Constitutional Glitch: Presidents Don't Fear Impeachment

Even with my low opinion of President Bush, I did not expect him to give Lewis Libby a get-out-of-jail free card. The constitutional implications of the president freeing a White House official from the sentence doled out in a criminal case, when the crime involves the vice president and possibly even the president himself, couldn't be more clear.

When the Senate failed to remove President Clinton from office after his impeachment in 1999, falling 22 votes short of the 67 needed, I thought it was a great outcome to an overblown offense (hubba hubba).

Today, I'm much more in agreement with what David Broder argued in 1993 after another President Bush helped his officials escape legal culpability for crimes against the nation -- we have to find a way to prove that the president is not above the law:

... we have not found any effective method to instruct White House and executive branch officials on their duty to obey the law, because we have failed as a society to express our contempt and disgust for those who violate their oaths of office with such impunity.

The record is depressing. All those top White House and Justice Department officials in the Nixon administration went to jail for their parts in planning, or covering up, Watergate. You would have thought that would send a message clear enough for anyone to grasp. But the U.S. attorneys and special prosecutors have been kept busy by successor administrations. The crimes and the coverups go right on.

The best thing we could do for our country is to impeach and remove one or two presidents as a lesson to the others.

The rapacious growth of federal power in the hands of a single politician-in-chief is the biggest threat to our form of government, especially when you consider the likelihood of future terror attacks that will bring more efforts to trade liberty for security.

The leading candidates for the next president disagree on what they would do with power, but they don't seem to disagree at all about accumulating it, aside from Republican gadfly Ron Paul. I expect the next president to eagerly embrace Vice President Cheney's seven-year campaign to expand executive power and marginalize Congress and the courts. It would be karmic retribution for Republicans to be helpless to stop a President Hillary Clinton, say, from taking Cheney's extraconstitutional superpowers for a spin, as long as you forget Benjamin Franklin's famous warning when asked what form of government we've created here: "A republic, if you can keep it."

Our government was designed to function under a president who feared impeachment the way other democratic leaders in the West fear votes of no confidence or the calling of new elections. President Bush would never have dared commute Libby's sentence if he had a realistic chance of being removed from office.

Comments

Oh please. Clinton pardoned a bunch of actual terrorists (the FALN group) as a way of currying favor with the Puerto Rican vote for his wife's senate run. That was a far, far bigger deal. For that matter, the pardon of Marc Rich was a bigger deal.

The pardon power is an unlimited executive office power, just as funding (or not) is an unlimited congressional power. The fear of Cheney has reached the same absurd heights last seen when rabid Clinton haters swore that Hillary had Vince Foster killed as part of some criminal enterprise that stretched back to Cocaine shipments from Mena airport.

It was absurd then; it's absurd now. Cheney has exactly as much power as Bush delegates to him - no more, no less. He's not some kind of weird Svengali, any more than Hillary was "the power behind the throne".

Svengali /svngli, sfn-/ noun
a person who completely dominates another, usually with selfish or sinister motives.

A White House lawyer with direct knowledge said Cheney's lawyer, Addington, wrote the memo. Flanigan passed it to Gonzales, and Gonzales sent it as "my judgment" to Bush. If Bush consulted Cheney after that, the vice president became a sounding board for advice he originated himself.

Yes, Inigo, it's inconceivable.

By that token, somewhere near 50% of all business conversations are Svengali driven.

never mind that you ignored the other examples, or the fact that the pardon power is unlimited.

No one is questioning the president's power to pardon or commute, James. The question is whether it's acceptable for a president to do it for his own officials when he's associated with their crimes.

This problem was anticipated in the Constitutional convention. When George Mason asked whether a president might "pardon crimes which were advised by himself," James Madison suggested impeachment as the proper response. He said, "if the President be connected, in any suspicious manner, with any person, and there be grounds [to] believe he will shelter him, the House of Representatives can impeach him; they can remove him if found guilty ..."

What? What kind of business are you in, anyway? Do your co-workers ever use the phrase "hard-on with a suitcase?"

Are you seriously claiming that passing a fradulent document to the president, fooling him into believing the advice was coming from his own legal counsel, is not Svengali-like behavior?

I would grant, however, that Cheney is indeed "more Elmer Fudd than Ernst Blofield." His comic-book machinations wouldn't be possible under a POTUS with an average IQ.

That was a far, far bigger deal

Marc Rich? Scooter Libby's big client you mean?

FALN?

Yer kidding, right?

Sure, that really compares to the enormity of the mistake in Iraq with hundreds and thousands of dead and millions of refugees and billions missing or misspent.

Presidential Pardons can be useful but their abuse can erode confidence in the system to a dangerous degree.

Case in point here.

