Wiretaps Spur Impeachment Talk

Random Lengths News | January 19, 2006
Conservatives Speak Up As Well As Democrats

Revelations that the Bush Administration engaged in widespread illegal wiretapping are producing a growing chorus of conservative voices who are breaking with the Administration—a chorus that seems destined to grow as more details emerge, revealing possible connections to Nixon-style political surveillance having nothing to do with terrorism. Conservatives are beginning to echo Democrats, such as Congressmembers John Conyers (D-MI), and John Lewis (D-GA), who are calling for inquiries leading to impeachment. And even some Administration supporters have openly admitted that the President broke the law.

On January 15, on ABC's This Week, Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA), Chair of the Judiciary Committee, was discussing planned hearings into the wiretapping, and responded, “Impeachment is a remedy,” to the question of what could be done “If the president did break the law.”

But others—more to the right—have already gone much farther than Specter.

“I think if we’re going to be intellectually honest here, this really is the kind of thing that Alexander Hamilton was referring to when impeachment was discussed,” said Norman Ornstein, high-profile scholar-in-residence at AEI, a leading conservative think-tank.

In the conservative Washington Times, Bruce Fein, Deputy Attorney General in the Reagan Administration, wrote, “President Bush presents a clear and present danger to the rule of law.”

And when Bush said, "It was a shameful act for someone to disclose this very important program in a time of war. The fact that we're discussing this program is helping the enemy," an online editorial from Barrons, the conservative investor’s journal, shot back: “Wrong. If we don't discuss the program and the lack of authority for it, we are meeting the enemy – in the mirror.”

A Zogby Poll conducted January 9-12 found that 52 percent agreed that “If President Bush wiretapped American citizens without the approval of a judge... Congress should consider holding him accountable through impeachment," including 33 percent of self-described conservatives.

More Than Just Illegal Wiretaps

On Saturday, December 17, the day after the New York Times published the story about Bush authorizing warrantless wiretaps, Bush tried to turn the tables by lashing out at the revelation of the secret wiretapping program. In his national radio address, he said, “As a result, our enemies have learned information they should not have, and the unauthorized disclosure of this effort damages our national security and puts our citizens at risk.”

But the Foreign Intelligence Services Act (FISA) already provides tremendous executive power to wiretap “international communications of people with known links to al-Qaida and related terrorist organizations,” Bush’s own description of the program’s scope. Indeed, when necessary, wiretaps can be started without a warrant under FISA, provided one is applied for within 72 hours. And, since the program was started in 1979, just four out of more than 18,000 warrants have been rejected—all under Bush in 2003. Our enemies clearly knew that their phone calls could be tapped at will. Something else was going on.

On December 24, following a week of intense speculation and reporting on specialized websites such as DefenseTech.org and ArsTechnica.com, the New York Times ran a follow-up story confirming a massive data-mining operation.

“The National Security Agency has traced and analyzed large volumes of telephone and Internet communications flowing into and out of the United States,” the Times reported. “The volume of information harvested from telecommunication data and voice networks, without court-approved warrants, is much larger than the White House has acknowledged, the officials said. It was collected by tapping directly into some of the American telecommunication system's main arteries, they said.”

//tice// This was, in effect, a secret, refined version of the “Total Information Awareness” (TIA) program, originally proposed by Iran-Contra co-conspirator John Poindexter, but then allegedly disavowed.

In a secret letter he wrote to Dick Cheney, after being briefed on the program in 2003, Senator Jay Rockefeller, said, "As I reflected on the meeting today, and the future we face, John Poindexter's TIA project sprung to mind, exacerbating my concern regarding the direction the Administration is moving."

While the he-said/she-said conventions of corporate media reporting gave ample room for GOP talking spin, talking points, and lies to cloud the unfolding story, some of the harshest criticism came from intelligence professionals themselves, as well as prominent conservatives outside of government.

A story a DefenseTech.org, “Wiretap Mystery: Spooks React,” began, “A few current and former signals intelligence guys have been checking in since this NSA domestic spying story broke. Their reactions range between mildly creeped out and completely pissed off. All of the significant specialists emphasized repeatedly that keeping tabs on Americans is way beyond the bounds of what they ordinarily do -- no matter what the conspiracy crowd may think.”

Conservatives Say The I-Word

Conservative columnist Steve Chapman, in an article titled, “Beyond the imperial presidency,” wrote that, “President Bush is a bundle of paradoxes. He thinks the scope of the federal government should be limited but the powers of the president should not… He attacked Al Gore for trusting government instead of the people, but he insists anyone who wants to defeat terrorism must put absolute faith in the man at the helm of government.

“Even people who should be on Bush's side are getting queasy. David Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union, says in his efforts to enlarge executive authority, Bush ‘has gone too far.’”

The Barron’s editorial, “Unwarranted Executive Power” responded to what emerged as Bush’s main line of defense—the assertion that wartime powers placed the President’s actions beyond the reach of law.

“The administration is saying the president has unlimited authority to order wiretaps in the pursuit of foreign terrorists, and that the Congress has no power to overrule him,” Barron’s noted.

“Putting the president above the Congress is an invitation to tyranny. The president has no powers except those specified in the Constitution and those enacted by law,” the editorial continued.

