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THE RAW TRANSCRIPT
Interview transcript: Veteran Democrat says country's direction raises red flags

RAW STORY

This interview with Congressman John Conyers (D-MI) was conducted by RAW STORY's John Byrne and Larisa Alexandrovna.

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Congressman John Conyers (D-MI): Conyers, reporting for duty. Good afternoon.

Raw Story's John Byrne: Good afternoon. Congressman, you are holding a forum to discuss media bias and reform on Tuesday. Can you speak more about your concerns with regard to the mainstream media and the reasons for putting together this forum?

Conyers: It’s time we really began to examine more carefully than we have, how the media blithely ignores the big issues. And it’s very hard for the American citizenry, who is dependent on the media to find out what is going on, to get behind the veil to examine what [the media] is doing and what they’re not doing and by what process they determine what’s newsworthy and what isn’t. And we’ve got a wonderful group of people coming on. David Brock, who used to work with the conservatives until his conscience and finally overcame him, is going to honor us by being there and of course Al Franken, who nobody messes with, Randi Rhodes, Mark Lloyd, and Steve Rendell, but the whole idea is that we continue this battle to get the facts and the real story out there.

Byrne: Why are we not getting it?

Conyers: A lot of people ask me “why aren’t you guys doing this?” and I say, good night, we are doing it. But I guess it is like a tree cut in the forest, if you nobody hears it, it is not being done. This is just another part of our responsibility, to get accuracy out and also let our citizens know what’s really happening and how the media has been intimidated, browbeaten and corrupted by the government itself.

Byrne: There was a piece in the Sunday Times of London over the weekend where it mentioned that you would be sending a delegation to investigate the Downing Street memo. You were quoted as saying that the minutes of that meeting raise “very serious questions about an abuse of power ... it is a very serious constitutional matter.” As a constitutional matter, where do you see recourse in Congress?

Conyers: Well, first of all, the right to declare war is exclusively reserved under Article I section II, of course, to the Congress. That said, for the president to be at one time misleading the congress about his intentions, and at the same time working carefully with Prime Minister Blair and many in his cabinet as the classified memos now reveal, as far as eight months before the war started—we don’t just have deception, we have a matter that we have to examine whether had members [of Congress] known that the President was already planning a war with Iraq before he came to Congress, we would have never gone along with it and many of my colleagues have now told me as much.

Now that does not take away from the fact that many people suspected all along, since it wasn’t very mysterious that wherever Iraq had, it couldn’t amount to something jeopardizing the national security and safety of the United States and its citizens because their neighbors, many of whom are not friendly to Iraq, would have been sure to let us know about that much earlier.

So this is a serious matter. This is a constitutional abuse of power, and what we want to do, is first deal with this media silence. Here we are back to our forum tomorrow. We want to try to get to why the media approaches this with such reluctance.

Here is a hugely important question that begins to unfold something like Watergate did, where it appeared in page A35 of the Washington Post as a three sentence story and of course it kept going on. Just from a psychological point of view if the, if this [memo] wasn’t accurate, it would seem to me that the president and through his press secretaries would be bellyaching all over the place about them being unfairly painted in this London Sunday Times story, inaccurate, or not true. But you don’t get that. On the other side of the water, you get the people over there saying, of course it’s true. So the second thing we have to do is prove that we’re on solid ground and also conduct investigations and if necessary hearings that will lead us to find more supporting evidence in addition to august London Sunday Times; there’s probably some other things that will come to our attention with a little more work on our part.

Raw Story's Larisa Alexandrovna: A handful of individuals have thrown around the word impeachment surrounding the president’s actions, including former Reagan Assistant Treasury Secretary Paul Craig Roberts. Others have called attention to allegations of manipulated intelligence reports, war profiteering, and misuse of appropriated funds. Do you feel we have reached the level of what would be considered “high crimes and misdemeanors” given already what we know?

Conyers: Well, I don’t want to comment on that. I think it is more appropriate for me to continue the initial pursuit, which we have not completed yet. But others are talking about it. It is being discussed. It’s very hard not to think of this as a serious abuse of power.

Byrne: Would a resolution of inquiry be another means by which you could conduct further investigations?

