The House Judiciary Committee held historic hearings on Friday about whether the White House overstepped its constitutional authority during the presidency of George W. Bush and whether or not such abuses would justify his impeachment. The hearing was billed as one on "Executive Power and Its Constitutional Limitations." Although the title expressly did not include the word "impeachment," several Democratic Congress members and witnesses used the opportunity to begin impeachment proceedings against the President and Vice President. We play highlights. [includes rush transcript]
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
The House Judiciary Committee held historic hearings on Friday about whether the White House overstepped its constitutional authority during the presidency of George W. Bush and whether or not such abuses would justify his impeachment. The hearing was billed as one on "Executive Power and Its Constitutional Limitations." Although the title expressly did not include the word “impeachment,” several Democratic Congress members and witnesses used the opportunity to begin impeachment proceedings against the President and Vice President.
Over eleven witnesses were called to testify at the six-hour hearing, including Ohio Democrat Dennis Kucinich, who has repeatedly introduced articles of impeachment in Congress. Other witnesses included attorneys Vincent Bugliosi, Bruce Fein and Elizabeth Holtzman, as well as former Georgia Republican and current Libertarian presidential candidate Bob Barr. The witnesses also included conservative law professors Stephen Presser from Northwestern University and Jeremy Rabkin of George Mason University.
Today, we bring you excerpts from those hearings. We begin with Elizabeth Holtzman, a former Democratic congresswoman from New York and two-term district attorney in Brooklyn. She is the author of several books, including The Impeachment of George W. Bush.
ELIZABETH HOLTZMAN: I think the question for this committee is what is to be done now and what can be done now. Prosecution is unrealistic. The administration will never prosecute itself. Truth commissions? The administration will stonewall them, as they have so many committees of Congress. So, what is the realistic remedy? The only remedy, and that’s the one the framers gave to the Congress of the United States, the House and the Senate, is the remedy of impeachment, because no one can interfere with it.
You ask the President or the Vice President to give you the contents of the FBI statement, they don’t do that. That becomes an impeachable offense. You could ask them to provide them the information under oath. You may not be able to finish the task, but you certainly can start the task, which will send an important signal not just to this president, but to future presidents.
BRUCE FEIN: If President George W. Bush had knocked to enter the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787, the presiding officer, President George Washington, would have denied him admission, and thereby hangs an alarming tale. The executive branch has vandalized the Constitution every bit as much as the barbarians sacked Rome in 410 A.D. The executive branch has destroyed the Constitution’s time-honored checks and balances, taken the nation perilously close to executive despotism. The executive branch rejects the basic philosophical tenets of the United States of America. It does not accept that America was conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that sovereignty in a republican form of government lies with the people, not with the executive; that there are no vassals or serfs in the Constitution’s landscape; that every man and woman is a king or queen, but no one wears a crown; and that the rule of law is the nation’s civic religion. And the founding fathers fashioned impeachment as a remedy for attacks against the Constitution order.
VINCENT BUGLIOSI: On December 9th, 1998, a previous House Judiciary Committee issued four articles of impeachment against President Bill Clinton for doing something infinitely less significant than what the evidence shows the Bush administration did in this case. Indeed, it is a calumny, a slander of the highest rank, to even talk about them in the same breath or on the same page. If a House Judiciary Committee could recommend that President Clinton be impeached for what he did, as they say in the law, a fortiori, all the more so, with all the highly incriminating evidence that I set forth in my book, much of it documentary, you shouldn’t have any difficulty making a criminal referral to the Department of Justice to commence a criminal investigation of the Bush administration to determine whether first-degree murder charges should be brought against certain members of this administration. And I hereby strongly urge you to do so. Whether Republican or Democrat, all Americans should be absolutely outraged over what the Bush administration has done. How dare they do what they did? How dare they?
Vincent Bugliosi at Friday’s hearings on the limits of executive power. Several Democratic Congress members also spoke out in favor of impeachment, including Congressman Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, also Hank Johnson of Georgia and Congressman Robert Wexler of Florida.
REP. ROBERT WEXLER: Never before in the history of this nation has an administration so successfully diminished the constitutional powers of the legislative branch. It is unacceptable, and it must not stand. This is not how our founders so carefully and delicately designed our democracy.
In a deliberate effort to reduce the power of this Congress and obstruct our ability to provide oversight over the executive branch, President Bush has ordered Karl Rove, Harriet Miers, Josh Bolten and other administration officials to simply ignore Congress by refusing to testify. This failure of administration witnesses to even appear is unprecedented in the history of our nation. The Bush White House has distorted the concept of executive privilege beyond recognition in order to hide White House wrongdoings.
Faced with this litany of wrongful actions, I am convinced that the most appropriate response to this unprecedented behavior is to hold hearings for impeachment. The power of impeachment — excuse me, the power of impeachment, which our founding fathers provided to the House of Representatives, was designed precisely for this type of wrongdoing.
I fully recognize the significance of holding impeachment hearings, and I have not come to this position lightly, not one bit. But when an administration takes actions that amount to high crimes, we, the representatives of the people, are left with no option other than to seek impeachment and removal from office.
Our government was founded by a delicate balance of powers, whereby one branch carefully checks the other branches to prevent a dangerous consolidation of power. The actions of this White House have eviscerated this careful balance. This is not a Democratic or Republican issue; this is an American issue. Without these checks and balances, a president can run roughshod over any law with impunity. Congress must end this disturbing pattern of behavior. And in these circumstances, unfortunately, the only option left is impeachment hearings.
We have been down this road before; yes, we have. In 1973, articles of impeachment were introduced against President Nixon after he inappropriately tried to use executive privilege to bury evidence of his wrongdoings. I think it would be helpful to delve more deeply into what happened during the Nixon administration, particularly as it relates to the obstruction of the oversight powers of this Congress.
REP. HANK JOHNSON: While, Mr. Chairman, today’s hearing is not an impeachment hearing, I fear that in the event that the current administration continues with its secret actions, with motives and purposes that are not known or not revealed, if this administration during the last six months decides to attack the sovereign nation of Iran, then Americans will look back and think and rethink whether or not it would have been worth pursuing impeachment at this time to deter any further misdoing by this administration.
REP. TAMMY BALDWIN: The American public expects no less. We, the people, conferred upon the branches of government limited and defined power and provided for meaningful checks and balances. Over the past several years, serious questions have been raised about the conduct of high-ranking administration officials in relation to some of the most basic elements of our democracy: respect for the rule of law, the principle of checks and balances, and the fundamental freedoms enshrined in the Bill of Rights. In other words, the American people are in doubt as to whether administration officials have fulfilled their oaths of office to preserve, protect and defend our Constitution.
And their concerns are not insignificant. Americans want to know whether our nation’s highest-ranking officials broke the law to justify the invasion of Iraq. Many in our nation and around the world wonder whether today the Bush White House is planning to illegally attack Iran. They wonder, too, whether their private conversations are being listened to by government officials unconcerned about restraints placed upon them by the Constitution; whether our nation is holding individuals in secret prisons, denying them even the right to appear before a judge or to be represented by an attorney or to confront their accusers. They wonder who authorized torture and rendition. They wonder whether this administration will forever change what it means to be an American.
Congress member Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, testifying at Friday’s House Judiciary hearing on impeachment.