Wednesday, December 19, 2007

A Case for Impeachment Hearings

By Representatives and Members of the Judiciary Committee:
Robert Wexler (D-FL), Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI)

On November 7, the House of Representatives voted to send a resolution of impeachment of Vice President Cheney to the Judiciary Committee. As Members of the House Judiciary Committee, we strongly believe these important hearings should begin.

The issues at hand are too serious to ignore, including credible allegations of abuse of power that if proven may well constitute high crimes and misdemeanors under our constitution. The charges against Vice President Cheney relate to his deceptive actions leading up to the Iraq war, the revelation of the identity of a covert agent for political retaliation, and the illegal wiretapping of American citizens.

Now that former White House press secretary Scott McClellan has indicated that the Vice President and his staff purposefully gave him false information about the outing of Valerie Plame Wilson as a covert agent to report to the American people, it is even more important for Congress to investigate what may have been an intentional obstruction of justice. Congress should call Mr. McClellan to testify about what he described as being asked to “unknowingly [pass] along false information.” In addition, recent revelations have shown that the Administration including Vice President Cheney may have again manipulated and exaggerated evidence about weapons of mass destruction—this time about Iran’s nuclear capabilities.

Some of us were in Congress during the impeachment hearings of President Clinton. We spent a year and a half listening to testimony about President Clinton’s personal relations. This must not be the model for impeachment inquires. A Democratic Congress can show that it takes its constitutional authority seriously and hold a sober investigation, which will stand in stark contrast to the kangaroo court convened by Republicans for President Clinton. In fact, the worst legacy of the Clinton impeachment—where the GOP pursued trumped up and insignificant allegations—would be that it discourages future Congresses from examining credible and significant allegations of a constitutional nature when they arise.

The charges against Vice President Cheney are not personal. They go to the core of the actions of this Administration, and deserve consideration in a way the Clinton scandal never did. The American people understand this, and a majority support hearings according to a November 13 poll by the American Research Group. In fact, 70% of voters say that Vice President Cheney has abused his powers and 43% say that he should be removed from office right now. The American people understand the magnitude of what has been done and what is at stake if we fail to act. It is time for Congress to catch up.

Some people argue that the Judiciary Committee can not proceed with impeachment hearings because it would distract Congress from passing important legislative initiatives. We disagree. First, hearings need not tie up Congress for a year and shut down the nation. Second, hearings will not prevent Congress from completing its other business. These hearings involve the possible impeachment of the Vice President – not our commander in chief – and the resulting impact on the nation’s business and attention would be significantly less than the Clinton Presidential impeachment hearings. Also, despite the fact that President Bush has thwarted moderate Democratic policies that are supported by a vast majority of Americans—including children’s health care, stem cell research, and bringing our troops home from Iraq—the Democratic Congress has already managed to deliver a minimum wage hike, an energy bill to address the climate crisis and bring us closer to energy independence, assistance for college tuition, and other legislative successes. We can continue to deliver on more of our agenda in the coming year while simultaneously fulfilling our constitutional duty by investigating and publicly revealing whether or not Vice President Cheney has committed high crimes and misdemeanors.

Holding hearings would put the evidence on the table, and the evidence—not politics—should determine the outcome. Even if the hearings do not lead to removal from office, putting these grievous abuses on the record is important for the sake of history. For an Administration that has consistently skirted the constitution and asserted that it is above the law, it is imperative for Congress to make clear that we do not accept this dangerous precedent. Our Founding Fathers provided Congress the power of impeachment for just this reason, and we must now at least consider using it.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Great men never change their minds and never admit mistakes

Dear Governor Huckabee:

In 1984, a young boy living in Indiana was diagnosed with AIDS. At the time, that boy, thirteen-year-old Ryan White, had no idea that his life would become a testament of courage and bravery responsible for opening the hearts and minds of millions of people throughout our country and around the world. Six years later, in 1990, Ryan’s life ended—a dear, precious life cut short.

But Ryan’s death wasn’t the only tragedy in this well-known story in our country’s history. Ryan and his family’s battle with HIV/AIDS was also a stark reminder of what happens in our country when fear and ignorance go unchecked. Governor Huckabee, the Ryan White family was ridiculed, shunned and ostracized by people who thought the answer was to “isolate” them far away from the rest of society. In 1984, this belief was purely based on ignorance. But these same beliefs, which you espoused in 1992 and have refused to recant today, as a candidate for President of the United States, are completely beyond comprehension.

When you answered the Associated Press questionnaire in 1992, we, in fact, knew a great deal about how HIV was transmitted. Four years earlier, in 1988, the Reagan Administration’s Department of Health and Human Services issued a brochure assuring the American public that “you won’t get the AIDS virus through every day contact with the people around you in school, in the workplace, at parties, child care centers, or stores.” To call for such an oppressive and severe policy like “isolation,” when the scientific community and federal government were certain about how HIV is transmitted was then, and remains today, irresponsible. Such statements should be completely repudiated, not simply dismissed as needing to be slightly reworded.

