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When Presidents Pardon Their Own Crimes

Scooter and the Commuter

by DAVID SWANSON

George Mason (1725-1792), the father of the Bill of Rights (1791-2002), argued at the Constitutional Convention in favor of providing the House of Representatives the power of impeachment by pointing out that the President might use his pardoning power to "pardon crimes which were advised by himself" or, before indictment or conviction, "to stop inquiry and prevent detection."

James Madison (1751-1836), the father of the U.S. Constitution (1788-2007), added that "if the President be connected, in any suspicious manner, with any person, and there be grounds to believe he will shelter him, the House of Representatives can impeach him; they can remove him if found guilty."

Of course, Bush has long been connected in a suspicious manner to Dick Cheney, Scooter Libby, Karl Rove, and others. Madison would probably have called for Bush’s impeachment when Bush first refused to investigate or hold anyone accountable for leaking Valerie Plame’s identity, or rather when Bush lied us into the war in the first place, or when he confessed to illegal spying, or when he detained people without charge and tortured them, or when he overturned laws with signing statements or refused to comply with subpoenas, and so on and so forth. Madison wouldn’t have wanted to see his Constitution tossed aside until the moment Bush commuted Libby’s sentence. But he certainly would have acted now if not before.

The trial of Scooter Libby produced overwhelming evidence that Vice President Cheney personally led the campaign to attack Joe Wilson through the media. This "get Wilson" campaign included telling numerous reporters that Wilson was sent to Niger by his wife Valerie Plame, a CIA operative. Cheney was told by the CIA that Plame worked as a covert agent in the CIA’s Nonproliferation Division, which is the critical division of the CIA responsible for stopping the spread of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons. Cheney’s efforts to expose Plame actually exposed her entire covert network, at tremendous cost to the CIA’s secret war against terrorism. If Plame’s work had been exposed by a double-agent in our government like Aldrich Ames or Robert Hanssen, that person would face prosecution for espionage and treason. The evidence of Cheney’s role is more than enough to start an impeachment investigation. And, of course, a hand-written note from Cheney, introduced as evidence in the trial, implicated the President.

The Libby trial also exposed the lead role of Vice President Cheney’s office in manipulating pre-war intelligence to defraud Congress into authorizing the invasion of Iraq. Sworn testimony revealed that Cheney’s office managed the evidence of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, all of which proved to be lies. Cheney personally visited the CIA several times before the invasion to pressure the CIA to distort pre-war intelligence. And Cheney exerted "constant" pressure on the Republican former chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee to stall an investigation into the Bush administration’s use of flawed intelligence on Iraq, according to the new chairman, Senator Jay Rockefeller.

Libby’s crime was obstructing an investigation that appeared to be headed for Cheney and possibly Bush. The proper course of action for Congress, in the face of Bush commuting Libby’s sentence, is to begin impeachment hearings against Cheney and then Bush. With the White House openly disobeying a stack of subpoenas, it is finally clear that impeachment is the only possible check on Bush-Cheney power remaining to Congress. In fact, in the wake of Bush’s Scooter commuting, the following people all released statements condemning Bush’s action and recommending that Congress and the public do absolutely nothing about it: Howard Dean, Nancy Pelosi, Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, Barack Obama, and Bill Richardson. In contrast, Joe Biden recommended that the public phone the White House and complain. That ought to show them!

Bush has just obstructed justice. His act of commuting Libby’s sentence itself adds one more small item to the pile of impeachable offenses. Congressman Jesse L. Jackson, Jr. (D-IL), had the right reaction, releasing the following statement:

"In her first weeks as leader of the Congress, Speaker Nancy Pelosi withdrew the notion of impeachment proceedings against either President Bush or Vice President Cheney [actually she did that 8 months earlier, and Jackson began parroting her line right away, but who's counting]. With the president’s decision to once again subvert the legal process and the will of the American people by commuting the sentence of convicted felon Lewis ‘Scooter’ Libby, I call on House Democrats to reconsider impeachment proceedings. Lewis Libby was convicted of lying under oath to cover up the outing of active, undercover CIA agent, Valerie Plame. It is beyond unthinkable that the president would undermine the legal process to protect a man who engaged in treason against the United States government, threatening the security of the American people. In November’s election, voters put Democrats in charge of Congress because they believed our pledge of oversight and accountability. Now it’s time for us to honor that pledge. The Executive Branch should be held responsible for its illegalities. Our democratic system is grounded in the principle of checks and balances. When the Executive Branch disregards the will of the people, our lawmakers must not be silent. Today’s actions, coupled with the president’s unwillingness to comply with Senate and House inquiries, leave Democrats with no other option than to consider impeachment so that we can gather the information needed to achieve justice for all Americans."

Very well said. It’s tremendous to see Jackson come around. There’s only one problem. Congressman Dennis Kucinich has introduced articles of impeachment against Cheney. Ten other Congress Members have signed on. And Jackson isn’t one of them. Rep. Jackson and every other member of Congress needs to do one of three things now: Sign onto Kucinich’s bill, H Res 333, www.impeachcheney.org , or introduce new articles of impeachment against Cheney or Bush, or crawl out of town in fear and eternal shame.

Now, the articles that Kucinich has introduced focus on war, and some Congress Members, terrified as they might be to fight in a war, are equally terrified of NOT sending other people to kill and die. Now would be the moment to introduce new articles of impeachment against Cheney for his role in the retribution against Wilson, for illegal spying, for torture, and for refusing subpoenas. Or take your pick of the available menu of offenses and choose your three favorites: www.impeachcheney.org

And now would be the time for Nancy Pelosi to announce that she could not possibly have meant that impeachment would stay off the table no matter what, that she meant it was not on the table at that time. Numerous crimes and abuses have come to light since that table clearing moment. Pelosi is in the clear. She can renew her oath to uphold the Constitution. Or she can go down in history as the appeaser of the new dictatorial U.S. regime, as the person who looked fascism in the face and said "That looks worth allowing to happen as long as we win in 2008," and whose party went down in bitter flames in 2008 because the American people still cared about their democracy.

Now is the moment for members of the public to act. Go to your Congress Member’s office. Sit down. Read the U.S. Constitution aloud. Do not leave until they take you to jail. Or come to Washington, D.C., and do the same thing–but do it in the office of Congressman John Conyers, who is in the position to save this Republic in a week, who has the knowledge and the skill to do it, and who has absolutely no constitutional duty to step and fetch or bow and scrape for Miss Nancy.

DAVID SWANSON can be reached at: david@davidswanson.org