics), Representative John Conyers, has unknowingly telegraphed his intent to impeach George W. Bush.

Impeachment does not mean to remove from office, but simply to charge with a crime. Webster’s defines it as “to bring before a proper tribunal on charges of wrongdoing”.

Congress has the power to remove the president, “on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors”, meaning he must both be impeached, and convicted. To do this, the HJC creates articles of impeachment (charges). Each article is sent to the full House for a vote.

If the House passes one or more charges, the Senate takes over. It (the Senate) has a trial (just like one in any court in the country). The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court is the Judge, the Senate is the jury, the House of Representatives are the prosecution, and the president is the defendant.

If more than 2/3 of the members of the Senate finds the president guilty, he is removed from office.

The first presidential impeachment, in 1868, was of a president who had never been elected. Andrew Johnson assumed the presidency after Lincoln’s death. The House impeached him on 11 charges. At his trial he was acquitted, though on the most serious charge (essentially that he declared congress unconstitutional) he won by a margin of only one vote.

One Hundred and six years later President Richard M. Nixon was implicated in the Watergate break-in. The HJC returned 3 charges against him, but he resigned before the House could vote to impeach.

In 1998, William J. Clinton became the second president to be successfully impeached. At trial, the Senate concluded that while he was guilty, his crimes did not rise to the level of “High Crimes and Misdemeanors”, and he was acquitted.

Shortly before the Clinton impeachment, HJC Chairman Henry Hide sent the president a letter asking him to confirm or deny charges in the Starr report. Against the advice of his lawyers, Clinton responded, a response which would later be the basis for the most serious of the 4 charges against him, namely lying to Congress.

Hide, of course, did not expect the letter to generate a confession. Rather, the letter was an attempt to get Clinton to lie, in writing, to Congress. It was a trap, and Clinton took the bait.

This is important, because last month the Ranking member of the HJC, John Conyers, sent a letter to George W. Bush asking him to confirm or deny the charges of the “Downing Street Memo”.

Despite massive coverage in England, the US news has barely mentioned the memo. Published by the London Times on May 1st, 2005, it is the record of a meeting, eight months before the start of the Iraq war, in which top British officials discuss the coming war.

The memo states that Bush had made up his mind to invade Iraq since he had taken office. That unprovoked no-fly zone strikes against Saddam have failed to incite him to war. That, baring his starting a war, an excuse would have to be fabricated for an invasion. That, despite having fewer WMD’s than any other nation of concern (like Libya or North Korea), WMD’s would constitute the only legal excuse to invade. That if the invasion had any hope of proceeding, Blair and Bush would need to undermine diplomatic efforts, lest a legitimate diplomatic solution be found before the invasion.

British or American administration officials have denied the authenticity of this memo.

The memo is nothing new. Richard Clarke (Terrorism Czar for 4 administrations) said that Bush had demanded that Iraq be blamed for 9/11, otherwise we might have to invade Afghanistan first. Bob Woodward (one of the key Watergate figures) has made similar claims, as did former treasury secretary Paul O’Neill.

Despite claims to the contrary, most independent studies show that the media is decidedly right wing. Regardless, a vast right wing conspiracy is not the main reason that the American press hasn’t made much of the memo. Consumers dictate news content. If we became obsessed with cooking, the recipe for Haggis would be on the front page of the New York Times.

They are ignoring the memo because we don’t want to hear it. Because when Bush is in trouble, we change the channel.

Most Americans believed that Bush could be lying when we heard him say that Iraq was the enemy. It didn’t make sense… Al Qaeda wasn’t in Iraq. But we were so wounded by 9/11 that we were eager to attack anybody. We secretly enjoyed hearing Bush make even a flimsy connection to Iraq, because it gave us an excuse to hate an enemy we could see. Al Qaeda is an ideal, a concept, a theory. Iraq is a country we can watch burn. We, all of us, wanted to teach the world a lesson.

Criminal presidents are nothing new. Nixon committed bribery and extortion. Lyndon B. Johnson faked what would later be called “The Gulf of Tonkin Incident” to spur the Vietnam war. He also likely was behind the murder of a political rival in Texas, and had foreknowledge of the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

Yet we are offended at the very notion of a bad president. Questioning Bush’s integrity is an indictment of all of us, a brutal charge that we may have sacrificed our judgment to bloodlust.

Clinton was impeached not because he was guilty, but because he might have been, and a fair trial was needed to determine it. With so many credible sources saying that Bush lied to this country and to Congress, we must impeach him. We need a fair trial and to find him either guilty, or innocent.

Despite having the lowest approval rating of his presidency, at this moment an impeachment attempt against Bush would be political suicide, viewed as nothing more than revenge for the Clinton impeachment.

Despite that, Conyers is preparing to take a serious stab at it. His questions to Bush are a prelude to impeachment. They are bait, which, unlike the last president, Bush has not taken.

Conyers will likely wait until after the mid-term elections in 2006, when Democrats should narrow the Republican lead in Congress, and fear of constituent retaliation will be at its lowest.

Rest assured, however, that Conyers will enter the ring with George W. Bush.

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