The Impeachment Question

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Wednesday, July 6, 2005; 1:24 PM

More than four in 10 Americans, according to a recent Zogby poll, say that if President Bush did not tell the truth about his reasons for going to war with Iraq, Congress should consider holding him accountable through impeachment.

But you wouldn't know it from following the news. Only three mainstream outlets that I can find made even cursory mention of the poll last week when it came out.

You also wouldn't know it judging from the political discourse in Washington, but that makes a little more sense. After all, impeachment is for all practical purposes a political act, not a legal one. So with a Republican-controlled Congress that doesn't even like to perform basic White House oversight, it's basically a moot point.

Nevertheless, could there be anything that 42 percent of Americans agree on that the media care about so little?

The poll results certainly illustrate the intense polarization of the American electorate -- not exactly news.

But they also suggest an appetite for more investigation into Bush's reasons for war and specifically -- in light of the assertions in the Downing Street memos -- whether his public rationales were in fact at all like his private rationales.

One topic for further inquiry, for instance, could be whether in private conversations Bush expressed the same kind of reticence about war that he advertised publicly. Some evidence -- stories like this one in Time, which quotes Bush saying in March 2002: '[Expletive] Saddam. we're taking him out.' -- suggests otherwise.

Was Bush motivated more by personal animosity toward Saddam Hussein than by a post-Sept. 11 desire to protect America from a grave threat? Did he exaggerate that threat? At what point was war inevitable?

Those are not settled questions. And evidently quite a few Americans would like to see some accountability if Bush deceived them.

The Poll

The impeachment question was part of a Zogby International poll conducted early last week, and released on Thursday.

It found that Bush's job approval ratings had slipped a point from the previous week, to 43 percent.

But the jaw-dropper was that 42 percent said they would favor impeachment proceedings if it is found that the president misled the nation about his reasons for going to war with Iraq.

Zogby noted: "While half (50%) of respondents do not hold this view, supporters of impeachment outweigh opponents in some parts of the country.

"Among those living in the Western states, a 52% majority favors Congress using the impeachment mechanism while just 41% are opposed; in Eastern states, 49% are in favor and 45% opposed. In the South, meanwhile, impeachment is opposed by three-in-five voters (60%) and supported by just one-in-three (34%); in the Central/Great Lakes region, 52% are opposed and 38% in favor."

Pollingreport.com offers the results broken down by party. Among Democrats, 59 percent answered the impeachment question affirmatively -- as well as 25 percent of Republicans.

Shailagh Murray of The Washington Post made the poll results the third item in the paper's Sunday politics column: "Even the pollster couldn't believe his eyes. 'It was much higher than I expected,' John Zogby said of the 42 percent. . . .

"By comparison, in October 1998, as the House moved to impeach President Bill Clinton over the Monica S. Lewinsky scandal, a Zogby poll found that 39 percent of voters supported the House action, while 56 percent opposed it. . . .

"Zogby said the hypothetical question 'reveals just how badly divided this country is over the war,' but also that people may be more comfortable with the idea of throwing a president out of office. . . .

"Unlikely that the Republican-led House will begin proceedings anytime soon. But the Web sites are up and running. Impeachcentral.com is running a petition drive. Impeachbush.org is planning a march on Washington in September. Thefourreasons.org site argues that the Iraq invasion was unconstitutional. Afterdowningstreet.org asserts that Bush secretly decided to go to war and to mislead Congress in mid-2002."

In a Washington Times political roundup, John McCaslin also mentioned the poll in an item headlined: "Crying wolf?"

He wrote: "If you believe the latest Zogby poll, 42 percent of Americans would favor impeachment proceedings if President Bush is found to have misled the nation about his reasons for going to war in Iraq."

Pollster Zogby himself made it onto Countdown with Keith Olbermann on Thursday night. Olbermann was most taken with the fact that 25 percent of Republicans were willing to consider impeachment.

He asked Zogby: "When do you do the impeachment question again? When are you going bring that up again in a poll?

"ZOGBY: We'll test it periodically. Probably a month from now. Again, no one is really talking about it, but it is a good barometric reading."

Supreme Court Watch

Deb Riechmann reports for the Associated Press: "President Bush ... said Wednesday he will not select a Supreme Court nominee based on his or her views on abortion or other hot-button political issues. . . .

"Bush said he would have no 'litmus test' that disqualifies candidates because of their opinions on abortion and gay marriage. . . .

"Bush bristled at criticism of Gonzales. Conservatives said they aren't convinced his beliefs on affirmative action and abortion are far enough to the right for their liking."

Here's the transcript of Bush's remarks, made alongside the Danish prime minister.

"As you know, I'm not a lawyer -- thankfully," Bush said to laughter. "And so I will let my legal experts deal with the ramifications of legal opinions. I'll talk to people about just -- I'll try to assess their character, their interests. I'm looking forward to the review process, the interview process, as well.

"When I first get back, I will consult with members of the Senate -- I have done so far, our staff continues to do so -- and then I'll begin the interview process."