Conyers: We haven’t decided on what we will do yet. Right now we are just trying to build more supportive evidence around the stories that have come from the Sunday London Times. A resolution of inquiry is possible. Some have suggested censory mechanisms. But we don’t know where all that is going, but I am not predicting anything right now. It is far more important that we continue the important work. If it weren’t for me and the number of members of Congress who have joined me, namely 88 plus myself, we wouldn’t be where we are. I am so proud that it took many members only a glance at this letter, to say sign me on it.

Alexandrovna: Some Raw Story readers have expressed a great deal of concern about what they see as a serious and aggressive consolidation of powers. Some have gone so far as to express concern about possible martial law. Do you think these concerns are valid or are people simply reaching?

Conyers: I’m not so sure that there’s a lot of reaching necessary. It’s being said all over that when you add up all of these incursions on the constitution itself and the amendments thereto: on the attacks on the Voter Rights Act; the question of national ID that refers to, for the first time, a federal database instead of states controlling the licensing itself; when you look at the audacity of the executive branch to remove questions from the judiciary and reassign them as they choose. We’re talking about the violation of the doctrine of the separation of powers, which is a very serious matter.

And in their totality, we’re moving into a different kind of country under different kind of law. For a president who has won each of his two elections by one state and each time the state that provided him with the margin had the most violations and irregularities of voting procedure of any other state in each election—obviously Florida and Ohio—then he’s acting as if he had a mandate. And he won Ohio by 22 electoral votes; had 60,000 votes switched, he wouldn’t be president.

In Florida it was even less, and if the Supreme Court had not come in the most unusual stretch of judicial imagination hey had ever exercised to prevent recounting the ballots, he might not have even won the first time. So we’re having a person acting under the assumption or trying to make you believe that he has a majority and a mandate and he doesn’t have it at all.

Alexandrovna: When you say “we’re moving into a different kind of country under different kind of laws,” what exactly are we moving toward?

Conyers: There is a dictatorial flavor that comes into this matter. This chipping away from what we thought that we had and what was in stone: the Civil Rights Act; the Voting Rights Act; the ability of states to process their own judicial cases without federal intervention, all of these things mean we’re not where we were. We’re slipping back and what we’re slipping back into in the cumulative sense is something a little bit scary.

Byrne: You mention a “dictatorial flavor” and “a little bit scary” in describing where we are slipping to; do you have a sense of where we’re slipping?

Conyers: I have a clear sense of what we’re slipping away from. Most of my career has been spent making more specific the guarantees and the rights and the privileges of citizens and the limitations of government power. We are doing the reverse now. We’re having the executive branch move willy nilly into judicial matters, frequently into legislative matters, and there’s a certain arrogance that goes along with it.

How can the president be defending a member of Congress whose conduct in the political arena is really breathtaking? Here we’re engineering, we’re going back in—for the first time in our history and arbitrarily re-districting congressional districts, that have already been created by the courts themselves, by judicial decree. And they’re saying, “we don’t care, they did that a couple of years ago.”

You have the filibuster now has got everything tied up in legislative branch of government. They’re saying we want a majority that does not even have to worry about any safeguards afforded the minority.

And all of these things don’t have a name for them, but they don’t make you more comfortable. They’re not what we think the majority of people really want. We’re literally at a religious war, Larisa, and they say if you don’t like our judges, that’s because we’re religious and your not. It gives me pause when you take all of these things in their totality.

Byrne: Let’s turn to media for a second. Why do you think several sentences of a Periscope item in Newsweek were singled out as reason for riots that may have been going on before or why did the White House call so much attention to that?

Conyers: Well I think it raises the question and creates the smokescreen to get them off the hot seat. That’s why they may have done it. Of course I don’t have any real close contact with them to verify this…

But the whole idea is that public relations diversions are one of the things that happen. How could you have a person with the character attributes of Jeff Gannon actually being given phony press credentials? How can you be keeping your promise about to privatize Social Security made some years back by George W. Bush, long before he became the president, to satisfy the thinktanks of a conservative nature—and getting nowhere on it—but people saying we are winning this?

