The Road to Impeachment
Canaan, special to Fog City Journal
December 18, 2007
There are times when you have to think like a politician. And
it says a lot about our system that these thoughts are generally
unpleasant. In a world where a large percentage of political players
are self-interested and more than a little corrupt, the "art
of compromise" becomes the "art of compromise with real
Yesterday, Congress began debating a FISA bill that includes
immunity for telecommunications companies. When Bush asked these
telcoms to participate in warrantless wiretapping, he was asking
them to break the law. The fact that the White House is insisting
on the immunity is contrary to their claims that the program was
entirely legal. If the telcoms are golden, there's no reason for
There's some question as to whether or not they'll get the cover.
Sen. Russ Feingold writes:
Unfortunately, the bill we are going to be considering is the
one reported out by the Senate Intelligence Committee in October,
S. 2248. It did not have to be this way. Thirteen Senators joined
me last week in asking the Majority Leader to instead bring
up a bill that includes the changes approved by the Judiciary
Committee last month. That bill, while not perfect by any means,
was the product of an open process and heeded the advice of
many experts and advocates to provide greater protection for
the international communications of innocent Americans. And,
unlike the Intelligence Committee bill, the Judiciary bill does
not provide automatic, retroactive immunity for companies alleged
to have cooperated with the administration's illegal warrantless
Whether the bill Feingold and company want to advance is the
one that will go forward is an open question. And there's more
than one reason to think it won't be -- because there's more than
one reason why many want to give the telcoms immunity. While no
one will say it, investigating the legality of the warrantless
wiretap program would be much more difficult without the honest
testimony of telcom execs. And those executives aren't very damned
likely to be honest if that testimony amounts to the admission
to a crime.
No one will say it openly for more than one reason -- it's a
cynical plan and it would be stupid to reveal that hand if you
were holding it. You can always grant immunity to individuals
later, but it's not a 100% guarantee against prosecution and lawsuits.
All that would mean would be that their own testimony couldn't
be used as evidence. Giving them blanket immunity paves the way
for them to speak openly.
I have no proof, of course, that anyone's thinking this
way -- although it's clear that Feingold isn't one of them. But
it's easy to look at the immunity and see a sell out, which it
may not be for all voting in favor.
No matter which bill goes through -- with or without immunity
-- the push for impeachment goes on. And the best case for impeachment
may be warrantless wiretapping. Not only is the wiretapping illegal,
but it's been proven illegal in court -- it is a clear
crime. In pushing to open the hearings called for in Dennis Kucinich's
impeachment resolution, Reps. Robert Wexler, Luis Gutierrez, and
Tammy Baldwin write:
On November 7, the House of Representatives voted to send a
resolution of impeachment of Vice President Cheney to the Judiciary
Committee. As Members of the House Judiciary Committee, we strongly
believe these important hearings should begin.
The issues at hand are too serious to ignore, including credible
allegations of abuse of power that if proven may well constitute
high crimes and misdemeanors under our constitution. The charges
against Vice President Cheney relate to his deceptive actions
leading up to the Iraq war, the revelation of the identity of
a covert agent for political retaliation, and the illegal wiretapping
of American citizens.
Those looking to open hearings on Cheney need leverage. House
Speaker Nancy Pelosi's wrongheaded opposition to impeachment seems
immovable. Writes analyst John
Nichols, "Though Conyers was a leader in suggesting during
the last Congress that both President Bush and Vice President
Cheney had committed impeachable offenses, he has been under pressure
from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., to keep constitutional
remedies for executive excesses 'off the table' in this Congress."
"There is no question that Conyers, who voted to keep open
the impeachment debate on Nov. 7, has been looking for a way to
explore the charges against Cheney," Nichols explains. Exploring
FISA abuses may be a way to bring unavoidable charges not only
in Cheney's impeachment, but in President Bush's.
That said, I'm with Feingold. I don't think telcoms -- or anyone
else, for that matter -- should be excused for lawbreaking just
because the White House asked them to commit the crime. The Oval
Office is a powerful player, sure. But so is the boardroom of
AT&T. The Bush administration might be able to strong-arm
someone like you or me into lawbreaking, but the board of a major
I have grave doubts.
And, for myself, those doubts are enough to make me assume that
any assistance they gave bushies in wiretapping was pretty much
voluntary. If they did it, they did it because they thought it
was a good idea. And they did it knowing it was illegal.
If giving telcoms immunity leads to impeachment, I won't complain
about the impeachment. But I won't argue that the ends justified
the means. If this is the avenue we take to impeachment, it won't
be the avenue to justice. It'll be only partial justice. We'll
be punishing one crime, while excusing another. The President
and the Vice President are temporary powers -- the telcoms will
still be around long after those two are gone.
Terry Canaan is a former political fundraiser living and writing
in Wisconsin. He publishes the blog "Griper