The Impeachment Hearing That Wasn't

|

If you ever get too confident about the strength of our republic, please, hop a bus and zoom on down to Congress. I spent the morning and a chunk of the afternoon on the Hill to hear Libertarian presidential candidate Bob Barr address a House Judiciary Committee hearing on "Executive Power and Its Constitutional Limitations."

The title was a smokescreen, as the hearing came about when Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) introduced multiple articles of impeachment against the president and vice president. The Democratic leadership killed them, but members of the committee such as Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.), and Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) co-sponsored them, so Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.) scheduled a hearing that would air out Kucinich's concerns and assemble a Justice League of constitutional scholars. Seated on one side of Barr was former Democratic congresswoman Elizabeth Holtzman, author of The Impeachment of George W. Bush ("It's out of date but it still has a lot you can use!"). Seated on his other side was former Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson, an iconoclast who protested George W. Bush when he came to Utah and endorsed Bill Richardson for president. Tyrant-killer for hire Bruce Fein did most of the speaking for the "hey, maybe this Bush guy isn't up to much good" side, while Northwestern University's Stephen Presser and George Mason's Jeremy Rabkin took turns accusing the Democrats, and their co-panelists, of going overboard. (Their job got easier when panelist Vincent Bugliosi repeatedly accused Bush of "first degree murder.")

There's a live-blog of the hearings here. Barr was introduced by Conyers—the Master to his Doctor Who back in the Clinton years—with a warm "welcome back to the Judiciary Committee," and his comments bored into a few examples of Bush DOJ intransigence before making a larger point about the racheting up of executive power.

Every administration, in my view, and I think history bears this out, takes the power that it inherited from its predecessor and considers it a floor, not a ceiling. If we don't get a handle on this now in some fashion, the next administration, regardless of party, will take these abuses of power, these liberties with the fundamental institutions of our government, and take them to even higher and higher levels. I commend the chair and the members of this committee for taking hold of something that could not be more important.

But the testimony was given to a committee that was largely—with some exceptions, like New York's Jerry Nadler—bored or resentful. Democrats trickled in and out, shuffling papers, passing messages to Conyers. Republicans like California's Dan Lungren used their allotted time to whine about the "partisanship" that had brought about the hearings. Iowa's Steve King (when I listen to him I'm always expecting one of the Bluth Banana Stand employees to creep up and tell him his shift is starting) blathered about how Democrats thought Saddam had WMD too, so there! He asked Conyers if he could enter into the record a 2004 Chicago Tribune article in which Obama blurred his Iraq War stance. "I'm a little reluctant to," Conyers said. "But if there are no other objections…"

Almost as disappointing: the circus outside. It's not news, exactly, that the hard-core "peace movement" has mighty-morphed into a cadre of old hippies and sloganeering women with pink crowns, but it's always a little disheartening to show up to a forum on executive power and see that, yep, these are the only people who care right now. Activists had lined up as early as 4 a.m. to score seats and only 16 of them got in. When one of the unluckies refused to move away from the door, Capitol police tackled him as Code Pink activists yelled "Shame! Shame!" "That's a little bit of P.O.P." said Jose Rodriguez, a political activist who used to handle the Mike Gravel campaign. "Pissing off the police! They wanted to keep him out of the room and he decided that he still had Constitutional rights."

I talked a little to the libertarian anti-war Iraq vet Adam Kokesh, who said Cindy Sheehan (in attendance, as always) had started snubbing vets ever since she tried to exploit them to kick off a march that would have publicized her quixotic congressional bid. (She's running against Nancy Pelosi.) I also ran into Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, the defeated antiwar Republican whom I interviewed last year about his isolation in the GOP. He'd showed up to meet Bruce Fein ("I've read his books. We had a good talk."), but left before the hearing began. I asked what he had planned for his retirement.

"I don't consider it retirement," he said. "It's a graduation."

Barr will be on MSNBC's Countdown tonight (at 8 p.m. ET) to talk about the hearing.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

30 responses to “The Impeachment Hearing That Wasn't

  1. I am fairly certain the constitution allows the US to go to war.

  2. who said Cindy Sheehan (in attendance, as always) had started snubbing vets ever since she tried to exploit them to kick off a march that would have publicized her quixotic congressional bid.

    Anyone else notice that when she started to sound like a libertarian MSM abandoned her?

    Truth be told there was good reason to be sick of her, I’m just saying.

  3. One wonders what exactly, if anything, would have to happen for GOP apparatchiks like King to admit that “mistakes were made.”

    Record-low approval ratings and getting swept out of power hasn’t done it. What if he impregnated his twins? Got high on crack and bombed Puerto Rico?

    But, but….the Democrats. They’re for same-sex marriage!

  4. Capitol police tackled him as Code Pink activists yelled “Shame! Shame!”

    There is a thesis or even book waiting to be done out there on the left’s instinctive use of the word “shame.” Picket lines, war protests, anti-corporate demonstrations, you name it — the cry of “shame” rises up.

