It’s clear now that the major thrust to be used by democrats in the fall elections for Senate and House seats will be that of impeachment. Having been unable to turn the Congress around in the last 10 or so years, except for the Senate during that short time after Senator Jeffords switched parties in 2001, and having watched George Bush take the presidency twice, the democrats are realizing that they have no chance on the issues and so must stake their chances on appealing to the elements of their base – principally women, African Americans and Hispanics – on the basis of getting out the vote in order to impeach the president in the House and then try for a conviction in the Senate. Actually, it wouldn’t matter if conviction didn’t happen in the Senate – 67 votes needed for conviction, not a likely happening – since the only effort will be pointed at regaining the Congress. President Clinton was impeached by the House on two articles in 1998 (only a majority vote needed), but was not convicted in the Senate on either.
The “wiretapping” matter will be the issue grasped by the democrats, who have lost some of their pet projects such as help with medicine for senior citizens, already handled by the administration and Congress, and who perhaps have realized that their refusal to cooperate in any way to manage the Social Security problem has put them in a bad light. The surveillance matter has just fallen in their lap, with the help of such left-wing media propagandists as the New York Times, the credibility of which is about on a par with that of Dan Rather. The attempt will be made to paint the administration as eavesdropping indiscriminately and without the proper warrants on private citizens, industries, organizations, etc.
The word is that Congressman John Conyers, D-Mich., would become chairman of the House Committee that would handle impeachment hearings, and there can certainly be no doubt that Conyers, an African American, would pursue that effort. According to Knight-Ridder writer Jim Puzzanghera, Conyers is already a leading proponent of starting an official impeachment inquiry and has introduced legislation to set up an investigation to that end. In a House controlled by the republicans, as is presently the case, he would just be blowing smoke, but if the House should revert to democrat control, he could and doubtlessly would pursue the impeachment vehicle. On the other side of the aisle, Senator Boxer, D-Cal., is reported by Puzzanghera as getting into the act, as has former Vice President Al Gore, who is seen by many as an actual presidential contender in 2008.
General Michael Hayden is the principal deputy director of national intelligence in the National Security Agency, and probably is the most knowledgeable federal official with respect to the “wiretapping” matter. I watched a good part of his appearance before the National Press Club (C-Span) the other day, especially during the Q&A session. He was, of course, appearing before a hugely hostile group, the mainstream media being about as pro-democrat and anti-Bush as possible. He explained the emergency surveillance procedure in greater detail than one would have thought possible, given the sensitivity and absolutely required secrecy endemic to the National Security Agency’s work. He took extreme care in explaining that the surveillance was strictly a foreign-intelligence matter and that only communications between a U.S. resident and a foreign respondent or other kind of contact was a subject for examination. He gave assurance that domestic interplay is not the business he is in, and that no citizen need be wary of government intrusion into private affairs or communications.
General Hayden also went to some pain to explain that the system in use has been thoroughly vetted by the Justice Department with respect to Constitutional guarantees of privacy, and that the appropriate members of Congress have been thoroughly and consistently briefed and that no exception has been taken by them to the methods employed in maintaining the surveillance. Those members, such as Senator Rockefeller, who claim or will claim that they didn’t know what was going on – that they were fooled, essentially – are either admitting unmitigated ignorance or are simply blowing smoke.
I also took in the conversation recently between Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and Jim Lehrer on the latter’s evening news/commentary program on Public Television. The AG made it plain that the president is acting within the constraints and directives of the law. The constant allusion by the president’s detractors to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 enacted in peacetime as somehow being violated because some conversations have been or are being monitored without the securing of a warrant within 72 hours needs to be seen in light of the fact that the nation is at war presently, not in peace, and facing the use of technology that renders the securing of huge numbers of warrants impossible within that time-frame, or perhaps at all. In addition, the FISA requirements must be viewed as juxtaposed with the Congressional resolution granting the president the authority to conduct what is actually a war. This gives him powers that, while not allowing him to infringe upon the civil liberties of citizens, make it possible for him to take all reasonable measures to guarantee the safety of the public. The fact that no citizen has come forward and made a claim that his/her rights have been violated in the years the president’s directive has been enforced is graphic proof that no rights have been abridged. When that is balanced with the fact that the surveillance, according to those in the know, has foreclosed harmful actions by terrorists either in the country or operating outside it, the president’s actions are to be lauded.
From a pragmatic standpoint, there could be little objection if surveillance of suspected terrorist operatives in this country, i.e., tapping their correspondence within the country, were carried out. The government states flatly that Muslim “sleeper cells” designed to do great harm are in residence. Some of the hijackers of 9/11 lived in this country, took flying lessons in this country, and otherwise were on-scene, but went unnoticed. This was partly – most likely, largely – due to the “wall” that had been set up in the 90s in the Clinton/Reno Justice Department to prevent, for instance, the FBI exchanging information with the CIA. The operative document introducing this “wall” was prepared by Jamie Gorelick, ironically a member of the 9/11 Commission, who worked in the Reno establishment. Her complicity (more accurately, ineptness) in this matter was pointed out by then-Attorney General John Ashcroft in his appearance before the committee. I saw this segment of the hearing on TV in 2004 and can without fear of contradiction say that Ashcroft’s demeanor was grim, to say the least.
The attempt will be made to tie the surveillance matter to the worn-out and constantly disproved assertion that the president lied to the nation with respect to invading Iraq. This won’t wash, especially since so many other intelligence-agencies throughout the world agreed on Saddam’s ownership of WMD. The impeachment effort will be front and center this year and will play well in the Northeast and on the West Coast, but in the heartland people still sort of feel that those who have nothing to hide have nothing to fear.
And so it goes.