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June 07, 2003

Impeachable You

The other day someone suggested that I had written that President Bush should be impeached for lying to the American public about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. I had not, nor do I at this time suggest we've gotten anywhere near the point of impeaching Bush on anything. I did say that if we impeached Clinton for lying about sex, it was not entirely inappropriate to grill Bush about the possibility he lied about WMDs. After all, everyone lies about sex. Lying about weapons of mass destruction occurs only within a rather more specialized population. But to be clear: No, no impeachment necessary. Just a straight answer from the Bush White House. Which is, alas, apparently asking a lot.

Which is not to say others aren't seriously discussing whether impeachment is in the future: Here's an article on it from John Dean, who knows a little about what happens when a President lies to the American public. It's interesting reading: Dean comes to the conclusion that if the President did lie (and notes that this is a rather huge "if," a position I agree with), "he is cooked." And this would probably be true enough, regardless of whether he were impeached or not.

Although I'm not for impeachment, I will be clear on this much: Lying to the American public about the reason for starting a war is rather more of a legitimate excuse for impeachment than lying to the American public about getting a hummer. Anyone who suggests otherwise has his partisan head so far up his partisan ass that his utterances can be ignored as abject stupidity.

Posted by john at June 7, 2003 11:31 AM

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Comments

JH | June 7, 2003 12:43 PM

Hear, hear.

Scott | June 7, 2003 12:56 PM

Just to be clear, I don't (yet) know reasons why either of them should be impeached. I agree with that.

However, the -difference- between what Clinton did, and what Bush may have done (so far) is that Bush didn't stop investigators from doing their job (yet).

That said, I really hope there is an investigation, so we all get to know what the hell happened. Why we got a view before the war that is completely out of whack with the view after the war.

THAT said, I _hope_ without any cause to believe, that the Bush administration will cooperate with the investigators (whomever they may be). (Look at me, Mr. Sour attitude but sill goes on with the wishful thinking.)

RON: Secretariat Astronomical | June 7, 2003 11:40 PM

Today I have decided to become a psychic... There are 2 predictions I would like to make for this decade:

1. There will be no large stockpiles of WMDs found in Iraq. [Period.]

2. President Bush shall not be impeached. [Instead Bush will be pardoned by the American people, by virtue of the post-9/11 atmosphere, like the rest of the country, in which he lived, and for his emancipation of the Iraqi people.]

Anonymous | June 8, 2003 12:12 AM

Anyone who suggests otherwise has his partisan head so far up his partisan ass that his utterances can be ignored as abject stupidity
May I humbly rewrite your final statement.......
Anyone who suggests otherwise has his partisan head so far up his partisan ass that his utterances can be ignored as abject stupidity being broadcast through his navel.

mark | June 8, 2003 09:00 AM

Would be nice to see any investigation into Dubya led by someone at least as fanatical as Starr is reported to be (I don't know the details on Starr or his politics: any Americans like to confirm?).

How d'yer like THEM paybacks, Republicans?

RON | June 8, 2003 01:00 PM

MARK: Lay off the Republicans. The Democrats had Nixon for lunch at Watergate,for which Nixon resigned, although, in my opinion Nixon was one of the most efficient presidents this country has ever had, and I usually vote Democrat. The boy from Orange County, Calif. thought he wasn't liked by anyone--so fierce was the grilling by the Democrats. Nixon was wrong. I and about five other people, including Spiro Agnew and two Brazilians, liked him. (Historical note: the american gesture of OK represented by making a small circle with the thumb and index finger means "screw you" in Brazil. This novelty was much publicized on Nixon's visit to Brazil, after the President unknowingly gave Brazilians the OK sign.) Reagan, another Republican, had Iran-Contraband trumped-up by the Democrats. Reagan, and then, Vice-President Bush were cleared of all charges. Every once in a while, this country needs an impeachment of the President because the executive branch is percieved, falsely or not, as being collectively above the law, and the american people just don't have it in their hearts to give our presidents a simple pink slip, instead, as a token of their esteem.