    What the hell is that all about, anyway?

  5. “Iowa’s Steve King (when I listen to him I’m always expecting one of the Bluth Banana Stand employees to creep up and tell him his shift is starting) blathered about how Democrats thought Saddam had WMD too, so there!”

    I cringe whenever Steve King’s name is mentioned.

    He is probably the dumbest member of the Congress.

    I’m ashamed of my state.

  6. “He is probably the dumbest member of Congress.”

    Opps another case of joe’s law.

  7. I still think the ONLY reason we haven’t seen an impeachment is the pathetic clinton impeachment has dirtied the whole concept.

  8. Jeez, it’s almost like Barr’s using is nomination to get back in with his old buddies.

    Oh, wait…

  9. I’ll take their protestations about executive overreach more seriously when they also condemn their own legislative overreach. (n.b. judicial overreach may also be an issue, but not hypocritical)

  10. So what you’re saying is, Congress spent several hours not banning anything, not writing any new laws, creating any new government agencies or nationalizing anything. And this weakens our republic how?

  11. joshua corning | July 25, 2008, 5:30pm | #
    I am fairly certain the constitution allows the US to go to war.

    I’m pretty sure that Section 8 requires Congress to be the on declaring it too, but why quibble?

  12. Ahem, that would of course by Article 1, section 8.

  13. but it’s always a little disheartening to show up to a forum on executive power and see that, yep, these are the only people who care right now

    Amen, brother. We have a government that has openly declared for itself the power to torture people, hold people perpetually without trial, and conduct wiretaps without warrants, and the only outrage is from the fringe.

    We are so screwed.

  14. the only outrage is from the fringe.

    The overwhelming majority of Americans couldn’t care less about this stuff; the culture of submission and acquiescence, as taught in the public schools, reigns supreme.

    Most of the Pinkos are only pissed that Bush is the one with all that power; Obama will use his Presidential superpowers to Do Good.

  15. Taktix – if this is a real 3way race, 435 of Barr’s old buddies get the final votes.

  16. Kwix: “I’m pretty sure that Section 8 requires Congress to be the on declaring it too, but why quibble?

    I’m pretty certain that congress is happy to allow their “authorization” to stand in for a declaration of war. It relieves them of responsibility.

    One of the reasons that you only get haggard nutjobs at this sort of function is that there is no reasonable justification for impeachment that couldn’t be applied to every president since WWII. This wouldn’t even come up if the war had been a success from the beginning, and that implies that there is no justification for impeachment.

    This is of a piece with ridiculous statements about the strength of our Republic. Our Republic is stronger than ever. It is, admittedly, a bit fucked up, but I want to know what perfect era you are comparing our present state to.

    I hate to be on the side of the status quo, but I have to acknowledge that today’s status quo is a lot better than yesterday’s.

  17. This is so superficial. Do you understand at all why this hearing was held or what it was really about? Can you do no analysis beyond bitchy Washington empty-headed insiderism?

    So young and already you’ve been around too long.

    You really are a dick, Weigel.

  18. I’m with dpsc. Wake me up when Bush starts mass arrests of war protestors and tries to add a bunch of new seats to the SCOTUS like FDR, or suspends habeas corpus for US citizens like Lincoln, or tells the Chief Justice “You made your ruling, now let’s see you enforce it” like Andrew Jackson.

    You should start worrying when Obama is elected, because Bush never had the media following him around justifying everything he did and putting halos on him.

  19. “…because Bush never had the media following him around justifying everything he did and putting halos on him.”

    Have you been asleep?

  20. Yeah, that pro-Bush media that published forge Guard memos and gave 20:1 to Dems.

    If they gave W a kiss after 9/11, they’re already on their knees for BHO.

  21. TallDave — Anyone who thinks, as I used to think, that the media exhibits a “liberal bias” should spend some time reading The Daily Howler by Bob Somerby. He shows in great (sometimes excruciating) detail how in 1999-2000 the mainstream media repeatedly made up shit about Gore. I don’t know how it could be proven, but given how close the race was I don’t think that it can be denied that the mainstream media put Bush in the White House in 2000.

  22. It sounds like dpsc is following some of the same logic the committee Republicans were trying to use to dismiss the issues yesterday.

    Here’s a couple responses to such fanciful logic:

    1. Just because some Presidents got away with misdeeds in the past that doesn’t automatically excuse the misdeeds of other Presidents.

    2. FISA was authored in response to Watergate. The “national security” spying activities of pre-Nixon Presidents operated within a gray area that was not well-grounded by statute. The current President ignored (and thereby broke) the law. This happened not just in the case of FISA, but in several other areas as well.

