- Elizabeth Holtzmanserved four terms in Congress, where she played a key role in House impeachment proceedings against President Richard Nixon. She is co-author of the new book, The Impeachment of George W. Bush: A Practical Guide for Concerned Citizens. She will be speaking in Philadelphia on Saturday at the pro-impeachment rally.
- Daniel Ellsbergmaybe the country’s best-known whistleblower. He leaked to the press the Pentagon Papers, the 7,000-page top-secret study of U.S. decision-making in Vietnam. This set in motion actions that would eventually topple the Nixon presidency. He recently published an article in Harper’s magazine about Iran. It is called “The Next War.”
A coalition of groups are meeting near Independence Hall in Philadelphia on Saturday to announce plans to mobilize a national movement to impeach President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. We speak with former New York Congressmember Elizabeth Holtzman, who played a key role in the committee investigating Watergate, and we speak with Pentagon whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg. [includes rush transcript]
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: On Saturday, a coalition of groups are meeting near Independence Hall in Philadelphia to announce plans to mobilize a national movement to impeach President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. Groups backing the effort include Progressive Democrats of America, CodePink, Gold Star Families for Peace and Veterans for Peace.
While the pro-impeachment movement has received little media attention, polls show growing numbers support for Congress to take such action. A recent Newsweek poll found 51% of all Americans, including 20% of Republicans, feel impeachment should be on the table.
But it appears the new Democrat-led Congress will not take up the issue. Nancy Pelosi, who is set to become House speaker, was asked about it on Wednesday during her first press conference since the midterm election.
REP. NANCY PELOSI: Democrats are not about getting even. Democrats are about helping the American people get ahead. And that’s what our agenda is about. So while some people are excited about prospects that they have, in terms of their priorities, they are not our priorities. I have said, and I say again, that impeachment is off the table.
AMY GOODMAN: There is support for impeachment in the House. Over the three dozen Democrats in Congress have publicly supported an inquiry into possible impeachable offenses by the Bush administration. The list includes John Conyers of Michigan, positioned to become chair of the House Judiciary Committee.
To talk more about impeachment, the midterm elections and the war in Iraq, we’re joined by two guests: Elizabeth Holtzman and Daniel Ellsberg. Elizabeth Holtzman served four terms in Congress, where she played a key role in House impeachment proceedings against President Richard Nixon. She is co-author of the new book, The Impeachment of George W. Bush: A Practical Guide for Concerned Citizens.
Welcome to Democracy Now! You’re going to be speaking at a pro-impeachment rally on Saturday in Philadelphia?
ELIZABETH HOLTZMAN: Correct. In an effort to try to bring — to create a grassroots movement around the country and press Congress to do what should be done.
AMY GOODMAN: What’s your response to the speaker in waiting, Nancy Pelosi, saying it’s off the table?
ELIZABETH HOLTZMAN: Well, it’s very understandable. It was off the table to the Democrats in 1973, when the Democrats controlled the House and the Senate, and you had Richard Nixon as president.
AMY GOODMAN: He had won by a landslide victory in 1972.
ELIZABETH HOLTZMAN: Correct. He had won by a landslide, and impeachment was off the table then. Nobody — no Democrat was pushing for it. And, in fact, as the revelations came out, it still wasn’t on the table. It took the American people, after the Saturday Night Massacre, sending a clear message to the Congress —
AMY GOODMAN: The Saturday Night Massacre being?
ELIZABETH HOLTZMAN: The firing by Richard Nixon of the special prosecutor who was investigating him. It took that clear signal from the American people, who said, “Enough is enough. We are not a banana republic. A president cannot be above the law. He cannot stop an investigation into possible criminal behavior by him or his top aides. And we want Congress to hold him accountable.” So it came from the American people. It didn’t come from the Congress.
It’s understandable that congressional leaders, members of Congress, will be very reluctant to take this enormous step to protect our Constitution and our democracy. But the American people still — we have a democracy. You saw what happened at the polls. Members of Congress will get it, if the American people want it.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Of course, in the Clinton scandal, it wasn’t a demand that came from the American people for impeachment, it was one that came directly from the Congress itself.
ELIZABETH HOLTZMAN: Correct.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And, of course, that was the level of alleged crimes there was certainly not at the level that we’re talking about here.