Mark Memmott writes in USA Today: "Social conservatives who have said they would oppose or withhold support from Attorney General Alberto Gonzales as a Supreme Court nominee stuck to their positions Tuesday, despite President Bush's displeasure with the criticism of his 'great friend.' "

Edwin Chen writes in the Los Angeles Times: "President Bush narrowed his focus to several judges Tuesday as he began considering a successor to Sandra Day O'Connor, the country's first female Supreme Court justice, who announced her retirement Friday.

"The president spent 'a good couple of hours' reviewing the biographies of the candidates and summaries of their judicial opinions during a 7 1/2 -hour flight to Copenhagen on his way to an international economic summit, said White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan."

David D. Kirkpatrick and Carl Hulse write in the New York Times: "The White House and the Senate Republican leadership are pushing back against pressure from some of their conservative allies about the coming Supreme Court nomination, urging them to stop attacking Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales as a potential nominee and to tone down their talk of a culture war."

Rove Speaks -- About the Supreme Court

Peter Baker and Charles Babington write in The Washington Post about what must have been a fascinating lunch meeting yesterday between Karl Rove and Washington Post reporters and editors.

"Karl Rove, President Bush's chief political architect, said precedents from the most recent Supreme Court vacancies suggest that opposition-party senators have a responsibility to back a president's choice if they believe a nominee is qualified, even if they disagree with the person's views. He also maintained that a strongly held ideological stance would not amount to 'extraordinary circumstances' justifying a Democratic filibuster under a recent bipartisan Senate deal.

"But several Senate Democrats who co-authored that deal countered that ideology is a legitimate line of inquiry and potentially a reason to block a nomination. 'In my mind, extraordinary circumstances would include not only extraordinary personal behavior but also extraordinary ideological positions,' said Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.), a moderate the White House has been hoping to enlist to give bipartisan backing to the nominee. . . .

"Rove did not comment on the chances of a Gonzales nomination but at one point referred to him as 'Justice Gonzales,' provoking laughter. He quickly added that he used the honorific because of the attorney general's former tenure on the Texas Supreme Court, but among Bush aides he is typically referred to as 'Judge Gonzales.' . . .

"Rove made clear that Bush will consult with senators in both parties, but that he has no interest in any kind of grand bargain between the White House and Congress in which legislators would give support in exchange for advance input on the president's choice. Some Democratic groups have suggested that Bush seek an early consensus. Rove, however, cited his own weekend reading of the Federalist Papers to argue that the framers of the Constitution envisioned no such role for Congress, leaving the president alone to make nominations."

Valerie Plame Watch

Carol D. Leonnig writes in The Washington Post: "A special prosecutor demanded yesterday that Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper answer questions about his confidential sources and again urged a federal judge to jail him and New York Times reporter Judith Miller if they continue to refuse to comply. . . .

"In unusually blunt language, Fitzgerald told Chief U.S. District Judge Thomas F. Hogan that Cooper and Miller pretend that journalists have a broader right to protect confidential sources than lawyers, presidents and law enforcement officers."

Leonnig also offers this tantalizing paragraph: "Fitzgerald may learn more details from Cooper's notes. Sources close to the investigation say there is evidence in some instances that some reporters may have told government officials -- not the other way around -- that Wilson was married to Plame, a CIA employee."

Adam Liptak writes in the New York Times: "Mr. Fitzgerald, who had been restrained in his public filings, was harshly critical of the position taken by Ms. Miller and of statements supporting her by The Times. His response to Mr. Cooper was barely 4 pages; to Ms. Miller, 21 pages.

"In October, Judge Hogan held the reporters in civil contempt, sentencing them to up to 18 months in jail. He suspended the sentences while the reporters appealed, and he said last week that the maximum time they faced was 120 days, as the term of the grand jury will expire in October.

"Civil contempt is meant to be coercive rather than punitive. In yesterday's filing, though, Mr. Fitzgerald suggested that criminal prosecution was also a possibility."

Richard B. Schmitt writes in the Los Angeles Times: "The prosecutor highlighted an article in the March-April issue of the Columbia Journalism Review, which said that many reporters and press advocates were chagrined that the case of CIA Agent Valerie Plame had become a test of journalists' ability to maintain confidential sources. The magazine said that many journalists believed that the reporters' sources, in exposing and endangering a covert operative, had committed an act that was not worth protecting."

Read the court filings.

Here is Cooper's memo, which includes moving pleas for leniency from co-workers, friends and family.

Here is Fitzgerald's response to Cooper.

"Journalist Margaret Carlson argues in a letter submitted on his behalf that: 'Journalists must honor their promises which protect the bad along with the good. We can't separate them like the darks and the whites in the laundry.' . . .

"Cooper and Carlson should not underestimate either the press' ability or responsibility to separate the good from the bad. First, Cooper's own article noted that the conduct of the officials involved an attack on an administration critic, not whistleblowing. Second, at a time when journalists seek a reporter's privilege akin to the attorney-client privilege, they ought recognize that an attorney can be compelled to testify if his client communicates to the attorney for the purpose of committing a crime or fraud (or where the client waives the privilege). Third, journalists are not entitled to promise complete confidentiality -- no one in America is. . . .

