Impeachment: What are the qualifications?

Wikipedia indicates that impeachment is often misunderstood and the constitution explains that:

For the executive branch, only those who have allegedly committed “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors” may be impeached

Now let’s look at what a recent article by Orson Scott Card said by highlighting an also recent Doonesbury cartoon:

The comic strip, by Garry Trudeau, shows a professor teaching a class, in which he compares two presidents — Bush and Clinton. Of Bush he says, “The first president initiates a bloody, costly, unending war on false premises … and approves covert policies of illegal detentions, kangaroo courts, extraordinary renditions, torture, and warrantless wiretapping of thousands of Americans.”

Of Clinton, he says, “The second president lies about hooking up with an intern. Question: Which one should be impeached?”

Simply looking at the text of the comic, once can obviously tell that the Trudeau is a Democrat and is bitter about the impeachment of Bill Clinton.

So was Bill Clinton guilty of Impeachment? According to the Wikipedia article both should be impeached if what Trudeau says about Bush is true.

Here’s the significant difference: Bush’s transgressions are still very much left to interpretation. Clinton lied under oath and it has been proven. I don’t think even liberals will disagree with the fact that he committed perjury. They just argue that it’s not a big deal.

So if Bush is convicted of wrongdoing he will and should be impeached. But until then, there shouldn’t even be talk of impeachment.

As for the rest of the article, I think Card gets a little too personal and gets into too much name-calling. But a few good points are hidden behind the personal attacks. The following paragraph hits the spot:

Because democracy is loathsome to elitists like Trudeau. They sneer at the thought that all those stupid Arabic-speaking people could ever have a working democracy, because they don’t even like the working democracy America has. They believe government should be run only by Smarty-Pants like them, not by the unwashed masses who stupidly elect President who don’t pronounce “nucular” the way they do.

Does this fall in line with what The Idealist says about the rich and powerful wanting to control government? This statement seems a little more geared toward the left, but can it be applied to both?

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11 Responses

  1. Dave W. says:

    Dan, let’s first clear up what the process of impeachment is (in a presidential sense). It is the House voting that the President has done committed a high crime or misdemeanor. Impeachment is analogous to indictment and does not necessarily remove the President from office. That requires a conviction in a trial by the Senate.

    What constitutes a high crime or misdemeanor is not defined in the Constitution and is therefore left up to the House to decide. Clinton probably deserved to be impeached, and maybe convicted.

    Bush also is deserving of impeachment in my opinion. The things that Trudeau mentions as justification, (“covert policies of illegal detentions, kangaroo courts, extraordinary renditions, torture, and warrantless wiretapping of thousands of Americans) are still playing out in the courts. The Supreme Court already ruled that Bush’s plan for trying Gitmo detainees was illegal. The Congress tried to tweak it late last year to make it pass muster, so it’s going through the court system again. Congress also tweaked bills on torture and wiretapping to make them more legal after the fact. I think in the near future, many of the anti-terrorism measures Bush has taken will be ruled illegal.

    In addition to the domestic illegal violations of civil liberties, he started a war. The internationally recognized rules for “just war” are:
    1. A just cause.
    2. The right intention.
    3. The right authority.
    4. Reasonable hope of success.
    5. A favorable balance between good achieved compared with harm caused.

    With hindsight being 20/20, I can’t fault Bush for missing all of these. We had a reasonable expectation with America’s military and technology that 4 & 5 would be a snap. And 1 & 2 are debatable until the cows come home because we can’t know what was truly in the hearts and minds of policy-makers.

    However, he was in clear violation of #3. The U.S. has no authority to attack another sovereign state. The authority it attempted to get through the U.N. was denied. And because 1 & 2 were debated hotly even then, he had no overwhelming moral authority to do so (besides, claiming such would have been essentially telling the world that God wanted him to invade Iraq).

    Therefore, Bush started an “illegal” war, which, in my opinion, would rank as a high crime or misdemeanor.

    – Dave

  2. Reluctant says:

    The Supreme Court already ruled that Bush’s plan for trying Gitmo detainees was illegal. The Congress tried to tweak it late last year to make it pass muster, so it’s going through the court system again. Congress also tweaked bills on torture and wiretapping to make them more legal after the fact. I think in the near future, many of the anti-terrorism measures Bush has taken will be ruled illegal.

    The fact that they are still tied up in court also implies that they are not criminal acts. Just because they are ruled unconstitutional doesn’t mean it’s criminal. Impeachment is related to a criminal act, not just a dumb (or unconstitutional) policy.

    However, he was in clear violation of #3. The U.S. has no authority to attack another sovereign state. The authority it attempted to get through the U.N. was denied.

    See above. Even if it is an illegal war, it’s still in the bucket of stupid or unconstitutional. Not criminal. Remember that he was granted the right by congress to declare war. He couldn’t do that without them.

  3. Mike W. says:

    Dan,

    As bright as I think Card is, I think that he is a little blinded by ideology about who is the rich and elite. For him to characterize the left as being elitists and thinking that they are the only one’s smart enough to run the government is absolutely right. However, the elite on the right feel the same way, they just both want to do it for different reasons (actually no, they both want control so that they can protect their wealth; they just each want to be the ones in control). That he gets off calling Trudeau an elitist is kind of funny. Trudeau is likely as much an elitist as OSC.