  23. Wow, there are still people who think the media doesn’t have a left bias? How many studies do you need on this?

    Gore got impaled on his own self-aggrandizing exaggerations. When you say you “took the initiative that led to the creation of the Internet” you can’t complain when people mock you for trying to take credit for inventing the most transformative technology of our time.

    the mainstream media put Bush in the White House in 2000.

    Right, the same media that gave overwhelmingly to Democrats and published a 30-year-old DUI 48 hours before the election secretly wanted to elect Bush.

  24. 1. Just because some Presidents got away with misdeeds in the past that doesn’t automatically excuse the misdeeds of other Presidents.

    No, but the people claiming misdeeds keep saying things like “unprecedented executive authority” which are just laughably untrue.

    FISA was authored in response to Watergate.

    And if Bush was spying on Democrats you’d have a point there.

    The current President ignored (and thereby broke) the law.

    He didn’t ignore it, he used his Article II powers to spy on a hostile foreign power after Congress authorized military action against that power. The other interpretation is we’re allowed to shoot terrorists, but not wiretap them, which makes no sense.

  25. Also, Congress was kept informed of the program all along, so it’s an especially egregious act of hypocritical betrayal for them to pretend this was “illegal” after the NYT made a stink over it, after being (illegally) leaked the story.

  26. Het Travis,

    Steve Kimg says he’s proud of you. That you can cut your own food, know your numbers and are almost out of diapers.

  27. …the people claiming misdeeds keep saying things like “unprecedented executive authority” which are just laughably untrue.

    The manner in which a President’s critics choose to frame their criticism of his abuses also fails to excuse the activities of the President. This is why the two-party system is a shambles. One side ridiculously exaggerates the charges, and the other is ridiculously blind to the implications of the actual facts. I’m pretty sure, though, that “unprecedented” is being thrown around predominantly in reference to activities which are actually unprecedented.

    …if Bush was spying on Democrats you’d have a point there.

    Bush is spying on American citizens in their own country so I already have a point. It’s the language of the FISA law that matters, not the reason for its creation. Since the vast majority of the spying activity has been carried out behind a veil of secrecy thus far there’s really no guarantee that Bush has not, in fact, been spying on Democrats.

    …he used his Article II powers to spy on a hostile foreign power after Congress authorized military action against that power. The other interpretation is we’re allowed to shoot terrorists, but not wiretap them, which makes no sense.

    Just because an individual on the other end of a communication is outside of the United States that doesn’t necessarily mean the individual is a party to or agent of a “hostile foreign power.” Blanket wiretapping, which this is, is somewhat similar to the general warrants issued under the British Monarchy prior to the American Revolution.

    Now, via the new FISA law, there doesn’t even have to be a foreign party to a communication. There only needs to be a “reasonable assumption” that a foreign party is involved. Considering “reasonable” is highly subjective, and there’s undoubtedly zero means of ultimately proving wrongdoing, this is a roundabout way of authorizing blanket wiretapping of any and potentially all American citizens at the pleasure of the President without just cause. This might serve as great material for an episode of 24, but last I checked it is not conduct becoming of our constitutional republic in the real world.

  28. You should start worrying when Obama is elected, because Bush never had the media following him around justifying everything he did and putting halos on him.

    Wow. How many times did I hear the word “Churchillian” during 2001 and 2002?

    TallDave, if your goal was to make yourself look like a deluded hack, you can hang up that Mission Accomplished banner and strut around the flight deck now.

  29. Considering that TallDave thinks our Republic couldn’t have survived this long without occasionally supporting terrorists and mass-murdering dictators in the third world, I don’t suppose it’s surprising that he thinks the Republic won’t survive unless the President can break the law and spy on Americans whenever He thinks it’s necessary.

    Now, by the way, any time you hear the United States government talking about wiretap, it requires-a wiretap requires a court order. Nothing has changed, by the way. When we’re talking about chasing down terrorists, we’re talking about getting a court order before we do so. It’s important for our fellow citizens to understand, when you think Patriot Act, constitutional guarantees are in place when it comes to doing what is necessary to protect our homeland, because we value the Constitution.

    -President Bush, lying at a Q and A in Buffalo, N.Y., April 20, 2004, in order to save the Republic.

  30. Wow, there are still people who think the media doesn’t have a left bias? How many studies do you need on this?

    “I admit it. The liberal media were never that powerful, and the whole thing was often used as an excuse by conservatives for conservative failures.”

    -Republican strategist William Kristol (The New Yorker, 5/22/95)

    “I’ve gotten balanced coverage, broad coverage-all we could have asked. For heaven sakes, we kid about the liberal media, but every Republican on Earth does that.”

    -Republican presidential hopeful Patrick Buchanan (Los Angeles Times, 3/14/96)

    Here’s a new study from the Center for Media and Public Affairs. But something’s wrong with the data!

    http://www.latimes.com/news/politics/la-na-onthemedia27-2008jul27,0,712999.story

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.