Op-ed: Don't just oust Gonzales, impeach him
Ron Brynaert
Published: Saturday March 24, 2007
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It isn't enough to oust Attorney General Alberto Gonzales for his role in "Attorneygate," Congress should impeach him, Robert Kuttner writes in an op-ed published in Saturday's Boston Globe.

"Gonzales, the nation's highest legal officer, has been point man for serial assaults against the rule of law, most recently in the crude attempt to politicize criminal prosecutions," Kuttner argues. "Obstruction of a prosecution is a felony, even when committed by the attorney general."

Aside from his role in the firing of eight US attorneys, which "had multiple political motives, all contrary to longstanding practice," Kuttner writes, "[t]here are several other reasons to remove Gonzales, all involving his cavalier contempt for courts and liberties of citizens, most recently in the FBI's more than 3,000 cases of illegal snooping on Americans."

"After the administration refused to cooperate, Republican Senator Arlen Specter inadvertently gave the best rationale for impeachment," Kuttner continues. "Referring to the White House invocation of executive privilege, Specter warned, 'If there is to be a confrontation, it's going to take two years or more to get it resolved in court.'"

Kuttner believes that it would be "much harder" for the Bush Administration to "stonewall" against an impeachment inquiry that "could be completed in a matter of months."

"And Gonzales might well be asked to resign rather than exposing the administration to more possible evidence of illegality," Kuttner writes. "...It's time for an impeachment, not just to oust Gonzales, but as a salutary warning to his superiors."

To find precedent for impeaching an Administration official, Kuttner, the co-editor of The American Prospect and a fellow at the research and policy center Demos, refers to a column written by President Nixon's former legal counsel John Dean, who went on to become the star witness for the prosecution in the Watergate conspirator trials. The column, which was published last December at Findlaw.com, was entitled "Refocusing the Impeachment Movement on Administration Officials Below the President and Vice-President: Why Not Have A Realistic Debate, with Charges that Could Actually Result in Convictions?"

"The Constitution's Impeachment Clause applies to all 'civil officers of the United States' not to mention the president, vice president and federal judges," Dean wrote. "It is not clear who, precisely, is among those considered 'civil officers,' but the group certainly includes a president's cabinet and sub-cabinet, as well as the senior department officials and the White House staff (those who are issued commissions by the president and serve the President and Vice President)."

Dean writes on the precedent: "Impeachment of Secretary of War William Belknap, in the aftermath of the Civil War, is the only precedent for using these proceedings against subordinate executive officers. Belknap was said to be involved in a kickback scheme involving military contracts. Just hours before the House was to vote to impeach him, Belknap resigned. Nonetheless, on March 2, 1876, the House impeached the former cabinet officer, and the five articles of impeachment were presented to the Senate."

Excerpts from Kuttner's Boston Globe column:


Why impeachment? In our system of checks and balances, the Senate confirms members of the Cabinet, but impeachment for cause is the only way to remove them. The White House, by refusing to cooperate, has now left Congress no other recourse.


In refusing to cooperate, Bush puffed himself up to the swaggering truculence that has worn so thin, declaring, "We will not cooperate with a partisan fishing expedition." But this investigation is hardly partisan, since several Republican senators and congressmen have called for Gonzales to resign. And if there were ever a legitimate subject of full congressional investigation, tampering with criminal investigations on political grounds is surely one.




Excerpts from Dean's column at findlaw.com:


Given the number of officials within the Bush Administration who may have been engaged in Constitutional high crimes or misdemeanors, and the nature of the impeachment process, there is no shortage of civil officers worthy of consideration. Where there is clear prima facie evidence of such constitutional misconduct, impeachment action should be commenced.

The way the process works is that a bill of impeachment is introduced in the House, where it is referred to the House Judiciary Committee. Acting as a grand jury, the Judiciary Committee then decides if there is sufficient evidence to warrant a full inquiry. If its members believe there is, they refer the matter to the full House for a vote, and if a majority of the House agrees, the matter is returned to the Judiciary Committee for fact-finding - compelling witnesses to testify, and compelling the production of documents. A simple majority of the Judiciary Committee can then send recommended articles of impeachment to the floor of the House, and a simple majority of the House can send them on to the Senate for trial. They are privileged, and the Senate must hold a trial.

If the movement to impeach Bush and Cheney, an outcome which simply is not going to happen, were to turn its attention to many of the other civil officers who have been involved in high crimes and misdemeanors, it might be very different. With strong prima facie evidence, the House Judiciary Committee at a minimum would have good reason to at least begin the process, and that in itself could send a powerful message.