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Pay no attention to the people behind the curtain

Sunday, March 12, 2006


It's a startling thought to realize that more presidents have been impeached (2) in this country than have been censured (1), given that censure is, comparatively speaking, the lesser of the two things Congress can do to show disapproval.

That's why it will be interesting over the next week to see how the Congress reacts to Russ Feingold's proposed censure of President Bush for breaking the law. Everyone knows--even Bush, who has repeatedly admitted it--that he and his administration were outside the bounds of the law when he authorized warrantless wiretaps of American citizens and others on US soil. Those actions run afoul of the plain language of the FISA statute which governs this kind of surveillance, even the langauge of the statute as amended after 9/11 as part of the U.S.A.P.A.T.R.I.O.T. Act. Period. The rationales offered after the program came to light have had a loserish "after-the-fact quality" to them, according to a former Justice official.

So, he did it. We all know he did it. Feingold, as Democrats should have done months ago, is asking for the Congress to recognize this criminal behavior for what it is. Good for Russ.

Republicans, on the other hand, are hard at work trying to cover up the illegality by making the program, post facto, legal. That would be roughly the equivalent of Democrats offering legislation in 1998 that would make it legal for presidents to lie under oath. (Had that happened, maybe Bush would have testified under oath to the 9/11 commission, eh?) In bills proposed by Senators DeWine and Specter, all would be forgiven, and the currently illegal program would be given the veneer of Congressional approval, though it runs directly counter to what Congress demanded of intelligence agencies in 1978. (Those last two links, by the way, are to Gleen Greenwald, who also has agreat perspective on Feingold's proposed censure.)

So, to sum up:
1. Bush breaks law, admits to it
2. Democrats (Feingold, at least) demand censure and accountability
3. Republicans push to make the illegal activity legal

This is America in 2006. Congressional Republicans here are showing obligation not to law or the people who elected them, but to their party. (See, for example, Bill Frist's response to Feingold, which stopped just short of accusing Russ of treason.)

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