From Liberty Street: Indictment?

John Turner

I have taken the position that trying to impeach George W. Bush would be more trouble than it's worth. It would probably not be possible and the energy it would consume could be better used elsewhere. I'm still of that opinion but I confess that after hearing a talk by Elizabeth de la Vega on Book TV yesterday I'm less certain than I used to be.

She is a former federal prosecutor and the author of a book titled U.S. v. Bush et al. She put the book together in the same manner she would have worked up a fraud case she was prosecuting, making timelines to check how statements related to one another, and using only hard evidence with no opinions or suppositions. Furthermore, she prepared her argument to address a particular crime which is stated clearly in the U.S. Criminal Code, the provision that says members of one branch of government cannot use fraud to undermine the legitimate functions of other branches.

When the case was completed, the evidence was overwhelming. In fact, she had to leave much of it out of the book because if she had included everything she would have used in an actual trial, the text would have become too long to be published.

In her mind there is no question. George W. Bush and the leading members of his administration have committed high crimes against the Congress of the United States and against the citizens of the nation.

Her manner in presenting this evidence is calm, quiet, and not passionate. But her conclusions are firm. And it seems to me anyone who listened to them carefully would have a hard time refuting them. George Bush defrauded the nation by using evidence he knew was false in order to spend billions of dollars and take tens of thousands of lives. It's hard to conceive of a crime higher than that.

Ms. de la Vega concentrates on six days in September of 2002, when the president and all his chief officials were ramping up the case for invading Iraq. And over and over, she shows, they concealed evidence any court would have considered relevant, and, at times, used blatant falsehoods.

Some of the incidents she analyzes would be comical if they weren't so sad. In the case of the famed aluminum tubes the administration put forward as evidence that Iraq was trying to construct nuclear weapons, she shows that the tubes were bought openly over the internet, had exactly the characteristics needed for the purposes the Iraqis said they were being purchased for, and were three times too long, three times too thick, three times too big around, and coated with a substance that would have had to be removed before they could be used to develop weapons. It probably would have been impossible to adapt them, and certainly it would have required far more labor than to have built them from scratch. The Bush administration knew this and, yet, officials continued to cite these tubes as evidence the Iraqis were trying to build nuclear bombs. De la Vega says this argument alone would constitute fraud in any case she knows of, and common sense tells us it was fraudulent in high degree.

During the question and answer period a member of the audience asked her whether this was not just political spin of the sort we have come to expect in public debate. And she explained very clearly the difference between trying to bring someone around to your point of view and trying to defraud him. Again her argument was clear and persuasive.

In terms of strict legality, the rules are the same in a trial of the president by the Senate as they are in a U.S. Court. But, of course, we know the two processes are actually quite different and political issues play a much larger part in an impeachment proceeding than would be allowed by any fair-minded judge. We saw that demonstrated recently in the case of President Clinton. The "crimes" of which he was accused would probably have never been pressed in a federal court case, and certainly did not rise to the level indicated by the term "high crimes and misdemeanors." As Ms. de la Vega pointed out, it is an abuse of the Constitution to use the impeachment process for political ends, one reason being that it causes the public to be reluctant to use it for the purposes it was intended to serve. She didn't say so explicitly, but the implication was clear that if Mr. Clinton had not been impeached the likelihood of seeing charges brought against Mr. Bush would be much greater.

She, herself is not advocating impeachment. She is simply saying that if it were to happen, the case against the president and his principal advisors is very strong. And she thinks that's something the American people ought to know.

My weakness, I suppose, is that I'm not a punitive minded person. I don't see much connection between justice and punishment. In the case of George Bush, justice will be served if the people come to see what he has actually done and what the cost has been. That will be much better for the country than if he were technically convicted of a crime. And if public enlightenment occurs, Elizabeth de la Vega deserves to be seen as one of its servants.

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Harvard Square Commentary, February 12, 2007