mark | June 8, 2003 02:10 PM

Ron, fair enough. In referring to "Republicans", I'm unfairly slurring those who *don't* hate liberals with all their might; those who *are* able to go a single day without nearly vomiting at the thought of Clinton once being President; those who... you get the idea. I (hope I) mean the majority, who don't really deserve that kind of comparison. Also, there's probably people who jeered on the Starr investigations (and other such unnecessary and, well, *odd* attacks on Clinton and the Dems) who aren't Republicans (being (normally) apathetic, say, or too far right for even the Repubs to take 'em). Also, I'm kind of biased against the Repubs from the beginning: with the Democrats being (from my POV) slightly to the right of centre, you can imagine the way I feel of anyone to the right of *them*. Oh yeah, and that whole "failing to acknowledge that Democrats can be scummy too" thing. Okay.

I'm not sure I understand what you mean about Iran-Contra being a Democratic beat-up, though. I'm not American, and anyway I was very young (and needed the money, ahem) at the time, but I'm given to understand it was a Bad Thing?

RON | June 9, 2003 12:59 AM

Markie: I am running for President come next election. Would you kindly accept my offer to run as my Vice-President, where we united together, will save the country and the world, from themselves, space aliens, and PS2s. We have the votes of the entire Blogoshere with us, which represents .001 percent of all the Internet junkies and their valid ballots, a substantial lead to begin our campaign. When we prevail with the electorate, we'll compensate Mr. Scalzi for using up his bandwidth, by duely appointing him press secretary, and thereupon, our presidential scandal will begin, lest we be deprived of our own legacy. Who wants to be President, nowdays anyway? If you could reclaim all the aspirin and all the hours that this country, respectively, has consumed and been distracted by congressional inquiry of the executive branch of government, Jimmy Carter's brother Billy would be the C.E.O. of the Habitat For Humanity, now. Nixon followed Kennedy, (L.B.J. grew his hair long, true to his conviction), and Kennedy possessed charisma, which made Nixon look somewhat inept from the start of his presidency. If, Kennedy had been around in office for a few more years, America would have won the Vietnam war and this country would have been far better off, today, for all so many other reasons, not withstanding, him running around in the privacy of the White House with nude ladies, all proficient chiropractics, because although Kennedy came from a lineage that was undeniabely 100 proof in everything but consumption, he was a natural leader, unsurpassed in that department with the possible exception of his brother, Joe. Colonel Olie North, had access to the then futuristic E-mail LANs, and the pleasure of the company of Fawn Hall, who was worth a thousand Monicas and half that many paper shredders. But Col. North, while on tour of duty, with the Reagan White House had contracted political-itis, and did not come-out clean with the American public about Iran-Contra, even though the public would have certainly supported the Col., but nevertheless, true to the code of a soldier, that he was in all other aspects, Col. North did not compromise his own values when the Reagan Administration distanced him from their K-Mart halos and left him swinging in the wind. May the Col. be recognized one day for his earlier Iran and Central America endeavors. Vice President Bush was the second youngest fighter pilot in the Pacific theater during WWII, as a side note, treadbare as my comments have been (prolixity is the correct lexicon). Kenneth Starr, the self-proclaimed inquisitor of Clinton, and later gossip chief of Whitewater, was himself later investigated for abuse of power, if that's some nanopoetic justice.

mark | June 9, 2003 07:14 AM

*pause*

Uh... okay...

Roger | June 9, 2003 12:56 PM

Dunno, but if there is an investigation and if Bush takes the stand to testify and if he asks them to define the term 'war', I'm moving to Jamaica. :)

Rich | June 9, 2003 04:45 PM

Let's be clear on the details. Clinton wasn't impeached for lying to the public. All presidents do that. Clinton wasn't impeached for getting a hummer. A lot of presidents do that. Clinton was impeached for lying under oath during grand jury proceedings. Big distinction.
Whether you believe that to be an impeachable offense is, of course, a seperate question. As is, whether that offense is worse then lying to the public regarding a war or reasons for going to war. But before arguing those larger questions, I think it's important to be accurate on the premises. Thanks

John Scalzi | June 9, 2003 07:18 PM

Rich writes:

"Clinton was impeached for lying under oath during grand jury proceedings."

Yes. About getting a hummer off an intern, which is rather less than grand jury worth, in my humble opinion. An still substantially less significant than (possibly) lying about a rationale for war, if for no other reason than 160 soldiers didn't die in the service of Clinton's lie.

