THE CASE FOR IMPEACHMENT HIGH CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS
By: Ted Lang
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.
-United States Constitution, Article II, Section 4
It seems that everyone who reads that phrase, "high crimes and misdemeanors," must know what it means, whether one experiences that expression for the first time, or whether it serves as a tired and worn out qualifier justifying the impeachment of a sitting president. And it is doubtful that the average American even knows what impeachment means – they assume it means removal from office. But look again at the precise wording offered in Article II of our Constitution; it clearly indicates that removal from office can occur only after both impeachment and conviction. The impeachment process begins in the House of Representatives. It is a statement of charges against the office holder clearly indicating conduct that can be described as treason, bribery, or "high crimes and misdemeanors." The House votes on the articles of impeachment itemized by its judiciary committee, and then the matter is referred to the Senate, the latter deciding upon a trial by majority vote. In the case of President Bill Clinton, the House formally declared a statement of charges, but the Senate voted against the trial. And conviction requires a two-thirds majority of the Senate.
This brings us full circle to the term "high crimes and misdemeanors," a curiosity of terms. How can a crime and a misdemeanor be equated? A high crime is obviously a much greater offense and at a higher level than any misdemeanor, high or otherwise. It would seem the term is a catchall to ensure that any modicum of illegal behavior perpetrated by an office holder could qualify as an impeachable offense, but this is not so. The key to assessing whether or not official behavior is an impeachable offense does not hinge upon whether an act is or is not a criminal offense; it is dependent upon official misconduct such that it violates the public trust. Violation of criminal law is not an absolute basis for impeachment, but of course, it can be, as in the case of bribery or treason.
It is clear that impeachment’s primary purpose is to remove from office, an office holder that has violated the public trust such that lying to the American people is construed as seriously damaging the government of the United States. Much of this information is available from Ann Coulter’s book, High Crimes and Misdemeanors – The case against Bill Clinton [© 1998 – Regnery, Washington]. Coulter, in what is obviously a heavily partisan effort to pile on to the Clinton Impeachment process, sought to inform and educate the public, and the first chapter of her book does so in spades. But it also provides some solid comparisons, comparisons that now cry for the immediate impeachment of our current president, George W. Bush.
Coulter makes a solid case citing that Republican former President, Richard M. Nixon, committed far less crimes that could be characterized as endangering the security of the nation than did Clinton. She offers: "While Clinton’s defenders act as if an impeachable offense must be some immediate threat to the nation – such as the discovery that the president was conspiring with communist agents to turn over vital missile technology to Red China – impeachment was intended to be used, and always has been used, to remove officers who simply ‘behave amiss.’" Of course, as we all know, Clinton was neither accused of transferring missile technology, nor was it proven that he "conspired" to sell technology. The sarcastic comparison was orchestrated to minimize Nixon’s transgressions to that of Clinton’s by introducing "facts" that never came out in the impeachment process.
But Coulter’s effort does lend heavily to an understanding of precisely what impeachment is about, and one thing she readily admits, impeachment cannot originate as a policy disagreement or a partisan attack, which is precisely what her reference to a technology transfer tried to imply. The most valuable information offered regarding impeachment, is the laundry list provided citing the "general categories of impeachable conduct that developed in the four hundred years of use in Great Britain:"
Corruption Betrayal of trust Abuse of Official Power Neglect of Duty Encroachment on Parliament’s prerogatives Misapplication of funds Looking at these basics, the case for impeachment against President George W. Bush becomes immediately clear. A betrayal of trust screams for recognition as the most impeachable offense of the Bush administration. Before ascertaining why, let’s examine Coulter’s take on presidential lying: "If Nixon telling one lie, not under oath, constituted the creation of an ‘Imperial Presidency’ [Anthony Lewis – New York Times] demanding the president’s impeachment, what has Clinton created by telling repeated lies, not only to the public, but under oath? Lying to the American people is a clear betrayal of trust." [Emphasis added].
