December 20, 2005
On the seventh anniversary of the House’s decision to impeach then-President Bill Clinton, a pair of leading Congressional Democrats raised the specter of impeachment regarding President Bush’s authorization of domestic spying by the National Security Agency.
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) on Monday sent a letter to legal scholars asking their opinion of whether Bush’s actions, revealed last week, amount to an unconstitutional action that warrants Congress considering impeachment proceedings.
Boxer, the Chief Deputy Minority Whip, appeared on a radio program over the weekend with Nixon White House Counsel John Dean, who said that the NSA executive order was an impeachable offense. Boxer said Dean’s statement prompted her to consider the matter and issue the letter to other legal scholars, asking their opinion on the matter and vowing to see the issue explored in the Senate.
“I take very seriously Mr. Dean’s comments, as I view him to be an expert on Presidential abuse of power. I am expecting a full airing of this matter by the Senate in the very near future,” she said in a statement.
Boxer’s letter came on the same day that Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), who is currently Senior Chief Deputy Minority Whip for House Democrats, flatly accused Bush of breaking the law and signaling that impeachment proceedings should be considered.
“He violated the law,” Lewis said in a radio interview in Atlanta. “The president should abide by the law. He deliberately, systematically violated the law. He is not king, he is president.”
Raising the specter of impeaching Bush has been something generally uttered only by the far fringes of the liberal movement in the wake of the war in Iraq, although a few House Democrats mentioned the phrase during his first term.
Boxer and Lewis are easily the most senior Democrats to even consider whether his actions on NSA spying were impeachable offenses, a sign of how serious they consider the issue and how much the president’s political standing his slipped in the past year.
Top Senate Republicans considered even the talk of impeachment to be irresponsible, saying so many facts about the NSA program were still not known. “It’s irresponsible to even be talking in such terms before any of the facts are on the table,” Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) said.
“That’s utterly absurd, utterly absurd,” Senate Majority Whip Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) echoed.
And some top Democrats also shied away from discussing such a controversial topic.
Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.), who has been at odds with the liberal wing of his party over the conduct of the war in Iraq, said he considered it far too early to begin talking about the issue.
“Impeachment, that’s a last resort,” he said. “It’s way premature to start using words like that.”
And the man who lost to Bush in 2004, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), also balked at the impeachment talk. “I just haven’t gotten to that evaluation,” Kerry said.
The issue has struck a chord in Congress, with even leading Republicans worried about the constitutional issues at hand. Senate Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) said Monday that he was so far not sufficiently pleased with the explanations for the NSA authorization offered to him by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.