A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW
… many Americans don’t understand that the framers of this Constitution 200 years ago understood that there would be a Richard Nixon, and they understood that there would be a George Bush. And they said: American people, you have a remedy. We’re giving you a remedy. It’s 200 years old. It’s called impeachment. That’s designed to remove a President who threatens our Constitution and subverts our democracy. -- Elizabeth Holtzman
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Former Congresswoman Elizabeth Holtzman sat on the House Judiciary Committee during 1974 to draft articles of impeachment against President Nixon, a sobering decision that she says gave her a sinking feeling in her stomach, knowing that Nixon had systematically abused the powers of the presidency. Faced with certain removal from office, Nixon resigned.
Now thirty years later, with the experience of Watergate behind her, Holtzman has written a clear, balanced, and thoughtful book: The Impeachment of George W. Bush: A Practical Guide for Concerned Citizens. We spoke to Elizabeth Holtzman about why impeachment is necessary to cement Bush’s high crimes in American history; why the mainstream media and political pundits have written impeachment off; and what Americans can do to hold George W. Bush accountable.
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BuzzFlash: Why do you think President Bush should be impeached?
Elizabeth Holtzman: President Bush should be impeached because he has committed high crimes and misdemeanors, as set forth in our Constitution, and because his abuses of power are so serious, and so subvert our democracy and so threaten it, that action has to be taken to preserve our democracy and hand it down to future generations intact.
BuzzFlash: No one is better placed or qualified to call for the impeachment of George W. Bush than you. You were a former congresswoman. You were a former Brooklyn district attorney. Most importantly, you were a member of the House Judiciary Committee during the impeachment proceedings of Richard Nixon.
You lay out the following reasons for impeachment: 1) the offense of wiretapping surveillance in defiance of the law; 2) the offence of lying to induce America to support a war; 3) the offense of reckless indifference to the lives and welfare of American troops; 4) the offense of torture in violation of U.S. and international laws and treaties; and 5) covering up the war deceptions with the leak of misleading classified information.
Is the most egregious offense to warrant impeachment Bush’s illegal wire-tapping, breaking the law repeatedly, not just once?. It’s perhaps the most clear cut argument for impeachment.
Elizabeth Holtzman: No, I think what you have is a President who has repeatedly and in various ways put himself above the rule of law. And then secondly, as with the handling of the war in Iraq, he failed to take care that the laws were faithfully executed. In other words, he’s turned away from carrying out his basic responsibilities as President. So in some cases, he puts himself above the law, and in some cases, he runs away from the law.
BuzzFlash: How would you compare the high crimes of President Bush versus those of Richard Nixon?
Elizabeth Holtzman: Well, let’s start out with Richard Nixon and say there was no real question that he deserved impeachment, and that he committed high crimes and misdemeanors. In fact, by the end of the process, every single Republican on the House Judiciary Committee joined with all the rest of us who had voted for his impeachment in saying that he had committed impeachable offenses. Richard Nixon resigned in the face of certain impeachment and certain removal from the Presidency by the Senate. The high crimes and misdemeanors that he committed involved putting himself above the rule of law and abuse of power.
One of the charges against Richard Nixon was that he wire-tapped American citizens in violation of the Constitution and the statutes of the United States -- the exact same thing that President Bush has done. President Bush has said that he can wire-tap in violation of the statutes.
BuzzFlash: Would you say that George W. Bush’s crimes and abuses are greater than Richard Nixon’s, or equal?
Elizabeth Holtzman: I don’t think we should get into a ranking issue here. Both have committed grave abuses of power. Both have committed high crimes and misdemeanors. Richard Nixon’s acts involved a cover-up of a criminal conspiracy, and a whole host of different things -- wire-tapping, creating an enemies list.
George Bush has done some very egregious things. For example, wire-tapping in explicit violation of the statutes of the United States. He’s also started a war on the basis of deliberate lies and misleading the American people and Congress, driving us into a war that has cost thousands of American lives, more Americans injured, maybe a trillion dollars in costs that could certainly be used for other purposes. Not to mention the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis dead or the grave damage that’s been done in the Middle East and elsewhere to our image.
That’s a huge violation of democracy. Frankly, if we had really debated whether there should be a war in Iraq, we may not have gone into Iraq. If the American people had been told the truth, if the Congress had been told the truth, I doubt very much that we’d be in this pickle now. How do you put a price tag on that? How do you estimate the consequences of going into a whole war from scratch on the basis of deceptions and lies?
So I think these are very grave offenses. They’re grave not only in their character, but grave in terms of the consequences for the United States. This is not an abstract injury to the United States. These are concrete, terrible consequences that have happened because the President of the United States failed to obey the rule of law and had contempt for our democracy.
BuzzFlash: A lot of political analysts, and even incoming Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, have said that impeachment is not where the Democrats are going to put their energy or make their priority. Although legally there is a case to impeach the President, a lot of political observers don’t think it’s the right thing to do -- and I’m emphasizing this word -- politically. Where is your opinion in terms of the legal argument for impeachment versus the political strategy to do so?
Elizabeth Holtzman: We can’t start and end the conversation with what political pundits have to say. First of all, our generation -- the American people living right now -- have a responsibility for preserving and maintaining our Constitution. Are we going to allow it to be shredded by a president? Then, if this president can get away with starting a war based on lies, with breaking the law willfully, what’s the next president going to do? What’s the precedent that’s started here?
Secondly, it really doesn’t matter what the pundits say, and it doesn’t really matter what members of Congress have to say about impeachment. If the American people want impeachment, it’s going to happen. The real problem is that the mainstream media won’t take the issue seriously. They don’t want to spend the time to understand it. And they’ve decided it’s not going to happen, so they’re not going to write about it.