This commutation, with an eventual pardon on the horizon for Libby, is unsupportable, no matter how you look at it. The only folk not seeing this have deliberately closed their eyes and drank the Kool-ade down to the bitter dregs.

Impeach Cheney first.

Do it now.

Be Well.

Rogers rationalizes, "The question is whether it's acceptable for a president to do it for his own officials when he's associated with their crimes."

You want to associate Bush with Libby's 3 year old mistake in testimony; a contradiction that had no relevance to any crime, whatsoever?

I have Zero faith in the US Justice system, anymore. When Special Prosecutors abuse their mandate, to quibble about inconsequential bits of testimony, avoiding the FACT that no crime was committed by revealing that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA, and conducting a one-sided, politically motivated (obvious now) investigation -- when this person (Fitzgerald) already knew who leaked Plame's name . . . !

That lack of faith is reinforced by the slavish partisanship of those who literally bury their political head's in the sand to remain ignorant (putatively) in order to spread more untruth about this fiasco of justice! None of you care one whit about the law, except that it can be twisted and spun to seemingly justify your crapulous assertions ...

Then, of course, you are locked-into the lie you invent in this rote of partisan propaganda ... definitely a Lilliputian example of what justice means to the Left ...

Rogers mentions, "Our government was designed to function under a president who feared impeachment the way other democratic leaders in the West fear votes of no confidence or the calling of new elections."

Of course, our Congress would love to enforce a change-of-government with a vote of 'no confidence,' and if it were as easy as all that you say it is. However, the comment underscores your claim, that presidents don't fear impeachment, and supposedly justifies it.

However, shouldn't the comment be directed at Clinton? After all, he is the only president, in the recent past, who has done a high crime (perjury) or a misdeneanor. I know you Democratics would like for a crime to be attached to Bush, but so far you've all fallen woefully short and so are desperately trying to PT Barnum the public into believing there is.

Clinton's 'trial' was another billowing farce in the face of justice -- it seems that that 'jury' can erase perjury, and make it no-crime ... and they aren't the president to have the 'power' to pardon/commute ...

Just imagine that!?!

In other words: lies are just fine, as long as they are spread for political purposes -- then freedom of speech makes it all okay. Justice is a matter of partisanship; whether conducted by Congress or the President. However, the liars must have their stooges who will misinform the dupes; albeit with journalistic credentials ...

"President Bush would never have dared commute Libby's sentence if he had a realistic chance of being removed from office." [emphasis added]

How very freudian ...

Tadowe, as I've been reading your comments on this blog for some time, I've always thought you to be a conservative tool. But I see now I'm wrong, and that you are satirizing actual conservative tools. Good job! You should try out for The Onion.

What? says, " But I see now I'm wrong, and that you are satirizing actual conservative tools."

Perfect! It seems inevitable that those who espouse a 'liberal' philosophy must spin the subject into being about the 'conservative' correspondent they are attempting to rebut. It is actually too difficult a mental challenge to disagree on-point for those on the Left, and so they resort to the shallow tactic of killing-the-messenger.

I think it is a sad commentary on humanity, and specially those on the Left.

Shorter Tadowe: Thhhttpd!

Sorry, I tend to lash out when poked with "The Left" shtick.

I think you're operating under a fundamental misunderstanding of what constitutes a high crime. It has a specific legal meaning; it's an offense against the state, not simply a violation of statute.

Clinton was not impeached for perjury per se (there was a separate argument over whether he should have been tried for the offense in the courts when he left office). Republicans tried - and failed - to make the case that he had abused his authority as president to undermine the integrity of the government and Constitution.

Likewise, Bush would not be impeached for violations of law (although he has done so repeatedly, most egregiously the FISA statute). It would be for exceeding his constitutional authority and failing to take care that the laws are faithfully executed.

This issue is deeply unhelpful to the liberal cause. The alleged crime is a joke, and the real crimes (Valerie Plame sending her incompetent husband on a serious mission, Joe Wilson sucking at said mission and lying about his "findings", and Fitzgerald pretending he didn't know who leaked when he did all along) are being ignored.

We really do have serious problems to attend to, problems that everyone, not just liberals or conservatives, perceive and want solutions to, so when liberals for once pretend they care about keeping covert agents (which Plame isn't and never was) covert it's just silly, a distraction from meaningful issues that can win elections. The very definition of witch hunt, a fishing expedition for Bush or Cheney on a dumb technicality.

It should be easy for the Dems to win in '08. Statistically they can hardly lose, but just watch them over the next year or so. They've already crapped away any approval numbers they had before taking both houses of Congress, and it will get much, much worse. There's no reason they should lose, but they'll do their damnedest and may well get there. I'm absolutely astounded at the tone-deafness of the entire party, and they really don't seem to notice. I mean, Dean as DNC chair? That in itself is worth 10 points to the Republican presidential candidate.

