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The 'I-word' comes out of the closet

Capitol Hill Blue | January 16 2006

Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter, the sometimes-maverick Republican who has been a thorn in more than one GOP President’s side, brought out the word that’s been whispered in the Congressional cloakrooms and behind closed doors by other members of his party for several weeks now.

Impeachment.

Appearing on ABC’s This Week program, Specter, chairman of the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee, which will open hearings soon on whether or not President George W. Bush broke the law by ordering spying on Americans by the National Security Agency, said impeachment is a possible remedy.

"The remedy could be a variety of things, including impeachment or criminal prosecution, but the principal remedy under our society is to pay a political price," Specter said."

Specter qualified his remarks by also saying “I don't see any talk about impeachment here.”

The Senator from Pennsylvania is lying when he says that. Nervious Republican talk about impeachment has swirled just below the surface in the hallways and byways of the Hill since news of the spying broke. And while Republicans whisper the word in the back alleys, Democrats have already gone public.

Democratic Senators Edward Kennedy and Sen. Russ Feingold, along with independent Vermont Congressman Bernie Sanders talked about Bush's impeachment on the Sunday news interview shows a week ago.

“I'm concerned about the abuses of executive power in the areas of torture and the areas of spying – and about how we're treating individuals in terms of the court systems," Kennedy says.

"I think Bush probably broke the law here, but we need to know why they did it this way and what the legal justifications were, and then we need to determine what kind of accountability will occur if laws were broken," Feingold says.

“There will be hearings to ask some of the fundamental questions about the Bush administration's actions that have not been asked in five years,” says Sanders.

Rep. John Conyers, Democrat from Michigan, introduced H.Res. 635 on December 18, calling for creation of a select committee to investigate possible impeachment proceedings against Bush. So far Conyers has seven co-sponsors – all Democrats. They are: Rep. Lois Capps (D-CA), Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX), Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Rep. Donald Payne (D-NJ), Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY), Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), and Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA).

Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) says he will sign a bill of impeachment. Senator Barbara Boxer has requested a legal analysis from four Presidential scholars on whether or not Bush’s actions are grounds for impeachment.

One of those scholars is John Dean, the Republican White House laywer whose testimony helped bring down Richard Nixon.

Bush “is the first president to admit to an impeachable offense,” Dean says.

“We are a government of laws, theoretically, at least,” Dean says. Why do we need a Patriot Act if Bush has all these powers? If anyone reads the Article 2 the way Bush does then there are just no powers they don't have in the name of defending the country against terrorism, and terrorism is an indefinite threat. Therefore, they can do anything indefinitely that they wish. That isn't what I think the Constitution contemplates.”

“The thing is out of the box now, says Rep. Conyers. “People have had as much as they can stand…President Bush has taken for himself more authority than any other president in the 20th century. I think censure will highlight the incredible number of mistakes, manipulations of intelligence, the encouraging of torture of prisoners, the surprising amount of retaliation that this administration has indulged in against its critics and how they determined to go to war before they had Congressional authorization. It may lead to consideration of articles of impeachment.”

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