ELIZABETH HOLTZMAN: Well, remember, under the Constitution, first of all, you don’t need a crime to commit an impeachable offense. It doesn’t have to be a crime. A high crime and misdemeanor is really an archaic British term that means an abuse of power. It’s a political offense, not a criminal offense.
President Clinton did very bad things, but they were not abuses of power. They did not threaten our democracy, and the American people got it. They understand what impeachment’s about, and that’s why they in the end supported the impeachment of Richard Nixon, because what he was doing was an abuse — involved an abuse of power. What he was saying was that he was above the law, and the American people said, “No, we don’t want that kind of abuse of our democracy.”
And I think the same thing can happen again. Of course, you can’t have a top-down impeachment. You can’t have a partisan impeachment. If an impeachment happens, it has to be done, I think, the way we did it in Watergate, which was bipartisan, to include the American people, to have a process that was extremely fair, nobody could question the fairness of it.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain how it worked, because Nixon resigned. He wasn’t impeached.
ELIZABETH HOLTZMAN: Nixon resigned, because the process was so fair and so thorough and so honorable that he was going to have no support. Maybe one or two people would have voted for him to stay on as president in the House, and maybe one or two people would have voted for him in the Senate. He had lost all support in the Congress. And that’s why a delegation of top Republican leaders, including Barry Goldwater, went to see Richard Nixon and told him, “You have no support in the House or the Senate. You can go through an impeachment trial. You will be surely impeached in the House, and you will be surely removed from the Senate,” because what happened was, all the members — our first vote on the House Judiciary Committee was a bipartisan vote. We had members of the Republicans, as well as Democrats, including very conservative Democrats, voting for impeachment.
Then, the smoking gun tape was released by order of the Supreme Court. That’s a tape that showed that Richard Nixon, from the get-go, had ordered the cover-up, an obstruction of justice. And once that tape came out, every Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, even those who had initially voted against impeachment, said he has committed impeachable offenses. So —
JUAN GONZALEZ: Let me ask you, —
ELIZABETH HOLTZMAN: — it was clear.
JUAN GONZALEZ: — John Conyers, who would head the House Judiciary Committee, certainly is not one who is afraid to begin these kinds of investigations. What was the relationship in the House Judiciary Committee then between the chairs there and the leadership?
ELIZABETH HOLTZMAN: Well, it was first the American people that galvanized Congress into action that lit that fire. That’s what happened. The House Judiciary Committee, the leadership had a key decision to make: Was it going to be the House Judiciary Committee that undertook this, or was there going to be a special select committee? That was the first, I think, strategic and important decision.
They said, “OK, it’s going to the Judiciary Committee, because if we create a special committee, the American people will say we have stacked the cards. We’re going to take the existing committee and use that committee, and that’s the committee that — warts and all, brand new members and all — that was the committee that was given this assignment. But we never — I never was given any instruction from any member of the leadership or by the chair of the committee as to how to vote.
AMY GOODMAN: Nancy Pelosi would be president — she’s third in line —
ELIZABETH HOLTZMAN: Correct.
AMY GOODMAN: — that is, if President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney were impeached. But what are you talking about when it comes to Vice President Dick Cheney?
ELIZABETH HOLTZMAN: Well, my view right now is that I’m not sure we have the overwhelming evidence. That’s not to say he hasn’t committed impeachable offenses, just that we don’t have the same level of evidence that we have with respect to President Bush. On the illegal wiretaps, for example, it’s President Bush who repeatedly and admittedly signed these orders directing wiretaps in violation of the explicit language of the statute. We don’t have Dick Cheney signing that. I mean, that’s a very good example of how we have President Bush, but we don’t see Vice President Cheney’s fingerprints. That’s not to say he wasn’t part and parcel to this, but we don’t see that, so —
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to former Congressmember Elizabeth Holtzman, who has written a book on impeachment. Daniel Ellsberg is also with us, perhaps the country’s best-known whistleblower, leaked to the press the Pentagon Papers, the 7,000-page top-secret study of U.S. decision-making in Vietnam that set in motion actions that would eventually topple Nixon. He recently published an article in Harper’s magazine about Iran. It’s called “The Next War.” How do you tie this in, what your campaign is now, which is not exactly impeachment, Daniel Ellsberg?
