US House committee investigates Bush 'expansion' of constitutional powers

[JURIST] Witnesses before the US House Judiciary Committee on Friday presented sharply divided opinions [C-span video, flash; hearing materials] on whether the White House [official website] has overstepped its constitutional authority during George Bush's presidency, and whether or not such alleged abuses would justify his impeachment. Committee chairman John Conyers (D-MI) opened the hearings outlining the allegedly excessive actions by the administration:

It is no secret that I have grave and serious concerns about excesses in executive branch authority. At my direction this Committee has spent a considerable portion of its time, energy and resources investigating allegations concerning the politicization of the Department of Justice; misuse of signing statements; misuse of authority with regard to detention, interrogation and rendition; possible manipulation of intelligence regarding the Iraq War; improper retaliation against critics of the Administration, including the outing of Valerie Plame; and excessive secrecy by the Administration including the misuse of various privileges and immunities. I believe the evidence on these matters is both credible and substantial and warrant the response of the executive branch, under oath if at all possible.
At the center of the discussions were articles of impeachment against both President George Bush [HR 1345 materials] and Vice President Dick Cheney [HR 333 materials] introduced by Representative Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) [official website]. Republican members of the committee dismissed the articles, saying the President had not committed impeachable offenses, and that Democrats had introduced them merely as a political tactic. Kucinich's articles focused on allegedly misleading justifications used by the administration to justify the US's 2003 invasion of Iraq, but Northwestern University legal history professor Stephen Presser [faculty profile] said [prepared statement, PDF] there was no evidence that the President had committed an impeachable offense in this or any of the other alleged abuses:
Impeachment is a radical remedy to be used only in the case of executive misconduct that demonstrates that the official in question has abused his office for venal purposes. It is not a remedy that the framers believed was appropriate for matter arising simply out of political differences, and impeachment should not be a tool to be used to remove a President simply because a party or faction wants him out of office. Absent misconduct of a kind... which does not seem to be present, the removal of an executive should be accomplished by the constitution[']s two-term limit, and by the actions of the people and the electoral college.
Brennan Center for Justice [advocacy website] counsel Frederick Schwarz Jr. testified [prepared statement, PDF] that because there was a general lack of information on ways the Bush administration had or had not expanded or overstepped executive powers, an independent commission with a focus on the balance of powers rather than personal indictments should be convened:
We must resolve to confront our mistakes so that we do not repeat them. Throughout American history, in times of crisis, presidents have accumulated significant new powers, and the Executive Branch has often engaged in abusive conduct. These bursts of misconduct are often closely related to emergency circumstances. Crisis makes it tempting to ignore the wise restraints that both keep us free and reduce the likelihood of foolish mistakes. This nation has at times admirably set about correcting its course— realizing, as the dust settles, or as previously secret facts are revealed, that constitutional and legal norms have been breached. Our self-correcting mechanism is one of the great strengths of our democracy. It is time for such a searching assessment and self-correction again.
AP has more.

The continued hearings on President Bush's alleged misuse of executive powers follow a number of allegations of wrongdoing. Earlier this month, Bush invoked executive privilege [JURIST report] to prevent members of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform [official website] from obtaining an FBI report on an interview with Vice President Dick Cheney concerning the Valerie Plame CIA leak scandal [JURIST news archive]. In June, the Department of Justice (DOJ) Office of the Inspector General [official website] issued a report [PDF text; JURIST report] admitting that it had improperly granted preferential treatment to politically-conservative internship candidates in 2002 and 2006. Last year former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales resigned [JURIST report] following allegations concerning the alleged firing of US Attorneys for political reasons [JURIST news archive].


 

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