“Willful disregard of a law is potentially an impeachable offense. It is at least as impeachable as having a sexual escapade under the Oval Office desk and lying about it later. The members of the House Judiciary Committee who staged the impeachment of President Clinton ought to be as outraged at this situation.”

Conyers Report Documents Previous Impeachable Acts

Congressmember John Conyers, the Ranking Member (senior Democrat) on the Judiciary Committee is one step ahead of Barron’s—despite more than half a year of Republican opposition, both in Congress and the White House. His focus is on earlier revelations, centering around the Downing Street Memo revelations that the Administration lied and mislead the country into war. But the latest revelations can easily just be added on.

Conyers has drafted three bills: HR635, to set up a select committee to investigate the Administration’s intelligence manipulation, support for torture, and retaliation against critics, and HR636 and HR637 to censure Bush and Cheney for blocking access to information on these acts.

The bills respond to a 269-page report, released by the Judiciary Committee’s Democratic staff, entitled ”The Constitution in Crisis: The Downing Street Minutes and Deception, Manipulation, Torture, Retribution and Coverups in the Iraq War.” Conyers requested the report when Bush ignored a letter submitted by 122 Members of Congress and more than 500,000 Americans last July, asking whether the Downing Street Minutes were accurate.

The report stated, “[W]e have found that there is substantial evidence the President, the Vice President and other high ranking members of the Bush Administration misled Congress and the American people regarding the decision to go to war with Iraq; misstated and manipulated intelligence information regarding the justification for such war; countenanced torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and other legal violations in Iraq; and permitted inappropriate retaliation against critics of their Administration.

“There is a prima facie case that these actions by the President, Vice-President

and other members of the Bush Administration violated a number of federal laws, including (1) Committing a Fraud against the United States; (2) Making False Statements to Congress; (3) The War Powers Resolution; (4) Misuse of Government Funds; (5) federal laws and international treaties prohibiting torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment; (6) federal laws concerning retaliating against witnesses and other individuals; and (7) federal laws and regulations concerning leaking and other misuse of intelligence.”

The report notes that “these charges clearly rise to the level of impeachable misconduct,” but since the Administration and House Republicans have blocked a thorough investigation, “more investigatory authority is needed before recommendations can be made regarding specific Articles of Impeachment.” Hence, HR635, to establish a select investigatory committee.

Still more potentially impeachable acts are still coming to light, as the Walter Pincus of the Washington Post reported on January 1 that the NSA shared illegally-obtained information with a range of other agencies.

“At least one of those organizations, the DIA [Defense Intelligence Agengcy], has used NSA information as the basis for carrying out surveillance of people in the country suspected of posing a threat, according to two sources.”

This dovetails with a December 13 report on NBC Nightly News that the Defense Department has monitored completely peaceful political groups including religious-based groups such as Catholic Worker in Los Angeles, and a small group of activists who met at a Quaker Meeting House in Lake Worth, Florida, to plan a protest of military recruiting at local high schools.

Continuing revelations like these, combined with the burgeoning Abramoff Scandal could be enough to eventually start a truly bipartisan investigation, some critics contend.

So-Called ‘Liberal Media’ Masks Public Outrage

The NSA wiretap revelations have blown a hole in the GOP/corporate media mantra that the offenses chronicled by the Conyers report are “old news.” But there’s still incredible hostility in the bastions of the so-called “liberal media”—particularly the New York Times and the Washington Post.

Despite the fact that the New York Times broke the story, it appears that they did so only because one of the reporters, James Risen, was about to break the story in a book that hit the shelves on January 3. Furthermore, the Los Angeles Times reports that the New York Times had the story in fall of 2004, before the elections. In effect, it held the story and helped Bush gain re-election.

The Washington Post not only pooh-poohs discussion of impeachment, it refuses to even ask about it in its polls. Support for impeachment grew from 42 percent last June to 50 percent in early October, where it has remained relatively stable. But only the first poll was done without being paid for by activists—though all were done by major polls—and none has been widely reported or commented on. In contrast, supporting for impeaching Clinton ranged from 21 to 44 percent—with most polls in the mid-to-upper 30s—during December, 1998, the month that impeachment proceedings were held.

Still, Post pollster Richard Morin is noticeably hostile to asking about impeachment. In an online chat on December 20, Morin responded to four people asking why the Post hadn’t polled on impeachment, “This question makes me mad.... Getting madder.... Madder still.... An impeachment demand from Ireland? Oh my gawd. Now I'm furious.”

Morin went on to say, “[W]e do not ask about impeachment because it is not a serious option or a topic of considered discussion--witness the fact that no member of congressional Democratic leadership or any of the serious Democratic presidential candidates in '08 are calling for Bush's impeachment. When it is or they are, we will ask about it in our polls.”

However, John Lewis, who is the Democrat’s Senior Chief Deputy Whip, had already announced his support for impeachment the day before, as reported in an Associated Press story.

“The president should abide by the law. He deliberately, systematically violated the law,” said Lewis. “He is not King, he is President.”

Morin has given no indication that the Post is now going to ask about impeachment. But other Post employees feel differently. National security expert William Arkin recently wrote, “We are being asked to destroy our country in order to save it.”

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