WASHINGTON, July 25, 2008 -- Less than six months before President Bush leaves office, the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing today on whether he should be impeached.
As could be predicted, the hearing was highly partisan. Democrats said they wanted accountability. Republicans called the hearing a show trial. People on both sides showed anger and emotion.
The hearing was about executive power and its constitutional limitations. The Democrat-controlled Judiciary Committee is concerned the Bush administration exceeded its authority in several areas including the following: improper politicization of the Justice Dept; misuse of presidential signing statements; misuse of surveillance, detention, interrogation and rendition programs; manipulation of intelligence and misuse of war powers; improper retaliation and obstruction of justice in the Valerie Plame CIA agent outing case; and misuse of executive privilege.
There were 13 witnesses, including current and former members of Congress, most of whom accused the Bush administration of abuse of power. Democrats and Republicans on the Committee spent an hour on opening statements presenting their opinions either justifying Bush's actions or accusing him of being the worst president in U.S. history.
Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., chairman of the committee, defended holding such a hearing while the president was on his way out of office.
"And we're not done yet," Conyers said. "We do not intend to go away until we achieve the accountability that the Congress is entitled to and the American people deserve."
Ranking Republican member Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, disagreed.
"This week it seems that we are hosting an anger management class," he said. "Nothing is going to come out of this hearing with regard to impeachment of the president."
But Democrat member Rep. Robert Wexler of Florida was angry at the president.
"Never before in the history of this nation has an administration so successfully diminished the constitutional powers of the legislative branch," Wexler said. "It is unacceptable, and it must not stand."
Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., didn't mince words in her feelings about Bush.
"It is my judgment that President Bush is the worst president our country has ever suffered," she said. "Making judgments that have jeopardized our national security, impaired our economy, and diminished the freedom and civil liberties of the American people."
Rep. Dan Lungren, R-Calif., ridiculed the hearing.
"One wonders what we are becoming here. When I was a kid growing up, we used to watch Friday night fights. Now it looks like we have the Friday morning show trials," he said.
His colleague, Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., agreed.
"It conducts a do-over hearing that amuses our terrorist friends greatly, and that would make Alice in Wonderland roll her eyes," he declared.
One of the witnesses, Bruce Fein, a former Justice Department official, testified that he believes the president committed impeachable acts.
"The executive branch has vandalized the constitution every bit as much as the barbarians sacked Rome in 410 A.D.," he told the committee.
Vincent Bugliosi, a former L.A. prosecutor, agreed.
"Whether Republican or Democrat, all Americans should be absolutely outraged over what the Bush administration has done," he said. "How dare they do what they did? How dare they?"
But George Mason University law professor Jeremy Rabkin tried to bring the hearing into perspective.
"You should all remind yourselves," he said, "that the rest of the country is not necessarily in this same bubble in which people think it is reasonable to describe the president as if he were Caligula."