But Coulter further builds the case by citing the charges handed down by the House Judiciary Committee against Nixon:
In all of this, Richard M. Nixon has acted in a manner contrary to his trust as President and subversive of constitutional government, to the great prejudice of the cause of law and justice, and to the manifest injury of the people of the United States.
Wherefore, Richard M. Nixon, by such conduct, warrants impeachment and trial, and removal from office.
It can be argued that Clinton lied under oath in a court case, but as Coulter correctly points out, Nixon did not! But his televised lies, as well as his attempted cover-up of the Watergate break-in, are what did him in. But certainly, lying to the American people while delivering the constitutionally mandated [Article II, Section 3] State of the Union equates to lying while under oath in a court case. Bush tricked us into an unnecessary war, a war that is killing and maiming members of our military. The "yellowcake" fraud was just that, and Bush was warned by the CIA not to use that in his SOTU speech. Even if Bush made an honest mistake here, and that’s a real difficult assumption to make, he did so with an obvious reckless disregard whether or not it was true.
The non-existent weapons of mass destruction, the ability on the part of Saddam to readily access them in 45 minutes for the defense of his nation, are now all established as bald-faced lies. And Secretary of State Colin Powel’s promise to produce a white paper proving al Qaeda’s involvement in 9-11 never materialized either. The revelation by former Secretary of the Treasury, Paul O’Neill, this past week that the Bush administration’s first and most critical order of business was bringing down Saddam, puts additional focus on 9-11, especially in light of the fact that President George Bush was warned of the possibility of an al Qaeda terrorist attack one full month BEFORE 9-11. Precisely what precautionary and preventive measures did the Bush administration take to protect American lives? Did Bush and his neoconservative PNAC cabal act after 9-11 to help justify "regime change" in Iraq? What proof of a connection is there that would tie Iraq to 9-11?
Coulter again: "Article I charged Nixon with, among other things, making or causing to be made false or misleading statements for the purpose of deceiving the people of the United States into believing that a thorough and complete investigation had been conducted…" Can that "false investigation" now be compared to the Kean 9-11 commission that Bush has stonewalled, and from which 28 pages of a preliminary report was redacted? What of the funding blocks thrown up by Bush concerning this investigation, the purpose of which was to report the events of 9-11 to the American people? And as concerns requested answers to the commission relative to the National Security briefing one month before 9-11, this joint committee, set up by both the Congress and the White House and precluding the invocation of "executive privilege," has been continually denied answers from the Bush administration.
Bush’s proven lying, especially during the State of the Union, his cover-ups, and refusal to provide important information on 9-11 to the people and its Congress, constitute a betrayal of trust, encroachment of Congressional prerogatives and abuse of power. His beforehand knowledge of an imminent terrorist attack on 9-11, as well as his failure to do anything to either mitigate or prevent the terrorism, constitutes a neglect of duty.
Although nothing can be identified per se as corruption other than the Halliburton and Bechtel contracts in violation of federal procurement law, combined with the totally unnecessary war initiated unconstitutionally via the compliance of Congress, a misled Congress it should be added, it would seem that blatant corruption is not a readily recognizable shortcoming of this presidency. Bush has misapplied funds somewhat in terms of refusing to fund the Kean Commission at times, as well as failing to follow through on funding applications approved by Congress. But as cited in Article I of the Nixon Impeachment, Bush has perpetrated severe transgressions and assaults causing activities "subversive of constitutional government" via his administration’s U.S.A. Patriot Acts I and II, rushed through Congress based upon his lies, cover-ups and neglect of duty relative to 9-11.
Realistically, Bush won’t be impeached. Republicans control the government, and only a unified act on the part of a disunited populace could bring sufficient pressure to bear upon their representatives to force the much-needed impeachment process against Bush and his PNAC neoconservative cabal. And even if Democrats did do the right thing and at least begin an impeachment process, talk radio would offer this as an election year tactic. And to be sure, the Democratic hopefuls do not want to be seen as invoking such a cheap, partisan attack upon a sitting president during an election year.
Ted Lang is a columnist for the The Patriotist and the Sierra Times He is a regular columnist for Ether Zone.