When Nancy Pelosi became the first female Speaker of the House in 2006, she famously vowed to “drain the swamp.” It was a cute metaphor, but to actually drain the swamp she and her fellow Democrats in Congress would have to get their hands dirty. This week, the House Judiciary Committee voted in favor of finding former Bush advisor Karl Rove in contempt of Congress for his refusal to testify before the panel, but the AP reported that Pelosi would not decide whether to bring the measure to a final vote until September. The delay, likely due to Congress’s summer recess, wouldn’t be so alarming if Pelosi hadn’t already refused to follow through with almost every other pursuit of justice regarding the Bush administration’s flagrant disregard and contempt for the rule of law.
Pelosi appeared on The View this week to promote her new book, Know Your Power: A Message to America’s Daughters. The message, apparently, is to know your power but not to act on it. When co-host Joy Behar asked why Pelosi ruled against the impeachment of George W. Bush, she claimed there is no evidence “that this president committed these crimes.” Quite the contrary, Mrs. Pelosi: A new book by The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer, The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals, cites a secret Red Cross report stating that the C.I.A. was guilty of using torture and that high-level administration officials who approved the use of those techniques could be tried for war crimes; earlier this month, U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn Walker ruled that the President does not have the authority to conduct warrantless wiretaps on American citizens as part of the criminal Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act; an internal Justice Department investigation determined that former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales aides Monica Goodling and Kyle Sampson violated federal law by politicizing the hiring of U.S. attorneys (though the report apparently only cites civil violations, not criminal); and then, of course, there is the outing of covert C.I.A. operative Valerie Plame, and on and on.
Today John D. Bates, a Federal District Judge who just so happens to have been appointed by Bush Sr., affirmed in a ruling what many have been saying for months—that, despite the Bush administration’s claim of presidential privilege, former White House counsel (and one-time Bush Supreme Court nominee) Harriet Miers and White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten are not immune to congressional subpoenas related to the unethical firing of eight U.S. attorneys who did not serve the administration’s political agenda. Bates rightfully asserts that by attempting to obstruct justice by not allowing his aides to testify under oath, Bush is fracturing a precedent that goes back as far as 1807; in more recent history, both Presidents Nixon and Clinton were denied similar claims of privilege. Bates’s 93-page decision went so far as to suggest that Congress has the power to arrest those who refuse to comply with subpoenas—something this Congress has made it clear it has no intention of doing.
Countless constitutional law experts have cited Bush’s impeachable crimes, but Pelosi’s assertion that impeachment of the President would be divisive and distract from Congress’s goals of increasing the minimum wage, veterans’ benefits and stem-cell research is downright ludicrous. Bush’s approval ratings are at an all-time low and even a monkey can eat and scratch its ass at the same time. As Judge Bates stated today, quoting the Supreme Court: “The power of inquiry—with process to enforce it—is an essential and appropriate auxiliary to the legislative function.” The fact is that Democrats have been complicit in Bush’s crimes, first—presumably—out of the fear engendered by an über-patriotic, post-9/11 environment, and then (and now) to cover their hides. Pelosi and the Congress have barred further judicial review of Judge Walker’s findings and they—including Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama—helped pass a new FISA bill last month that gives immunity to telecommunications companies who have violated the privacy guaranteed to U.S. citizens by the Fourth Amendment. It seems it’s to Pelosi’s advantage—and the detriment of those who value this country’s core principles—to keep the swamp at least knee-deep.
This blog entry was originally published on Slant Magazine on the date above.