Excerpt: Articles of Impeachment

(Editor's Note: this is an excerpt from the Center for Constitutional Right's new book, "Articles of Impeachment Against George W. Bush," reprinted with permission from Melville House, 2006.)


How can it be that we are yet again debating another presidential impeachment? Still weary from the Clinton impeachment battles and now completely exhausted from the momentous changes brought about by both 9/11 and this president -- changes that include the Iraq war, indefinite detentions around the world, torture, domestic wiretapping, and more -- we have all we can do to understand and perhaps resist some or all of these measures on an ad hoc basis. While any of the individual acts and policies outlined in the following articles would constitute an impeachable offense, taken as a whole, as a pattern and practice, they constitute something far more sinister, a plan to significantly weaken, if not destroy, our democracy.

As a consequence this nation is confronted with a grave constitutional crisis. We have a president staunchly committed to acquiring unprecedented amounts of power and using it in ways that conflict with the Constitution of the United States, international law, and the common understanding of morality. In short, although the president has sworn to uphold the Constitution, he is doing just the opposite. He is dismantling the Constitution of the United States. Primarily, his apparent purpose is to gather even more power -- power unchecked by judicial or congressional scrutiny -- to a presidency already bloated with power.

Simultaneously, summary arrests, in the United States and around the world, torture, indefinite detention, illegal surveillance, and suppression of free speech and protest have become commonplace. Yet worse, as all of this has happened the government has sought to eliminate any judicial oversight of its activities by weakening the judicial system in innumerable ways. The president has also disregarded Congress and thereby attempted to weaken its role. The consequence has been that the fundamental building block of American democracy, our system of separation of powers, has come under lethal attack.

How did it come about that we are in the constitutional crisis in which we find ourselves today? Before we discuss the reasons for this, or even the historical context, it seems useful to introduce some of the terminology and details that surround impeachment, the Constitution's nuclear option.

Article II, Section 4 of the Constitution provides that the president may be impeached for "Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors." This was the mechanism that the framers of the Constitution provided Congress to protect itself from executive overreaching. Clearly the framers drafted this provision in the context of what they viewed as the history of their time, i.e., the conflict between the actions of the English king and the ideals of the English law. Thus, for the framers, impeachment was a key element of American democracy in that it provided an ultimate means to curtail abuses of, or unconstitutional expansion of, executive powers.

While bribery and treason were technically defined crimes that would inevitably subvert the Constitution, the more general and less defined concept of high crimes and misdemeanors was intended to identify that activity whereby the executive overstepped the bounds of public office or failed to faithfully execute the laws. Hamilton viewed it as an abuse or violation of the public trust. Thereby the framers provided a much more general category whereby the Constitution would also surely be subverted.

To place the present moment into the context of history, in 1868 President Andrew Johnson was acquitted by only one vote of the accusation of denying Congress its power. It was claimed that the president, unmindful of the oath that obliged him to faithfully execute the laws, denied that the legislation passed by Congress was either valid, or that he was required to comply.

President Clinton was impeached in 1999 for perjury and obstruction of justice. The circumstances of this impeachment, involving as they did, a personal affair, were unusual and are not applicable to the current situation. More pertinent, however, is the threatened impeachment and, ultimately, the resignation of Richard Nixon.

In 1974 President Nixon resigned before the House Judiciary Committee could vote on articles of impeachment. Those articles accused him of violating his constitutional oath 1) to faithfully execute the office of the president; 2) to protect and defend the Constitution; and 3) to take care that the laws be faithfully executed. He did this by means of false and misleading statements, withholding information from Congress, condoning false statements, misuse of the CIA, and deceiving the people of the United States, as well, with false or misleading statements.

These are both the formal criteria and the precedents against which, when presented with the evidence, the reader may make a decision as to whether there is a valid basis for the impeachment of the current president.

Nine months after George W. Bush was sworn in as president, terrorists attacked the World Trade Center and murdered thousands. An active negligence of constitutional duties and boundaries commenced.

"You are either with us or you are with the terrorists," proclaimed the president. His attorney general, John Ashcroft, similarly declared:
"[T]o those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty; my message is this: Your tactics only aid terrorists -- for they erode our national unity and diminish our resolve. They give ammunition to America's enemies, and pause to America's friends."
The message was clear: Opposition and dissent were treason and concern for constitutional rights was a technicality, a phantom that played into the hands of terrorism. Out of this antagonism to the Constitution that had long predated the attacks of 9/11 (as will be detailed) grew the full-blown attack on the system of checks and balances and the Bill of Rights that the following articles detail.

While these charges delineate a history for which one person, even the president of the United States, cannot be fully responsible and probably not even fully aware, this president was more than a willing accomplice to the severe damage to which our Constitution has been subjected. He has been an enthusiastic perpetrator of that damage. More importantly, when he swore to "preserve, protect, and defend" the Constitution, he should not have been merely mouthing words or repeating slogans. It is the thesis of this book that this promise must forever be embedded in the protoplasm of the man or woman who takes the oath. If it is not, we will all pay the price. If it is not, and if this oath is violated, the only just remedy is impeachment.

Legal Director
Center for Constitutional Rights

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