Tuxedo Slack | June 9, 2003 07:56 PM

"Yes. About getting a hummer off an intern, which is rather less than grand jury worth, in my humble opinion."

And, moreover, about testimony which was ruled irrelevant (which, I seem to recall some legal scholar saying at the time, means it doesn't meet the legal definition of perjury) to a case which was (again, as I recall) thrown out of court.

val | June 10, 2003 02:44 PM

BTW, John Dean was on the Diane Rheme show this morning. (6/10) He and Ken Adelman discussed the ramifications of the Weapons of Mass Destruction search.

Adelman kept accusing Dean of having a smear campaign because of his bringing up Watergate. Interesting show.

http://www.wamu.org/dr/index.html
(check the Archives (http://www.wamu.org/dr/2003/index.html) after this week)

Rich | June 10, 2003 04:18 PM

A couple of points:
John - First, in my own humble opinion, it doesn't matter what you are in front of the grand jury for - you tell the truth. I can't say I understand the argument that sometimes it is OK to lie to a grand jury. He was in front of the Grand Jury for a reason - he was being sued for sexual harrassment by Paula Jones. Lying to the jury was simply an attempt to deny Paula Jones her day in court. All done for political reasons. I don't particularly like sexual harrassment law (I bet you won't get the same admission from Clinton) but I understand the need to tell the truth in front of a grand jury or a petit jury regardless of my feeling on the underlying law. Without this consistency, if it were OK to lie if you believed you were being prosecuted unfairly, we would have chaos.
Secondly, there is a big difference in the nature of the lie in question here. Clinton's lie was a denial of an event for which he had positive knowledge. He knew the hummer occurred and when questioned directly regarding the incident chose to deny it. Bush's lie is harder to even call a lie. Bush's lie is an assertion, by Bush, for which he had little or no evidence according to the accusation. Bush did not "know" whether or not Iraq had WMD by any definition of the word "know". Rather, Bush believed strongly that this was the case and sold that belief to the American public. Now, he may have deceived us by selling us things he doubted himself but that is a much more limited case. We could say he lied regarding the African source (although they claim it was a mistake) but we cannot claim he lied regarding the whole mess. We can only claim that he was mistaken.
The central problem here is whether something can be proven. We know Clinton had positive knowledge regarding the events under question and deceived the jury to hide the truth. We don't know and can't know to what extent Bush believes now or ever did believe in the presence of WMD, which is something we necessarily have to know if we are to call him a liar. If we find that their justification for believing in WMD is really stupid, he can still claim he believed it, in which case we can't call him a liar - just stupid, which is something we already do anyhow.
Let me put this another way. You can assert (and know the truth of) whether you are faithful to your wife. You can also assert (yet not know the truth of) whether your wife is faithful to you. If the first assertion is false - we say you lied. If the second is - you were tragically mistaken.
The bottom line is this is a non-issue. It's not a winner politically for Democrats. And it's not something we should pursue on principal (unless we think Presidents should be impeached whenever they turn out to be wrong, or someone thinks they were wrong, even if they thought they were right - our Presidents wouldn't last long under that system)
Tuxedo - The case was thrown out. But I hope you didn't stop paying attention then because it was revived (under what pretext and by whom, I don't recall). And later settled by Clinton for just under a million dollars. In other words, Paula Jones won. Later the court found Clinton in contempt of court for his perjurious behaviour and he was fined. I'm not a lawyer but I don't think they would do so if the testimony in question was not material. It also seems material on the face of it. Again, I'm not a lawyer, but if I were and I was trying to prove someone was a harrasser, I'd look for common behavior patterns and try to explore these for the jury. Lawyers do this all the time - it's why we have character witnesses for instance.

mark | June 11, 2003 09:45 PM

Good points, Rich. Two things (though this is very late, so you probably won't read it).

1) Bush wasn't asserting that Iraq had WMDs on shaky ground. He was asserting that he KNEW for a FACT that Iraq had WMDs and had not destroyed them. He wasn't the only member of the government to do so.

2) Do you consider the attacks on Clinton to be fair and just? Did his oral-sex-receiving self become the target of your wrath? If so, was this *solely* because he lied to the grand jury? If so (again), would you be as upset with Bush if it turns out he did lie afterall?

