The national impeachment clock moved several minutes closer to midnight this week, with word from special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald's Plamegate investigation that I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby's leaking of classified information to New York Times reporter Judy Miller and other journalists was approved by President George Bush himself.
What makes this latest revelation important is that if Libby's claim is correct, it means the president has lied about his role, both to Fitzgerald's federal investigators, and to the American people. The former act--lying to a federal agent--could be a federal crime even though the president was not under oath. The latter--lying to the American people--was voted out of the House Judiciary Committee as an impeachable offense in the case of President Richard Nixon, and was one of the counts approved by the full House of Representatives against President Bill Clinton. While not a statutory crime, Congress has long held that lying to the public can be a "high crime" meriting of impeachment under the Constitution.
Jason Leopold, in an April 6 report for Truthout, says Fitzgerald, in a filing before the federal court hearing the Libby perjury and obstruction of justice case, claimed to have evidence, in the form of recently obtained White House email messages, that Bush was at a minimum receiving reports on a White House campaign to undermine former ambassador Joseph Wilson, who had exposed the president's public lie concerning supposed efforts by Saddam Hussein to buy uranium ore from the African state of Niger.
Again we are looking at multiple impeachable offenses here. If the president was involved in a campaign to selectively release classified CIA information to punish a critic, and particularly to "out" an undercover CIA operative, it would be a serious abuse of power--an impeachable offense.
Bush publicly denied having any knowledge of the source of the leaks of classified CIA information or of the leak of Wilson's wife Valerie Plame's identity as a CIA undercover employee. He apparently also denied having such knowledge to interviewers from Fitzgerald's office. If he was lying, again it is an impeachable offense.
Also moving the impeachment clock forward is word that the president's public approval, already in the ditch, has sunk even further, with an AP/Ipsos poll this week reporting that only 36 percent now give the president a favorable rating.
The president's strongest backers are still claiming that Bush's alleged transgressions aren't serious. Unlike Clinton, they say, he hasn't "lied under oath."
They forget that impeachable crimes are not the same thing as statutory crimes. The Founders made it clear that impeachment is about "political" crimes, not simple felonies. Certainly lying under oath is a serious matter, whether the prevaricator is an average citizen or a president. But from the Constitutional perspective, unsworn lying by a president, if it is about an important matter before the Congress, or to the American people--for example lying about the reasons for sending Americans to war--is a far more serious offense than simply lying about, say, an adulterous tryst, even if that lie is under oath.
The same can be said about a president's lying to cover up a serious impeachable offense such as abuse of power or conspiracy--whether or not that lie was under oath.
All of which means that we have moved another step towards the possibility that this president will face an impeachment proceeding.
As the president's growing string of lies, abuses of power and other high crimes and misdemeanors keep coming to light, and as his standing with the American public continues to sink, the odds of Democrats regaining control of the House of Representatives this November keep rising. With them, the likelihood that a new Democratic Party-led Judiciary Committee will be presented with a bill of impeachment following Election Day grows apace.
The clock is ticking.
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