This was not and is not an issue of “political correctness,” as you state. Rather, this is an issue of valuing science-based evidence over unfounded fear or prejudice.

Have we not learned the difficult lesson of how devastating these statements based in ignorance and fear can be to American families? Has it been so long ago that we have forgotten how our neighbors had the backs of entire communities turned on them? Governor Huckabee, those dark moments in American history are the direct result of ignorant views that stifle discussion, hinder resources and delay action. We have a moral obligation as a nation to never allow ourselves to repeat the shameful mistakes of the past. And we cannot sit idly by when a candidate for President of the United States tries to lead us back down that path of ignorance and fear.

Governor Huckabee, if you need a reminder of how calls for “isolation” can shatter a Mother’s heart, you only need to turn to Jeanne White-Ginder. Today, we respectfully ask you to sit down with her and allow her to share with you Ryan’s story. Ms. White-Ginder continues to be active in AIDS advocacy as a member of the board of The AIDS Institute. We hope that, even in 2007, Ryan’s story can continue to open hearts and minds.

We would be happy to facilitate a meeting between Ms. White-Ginder and yourself, or a member of your staff. Please feel free to contact Brad Luna, Communications Director for the Human Rights Campaign, at (202) 216-1514 at your convenience.


Joe Solmonese
Human Rights Campaign

A. Gene Copello
Executive Director
The AIDS Institute

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Rep. Schiff on national security and impeachment

Thank you for contacting me regarding your support for introducing articles of impeachment against Vice President Cheney. I appreciate hearing from you and welcome your input.

I share your concern about the policies and actions of Vice President Cheney and I am deeply troubled by the potentially precedent-setting expansion of executive power at the cost of our system of coequal branches and the civil liberties guaranteed to all Americans. The Executive Branch is an extraordinarily powerful one; in order for the checks and balances to function properly, both Congress and the Courts must resist an excessive assertion of executive power that is at odds with the interests of the American people or violates the Constitution. Despite the challenges that our nation faces, we must not cast aside the values and ideals that our people have defended for centuries.

The Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution with the intention that no one branch of government should become too powerful. With the oppression of monarchical rule only recently behind them, they sought to prevent the rise of a too-powerful executive by crafting a calibrated system of checks and balances that allows for interplay between the three branches of government. Congress has an important legislative function, but it has an equally vital role in providing oversight and we must continue to aggressively exercise this prerogative.

One of the most important areas in which oversight has been lacking involves the terrible mistakes that have been made in the prosecution of the war and the reconstruction of Iraq . After more than 4 years of bloody combat; after our Nation has lost more than 3,700 of our military's finest; after thousands more of our brave men and women have been wounded; after we have spent almost $600 billion; and after finding no weapons of mass destruction, the very basis of that war, it is clear that no one in the Administration has been held accountable. This is beginning to change, and the new Democratic Congress has held an unprecedented number of oversight hearings since it took power. It is my hope that these oversight hearings will provide the basis for a dramatic change in direction in our Iraq policy.

Another area which cries out for strong Congressional oversight and action involves the revelation that the executive secretly authorized the National Security Agency (NSA) to eavesdrop on Americans on American soil. On May 11, 2007, the House of Representatives responded to the President's assertion of inherent authority to eavesdrop on Americans without a warrant or any judicial review. By a vote of 245-178, the House adopted an amendment that I offered with my colleague Jeff Flake (R-AZ) to reiterate that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (FISA) provides the exclusive authority to engage in domestic electronic surveillance for the purpose of gathering foreign intelligence information. T he President and the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) recently returned to Congress with a legislative proposal ( S . 1927) that would make it easier for the NSA to collect intelligence on Americans and groups abroad. I strongly opposed this bill, which nonetheless passed the Congress and was signed into law on August 5, 2007. This measure is set to expire in six months, and I will be working hard to reinstate the type of court supervision that is essential to protect our privacy.

I continue to believe that we must be aggressive in combating terrorism and offer terrorists no quarter. However, the suggestion of the Administration that we can only do so by subverting the law and giving up our constitutional rights is seriously misguided. Instead, I support a different approach. We will use every tool to go after those who wish to harm us. But Americans who are law-abiding citizens of this country should have the confidence of knowing that a court is overseeing what the government does when it comes to our privacy rights.

On the specific remedy of impeachment, the Founding Fathers established a high standard requiring the determination of high crimes and misdemeanors. After witnessing the misguided, destructive and polarizing impeachment of President Clinton, I can well understand why they raised the bar so high. There is no question that the Vice President has done a great disservice to the country in many ways, and I am deeply troubled by his views of executive authority and performance in office. We must continue to do vigorous oversight and let the evidence lead us where it may; at the same time, we must not be deterred from the highest imperative of changing our Iraq policy, reversing the Administration's intrusive surveillance policy, meeting the challenge of global climate change, and other critical priorities.

Please be assured that I will do my part to ensure that Congress provides such a check and ensure that the Administration is held accountable for its actions.


Adam B. Schiff
Member of Congress