Rich | June 12, 2003 10:51 AM

I read it.

On your first point: To rephrase Clinton - It depends on what the meaning of "Know" is. We use the verb "know" in a few different ways. For instance, most of us claim to know, with a great deal of certainty, those things which we experience. For most people, the existence of conscious experience is unimpeachable and the phenomenology of their consciousness is likewise. This is Clinton's lie. He was aware of his experience and yet denied it when it was material and important (not to me but to Paula Jones et al. but they were in court and I assert that it doesn't matter why you are there - you still tell the truth). Many of us also claim to know things which we cannot know through conscious experience but which we prove, to varying extents, through rational (or irrational, as the case may be) means. That is why we claim to "know" that the universe began with a big bang, man descended through the Darwinian mechanism of descent with modification from a common ancestor with the other apes, and that Iraq possessed WMD or had a WMD program. I assert that if the first and second of these claims is found to be false, we would not call the proponents of these claims "liars", we would rather say that they were mistaken. I hold true to the same principle for the third. What about you? Do you tend to believe in evolution? The big bang? If we find a more likely theory tomorrow, will you chastise yourself for being a liar? That is the nature of Bush's "knowing" and "lying". Would you call Bush a liar for asserting that taxes will stimulate the economy or do you call him mistaken, perhaps stupidly so?

The only exception here is if we can show someone doesn't believe what they are selling. That is, if Bush didn't believe Iraq had WMD yet sold us that line anyhow, we could say he lied. Or if he cynically passed a tax cut on the premise that it would help the economy yet he believed it wouldn't, then we could say he lied. But I don't know how you can prove what he did or didn't believe. The best you can do is show that the evidence was stupid, and that he was stupid for believing it. But then all you've got is "Bush is stupid" not "Bush is a liar". And I imagine you are well convinced of his stupidity anyhow.

Your second point/questions - I considered some of the attacks on Clinton regarding his disregard for our justice system to be fair and just. My analysis of what is fair and just necessarily extends beyond whether the victim is deserving. Methods, for instance, are important, as are participants. Insofar as the opponents attacked him for simply having a hummer, I disagreed. I like hummers. I tend to agree with those who condemn him for adultery but I don't believe that rises to the level of an impeachable offense (or even a legal matter, though various state laws are at odds with me here). So the answer to your second question is no. His adultering self and his perjuring self became targets of my wrath but not his hummer-receiving self. The third question I answered along with the first. And I don't think the fourth makes much sense in the context of my reply to your first comment.

mark | June 13, 2003 06:26 AM

Rich, thanks. To clarify:

- It looked to me, from watching speeches etc. that he/they meant more than just "we reasoned it out, and they *must* have weapons". It was more like "we're certain they have this stuff, because we have incontrovertible proof that they do". True, it's hardly a strong case, just my impression.

- Okay, you're right about the fourth question. Let's take a journey into the magical land of hypotheticals, where uncertainty is resolved, and we discover that it *wasn't* a case of Bush being ambiguous, or stupid: he asserted that he knew for a fact that WMDs were in Iraq, and it turned out to be false.

Rich | June 13, 2003 11:05 AM

I can understand you're impression - they did try hard to sell the WMD case. But understanding the nature of intelligence is crucial. We rarely know things for certain but often assert that we know them. I was and still am convinced that Iraq had a WMD program, as is just about everyone else, from Hans Blix to Dominique de Villepan to Donald Rumsfeld.

On point two, I'll rephrase your original question. If we can show that Bush did not believe to any extent that Iraq had WMD or WMD programs and yet Bush sold the war to the american people and to some extent the world on that basis, is that a lie I would condemn? Yes, but not to any great extent. To give a historical example, FDR sold WWII to the american people on the basis of Pearl Harbor but many historians believe it was only a convienent excuse. FDR, they say, had a myriad reasons why he wanted to go to war but was afraid he couldn't convince the american people until Pearl Harbor. Our security wasn't at stake in the short term, the Japanese stike was defensive and meant to cripple not an offensive first move. The Germans were busy enough in Europe. Do we then condemn FDR for his "lie"? I don't think so.