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To Impeach or Not to Impeach? A Discussion with House Judiciary Chair John Conyers and CIA Veteran Ray McGovern

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Three Democratic members of the House Judiciary Committee — Robert Wexler of Florida, Luis Gutierrez of Illinois, and Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin — have called on committee chair John Conyers to begin impeachment hearings against Vice President Dick Cheney. We host a discussion on impeachment with Conyers and former CIA analyst Ray McGovern. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressman Conyers, I wanted to turn to another controversial issue, one that you’ve been dealing with and have over time, that issue of impeachment. Now, three Democratic members of your committee, of the House Judiciary Committee — Robert Wexler of Florida, Luis Gutierrez of Illinois, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin — have called on you to begin impeachment hearings against Vice President Dick Cheney. This week, Congressman Wexler said the charges against the Vice President are too serious to ignore.

    REP. ROBERT WEXLER: It is time for the House Judiciary Committee to hold impeachment hearings for Vice President Cheney. We have an obligation to ask questions, to determine whether in fact the Vice President purposefully manipulated intelligence, bringing us into war, whether he knowingly ordered the illegal use of torture, whether he knowingly exposed covert agents for political purposes, whether he obstructed federal investigations. These charges are too serious to ignore.

AMY GOODMAN: Since last week, over 100,000 people have signed a petition on Congressman Wexler’s website supporting impeachment hearings. And we’re wondering, Congressman Conyers, now with your committee members taking up this issue, an issue that you actually long championed, what your feelings are today. Will you be supporting them in this?

REP. JOHN CONYERS: Well, no, but there are a lot of things that can and will be done. We’re documenting the transgressions and errors of the administration in the Department of Justice, which have led to the firing of nine US attorneys. We’re looking at the protections of the right to vote. The election is coming up. We’ve got to protect everybody’s right to get out here and make a choice and make sure that it’s counted.

AMY GOODMAN: Why stop short of hearings on impeachment?

REP. JOHN CONYERS: Well, because, unless we’re going to impeach the Vice President and the President within this space of time, I think we could be very seriously compromising the greatest important — most important thing, in addition to documenting any misdeeds that may have happened, whether we continue to have Bush enablers continue to shatter and tear the Constitution to shreds. And so, all of this, academically, is great. I’ve got a number of books from my friends about which articles would be best and which ones we should go after more. But it seems to me that the time element and also the feasibility of whether or not there is any possible chance of success — there is a very stark reality that with the corporatization of the media, we could end up with turning people who should be documented in history as making many profound errors and violating the Constitution from villains into victims. And those are the kinds of considerations that have entered my mind in thinking about this process, Amy.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And, Ray McGovern, you’ve been outspoken on this issue, and given the new evidence now about the destruction of the CIA tapes and the White House staff — some staff involvement in that, your sense of the impeachment situation?

RAY McGOVERN: Well, we not only have the obstruction of justice, but we have the President’s former spokesman saying that he was involved in the outing of Valerie Plame. We also have the President threatening World War III on bogus evidence that Iran was developing a nuclear weapons development program. So, you know, it’s sort of like outreach fatigue. Where do you begin?

Well, where I would begin is with the demonstrably impeachable offenses —- first and foremost, the President’s not only admission, but his bragging about violating laws against eavesdropping on Americans without a court warrant. He bragged that he did that thirty times. That was one of the articles of impeachment voted against President Nixon. Similarly, disregarding subpoenas, that, too, was one of the articles voted against President Nixon in the Judiciary Committee, where Congressman Conyers, of course, served very loyally. So you have those two right there.

And that’s not even mentioning, you know, forging, manufacturing, coming up with false intelligence to deceive congressmen and senators out of their constitutional prerogative to declare or to otherwise authorize war. I mean, it doesn’t get any worse than that. And so, my sense is that our founders are probably turning over in their grave at this point, because they put the impeachment clause in the declarative mood, not the subjunctive mood. They didn’t say that -—

JUAN GONZALEZ: But, Ray McGovern, what about the argument that Congressman Conyers raises that given the short amount of time left in the term of the President and the difficulty of actually being able to vote out an impeachment, that it would divert much of the attention of the Democratic Party in a way that would not necessarily lead to victory?

RAY McGOVERN: I think what I hear Congressman Conyers saying is that Fox News would have a field day if he didn’t get 218 votes right off the bat. That is not an explanation, in my view. If you read Article II, Section 4 of the Constitution, which I think should be the document we abide by, it says the President, Vice President, other senior officials shall be removed from office upon impeachment for and conviction of high crimes and misdemeanors. Congressman Conyers and his staff, a year ago, came up with a 350-page indictment of all the offenses against the Constitution that Bush had already been guilty of. So I don’t really understand the delay.

I’m wondering if there isn’t some sort of crass political reason for it, namely, don’t make any waves. The President’s numbers are in the toilet. The Vice President’s numbers are flushed down the toilet. Just don’t do anything at all, so that Fox News will have nothing to seize upon in accusing the Democrats of being divisive or something like that. I don’t think that’s the right constitutional approach, and I feel very strongly about that, and many of my colleagues do, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressman Conyers, more than 100,000 people signed the impeachment petition on Congressman Wexler, your colleague in the House Judiciary Committee’s website. Your response to this growing call in the United States?

REP. JOHN CONYERS: Well, I’ve been monitoring the growing call. I’ve been going to many meetings to talk about this. But this isn’t a Fox 2 event. As bad as they may be, it doesn’t mean that the rest of them won’t chime in, as well. And I think that that has a great deal to do with whether we’re going to continue Bush enablers in the White House, and, to me, that is not a small event. And the Constitution doesn’t read into us the other considerations of timing, whether you have the votes, whether it will have a reverse effect. They didn’t put all that in, and for very good reason. And so, I’m hoping that we can continue this discussion, but that what I’m doing this morning is holding hearings to reveal the fact that there ought to be public knowledge of what’s going on in all these attempts at secret hearings on the destruction of these tapes. And I think that will lead us —- help lead us to what we must ultimately do. So -—

AMY GOODMAN: These numbers, Congressman Conyers, quickly, American Research Group, 45% of Americans would back impeachment proceedings against Bush, 54% — that’s more than half the American people — would back the same against Cheney. Your response?

REP. JOHN CONYERS: Well, I respect whoever they are, but I’ve got to produce the votes inside the Congress, and that’s where our first battle is going to be. I had Ray McGovern in my first Downing Street memos hearings in the basement a few years back, in which we revealed that the war in Iraq was more preemptive than anything else. But marching into history, I’ve got to put together a winning program and not step on our message. We’ve got a lot of legislation to accomplish. The minority party in the House has been — and the Senate, too — have been very effective in preventing us from moving forward. And we’ve got —-

AMY GOODMAN: Congressman Conyers, we’re going to leave it there but go to one of those issues that has been so troubling for so many in this country, and that is what’s happening in New Orleans. We’re going to turn to a piece now about the demolition of public housing. We want to thank you very much, Chairman Conyers, for joining us, head of the House Judiciary Committee, and Ray McGovern, longtime CIA analyst, actually was the daily briefer for President Bush -— that’s President George H.W. Bush when he was Vice President.

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