Saturday, December 24, 2005

Subpoena Power to the People

by Larry Beinhart
 

Yes, George Bush has committed impeachable offenses.

If there were an impeachment, even if the president were found not guilty, there would be subpoenas and people would be forced to testify under oath and a great deal of truth would be revealed. It would be covered, constantly, by the media. They love trials because they offer predictability – they’re scheduled so the crews know when to show up and where to place the cameras – and guaranteed daily surprises.

But no, there will not be an impeachment.

Impeachment has to be voted on in the House of Representatives. The House has a Republican majority. There will be no impeachment.

Yes, John Conyers has introduced a resolution to create a select committee to investigate charges that may rise to the level of impeachable offenses. Not sexual misconduct, but genuine political offenses: lying to the legislative branch, misrepresenting intelligence, and ordering illegal wiretaps.

No, there will not be any such committee.

What Conyers has done has been mentioned on left wing blogs and liberal websites and Democracy Now and right wing websites will sneer at him. But if it’s in the New York Times, it will be buried inside. It won’t top they cycle at CNN or be the lead on NBC. It won’t make much news because they know he can’t issue subpoenas.

Yes, as Congressman Maurice Hinchey says, this is the most corrupt administration in history.

An innovative feature of this majority has been to demand that lobbyists and anyone else who wants to put the fix in with the federal government give only to the majority and not at all to the minority. So as long as the Republicans retain control, there will be no House or Senate committees looking into how our legislators were bought.

Corruption. Abuse of power. Impeachable offenses. Indictable crimes. Technical violations. Lies. Deception. All those things are merely subject matter. They are not actionable. Only power creates action. Power, in this context, comes from the ability to issue that simple piece of paper that compels testimony.

There are, mind you, small pockets of independent power. Somehow, the administration slipped and allowed a federal prosecutor, with subpoena power, to investigate the Plame leak. A local DA in Texas took a look at how Tom DeLay accepted campaign contributions from corporations – which could not be spent on political campaigns in Texas - then sent them to another organization in Washington, then got the same amount back and spent it on campaign contributions. And indicted him. A Federal prosecutor in California picked up on a newspaper story about Congressman Cunningham selling his house for a $700,000 instant profit to a defense contractor and got a guilty plea to bribery. Jack Abramoff, lobbyist and fixer to the Republican stars, has been indicted for a $60 million fraud in Fort Lauderdale, Florida in a deal to buy a fleet of gambling ships. His associate, Michael Scanlon, has been indicted by a Federal prosecutor on conspiracy to commit bribery and has agreed to testify.

Subpoena power.

At a press conference a person can dodge and evade and simply refuse to take any question he doesn’t like. At a press conference he can answer differently than he did the last time and by the time anyone catches up with him, if they ever bother, it doesn’t seem to matter. At a press conference he can lie and there is no penalty. But under oath, they can keep asking, they can call him back, they can produce his prior answers and demand that he reconcile them. Or be charged with perjury.

When there is subpoena power and possible felony charges, people begin to speak. And when they face indictments or are indicted, they begin to speak about others.

It would be wonderful if “the people” had subpoena power. It would be wonderful if there was such a thing as a person with no interest but the public interest, who had subpoena power who would could put people under oath, with the power to charge non-cooperating witnesses with contempt, and liars with perjury.

But there is not.

The closest thing we have is an adversary system in which one party goes after the other with whatever means it can lay its hands on. Right now, one party has all the power to call the committees and set the agendas and issue the subpoenas.

The only way the investigations will happen, the only way we will know if an impeachment is warranted, is if the Democrats regain control of at least one house of congress.

Now is the time to begin. To organize. To find people to support. To fight over the platform and the issues and then unite to achieve the best we can get. To raise money. To make plans. To work at the state level, to fight for favorable districts and to fight for reliable voting machines and to make sure voters get registered. To figure out how to make sure the vote is legitimate. So we can win and make sure it’s not stolen.

The next federal election cycle is less than a year away. Every house seat, every senate seat, is critical.

Now is the time to begin.

Larry Beinhart is the author of Fog Facts: Searching for Truth in the Land of Spin, Robert McChesney called it the book on the subject "against which all others will be measured." His novels include Wag the Dog, on which the film was based, and The Librarian which Rolling Stone described as "John Grishom meets Jon Stewart." He was a Fulbright Fellow, he's won an Edgar, been nominated for two more, a Gold Dagger, an Emmy. He's been a political consultant, made commercials, lectured at Oxford and he's a part time ski instructor. His email is beinhart@fogfacts.com.  

Do we not have the power of citizens arrest?

I am serious!!

We have to at least try!

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