With notable exceptions (For example: Rogers), this seems like an across-the-board thing for liberals, which isn't surprising if one has ever read the Communist Manifesto (shorter Marx: people are dangerous idiots and can't be relied upon to do the right thing, ever, and must be forced to act right for their own good). I remember a debate here about conservative vs. liberal talk radio, and why one enjoyed commercial success and the other didn't. My point then was that much of liberal talk radio has a loserish tone, a whiny, chicken little-y, "it's not fair" tone that neither inspires nor convinces unless you're already a believer. It's not that the ideas aren't good (sometimes); it's that people don't want to hear about problems, they want to hear about solutions. For all his faults, and he has so very many, Rush Limbaugh makes an effort to get his listeners to believe three things:

1. We're right and they're wrong, and that is the natural state of things
2. We're destined to win, they're destined to lose, no matter how long it takes
3. Setbacks are opportunities, not reasons to take your ball and go home

Compare that to Air America's tenets:

1. The game is rigged against us despite our moral superiority
2. The American people are too dumb to know how to vote/shop/eat/listen to music/etc.
3. If we don't revolt/sign Kyoto/impeach Bush/win in '08/invest in Al Gore's carbon credit scam, the world will end

True or not, nobody wants to hear that crap. Just being passionately angry is meaningless. People want solutions, and encouragement, and to feel that their problems (and the country's, and the world's) are manageable, though extreme sacrifice may be necessary.

How sad was Air America the day of the last presidential election? I expected some of the hosts to commit suicide on-air, frankly. It's not interesting, inspiring, or compelling radio (it was for me, because I was gloating, but had I been a liberal that day I would have turned it off forever). It didn't inspire constructive action, just despair.

There's some of that lack of inspiration going on with this Libby thing. People who care really care, people who don't (AKA most of us) are starting to think those who do are deranged. That's no way to increase a voting base.

A document released in March by Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald contained a summary of Valerie Plame's work for the CIA that confirmed her covert status. I think it was extremely serious for the office of the vice president to reveal this to the press to discredit a critic of the war in Iraq and believe it should've been the subject of a Congressional investigation.

Rush Limbaugh broke his own Rule No. 3 after the November elections. I listened to him -- you're not the only one who enjoys listening to the other side suffer on AM radio -- and he made that famous rant about how he "won't carry water anymore" for the Bush administration. He also spent a great deal of time deflecting criticism from people who believe his Michael J. Fox pantomime helped lose Missouri (and by extension the Senate) for the GOP. Good times.

i have a problem with the president pardoning libby.

that said i've seen in a number of places that the senate fell short of the number of votes required to impeach clinton lately. is that so?

i thought they *did* have the votes, that clinton became the 2nd president in US history to be impeached, and then they lacked the votes to actually kick him out of office. still was impeached though.

not interested in this to contradict other points made, just trying to resist revisionist history.

Thanks for the correction -- I did have my terminology wrong. President Clinton was impeached by the House and acquitted by the Senate.

I did not expect him to give Lewis Libby a get-out-of-jail free card

I myself was wondering what all the fus was about. We were watching a mismatch of biblical proportions as it was. The New York Yankees playing little league camps, and the Yankees are the only ones with the bats.

Libby was on the pardon list the day the special prosecutor brought it all down on him. It was only a matter of timing.

That was why it all seems so puzzling to me. Those die-hard GOP supporters are high-fiving themselves while what they just watched was the Yankees spank a bunch of 8 year olds. The game was rigged before the pitcher took the mound at Fiz's first news conference.

And they knew that throughout this.

Why the sudden euphoria?

Why the gnashing of teeth on the other side of the aisle?

All in all, a pretty inevitable result.

The only real surprise I've had in all of this over the past two administrations is best summed up by Rogers:

The rapacious growth of federal power in the hands of a single politician-in-chief is the biggest threat to our form of government, especially when you consider the likelihood of future terror attacks that will bring more efforts to trade liberty for security.

Surprise as in "Where are all the real American patriots when her country desperately needs them?"

Regards,
etc.

I take it back, Plame was 007. Sure, her neighbors, children and everyone else knew she worked for the CIA, and she drove to work through the gates at Langley pretty much every day, but she was undercover, baby. Crazy style.

What's being ignored (among all of my other questions) is why she picked her dickhead husband to do a job he was incompetent to perform and then lied about it. Not to mention Fitzgerald knowing full well who leaked long, long ago.

Cherrypicking is so 2001.

First, try the defense that Valerie Plame wasn't a covert officer.

If that fails, try the defense that "everybody" knew she was covert anyway.

And if that fails, attack Joe Wilson.