"Finally, by Cooper's own account, his source's confidentiality has been mooted by the production of relevant documents by Time Inc. Given the above, Cooper fails to meet his burden to show that there is no reasonable possibility that confinement will coerce him to testify since Cooper going to jail would be entirely pointless."

And here is Fitzgerald's response to Miller.

"As set forth below, Special Counsel opposes the motion for reconsideration because it is based upon the flawed assertion that there is no realistic possibility that confinement would be effective in obtaining Miller's compliance with this Court's lawful order to provide testimony and documents to the grand jury. Special Counsel further opposes the request that Miller, unlike other contemnors, either be confined at home or at a residential prison camp for her convenience while she defies this Court's order."

Blunt is one way of describing it.

Rove Doesn't Speak -- About Plame

And what about the man of the hour? We just found out this weekend that Rove spoke with Cooper during the critical period in July 2003. What did he say? Where does he fit into the investigation? What does he know?

Leonnig writes: "At a lunch meeting yesterday with Washington Post reporters and editors, Rove declined to answer questions about the Plame case."

The Raw Story Web site publishes a letter to Bush drafted by Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.): "We write in order to urge that you require your Deputy White House Chief of Staff, Karl Rove, to either come forward immediately to explain his role in the Valerie Plame matter or to resign from your Administration."

Climate (No) Change

Reuters reports: "President Bush has not shifted his position on climate policy, a White House spokeswoman said on Tuesday ahead of the Group of Eight summit. . . .

"In response to speculation in the British media that the U.S. administration was softening its stance ahead of the meeting, the spokeswoman said this was not the case.

" 'President Bush has stated his climate policy in 2001 and it remains the same,' Michele St. Martin, a spokeswoman for the White House Council on Environmental Quality, said from Washington.

" 'He believes that in order to address climate change it must be through the development and deployment of clean energy technologies,' she said."

Joshing Around

Bush met with several foreign print journalists last Thursday, and Agence France Presse White House correspondent Olivier Knox had several spirited exchanges with the president. Here's the transcript.

Back at an April 28 news conference, Bush -- who almost always calls reporters by their nicknames or first names -- called on "Mr. Knox."

Here's the first time Bush called on Knox at Thursday's roundtable:

Bush: "Give me your name again."

Knox: "Olivier. You can call me Mr. Knox, that's fine. (Laughter.)"

Bush: "Pretty good. Pretty good retort. (Laughter.) Very good. Olivier."

Later, after posing questions about the Iranian president and about Darfur, Knox asked about Laura Bush's upcoming trip to Africa. She's going there directly from Europe.

As Knox explained to me in an e-mail: "I wanted to make it a casual question, so I referred to him coming home 'stag.' He seemed a tiny bit put off at first, then played off the comment."

Indeed, it turned into an extended and humorous back and forth on Knox's word choice, words in other languages, and eventually NBC News's White House correspondent David Gregory.

Gregory, in a joint press availability in 2002, famously asked French President Jacques Chirac a question -- in French.

Bush mocked Gregory in public at the time -- "The guy memorizes four words, and he plays like he's intercontinental," Bush said. On Thursday, he had another laugh about it -- "classic moment, wasn't it?" he asked -- but then insisted: "This is all off the record, because this will hurt Gregory's feelings."

Happy Birthday Mr. President

Much fuss is being made over the president as he turns 59 today.

The celebration started Monday night, as the Bushes had some friends over to the White House to watch the fireworks and share a birthday cake.

This morning, the Danish prime minister welcomed Bush to his official summer residence with a small brass band playing "Happy Birthday," then presented Bush with a Danish birthday breakfast.

"I would strongly recommend the Danish birthday cake," Bush said in this morning's public remarks.

Agence France Presse reports that the cake was shaped like a cowboy hat and lasso, and that Bush received a Greenland stamp collection from the prime minister as a birthday present.

Then it was off to lunch with Queen Margrethe II at Fredensborg Palace. After the toasts, according to a pool report from USA Today's Judy Keen, "an unseen band began to play and waiters came in bearing a big round cake encircled with burning candles and one in the middle. The president took an exaggerated big breath, leaned over and blew out some of them. He then mock-staggered backward and blew again. The queen extinguished a couple too. Lots of applause."

Big Twin News

John Donnelly reports in the Boston Globe that Barbara Bush is apparently working in near anonymity as a volunteer at the Red Cross War Memorial Children's Hospital in Cape Town, South Africa.

"While no one disputes that she has been in Cape Town for the last six weeks, nearly everything about her stay is shrouded in mystery. Hospital officials yesterday refused to confirm her presence, and many hospital workers ducked questions about Barbara Bush's role at one of the premier health facilities in Africa for children with AIDS and other ailments.

"A White House official, Peter Watkins, confirmed yesterday that her mother, Laura Bush, will visit Barbara in South Africa later this week, after the Group of Eight summit in Scotland where President Bush and other leaders of the industrialized world will consider how they can help ease poverty in Africa. The official said Laura Bush and her other daughter, Jenna, will spend five days with Barbara and then will travel to other African countries to speak about AIDS relief and education initiatives. . . .

"A hospital administrator . . . said that friends had told her that Bush volunteered a few times a week in the children's burn unit."

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