Tuesday, December 12, 2006

High Crimes and Misdemeanors

Now that the Democrats are fixin’ to assume their newly won role as congressional leaders, the talk of impeachment is flying, of both President Bush and Vice President Cheney. Their crimes? I’ve yet to hear a clear listing of the “charges”, but what I’ve heard is: lying to get us into a war; lying to keep us in a war; mismanagement of that war; general ineffectiveness in office. The web site “The Patriot Ledger”
http://www.patriotledger.com/articles/2006/11/30/opinion/opin02.txt lays out the crimes thusly:

“The Bush administration has lied our country into an immensely destructive war and subverted our Constitution by taking dictatorial powers for itself, attempting to muscle the courts and the Congress out of the governmental process.

They have blown our tax dollars on sweetheart contracts for their favorite connected corporations (for example, Halliburton), which in many cases have pocketed the money and failed to deliver the goods, resulting in grievous harm to our troops abroad and to Gulf Coast citizens at home.

They have created a misdirected energy policy designed to benefit their oil-industry cronies rather than address our country’s real needs and the problem of global warming.

They have illegally spied on U.S. citizens and have claimed the right to imprison people (including citizens) without the possibility of a court hearing, and to subject them to ‘‘intense interrogation’’ (torture).

George W. Bush may well be the worst president America has ever had.”

Are these impeachable crimes? What exactly high crimes? Are misdemeanors what we think they are—the same as the crimes carrying lesser punishment in criminal courts? And, if misdemeanors are exactly what we think they are, then would high crimes be the same as felonies? Should we worry about what the framers of the Constitution meant, and what those who brought the Constitution into effect thought they were approving, or is it only what we want it to mean today? Figuring this out would require study of the Federalist Papers, and perhaps the diary/correspondence of James Madison, Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, and their contemporaries. And perhaps looking at precedents. This would be a wonderful study, but whose got the time? And the resulting essay would be too long for this blog.

We ought to be able to figure this out from the language of the Constitution, applying common sense. So, here I go. I’m going to take the wording of the Constitution at face value, and change only one thing: impeachment of the president is for felonies and misdemeanors. I suppose those could be personal or office-related. If you obtain Federal office, and we find that while in office you were guilty of a felony—or even just a misdemeanor—you can be impeached. This is what the Nixon impeachment effort was all about: he committed crimes in an effort to assure his reelection. It seems to me that those who developed the Constitution must have been very concerned that the power of the office would lead someone to commit crimes, or that we would somehow elect a criminal to office.

I note that this seems to have nothing to do with ineffectiveness in office, or with disagreements with policy. It has to do with crimes. Assuming Bush did lie to justify going to war with Iraq, was that a crime? Assuming money was poorly spent, was that a crime [well, as a taxpayer I could almost say so]? If the tough interrogation of suspected terrorists has amounted to torture, is that a crime? I suspect not.

Impeachment is not the way an ineffective office holder is removed from office. That is done via the ballot box. Impeachment is the means of removing a criminal from office. While the charges stated by the “Ledger” include some things that could be considered crimes, the inclusion of clearly non-impeachable items as “charges” renders their entire thrust as laughable.

I'm going to do a little more research into this--at least read the main Federalist Papers segment on impeachment, and perhaps post again.

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