But you know what that’s a cover-up for? That’s a cover-up for the fact that the private pensions in the United States are almost getting to be not worth the paper they’re written on. We have a federal agency oversighting pensions that is literally powerless.

And so companies will now routinely call up their collective bargaining counterpart, their union, and say, either we reopen negotiations on the sanctity of pensions, or we’re going bankrupt. It’s being done in the steel industry, it’s being done in the airline industry. In the Middle West, people are nervously looking at the automobile industry to see what the big three are thinking and sure enough they asked that the United Automobile Workers reopen their agreement that they made. And they were turned down, of course.

But what I see is that sometimes the Quran story takes the heat off of the Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, the incredible violations in which we’ve only had really low-level people coming forward to be convicted or pleading guilty, when it’s very clear—repeatedly made clear—that these were either sanctioned or authorized by officials much higher up the ladder. And that’s why we’re calling for a special counsel.

Byrne: And that’s my next question. You’ve called for a special counsel to lead an inquiry on whether the Administration violated the War Crimes Act or the Anti-Torture Act. I’m guessing the Administration didn’t agree. Given this, where do you plan to go now?

Conyers: We’re holding out that we might be able to do this, because more people are beginning to realize that a special counsel is not asking anybody to join with us in what they suspect may have happened. But we’re just trying to say that there has yet to be a comprehensive, objective investigation with prosecutorial authority to find who’s responsible for those abuses in Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay, and possible other places. So the battle goes on. This has only been issued 11 days ago so we know that the number of letters that the president received from members is so voluminous, we’ll give him a few more days before we give up.

It’s like if you, if you don’t get an answer and you keep knocking at the door. Maybe you’ll go away if we just don’t say anything. We’ll just pretend we don’t hear you and we’re not there. That seriously misunderstands the nature of what it is we’re trying to do here. We think this is very important American history that deserves its day in court, whether we’re right or whether we’re wrong but we will not be ignored.

Alexandrovna: British MP Galloway’s speech about Iraq and oil for food drew great applause from the left and the coverage of his statements have caused many to ask why other Democrats will not speak truth to power with such passion and honesty? What are your thoughts on this?

I’ve seen his pictures up in the Rayburn building, he was so good. But remember, he was accused. They thought they had somebody in their sights, and as it turned out, he not only was brought over here for the wrong reason, to confess or admit, or give damaging testimony against himself. He gave them a real dose of medicine that they needed. But you know, I think that Democrats are putting up a much stronger resistance than is generally thought in many quarters. We have some very spirited debates. Certainly in the House of Representatives and the Senate is holding very firm in this filibuster. This is obviously a great historical moment. And I think we’re doing a pretty good job. Can we do more and better? Yes. But I think we’re making it clear that no one can say there isn’t any difference between the D’s and the R’s, because that’s what it is we’re fighting over. Whether we want a bankruptcy that puts the screws on college kids and working families at the same time they mail out millions of pre-approved credit cards anyone they can get the name and address for. Or whether we want people who suffer negligence at the hands or a few people in hospitals or medical offices to be limited to $250,000 for the rest of their life. Or whether we want a national ID base. Or whether it’s okay to load the court with conservative judges. Or whether it makes sense to reduce more than 153 domestic programs at the same time we give trillion dollar cuts over a ten year period to the top upper two percent in the economic scale. All of these things are beginning to add up. I think we’re beginning to make our case, and many people are beginning to become aware that some of these cultural issues that they love so much are in flagrant contradiction to what they practice. Let’s make the right of an unborn infant sacred. But what about after the infant is born? We can’t reduce all the programs that they frequently need, and say, well that’s a different matter John, we got a war fight now we have to give up something.

They’re promising some things to other countries in the Middle East that we don’t have. They’re talking about grandiose healthcare programs when we’ve got 45 million people with no insurance and another 25 [million] who are underinsured.

Byrne: The country that they promised healthcare to was Iraq, right?

Conyers: Exactly. My time element is now – but the conversation is so good but it’s hard for me to leave when I don’t want to. I’m way over.

Byrne: Thank you for taking the time to speak with us.

Alexandrovna: Thank you sir.

Conyers: Bye Bye.

Article originally published May 25, 2005.

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