This is weak spin, Mikey. What Cheney's crowd did to Plame was as wrong as it was stupid and vindictive. It boggles the imagination to think that the best way Cheney could come up with to discredit a critic in the New York Times was to out his wife. He's the freakin' vice president of the United States. If he pushes a button in his office, a Pundit Signal goes up, Tim Russert, George Stephanopolous and the other Sunday morning hosts slide down their Pundit Poles, and they show up within 10 minutes in their Pundit Mobiles.

As much as I'm sure my main questions will yet again be ignored, let's try this one more time: Plame is a liar and deeply biased in a way that discredits her service more than anyone else could, Wilson is an incompetent liar and even more blinded by his prejudices, fucked up his "investigation" by not actually conducting one and then pretending he did, and Fitzgerald knew who leaked long ago and it wasn't Cheney. Are you seriously trying to tell us Armitage did Cheney's bidding or ever would? Or Russert, or Stephanopolous? Talk about weak spin.

Wilson has discredited himself a thousand times over and needs no help from Bush and co., but it's entirely pertinent to the discussion how he got involved in the first place. He lied about it and so did his wife. When are their perjury trials, exactly?

If liberals are so interested in keeping US secrets secret, how about going after the NYT, or Nancy Pelosi, or Howard Dean, or Bill Clinton? Sandy Berger, maybe? Of course not. It's ludicrous to be so jazzed in one direction but not at all in the other, and even more so to think the rest of us are too dumb to notice their selective interest.

Hey, cling to this fantasy for all the good it will do. It's petty, pointless and a diversion from meaningful matters. We really do have better things to do than rehash this garbage, try to impeach Bush for doing what every prominent Democrat had been threatening for a decade or more, or any of the hundreds of idiotic time-wasters the Dem-controlled congress is doing right now and will continue to do. It's a great way to lose the '08 election, but that's about it in terms of usefulness to anyone at all.

The question is whether it's acceptable for a president to do it for his own officials when he's associated with their crimes.

One, President Bush is not associated with this "crime", per se. Two: Henry Cisneros, John Deutch.

Plame is a liar and deeply biased in a way that discredits her service more than anyone else could, Wilson is an incompetent liar and even more blinded by his prejudices, fucked up his "investigation" by not actually conducting one and then pretending he did, and Fitzgerald knew who leaked long ago and it wasn't Cheney.

I've been following this story from the moment David Corn read Robert Novak's column and asked in The Nation whether the disclosure of Plame's work for the CIA was a crime.

None of the things you're saying about Plame, Wilson or Fitzgerald has any bearing on whether or not it was a crime. All three could be the worst people in the world and it would still be illegal for White House officials to disclose a covert agent's identity to a reporter.

Your assessment of them also has no bearing on whether Libby obstructed justice. He chose to lie, presumably to cover for Cheney's involvement in the campaign to discredit Wilson through media leaks.

All of the things you're saying are after-the-fact rationalizations for bad acts.

Walk me through this. Armitage carried water for Cheney and Bush? He's the "White House official" who's endangered our national security? And yet you've got nothing to say about him, or anyone else who plays games with national security/covert agents/programs/etc. Selective umbrage is pretty unconvincing, Rogers.

My point is simple: the Libby sentence was completely out of context with his crime and clearly meant to be a liberal consolation prize since they can't get anywhere witch hunting Bush or Cheney. And when liberals suddenly feign interest in such matters only when partisan points might be scored, it makes them look dishonest, cynical and unserious. If you think there's mileage to be had in this vein, go crazy. It sure looks crazy from here.

Libby wasn't sentenced on the basis of his crime, he was sentenced on the basis of a crime that no one is alleging he committed. Furthermore, the CIA seems to want nothing to do with the IIPA regs about who's covert and who's not (and by the time she was "outed," she sure as hell wasn't any more, assuming she had ever been), and that in itself should raise major questions about her status.

Plame and Wilson's motivations for lying, not doing their jobs and (in Wilson's case) trying to make political hay in the process are matters for serious consideration, but you're not interested in anyone's bad acts but Republicans, I guess. Fine by me, but don't pretend you're serious about national security, covert status or the law.

I'm selecting for umbrage the two entities most certain to have done something wrong -- Libby for obstructing justice and President Bush for commuting his sentence -- and on Cheney, whose fingerprints are all over this thing. I haven't said anything about Armitage (or Rove) because they weren't prosecuted by Fitzgerald.

I don't buy the idea that Fitzgerald is in the business of giving "consolation prizes" or anything else to liberals. He's a Republican appointee whose decision to prosecute was made under a Republican president and Republican Congress.

But Armitage was the leaker, so who did he leak for, and why? Not Bush or Cheney, surely? Fitzgerald as Republican tool is even harder to fathom.

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