Conyers publishes massive report on 'Imperial Presidency'
Report demands investigation of Bush administration's abuses of power
Everyone wants to know: will Obama order investigations into the Bush administration's abuses of power? But, perhaps a better question would be: if he doesn't, who will?
House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI), it appears, will at least try.
Conyers published a 487-page report (PDF link) Tuesday titled, "Reining in the Imperial Presidency: Lessons and Recommendations Relating to the presidency of George W. Bush."
Conyers' report makes 47 recommendations "designed to restore the traditional checks and balances of our constitutional system," reads the foreward. Recommendations include the establishment of a 'blue ribbon' commission to fully investigate the Bush administration, and the launch of criminal probes.
"Even after scores of hearings, investigations, and reports, we still do not have answers to some of the most fundamental questions left in the wake of Bush’s Imperial Presidency," Conyers said in a release. "Investigations are not a matter of payback or political revenge – it is our responsibility to examine what has occurred and to set an appropriate baseline of conduct for future administrations."
On Jan. 6, Conyers introduced a bill that, if passed, would create the "Commission on Presidential War Powers and Civil Liberties," which would seek to root out President Bush's abuses.
“The Bush Administration’s approach to power is, at its core, little more than a restatement of Mr. Nixon’s famous rationalization of presidential misdeeds: 'When the president does it, that means it’s not illegal,'" Conyers wrote in the report's foreward.
Constitutional law professor Jonathan Turley told MSNBC's Keith Olbermann on Monday, "We now have President Bush speaking quite candidly that he was in the loop, we have Dick Cheney who almost bragged about it. The question for Barack Obama is whether he wants to own part of this by looking the other way."
Obama told ABC's George Stephanopoulos on Sunday, "We have not made final decisions, but my instinct is for us to focus on how do we make sure that moving forward we are doing the right thing. That doesn't mean that if somebody has blatantly broken the law, that they are above the law. But my orientation's going to be to move forward."
"If waterboarding is torture -- and Barack Obama has said that it is torture," Turley emphasized, "and torture is a war crime, then the president has committed a war crime if he did order waterboarding. You have to do some heavy lifting to avoid the simplicity of that logic."
"What I would want to do is to have my Justice Department and my Attorney General immediately review the information that's already there and to find out are there inquiries that need to be pursued," Obama told Philidelphia Daily News reporter Will Bunch in April 2008.
Obama added, "if crimes have been committed, they should be investigated," but agreed with Bunch's assertion that the effort could turn into a "partisan witch hunt" that threatens to consume his first term.
"Now, if I found out that there were high officials who knowingly, consciously broke existing laws, engaged in coverups of those crimes with knowledge forefront, then I think a basic principle of our Constitution is nobody above the law -- and I think that's roughly how I would look at it," he concluded.
Is it real?
Last year, Conyers came under heavy criticism for allowing Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) to present and speak about articles of impeachment against Bush and Cheney, but prohibiting any committee vote on the measure.
Prior to the Democrats' takeover of the House in 2006, he penned a Washington Post editorial in which he all but promised he wouldn't. But by August of 2008, he seemed to have warmed.
"Nancy Pelosi has impeachment 'off the table,' but that's off her table, it is not off John Conyers' table," the Michigan Democrat said during a town hall meeting in his district Aug. 28.
"Nancy Pelosi, who I actually supported, cannot prevent me from introducing an impeachment resolution against, well I've got a long list of people who are eligible," said Conyers.
The statement seems in contradiction to Conyers' Washington Post editorial.
"It was House Republicans who took power in 1995 with immediate plans to undermine President Bill Clinton by any means necessary, and they did so in the most autocratic, partisan and destructive ways imaginable," he wrote. "If there is any lesson from those 'revolutionaries,' it is that partisan vendettas ultimately provoke a public backlash and are never viewed as legitimate.
"So, rather than seeking impeachment, I have chosen to propose comprehensive oversight of these alleged abuses. The oversight I have suggested would be performed by a select committee made up equally of Democrats and Republicans and chosen by the House speaker and the minority leader.
"The committee's job would be to obtain answers -- finally. At the end of the process, if -- and only if -- the select committee, acting on a bipartisan basis, finds evidence of potentially impeachable offenses, it would forward that information to the Judiciary Committee. This threshold of bipartisanship is appropriate, I believe, when dealing with an issue of this magnitude."
This promise appears to be the basis of his proposed 'blue ribbon' commission.
"There's a big debate going on about holding the previous administration accountable for [its] actions, and I would say for the time being that the Obama team is focused properly on the future," says Sen. Dick Durbin in a Tuesday report by National Public Radio. "Our economy is so weak; we're in desperate need of jobs. Before we start looking at the pages of history in the Bush administration, we should be looking at the obvious need to create jobs and create a new economic climate in this country."
And Conyers' commission would do just that: take political pressure to pursue prosecutions off of Obama, placing the onus on the investigatory body.
However, "a commission with no power to punish anyone except through shame is powerless in an age of shamelessness," writes David Swanson, co-founder of Afterdowningstreet.org and press secretary for the 2004 Kucinich for President campaign. "The commission's subpoenas would be enforced through the courts, allowing the process to be dragged out well beyond a year and a half, or allowing witnesses to refuse compliance.
"All of this delay would simply serve to bolster claims that the crimes of the past eight years are unimportant because in the past. And if the commission offered criminal immunity to witnesses in order to entice them to testify, then its result would be permanently blocking prosecutions in the name of revealing the 'truth.'"
"There's no real question that crimes were committed here by [Obama's] predecessor," Turley said on Monday. "And he can either begin his administration as a man of principle, and allow the law to take us wherever it may lead, or he will inherit the same type of moral relativism that really corrupted the previous administration. I'm going to say a silent prayer for principle."