Will Democratic charges that Bush ‘lied’ lead to impeachment?
By Morton Kondracke
The “2006 election is shaping up to be a bitterly fought referendum on President Bush — to the point where, if Democrats win, they just might impeach him.
The I-word” so far is mainly tossed around in the left-wing blogosphere: Barbra Streisand is calling for impeachment on her Web site, for example, as is an unofficial “progressive” site called Democrats.com. But Democratic accusations that Bush lied to get the United States into the Iraq war would seem to lead logically to demands for his removal from office.
The level of venom infusing the Iraq debate, already toxic, has escalated in the past few days as Bush defends himself against charges of lying and Democrats accuse him of “smearing” them and questioning their patriotism.
For example, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., charged that Bush “dishonored America’s veterans and those serving today” by playing “attack politics” in a Veterans Day speech.
In the speech, Bush quoted Kerry, before he voted for the Iraq war, as saying that Saddam Hussein’s “deadly arsenal of weapons of mass destruction is a threat, and a great threat, to our national security.” Bush added that it is “irresponsible” for Democrats to “rewrite the history” of how the United States went to war.
He said that the Democrats’ “baseless attacks send the wrong signal to our troops and an enemy that is questioning our will.” Kerry accused Bush of charging that Democrats were “unpatriotic.”
Kerry also asserted that Bush did not rely on faulty intelligence before the war, “as Democrats did,” but waged “a concerted campaign to twist the intelligence to justify a war (he) had already decided to fight.”
And, said Kerry, “How are the same Republicans who tried to impeach a president over whether he misled a nation about an affair going to pretend it does not matter if the administration intentionally misled the country into war?”
So, here we have the 2004 Democratic presidential candidate using the I-word in an attack on Bush, albeit indirectly. I’d bet it was a trial balloon, designed to get the idea out on the table without having to accept responsibility for actually recommending it.
The idea has been floated previously by some House liberals. Last month, Congressional Quarterly reported that Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., said it “would be an impeachable offense” if evidence proved that Bush or Vice President Cheney authorized aides to mislead lawmakers.
In June, Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., ranking member on the House Judiciary Committee, held a mock impeachment inquiry based on the “Downing Street memo” that claimed Bush had made up his mind to go to war even as he was saying that Hussein could still come into compliance with United Nations resolutions.
Kerry repeated that allegation in the course of charging that “the war in Iraq was and remains one of the great acts of misleading and deception in American history.”
Newspapers also have quoted Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y., as saying that “this administration has committed more impeachable offenses than any other government in history” and Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., as saying that “lying to the Congress about a large public purpose such as Iraq” fit the constitutional test of “high crimes and misdemeanors” better than lying about sex, the offense that led Republicans to impeach former President Bill Clinton.
To be sure, no party leader has mentioned impeachment, but it’s clear that Democrats are eagerly searching for “smoking guns” — positive proof that Bush deceived Congress and/or that Cheney helped leak the name of CIA operative Valerie Plame, wife of Bush critic Joseph Wilson.
The “special investigations division” of the minority staff of the House Government Reform Committee has produced a 30-page report alleging that in 125 appearances before the war, Bush, Cheney and other top officials “made 11 misleading statements about the urgency of Iraq’s threat, 81 misleading statements about Iraq’s nuclear activities, 84 misleading statements about Iraq’s chemical and biological capabilities and 61 misleading statements about Iraq’s relationship with Al Qaeda.”
In response to Bush’s assertions, backed by voluminous citations, that Democrats, too, looked at U.S. intelligence and declared that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, Democrats have shifted ground, declaring either that Bush had privileged information or purposely denied Congress evidence conflicting with his assertions.
The GOP response to that has been to accuse Democrats of partisanship — of accepting Clinton administration WMD assertions as true while now challenging Bush’s. Some Republicans also are producing evidence to rebut charges that Bush withheld evidence that would have disproved his WMD claims.
Regardless of whether Democrats ever file articles of impeachment, it’s now almost inevitable that Bush will be Topic A in the 2006 election, much as Clinton was in the 1994 and 1998 off-year elections.
In 1994, Republicans capitalized on the collapse of Clinton’s health-care agenda to win a net 52 House seats and regain control of both houses of Congress for the first time in 40 years.
But in 1998, even though Clinton’s approval rating descended as low as 39 percent after disclosures that he lied about his affair with Monica Lewinsky, Democrats gained five House seats after Republicans forecast that they would impeach him after the election — as they did.
“We overplayed our hand,” said Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., who later became chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee. “The Democrats had better watch out that they don’t do the same.”
So far, Democrats are at the edge of overplaying their hand. They are riding a wave of popular distrust with Bush’s war policy, and they’re doing everything possible to boost it.
Recently, as Senate Minority leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., was interpreting the Senate as having cast a “vote of no confidence” in Bush’s war policy, his spokesman, Jim Manley, declared that “the contrast between Democrats and Republicans could not be clearer.
“On the same day that Senate Democrats outlined a path for success in Iraq, Republicans launched another round of misleading smears in order to improve their fortunes,” he said.
Manley told me he had heard no discussion among Democratic senators about impeaching Bush. But the level of contempt for Bush among Democrats certainly rivals that among Republicans for Clinton. If they think they have a “smoking gun,” I doubt Democrats can restrain themselves.
- Morton Kondracke is executive editor of Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill