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
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
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
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
Byrne: Thank you for taking the time
to speak with us.
Alexandrovna: Thank you sir.
Conyers: Bye Bye.
Article originally published May 25, 2005.