    Dave,

    I’m going to be lukewarm on the issue of impeachment. I have to side with Dan in this case so far as if Congress wanted to check him, they should have done it before the war. Congress dropped the ball because Republicans in Congress (I know, a lot of Democrats voted for the war also) felt that their duty was to support the party’s president instead of doing their job as defined by the Constitution.

    That said, I don’t think that impeachment is unreasonable, given the trampling of the Constitution that has been done by this administration. Andrew Johnson was impeached for political differences. Perhaps it would send a message to all future presidents to stay within the boundries set by the Constitution.

  4. Reluctant says:

    You are probably right that both the right and left are elitists. But for different reasons… the left thinks they are smarter than the right and the right thinks they are more righteous than the left.

  5. Dave W. says:

    Dan,
    Point 1: The fact that Bush’s policies are still tied up in courts does NOT mean they are not illegal. It simply means that there is no precedent (stare decisis) for these issues because they have never yet come before the courts.

    The fact that they have to change the LAW to accommodate Bush overtly implies that what he was doing was against current LAW (in other words, illegal). And the fact that their attempt at it failed to pass muster with the highest body of LAW review in the nation overtly implies that he wasn’t even close to legal.

    Point 2: The Constitution does not address justification for war. The Founders probably assumed the checks and balances they had put into the system would suffice and that the administration wouldn’t lie to the Congress to get approval. The “illegality” of the war is based on traditional justifications of war much older than the U.S. Constitution, rooted in the writings of poeple like St. Agustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, etc. There is no enforceable international law to prosecute him, but the war was “illegal” in the court of tradition in international relations–and it’s execution has been “criminal” in a much larger sense of the word.

  6. Dave W. says:

    One more clarification: Clinton was indeed impeached by the House. He was acquitted by the Senate.

  7. Dave W. says:

    One more: my previous comment regarding Clinton’s impeachment and subsequent acquittal shows that impeachment has become more of a political tool than a procedural tool. The Republicans in the House had the votes to impeach, but those in the Senate did not have the votes to convict. It’s just another abuse of the Constitution for political gain.

  8. Reluctant says:

    1. Ok… so I mis-worded that. The fact that they are tied up in court obviously indicates that the law needs clarification, thus they are not deemed illegal already. If everyone knows that they are already illegal, there would be different types of court proceedings. There would have been criminal charges which would then be tied up in the court.

    An addition, changing the law doesn’t always mean changing the legality of something. Often it means a clarification of existing law.

    2. Ok. Hypothetically, let’s go ahead and accept your position. If it were so illegal, why were there so many supporters of the war? And regardless of why they supported it (we’ve been over that), why is all the blame focused on President Bush? Why is he the criminal in this? What about all the others that supported and voted for the war?

  9. Dave W. says:

    Point 1: More clarification: The U.S. judicial system is not a quality assurance department that makes sure everything coming out of Congress is constitutional. Here’s how these things happen: Congress enacts a law > a citizen brings suit > the suit is brought to court > the court rules > the losers appeal > the suit is heard again by an appellate court and several other appellate and district courts until it is petitioned to the Supreme Court > from here, the Court has the option to grant certiorari (an affirmation it will hear the case). It usually only grants certiorari if the Justices feel the most recent ruling is questionable or if the case is controversial (meaning the Justices might have differing opinions). And many Supreme Court cases are granted certiorari only for a small portion of the full case (e.g., “can a certain action be called harassment?” rather than “is a person is guilty of harassment?”).

    In the current situation, the cases have been filed and are making their way through the court system until 1) one side gives up (not likely in these cases) or 2) the Supreme Court has its say. If the law is changed, the Supreme Court does not automatically review it; it waits until the case is brought before it again. Once stare decisis is established and the action is indeed determined to be a “crime,” then charges can be filed.

    It’s true that addenda to laws are often filed for clarification, but not in this case; the Supreme Court said Bush’s proposed methods of trying Gitmo prisoners was unconstitutional/illegal, and the law was changed to try to make room for his plan.

    One more thing, I think you’re confusing criminal law and constitutional law. The older meaning of “misdemeanor” is “misdeed” or “wrongdoing.” Therefore, the action by the President does not have to be a crime; it can be a constitutional (or otherwise) misdeed.

    Point 2: The support for the war grew from anger about 9/11, manufactured fear of Iraq’s inclination to attack the U.S., xenophobia and religious ignorance (remember Dubai Ports World?), and general ignorance on the part of the American citizenry regarding the rest of the world and international law.

    The war was Bush’s idea, not Congress’; it was his “evidence”; it was his staff that fabricated and manipulated information; it was his responsibility. The drunk driver can blame the bartender, the brewer, the friend who didn’t take away his keys, and his wife who makes him so mad, but ultimately he’s the one who took the keys, started the engine and pulled into traffic.

  10. Dave W. says:

    Dan, on a good note, Wednesday the FISA Court and the White House have agreed on a procedure to have hertofore warrantless NSA wiretapping go through a FISA process. This makes me feel a little more comfortable (it’s what they should have done from the beginning).

    The new Democratic Congress is still looking to investigate the policy and procedure.

  11. Reluctant says:

    I noticed that… and thought it was a good move.

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