The consequence is that many Americans don’t understand that the framers of this Constitution 200 years ago understood that there would be a Richard Nixon, and they understood that there would be a George Bush. And they said: American people, you have a remedy. We’re giving you a remedy. It’s 200 years old. It’s called impeachment. That’s designed to remove a President who threatens our Constitution and subverts our democracy.
Watergate didn’t start because the Congress wanted impeachment. Left to its own devices, Congress never would have done anything on impeachment. Left to its own devices, the press never would have investigated, except for Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. The rest of the press was completely unconcerned on the subject. They didn’t care. They weren’t aggressive. But the American people understand that this is their Constitution, this is their democracy, this is their country, and they have the power to do something about it.
BuzzFlash: You wrote an article for The Nation magazine in January of this year about impeachment, and you referenced the resolution you drafted against President Nixon about the secret bombing in Cambodia. Let me read you what you wrote.
During Nixon’s impeachment proceedings, I drafted the resolution of impeachment to hold President Nixon accountable for concealing from Congress the bombing of Cambodia he initiated. But the committee did not approve it, probably because it might appear political -- in other words, stemming from opposition to the war instead of to the President’s abuse of his war-making powers.
With respect to President Bush and the Iraq war, there is not likely to be any such confusion. Most Americans know that his rationale for the war turned out to be untrue. For them, the question is whether the President lied. And if so, what remedies are for his misconduct.
It’s an eerie comparison that both Presidents Nixon and Bush used a war as a trump card to excuse egregious abuses of Presidential power, and to lie to the American public about the conduct of the war.
Elizabeth Holtzman: Oh, yes, I think the interesting thing is that, if you go back to Watergate, a lot of it stemmed from the Vietnam War and the Cambodia bombings. The President had an enemies list, and he wanted the IRS to harass his opponents. Who were these enemies? These were people who opposed his policies on the war in Vietnam.
The wire-tapping -- why did that start? Because a newspaper reporter found out about some aspects of the so-called secret Cambodia bombing. And the President wanted to stop that because that could hurt his war effort. That pattern of illegal behavior, of using the government to go after enemies, started at the get-go of his administration. It was a hallmark of how President Nixon saw himself -- to defend a war, he was going to do illegal things. That’s what we saw in Watergate. That was really the essence of Watergate.
With George Bush, it all started with how do we get this country into the war in Iraq? Well, if needed, we will lie about it. And they did. He and his team repeatedly lied, whether it was about the weapons of mass destruction, or whether it was about Saddam Hussein’s being in cahoots with Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda. Those were just lies that were meant to drive the American people through fear and through terror, and through a sense of the need for retaliation for 9/11.
BuzzFlash: Do you think the American people should call for the impeachment of President Bush, or should we just let him be remembered as the worst President in American history? In other words, is impeachment necessary when his appalling legacy will follow him to the grave.
Elizabeth Holtzman: Yes, impeachment is necessary, because, with President Nixon, his resignation in the face of certain impeachment meant that you couldn’t rewrite that history. You couldn’t come back and say he really was a great president. No, he wasn’t a great president. And here you had the verdict -- a fair, responsible, bi-partisan verdict of the House Judiciary Committee.
You need to have a response to a President who engages in this kind of grave misconduct. Otherwise, the record can be rewritten. The history can be changed. You cannot change a vote. You cannot change the facts that are behind that vote. And that’s the reason President Nixon has been disgraced to this very day. And it’s not just his acts. The impeachment put those acts in a legal context, and put a ribbon around that package and said to history, to future presidents, to the American people, to the world -- we’re not going to stand for a President who abuses his power.
So now what’s the message? We’ll let someone else take that responsibility? You can’t hand off that responsibility to somebody else. It’s our responsibility of our times, of our generation. And what kind of Constitution are we going to hand down to our children and grandchildren?
BuzzFlash: What needs to happen to create a groundswell to hold the President accountable and call for impeachment?
Elizabeth Holtzman: First of all, impeachment is a very sad thing when it happens, because it means a President has done something very gravely wrong, and that is always sad to see. Whatever party you are, it is not a moment for glee. When we voted for the impeachment of Richard Nixon, it was a very somber and sad moment, because nobody wanted to see a President engaging in the conduct that warranted that result.
But how do we bring about the impeachment of George Bush? People, first of all, have to inform themselves about the Constitution and impeachment, and they can start by reading my book. They need to try to meet with other people and find other people to organize. They’ve got to start talking to their representatives in Congress and say we need to hold this President accountable. We elected you to bring accountability to Washington.
And, you know, there are organizations like “After Downing Street” http://www.afterdowningstreet.org/; “ImpeachPAC” http://www.impeachpac.org/; “Democrats.com” http://www.democrats.com/ and so forth -- which can lead people to find people who want to work with them.
I think Democrats.com is now trying to set up impeachment groups in every Congressional district in the country. So people need to start being active. This is a grassroots campaign. It has to start from the grassroots. But it can happen. Grassroots is what changed the election and changed the composition of Congress. And grassroots can bring about the impeachment of George Bush and send a message to future Presidents that we are not going to tolerate this anymore.
BuzzFlash: Elizabeth Holtzman, I appreciate your time.
Elizabeth Holtzman: Thank you so very much.
BuzzFlash Interview conducted by Scott Vogel.
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The Impeachment of George W. Bush: A Practical Guide for Concerned Citizens (Paperback), by Elizabeth Holtzman and Cynthia L. Cooper, A BuzzFlash Premium.
"The Impeachment of George W. Bush," Elizabeth Holtzman, The Nation, January 30, 2006.
Elizabeth Holtzman (Wikipedia).
A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW