Friday, July 25, 2008

Tammy Baldwin on the need for impeachment proceedings

Wisconsin US Rep Tammy Baldwin on the need for impeachment proceedings, in the "Hearing on Limits of Executive Power"

"I now firmly believe that impeachment hearings are the appropriate and necessary next step"

I saw Tammy Baldwin speak at the Allan Spear lecture at the University of Minnesota last fall. The speech that she gave had the theme "the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice" and while the talk was not about impeachment, we chatted about it afterwards.

Update: A link in the paragraph above to a U of MN Daily article was broken and has been removed. The YouTube account associated with the video embedded on this page has been terminated. Here is the statement in full as posted on the Tammy Baldwin, US House website (Press Releases)

July 25, 2008 12:00 PM

House Judiciary Committee Hearing on
Executive Power and Its Constitutional Limitations

Thank you, Chairman Conyers.
On January 20, 2009, the next president and vice president of the United States will stand before the American people and take an oath of office, swearing to “…preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” This commitment and obligation is so fundamental to our democracy that our nation’s founders proscribed that oath in our Constitution. They also provided for the removal of the president and vice president for, among other things, “high crimes and misdemeanors.”

Presidents and vice presidents do not take that oath in a vacuum. They are informed by the actions or inactions of past presidents and congresses, who establish precedents for the future.

Recently, journalist John Nichols, a constituent of mine, laid out an appropriate metaphor to illustrate this principle. “Let’s say that—when George Washington chopped down the cherry tree that he used the wood to make a little box. And in that box the president puts his powers. We’ve taken things out. We’ve put things in over the years. On January 20th, 2009… this administration will hand off a toolbox with more powers than any president has ever had, more power than the founders could have imagined….[W]ho ever gets it, one of the things we know about power is that people don’t give away the tools. They don’t give them up. The only way that we take tools out of that box is if we sanction….now and say the next president cannot govern as these men have.”

What this Congress does, or chooses not to do in furthering the investigation of the serious allegations against this administration – and if just cause is found, to hold them accountable – will impact the conduct of future presidents, perhaps for generations.

Mr. Chairman, there are those who would say that holding this hearing – examining whether or not the president and vice president broke the law – is frivolous. I not only reject this, I believe there is no task more important for this Congress than to seriously consider whether our nation’s leaders have violated their oath of office. The American public expects no less. It is, after all, their Constitution. No president or congress has the authority to override that document, whereby “We the People” conferred upon the branches of government limited and defined power, and provided for meaningful checks and balances.

Over the past several years, serious questions have been raised about the conduct of high ranking administration officials in relation to some of the most basic elements of our democracy: respect for the rule of law, the principle of checks and balances, and the fundamental freedoms enshrined in the Bill of Rights. In other words, the American people are in doubt as to whether administration officials have fulfilled their oaths of office to preserve, protect, and defend our Constitution.

And their concerns are not insignificant. Americans want to know whether our nation’s highest ranking officials broke the law to justify the invasion of Iraq. Many in our nation and around the world wonder whether today the Bush White House is planning to illegally attack Iran. They wonder, too, whether their private conversations are being listened to by government officials unconcerned about the restraints placed upon them by the Constitution, whether our nation is holding individuals in secret prisons denying them even the right to appear before a judge, to be represented by an attorney, or to confront their accusers. They wonder whether this Administration will forever change what it means to be an American.

As Members of Congress, we, too, have Constitutional obligations. It was my hope that this session, Congress could begin to repair the damage that has been done to our democracy, our Constitution, and our standing in the world. Our nation’s founders proscribed a system of checks and balances, providing for Congressional oversight as a fundamental part of ensuring co-equal branches of government. I believe this gives us no choice but to demand executive branch accountability in any and all forms possible.

I spent much of last year believing that impeachment could be averted if Congress – and particularly this Committee – exercised this Constitutional right, in fact duty, to investigate this Administration’s misdeeds, address their tragic consequences, and right the wrongs we uncovered. Mr. Chairman, under your leadership, we did hold a series of hearings and opened investigations on topics such as the U.S. Attorney firings, the war in Iraq, the Valerie Plame scandal, and other important subjects of Executive Branch accountability.

Yet our efforts on behalf of the American people to hold the White House accountable for the numerous, credible allegations of abuse were blocked at each step. The list of Congressional subpoenas with which administration officials refused to comply is long. Most recently, Karl Rove, the President’s senior advisor, defied a Congressional subpoena to testify on allegations of politicization at the Department of Justice. This Administration has soundly rebuffed nearly every attempt to investigate and made true accountability impossible.

Accordingly, the American people have been forced to sit by while credible allegations of abuse of power mount:

We have seen this Administration fabricate the threat of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and allege, despite all evidence to the contrary, a relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda. These lies dragged our country into a preemptive and unjustified war that has taken the lives of more than 4,000 U.S. troops, injured 30,000 more, and will cost our nation more than a trillion dollars.
We watched as this Administration again undermined national security by manipulating and exaggerating evidence of Iran’s nuclear weapons capabilities and openly threatened aggression against Iran, despite no evidence that Iran has the intention or capability of attacking the U.S.
We have looked on in horror as the Administration suspended habeas corpus by claiming the power to declare any person an “enemy combatant” – ignoring the Geneva Convention protections that the U.S. helped create.
We have seen torture and rendition of prisoners in violation of international law and stated American policy and values, and destruction of the videotaped evidence of such torture, under the tenure of this Administration.
We have seen this Administration spy on Americans without a court order or oversight in violation of the Fourth Amendment.
We watched as U.S. Attorneys pursued politically-motivated prosecutions in violation of the law and perhaps at the direction of this White House.
We watched as Administration officials outed Valerie Plame Wilson as a covert agent of the CIA and then intentionally obstructed justice by disseminating false information through the White House press office.

As we know, the framers of our Constitution called for impeachment only in the case of high crimes and misdemeanors. The standard is purposely set high because we should not impeach for personal or political gain – only to uphold and safeguard our democracy. Sadly, in my judgment, at least two high ranking administration officials have met that standard. Although the call to impeach is one I take neither easily nor lightly, I now firmly believe that impeachment hearings are the appropriate and necessary next step.

Tammy Baldwin is a candidate for US Senate for Wisconsin in 2012

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