News Counterpoint

So, what is an impeachable offense?

I like to think of the Bush Administration as the negative-space presidency because it’s been so instructive in what is not an impeachable offense.

Fabricating an imminent threat to justify taking the country to war? Nope.

Lying about fabricating an imminent threat to justify taking the country to war? Nope.

Leaking a covert operative’s name to get back at her husband because he pointed out that the “evidence” was fabricated? Huh-uh.

Claiming nearly three years later that you authorized the leak with your magical presidential authority (which with each passing day looks more like papal infallibility than constitutional power)?

Please, don’t make me laugh.

Personally, I find the unbridled fuck-you of that last maneuver to be more insulting than the original underhanded move to discredit Joseph Wilson.

The possibilities for artful dodging in this scenario seem endless, and the administration has floated several trial balloons: Bush authorized a general leak, but left it up to Cheney to choose what specifically to dole out. Bush didn’t specify Libby as the leak mule. The leak “helped people to see the truth.” (The president actually said that last one.)

According to poll numbers over the last several months, more than half of the American people did see the truth. But given Bush’s miserable ratings, which have spent more time in the 30s than a Minnesota spring, I’m not sure it’s the “truth” that he had in mind. It’s true, for instance, that this White House has made a campaign of pursuing political leaks that didn’t come from their camp. It’s also true that Colin Powell and Condoleeza Rice misrepresented what they knew about pre-war Iraqi weapons and pre-9-11 government intelligence, respectively.

Then again, it’s also true that the American public doesn’t seem too riled up about it. Yeah, he sucks, seems to be the general sentiment, but what can you do?

Predictably John Kerry and other Democrats have come down hard on Bush, and the administration’s blatant mockery of presidential authority has made even some Republican senators uncomfortable.

“I do say that there’s been enough of a showing here with what’s been filed of record in court that the President of the United States owes a specific explanation to the American people ... about exactly what he did,” Arlen Specter (the closest thing to a paragon of virtue within a country mile of Capitol Hill) of Pennsylvania told Fox News Sunday.

And Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona cut to the heart of the matter on CNN’s Late Edition: “I don’t think there’s any evidence that the president told the vice president to go leak information to the press.”

If a presidential directive falls in the Oval Office and only Dick Cheney is there to hear it ... it’s fair to ask if it really happened. Cheney is the guy, after all, who held secret meetings with energy executives to shape policy and then disavowed Club Enron when its house of cards collapsed. (Sometimes I fantasize about that scene at the end of The Lion King, when the traitorous uncle is left to the cold mercy of the hyenas he once led. But that’s a tale for another day.)

At, more than 700,000 people have signed a referendum asking the House to get on with it while we still have a democracy left to save. That’s a fraction of the 122 million votes cast in the 2004 election, but those 122 million were only 55 percent of the voting-age population. The most recent poll numbers for the Plame scandal (released before Fitzgerald’s revelations) indicated that more than half of the American people thought it was a serious matter if the administration was involved in leaking Plame’s name to the press.

One of the articles of impeachment brought against Clinton was abuse of power (it failed by a wide margin), but the House did impeach him on grounds of perjury to a grand jury and obstruction of justice. Can I get a “yeah” for Bush abuse of power? How about having a look at that grand-jury testimony?

If impeachment and conviction of the Vice President and President are a means for protecting our democracy and not just political tools for abusing adversaries, it’s time for lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to stand up for the Constitution and say, Yes, when you push this democracy too far, it will push back.