During the Clinton impeachment hearings, members of Congress spoke passionately about defending the rule of law. They spoke of performing their Constitutional duty in holding the president accountable for his alleged violations or “high crimes or misdemeanors”. I remember (then Representative, now Senator) Lindsay Graham of South Carolina, almost tearfully, explaining how he was loathe to discuss impeaching the president but how it was the course of action he was bound to because he had taken a solemn oath as an attorney and, now as a member of Congress. Most of the House managers as well as the senatorial jurors spoke solemnly of the heavy responsibility they felt to their constituents and to the country. However, in the end, the Constitution was clear that no one was above the law. The mere suggestion that those proceedings might be politically motivated was met with forceful denial and scholarly lectures on the proper roles of the House and Senate. In the end, Bill Clinton was charged and acquitted on counts of lying under oath and obstruction of justice. Congress was able to walk away saying that they had simply done their duty. This was “pre-9/11”.
It has become known that George W. Bush has authorized warrentless wiretaps of American citizens where the person on the other end of the call is a “suspected” terrorist outside the country. Bush himself has admitted this action directly to the American people. We have been told by some members of Congress that such authorizations might be in violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978. FISA was passed by Congress to address just this thing. Lending credibility to the charge, certain congressional committees are scrambling to re-write sections of that act to (retroactively) incorporate these warrentless wiretaps into the law. If the allegation is true, Bush would clearly be in violation of the 4th amendment to the Constitution which protects Americans from unreasonable search and seizure. One would think that such an allegation would lead to an investigation and, if enough evidence of wrongdoing were uncovered, possible articles of impeachment would be forthcoming. After all, isn’t it the Constitutional duty of Congress to investigate such allegations? Apparently not in this case. What we have heard from this congress is that investigating the Commander in Chief during “time of war” might undermine his ability to protect the country. Where are those members of congress who were so compelled to enforce the solemn duties of their office during the Clinton administration? Senator Orin Hatch of Utah, a central figure on the Judiciary Committee said recently, “Wartime is not a time to weaken the commander-in-chief.” What of Senator Graham (now a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee)? Speaking to a motion from Senator Russ Feingold, Democrat of Wisconsin, to simply censure Bush as a sort of slap on the wrist (just to let him know that Congress is paying attention), a much less remorseful Graham says, “Censure is destructive. Censure breaks us apart at a time when we need to be brought together.”
Now before anyone might think Senator Feingold's resolution is in any way partisan or political, consider that, thus far, only two of his fellow Democratic senators have signed on to co-sponsor this resolution. It seems that, during an election year, it might be bad politics to investigate the president. Apparently the American people might find the act of congressional oversight offensive.
So that we are clear about this, if your president lies under oath by parsing words (“It depends on what your definition of is is.”) articles of impeachment are a regrettable act of enforcing the Constitution. If, on the other hand, your “Commander Indefinite” violates the Constitution to spy on American citizens based on a hunch that they may be talking to a terrorist (note that there has yet to be one instance where anyone has been charged or tried under this action), we fall back on the old “all is fair in love and war” defense.
Chad (The Left) Shue