DANIEL ELLSBERG: I think the impeachment process, starting with investigations, is very important, but it’s not the only important thing right now. Actually, Maurice Hinchey introduced a bill on June 20th this year calling for Congress to cut off any funds, to deny any funds of the appropriation bill for an attack on Iran, unless that had followed, as in Article 1, Section 8, from a decision by Congress. And it was a very brief little discussion in the night of June 20th. Two hours later, there was a vote. He had 158 votes in favor of that, somewhat surprisingly. That is the way the Vietnam War was stopped. I don’t think they’ll stop the Iraq war very quickly that way. It takes a long time for a congressman to face the charge that he’s taking money away from the troops, no matter how long, and whether they should be there or not.
But the Iran War has not yet started, and a measure to prevent it before it starts has, I think, a lot more promise, and I think that approach with the new Congress has real promise. But even so, you would need, I think, a crucial aspect of that would be information from inside the government, and this applies both to the impeachment process and to measures like this. If you rely entirely on the administration cooperating by providing the documents you’re asking or the witnesses you’re asking, that’s not going to happen. They’ve promised already. I think it’s Cheney who said “a cataclysmic fight to the death,” before they will let these documents get out.
Now, a process like that is what finally emboldened Congress or enraged Congress to the point where, in fact, they did begin to cut off the funds for the war and they did seriously begin to look at impeachment. If the president was going to totally subordinate their role, rule it out of the Constitution essentially, that finally got their backs up. That could happen here, as investigations start, on a variety of reasons, which should happen, including Cheney. You’ll get the facts on the table from leakers. The facts you’ll get will be unauthorized.
And now, an unauthorized disclosure, a leak, has a chance of being acted on by Congress, which in the last several years, people have gotten discouraged. They’ve put out the truth to Sy Hersh and to others, and we can all see, not much happens. Congress, the Republican committees are not interested in hearing that. They don’t want to act on it. Now, it’s a challenge. If somebody inside the government gives information either on criminal wrongdoing by their bosses, which bears directly, or, you know, terrible high crimes and misdemeanors, which bears directly on impeachment, if they give that to Congress and the press, Congress can’t — Congress now led by the Democrats cannot just ignore it, at least not if we let them. We can demand that they do act on it, and that’s a great inducement to get.
JUAN GONZALEZ: So, what you’re saying in essence is that another Daniel Ellsberg is needed, and then maybe even another John Dean, to come forward from the inner circle.
DANIEL ELLSBERG: Both of those and more are needed, and we need them in a more timely way than either of us did it. Dean knew about the burglary of my psychiatrist’s office years before he revealed it under pressure. I knew about what was happening in Nixon years before I finally saw the light, that it had to be given not only to Congress, which was sitting on it, but to the press. And I’m sorry it took that long, but when it comes to impeachment, say I have a full disclosure here to make, it was crimes that Nixon did against me, in part we learned by leaking, that were a major part of the impeachment process, that you were looking at, that he was committing those crimes.
If Dean had not revealed them in order to cop a plea himself in the process and not told the truth, they would not have called other people back to the grand jury and discovered they had enough basis for an impeachment. And likewise, if I hadn’t put the documents out, Nixon wouldn’t have been so afraid of me as to commit the crimes to shut me up.
I don’t suppose I’ve made Bush as afraid of me then, I’m sorry to say. If he has committed crimes against me, I don’t know them yet. If I have been listened in on warrantless wiretaps — I imagine I have, but it may be a while before I learn it. But there are others who could supply the names of who — which Specter was not able to get from the president. Republican head of the Judiciary Committee was not able to get the names or even the programs. There are people in NSA who could tell him that. And if a Democrat now wants to hear that, which Specter didn’t, he can call those people, he can put them under oath, and he can hear their testimony, people like Sibel Edmonds, Russell Tice, and people in NSA, who know the crimes that have been committed.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you both for being with us, Daniel Ellsberg, Pentagon whistleblower, calling for whistleblowers today to come out, especially around plans for Iran, and former Congressmember Liz Holtzman. She has written a new book. It’s called The Impeachment of George W. Bush: A Practical Guide for Concerned Citizens. She will be speaking on Saturday in Philadelphia at a pro-impeachment rally this Veteran’s Day weekend.