June 20, 2008 – In an opening statement Friday morning before former White House press secretary Scott McClellan’s highly anticipated testimony in front of the House Judiciary Committee, the panel’s Democratic Chairman, John Conyers, said the Bush administration may have committed an an “impeachable offense” by launching a “propaganda campaign” to win support for a U.S. led invasion of Iraq in March 2003.
The Judiciary Committee is receiving testimony from McClellan about whether White House officials, including President Bush and Vice President Cheney, obstructed justice or broke other federal laws in an attempt to cover-up the roles of senior administration officials who unmasked covert CIA operate Valerie Plame’s identity to the media. McClellan published a book, What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and the Culture of Washington Deception, earlier this month that suggested Bush and Cheney played a bigger role in the scandal than they have publicly acknowledged.
Additionally, McClellan wrote that the White House mislead the public about Iraq’s arsenal of chemical and biological weapons and the threat the country posed to the U.S.
Conyers’ opening statement prior to the start of the hearing signaled that he may be inclined to consider a vote on the 35 articles of impeachment introduced against President Bush two weeks ago by his colleague, Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich. The House voted 251-166 to send the impeachment articles to the Judiciary Committee for consideration.
“What Scott McClellan wrote in his new book about the administration’s propaganda campaign to promote and defend the occupation of Iraq was not a revelation,” Conyers’ opening statement says. “It was confirmation that the White House has played fast and loose with the truth in a time of war. Depending on how one reads the Constitution, that may or may not be an impeachable offense.”
Conyers did not elaborate on impeachment beyond what he said in his opening statement. A spokesman for Conyers did not return calls for comment. In the past, the Michigan congressman has said publicly that he did not support Democratic efforts to impeach President Bush. Last year, a resolution introduced by Kucinich to impeach Cheney died in Conyers’ committee.
Talk of impeachment, however, was not limited to Conyers’ opening statement. Several Democratic members of the Judiciary Committee, including Robert Wexler, and Sheila Jackson Lee, discussed the need for impeachment hearings based on revelations that McClellan made in his book.
Wexler and Jackson Lee’s comments lead Republican Congressman Dan Lungren to remark that the hearing was beginning to sound like “Kucinich light.” Lungren questioned whether McClellan’s motive in appearing before the committee was to make a case for impeaching President Bush.
“You didn’t come here believing that someone should be impeached did you?” Lungren asked McClellan. The former press secretary told Lungren that he did not support impeachment.
“I have listened to my colleagues refer to impeachment four different times and we have been told by the leadership that impeachment is off the table,” Lungren said, quoting Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. “We’re not hear to bring up an impeachment resolution.”
In an interview with The Public Record Thursday, Kucinich said he was scheduled to meet with Conyers Thursday evening to discuss how the Judiciary Committee will deal with the impeachment articles he introduced. However, the former 2008 Democratic presidential candidate said he was unclear on what course of action Conyers would take in the weeks ahead with regard to the articles of impeachment. Kucinich has vowed that he would continue to reintroduce articles of impeachment against President Bush if the Judiciary Committee does not take up the matter within the next 30 days.
“I have informed the leadership of the House should they fail to hold hearings I would come back to the Congress in 30 days with even more articles,” Kucinich told The Public Record. “I may have to do this one or two more times before I get their attention.”
Kucinich said Congressional hearings, such as the one taking place in the Judiciary Committee with McClellan, “reduces Congress to a debating society” if lawmakers fail to hold the Executive Branch accountable for their alleged misdeeds.
“How many hearings do we need to have to establish that this administration has violated the Constitution,” Kucinich said. “There is a point at which you reduce congress to a debating society, which diminishes Congress’ oversight role. It sets a terrible precedent.”
Conyers certainly appears to be probing whether the new revelations about Bush and Cheney’s role in the Plame leak–an incident directly linked to to the exposure of the White House’s use of fraudulent prewar Iraq intelligence–amount to High Crimes and Misdemeanors.
In a letter sent June 5 to Attorney General Michael Mukasey, Conyers and Subcommittee Chairman Linda Sanchez, (D-Calif.), demanded the Justice Department turn over transcripts of Bush and Cheney’s interviews with CIA leak investigator Patrick Fitzgerald and other documents obtained by the special prosecutor during the course of his three-year investigation.
A June 13 letter written by Deputy Attorney General Keith Nelson in response to Conyers and Sanchez’s inquiry to the DOJ indicated that the lawmakers are trying to build a criminal case against the White House.
“Committee staff has indicated that in this newly-initiated inquiry, the Committee’s interest focuses on alleged White House attempts to cover up the involvement of White House officials in the leak and whether such attempts constitute an obstruction of justice or other violation of federal criminal law,” Nelson wrote.
Nelson refused to turn over the leak documents to the Judiciary Committee claiming the panel does not have “government-wide oversight jurisdiction and it does not have jurisdiction over the White House.”
While we appreciate that the Committee has oversight authority over the Department of Justice, we do not understand how the Committee’s jurisdiction could extend to the alleged conduct at the White House,” says Nelson’s letter to Conyers and Sanchez. “The executive branch has substantial confidentiality interests in these documents, which have been created and maintained by the Department but consist of White House information.”
“Additionally, we note that it is the responsibility of this Department to investigate possible violations of the criminal law, not the responsibility of any committee of Congress. Moreover, this theory of oversight jurisdiction would suggest that the Judiciary Committee could investigate allegations of this kind anywhere in the executive branch. We are not aware that the Committee has exercised this kind of jurisdiction in the past,” Nelson wrote.
Nelson’s response angered Conyers and Sanchez. They fired off a response to Nelson Wednesday that said they intended to subpoena the Justice Department “unless we receive a clear commitment to promptly produce these documents by next Tuesday, June 24.”
“There is absolutely no proper basis for this action… it’s patently absurd… and an affront to the entire Congress,” Conyers and Sanchez responded Wednesday in a letter to Nelson. “Both the rules and our previous oversight activity concerning the Fitzgerald investigation plainly encompass the current inquiry, and the notion that our oversight concerning criminal law enforcement should somehow stop at the gates of the White House has no proper basis.”