Saturday, July 14, 2007

Partial transcript of Moyers impeachment discussion

I've transcribed the YouTube video I posted last night. Many excellent points were made throughout the program, which can be viewed here and read here.

Bill Moyers: One of the fellows you're about to meet wrote the first article of impeachment against President Clinton. Bruce Fein did so because perjury is a legal crime, and Fein believed no one is above the law. A constitutional scholar, Bruce Fein served in the Justice Department during the Reagan administration, and as General Counsel of the Federal Communications Commission. Bruce Fein has been affiliated with conservative think tanks such as the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation, and now writes a weekly column for the Washington Times and

He's joined by John Nichols, a Washington correspondent for The Nation and Associate Editor at the Capitol Times. Among his many books is this most recent one, The Genius of Impeachment: The Founders' Cure for Royalism. Good to see you both.

Bruce, you wrote that article of impeachment against Bill Clinton. Why did you think he should be impeached?

Bruce Fein: He was setting a precedent that placed the president above the law. I did not believe that the initial perjury or misstatements that came, perhaps in a moment of embarrassment, stemming from the Paula Jones lawsuit would have justified impeachment if he had apologized. Even his second perjury before the grand jury when Ken Starr's staff was questioning him, as long as he expressed repentence, would not have set an example of saying, "Every man, if you're president, is entitled to be a law unto himself." I think Bush's crimes are a little bit different--I think they're a little more worrisome than Clinton's. You don't have to have--

Bill Moyers MORE worrisome?

Bruce Fein: More worrisome than Clinton's, because he is seeking more institutionally to cripple checks and balances and the authority of congress and the judiciary to superintend his assertions of power. He has claimed the authority to tell congress they don't have the right to know what he's doing with relation to spying on American citizens, using that information in any way that he wants, in contradiction to a federal statute called the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. He's claimed the authority to say that he can kidnap people, throw them into dungeons abroad, dump them out into Siberia, without any political or legal accountability. These are standards that are totally anathema to a democratic society devoted to the rule of law.

Bill Moyers: You're talking about terrifying power, but this is a terrifying time. People are afraid of those people abroad who want to kill us. Do you think in any way that justifies the claims that Bruce just said that Bush has made?

John Nichols: I think that the war on terror as defined by our president is perpetual war, and I think that he has acted precisely as Madison feared. He has taken powers unto himself that were never intended to be in the executive. And frankly, when an executive uses them in the way that this president has, you actually undermine the process of uniting the country and really focussing the country on the issues that need to be dealt with. Let's be clear: if we had a president who was seeking to inspire us to take seriously the issues that are in play, and to bring all the government together, he'd be consulting with Congress, he'd be working with Congress, and, frankly, Congress, through the system of checks and balances, would be preventing him from doing insane things like invading Iraq.

Bruce Fein: In the past, presidents like Abe Lincoln, who confronted a far more dire situation in the Civil War than today, sought congressional ratification and approval of his emergency measures. He didn't seek to hide them from the people and from Congress to prevent there from being accountability. And of course Congress did ratify what he had done.

Secondly, sure, times can be terrifying. But that also should alert us to the fact that we can make mistakes. The executive can make mistakes. Take World War II--we locked up 120,000 Japanese Americans. Said they were all disloyal. Well, we got 120,000 mistakes. They lost their property, they lost their liberty for years and years because we made a huge mistake. And that can be true after 9/11 as well. No one wants to downgrade the fact that we have abominations out there and people want to kill us. But we should not inflate the danger, and we should not cast aside what we are as a people. We can fight and defeat these individuals, these criminals, based on our system of law and justice. We have a fighting Constitution--it's always worked in the past--but it remains a system of checks and balances.

Bill Moyers: Fighting Constitution? What do you mean?

Bruce Fein: It's a fighting Constitution that enables us, with the consent of Congress and the President, working hand in glove consistent with the due process of law, we have the authority to suspend habeas corpus in times of invasion or rebellion. It has enabled us to defeat all of our enemies consistent with the law.

Bill Moyers: But Congress did not stand up to George Bush for five years when it was controlled by Republicans, and I don't see any strong evidence that Democrats are playing the role you think they should be playing.

Bruce Fein: That is correct. But it does not exculpate the president that Congress has not sought immediately to sanction his excesses--

Bill Moyers: --but it enables him--

Bruce Fein: --exactly right. And this could not happen if we had a Congress that was aggressive. If we had a Congress like in Watergate when Nixon was president and he tried to obstruct justice and defeat the course of law. We have a Congress that basically is invertebrate.

The full video of last night's program can be seen (in segments) here.