Tales from two fronts

Jan 31, 2007 at 12:00 am

Last week I talked to U.S. Rep. John Conyers, the Detroit Democrat who is now the powerful head of the House Judiciary Committee. That's the place where you get the ball rolling if you are going to impeach a president.

So, I wanted to know, what's the scoop?

Two years ago, Conyers told me he thought it was clear that President George W. Bush had committed the sorts of "high crimes and misdemeanors" that qualify, under the Constitution, as sufficient grounds for impeachment. Conyers, who has been on that committee longer than most Americans have been alive, ought to know this better than anyone.

After all, Conyers is the only person in history to have served on that committee through two sets of presidential impeachment hearings — those for Old Devil Richard Nixon in the 1970s and Young Rogue Bill Clinton in the 1990s.

Nixon resigned just as the trap door was about to open. Clinton was, in fact, impeached. While fancier language was used, the truth was that he was impeached for lying about ... a not-very-good blow job.

Actually, the deeper reality was that he was impeached for being a (sort of) liberal who won national elections. This was mostly bad theater, since even the yahoos knew they never had a prayer of getting him convicted in the Senate.

(There is a lot of confusion about terms, by the way; impeachment is equivalent to being indicted. Any president — or any other impeached official — has then to be convicted before they are actually removed.)

Our current leader has never been accused of oral congress in office with anyone, though nobody likes to think about what might happen if he were sedated and left alone in a hospital room with the truly scary Condoleezza Rice.

However, the lesser of two Bushes has lied us into a disastrous war, sanctioned torture, flouted the law, run roughshod over the Constitution and our civil liberties, and ruined the nation's credibility worldwide.

All of which he is still doing, by the way. Thousands and thousands of lives have been lost because of his stupid and criminal policies. Somehow, that seems a little worse than a clumsy failed bugging of an office during a one-sided presidential campaign, which, by the way, is what happened in Watergate.

Few today remember this, but Conyers introduced impeachment charges against Nixon well before Watergate! He wanted to remove him for what he did in Vietnam. So, I pressed the new House Judiciary chairman: "Do you believe that President Bush has committed impeachable offenses?"

Why, yes, Conyers said. He does think that.

Well, then why not move to impeach him? Before last year, he had, in fact, hinted at this. But last year, when it seemed like the Democrats had a chance of winning back the House, Conyers changed his tune.

Impeachment was off the table. What was needed instead was "vigorous investigative oversight." The word was that Gentleman John had been leaned on by the leadership and asked to cool it. They didn't want to unnerve moderate voters across the nation for whom that might be too radical a step.

Conyers doesn't deny that he felt some heat. Nevertheless, he indicated impeachment was a nonstarter now, for all the right reasons.

"There isn't time. There simply isn't time to get it done, and we have so many other things we need to do in this Congress," he said. "Health care, the economy. Ending the war. And getting ready for 2008."

Trying to mount an impeachment challenge would get in the way of those things, he fears. Conyers also sees it as essential that the Democrats cement their fragile new majorities. What about the presidential race?

"I am keeping my eye on three of them right now: Barack Obama, Dennis Kucinich and John Edwards. I like them in that order, for now."

His No. 1 issue is not stopping the war, in fact, but universal, single-payer health care, a cause once trumpeted by a candidate he now sees as more of an opportunist, Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Whichever candidate in the end seems to be most devoted to health care and the well-being of the American worker is likely to get John Conyers' support.

So does that mean there is absolutely no chance of impeachment?

Not quite. Conyers did refuse to rule anything out. Now that congressional oversight exists again, something could conceivably come up that would be so devastating that there would be no other choice.

But don't bet on it. What he didn't say was what we would be left with if the Shrub were removed. An accidental President Dick Cheney, rotten heart and all, might feel he was compelled to run to protect and safeguard their "legacy."

Think about that. Conyers is indeed a wise old bull. The next year and a half should be devoted to containing the infection, ending the war, and giving the American people something to vote for, not just against, next year.


A real hero for our time: Here's a name you likely never heard of: Hrant Dink. Frankly, I am ashamed to say I had never heard of him before he was murdered less than two weeks ago. He wasn't American, and as far as I know he never visited this country. Matter of fact, I'm not sure he ever left his native Turkey. Yet he symbolized what our First Amendment is supposed to be about far more than nearly anyone who ever practiced the profession of journalism.

He believed in telling the truth. And, more than that, he believed anybody has the right to say whatever they believe — and that no government has the right to shut any free citizen up. Though you can't tell by his name, Dink was of Armenian blood. Ninety years ago, the Ottoman Turks tried to carry out the first mass genocide, murdering something like a million and a half Armenians.

To this day they haven't admitted it. Worse, it is essentially illegal in Turkey, a country that is supposedly a democracy, to say that this happened!

Dink made a point of telling the truth, not in spite of the law that makes it a crime to utter "insults to Turkishness," but because of it. He did so though he knew it meant risking his life. But here's something more incredible that my friend George Costaris, the distinguished Canadian diplomat, brought to my attention: France has been discussing making it against the law to deny that the Armenian holocaust occurred. Last fall, Dink declared that if France did so, he would rush to that country — and openly deny that the Armenian holocaust happened!

"Then we can watch both the Turkish Republic and the French government race against each other to condemn me. We can watch to see which will throw me into jail first," Dink said, adding, "What the peoples of these two countries [Turkey and Armenia] need is dialogue, and all these laws do is harm such dialogue."

Then on Jan. 19, Dink, who was 52, was shot in the back of the head by a 17-year-old dropout who, police said, was told to do it by an ultra-nationalist.

Dink's wife and two children and 100,000 others showed up at his funeral. Many wore buttons saying, "We are all Hrant Dink." They aren't, of course. Nor am I worthy of such a button. But think of what a better world this would be if it had just a few more journalists who were as truly American as was he.

Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. Contact him at [email protected]