Thursday, December 22, 2005

'''Impeachment' Talk, Pro and Con, Appears in Media at Last ''

"Suddenly this week, scattered outposts in the media have started mentioning the “I” word, or at least the “IO” phrase: impeach or impeachable offense.

The sudden outbreak of anger or candor has been sparked by the uproar over revelations of a White House approved domestic spying program, with some conservatives joining in the shouting.

Ron Hutcheson, White House correspondent for Knight Ridder Newspapers (known as “Hutch” to the president), observed that "some legal experts asserted that Bush broke the law on a scale that could warrant his impeachment.” Indeed such talk from legal experts was common in print or on cable news.

Newsweek online noted a “chorus” of impeachment chat, and its Washington reporter, Howard Fineman, declared that Bush opponents are “calling him Nixon 2.0 and have already hauled forth no less an authority than John Dean to testify to the president’s dictatorial perfidy. The ‘I-word’ is out there, and, I predict, you are going to hear more of it next year — much more.”

When chief Washington Post pollster Richard Morin appeared for an online chat this week, a reader from Naperville, Ill., asked him why the Post hasn't polled on impeachment. "This question makes me mad," Morin replied. When a second participant made the same query, Morin fumed, "Getting madder." A third query brought the response: "Madder still."

Media Matters recently reported that a January 1998 Washington Post poll conducted just days after the first revelation of President Clinton's relationship with Monica Lewinsky asked about impeachment.

A smattering of polls (some commissioned by partisan groups) has found considerable, if often qualified, support for impeachment. But Frank Newport, the director of the Gallup Poll, told E&P recently that he would only run a poll on the subject if the idea really started to gain mainstream political traction, and not until then. He noted that he had been besieged with emails calling for such a survey, but felt that was a "well-organized" action.

Still, he added, "we are reviewing the issue, we take our responsibility seriously and we will consider asking about it."

Conservative stalwart Jonah Goldberg at National Review Online takes the talk seriously enough to bother to poke fun at it, practically begging Bush foes to try to impeach him. "The main reason Bush's poll numbers would skyrocket if he were impeached,” Goldberg wrote, “is that at the end of the day the American people will support what he did [with the spy program].”

And the folks at conservative blog took issue with Fineman’s prediction, noting that for “all his fearmongering” he “fails to note the essential point: the more the Dems mutter 'impeachment' in 2006, the more it helps the GOP, because it just further entrenches the notion that the Dems are out of touch, partisan, and not serious about national security."

But John Dean, who knows something about these matters, calls Bush "the first President to admit to an impeachable offense." The American Civil Liberties Union threw more fat on the fire with a full-page ad in The New York Times on Thursday calling for a special counsel to look into the secret spy operations and urging Congress to get involved in considering the possible high crimes involved. And one of those thoroughly unscientific MSNBC online polls found about 87% backing the idea through late Wednesday.

On Wednesday, Washington Post blogger/columnist Dan Froomkin, declaring that “The ‘I-word’ is back," assembled an array of quotes on the subject. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), he pointed out, sent a letter this week to four unidentified presidential scholars, asking whether they think Bush's authorization of warrantless domestic spying amounted to an impeachable offense.

Todd Gillman wrote in the Dallas Morning News: "Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., suggested that Mr. Bush's actions could justify impeachment.” And Froomkin cited Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University and a specialist in surveillance law, saying 'When the president admits that he violated federal law, that raises serious constitutional questions of high crimes and misdemeanors.”

When Washington Post pollster Richard Morin finally answered the "I" question in his online chat, he said, "We do not ask about impeachment because it is not a serious option or a topic of considered discussion -- witness the fact that no member of congressional Democratic leadership or any of the serious Democratic presidential candidates in '08 are calling for Bush's impeachment. When it is or they are, we will ask about it in our polls."

Morin complained that he and other pollsters have been the "target of a campaign organized by a Democratic Web site demanding that we ask a question about impeaching Bush in our polls." But Froomkin commented, “there's nothing wrong with asking the question.”

As Norman Ornstein, a scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, said recently, referring to the spy program controversy, "I think if we're going to be intellectually honest here, this really is the kind of thing that Alexander Hamilton was referring to when impeachment was discussed."

Froomkin's fellow blogger at the Washignton Post, Joel Achenbach, came out with a funny, if pointed, riff on Thursday: "Last night we made a pilgrimage to a friend's new house in Georgetown...We talked about gay cowboys and closeted movie stars and sex-change operations -- traditional Christmas topics, in other words -- and the conversation eventually turned to impeachment. It's true: People actually talk about impeachment, in the wilds of Inner Georgetown, not just in blogworld. I won't go into great detail about what was said, because it was highly speculative, and because I'm worried that my phone, email accounts and blog are tapped. These people don't mess around. They have secret prisons."

In any case, the debate should only grow in 2006. Fineman predicted a dark year ahead: “We are entering a dark time in which the central argument advanced by each party is going to involve accusing the other party of committing what amounts to treason. Democrats will accuse the Bush administration of destroying the Constitution; Republicans will accuse the Dems of destroying our security.”-from Editor&Publisher.

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