NSA spy plot fuels call to censure Bush, Cheney

Revelations that President George W. Bush ordered the National Security Agency to engage in massive spying on law-abiding people, in flagrant violation of federal law, have ignited a firestorm of angry demands that he and Vice President Dick Cheney be censured or even impeached.

Asked about the NSA spying, Rep. John L. Lewis (D-Ga.) told a radio interviewer Dec. 19 that he would vote for impeachment if a resolution is introduced in the House. “It’s a very serious charge, but he violated the law,” said Lewis, a veteran of the 1960s civil rights movement. “He deliberately, systematically violated the law. He is not king, he is president.”

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) sent an open letter to four presidential scholars asking their views on whether Bush committed an “impeachable offense” in ordering the NSA wiretapping without a warrant in violation of the Fourth Amendment.

Boxer had appeared Dec. 18 on a television interview program with John Dean, the former White House counsel who exposed Richard Nixon’s Watergate cover-up. Dean said Bush “is the first president to admit an impeachable offense.” In her letter, Boxer wrote, “I take very seriously Mr. Dean’s comments as I view him to be an expert on presidential abuse of power. … Unchecked surveillance of American citizens is troubling to both me and many of my constituents. … I am expecting a full airing of this matter by the Senate in the very near future.”

The NSA spying operation was exposed in a story The New York Times postponed publishing for one year at the request of the Bush administration. The article bolstered a Senate filibuster by Sens. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) and Larry Craig (R-Idaho) against extending the repressive USA Patriot Act. In a stunning defeat for the administration, the Patriot Act was extended for only one month, until Feb. 3.

Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), meanwhile, introduced a series of resolutions to establish a select committee to lay the groundwork for possible impeachment of Bush for “manipulation of pre-war intelligence, encouraging and countenancing torture, retaliating against critics, and thwarting congressional oversight” of the president’s conduct in misleading the nation into the war in Iraq.

Two other resolutions would censure Bush and Cheney “for failing to respond to requests for information concerning allegations he and others in his administration misled Congress and the American people regarding the decision to go to war in Iraq.”

David Swanson, spokesman for the grassroots internet coalition AfterDowningStreet.org, told the World the movement to censure or impeach Bush and Cheney is surging. Town hall meetings are planned in 70 towns and cities Jan. 7 supporting Conyers’ resolutions. The coalition plans a Jan. 9 national “call-in” to Congress supporting the resolutions. Noting that the resolutions were drafted before the NSA spying scandal erupted, Swanson added, “Certainly the NSA spying is dangerous, but the Iraq war has killed 100,000 people. There can be no more impeachable offense than taking the nation to war based on lies.”

Tim Carpenter, executive director of Progressive Democrats of America, said his group, which has close ties to the House Progressive Caucus, “is mobilizing and organizing a broad-based coalition to demand action by Congress” on Conyers’ resolutions. He said PDA will work hard to elect progressive Democrats to take back the House from the Republican ultra-right in November.

The American Civil Liberties Union’s full-page advertisement in The New York Times Dec. 22 and 29 featured photos of Richard Nixon and Bush, charging both “lied to the American people and broke the law.” The ad demands that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales appoint a special counsel to prosecute “any and all criminal acts committed by any member of the Executive Branch in the warrantless electronic surveillance of the people in the United States over the past four years by the NSA.”

Instead, Gonzales launched a dragnet probe to uncover the identity of the whistleblower who exposed the NSA spying operation. ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero blasted Gonzales’ cover-up and demanded the attorney general halt the probe and appoint a special counsel to investigate the spying instead.

The decision to launch the spy operation was controversial even within the Justice Department. In March 2004, while then-Attorney General John Ashcroft was hospitalized for gall bladder surgery, his deputy, James B. Comey, refused to certify the NSA spying. Bush’s top aides Andrew H. Card and Gonzales went to George Washington University Hospital to get Ashcroft himself to sign off on the spy plan.

Bush brazenly defended the spying as essential to uphold national security.