This article belongs to Behind the Bush column.

As part of his inauguration, President Bush repeated the presidential oath of office. He pledged to "preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States." The oath serves to "guard against presidential excess or wrongdoing."[i][i] It also defines the job of the president. Failing to preserve, protect, or defend the Constitution violates the oath. If the president "intentionally" subverted or undermined the Constitution then he perverted the oath.[ii][ii]


President George W. Bush has committed offenses which are injuries to the American society, and especially to American democracy, the system of government our Founding Fathers created. Among the President's offenses are the "initiation and continuation of the Iraq war,"[iii][iii] the authorization of warrantless wiretapping, and authorizing the use of torture on detainees.


The Center for Constitutional Rights compiled a book titled, Articles of Impeachment Against George W. Bush. William Goodman, the Center's legal director, wrote the introduction to the book. Goodman begins his introduction by stating that the U.S. is "confronted with a grave constitutional crisis." The constitutional crisis is due to a "president staunchly committed to acquiring unprecedented amounts of power" which he uses in ways "that conflict with the Constitution…international law, and the common understanding of morality."[iv][iv]


Rep. John Conyers, as then Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Committee, asked that a report titled "The Constitution in Crisis" be produced by the end of 2005. The report provides evidence the Bush administration misled Congress on the reasons for invading Iraq, and authorized the use of torture on detainees. The introduction of the report states:


There is a prima facie case that these actions by the President, Vice-President and other members of the Bush Administration violated a number of federal laws, including (1) Committing a Fraud against the United States; (2) Making False Statements to Congress; (3) The War Powers Resolution; (4) Misuse of Government Funds; (5) federal laws and international treaties prohibiting torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment; (6) federal laws concerning retaliating against witnesses and other individuals; and (7) federal laws and regulations concerning leaking and other misuse of intelligence.[v][v]


The framers of the Constitution provided a way for elected officials who have abused their power to be removed from office. It is called impeachment. The number of times impeachment is mentioned in the Constitution is an indication our Founding Fathers intended the process to be used. Benjamin Franklin said, "It would be the best way therefore to provide in the Constitution for the regular punishment of the Executive where his misconduct deserves it."[vi][vi]


"The framers of our Constitution feared executive power run amok and provided the remedy of impeachment to protect against it," wrote Elizabeth Holtzman, former Congresswoman who sat in on the House impeachment hearings against President Nixon, in an article for The Nation magazine. "While impeachment is a last resort, and must never be lightly undertaken, neither can Congress shirk its responsibility to use that tool to safeguard our democracy. No President can be permitted to commit high crimes and misdemeanors with impunity."[vii][vii]


Appearing first in Article 1 Section 2, the Constitution stipulates the House of Representatives "shall have the sole power of impeachment." Article 1 Section 3 gives the Senate the "sole power to try all impeachments." Therefore, impeachment is introduced in the House, and tried in the Senate.


The reasons for impeachment are given in Article 2 Section 4: treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors. It must be noted the phrase 'high crimes and misdemeanors' denotes a "grave and immediate offense against the state."[viii][viii] An impeachable offense does not have to be punishable by law. Alexander Hamilton referred to impeachable offenses as "those offenses which proceed from the misconduct of public men, or, in other words, from the abuse or violation of some public trust. They are of a nature which may with peculiar propriety be denominated political, as they relate chiefly to injuries done immediately to the society itself."[ix][ix]

The phrase "high crimes and misdemeanors" was understood by the Constitutional Convention delegates to "cover a myriad of offenses whereby an official has overstepped the particular bounds of public office." An impeachable offense must be a "grave and immediate offense against the state."[x][x] In Holtzman's article she defines the phrase as, "A high crime or misdemeanor is an archaic term that means a serious abuse of power, whether or not it is also a crime, that endangers our constitutional system of government."[xi][xi]

Edmund Randolph, a delegate to the Constitutional Convention and Virginia governor, said, "Guilt wherever found ought to be punished. The executive will have great opportunities of abusing his power; particularly in time of war when the military force, and in some respects the public money will be in his hands. Should no regular punishment be provided, it will be irregularly inflicted by tumults and insurrections."

At a Town Hall meeting in New York City on March 2, 2006, the Constitutional scholar, Michael Ratner said, "It sounds today like "high crimes and misdemeanors" means "criminal acts," but impeachment does not necessarily have to mean a criminal act." He explained that impeachment is the way that a president is removed "when there is executive tyranny."

Only two presidents have ever been impeached: President Andrew Johnson in 1868 and President Bill Clinton in 1999. Andrew Johnson had eleven articles of impeachment brought against him. The charges included removing the Secretary of Defense Edwin M. Stanton from office without the Senate's consent, delivering a letter unauthorized by Congress to Lorenzo Thomas stating he was the interim Secretary, and conspiring with Thomas to prevent the execution of a Congressional act. A single Senate vote acquitted Johnson, and he served the rest of his term.


Articles of impeachment were drawn up against President Richard Nixon in 1974. The House Judiciary Committee passed three articles of impeachment against Nixon, but he resigned before the House could bring impeachment charges against him. If the House had voted to impeach Nixon, he would have faced the charges of "violating the Constitutional rights of citizens," "assuming to himself the functions and judgments given to the House of Representatives by the Constitution," and not providing documents to Congress in relation to the break-in at the Watergate Hotel in 1972 before his re-election.


The Iraq War: An impeachable offense

Misleading the country about Saddam Hussein's chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs, or the lack thereof, is an impeachable offense for it violates the presidential oath. The Congress voted for the Bush administration to use force against Iraq based on misleading intelligence which ran contrary to what the majority of the U.S. intelligence community reported. While doing investigations for The Constitution in Crisis Conyers found "substantial evidence" that the Bush administration:


misled Congress and the American people regarding the decision to go to war with Iraq; misstated and manipulated intelligence information regarding the justification for such war; countenanced torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and other legal violations in Iraq; and permitted inappropriate retaliation against critics of their Administration.[xii][xii]


The Iraq war is ongoing. Although most Americans do not have loved ones fighting in Iraq, the war affects everyone. The fact that the Bush administration persuaded the Congress to authorize the use of force against Iraq based on lies and half-truths erodes the very fabric of American democracy. In the next few months I will explore the reasons Holtzman, Conyers, and others give for why Bush should be impeached.


Next week: During 2002 the Bush administration began the push for invading Iraq. Numerous misleading statements about Iraq possessing weapons of mass destruction were made by President Bush, Vice-President Dick Cheney, and other administration officials.



[i][i] Center for Constitutional Rights. Articles of Impeachment Against George W. Bush. Hoboken, NJ: Melville House Publishing, 2006.

[ii][ii] Ibid.

[iii][iii] Ibid.

[iv][iv] The Constitution in Crisis: Investigative Status Report of the House Judiciary Committee Democratic 

   Staff., p.

[v][v] Ibid.

[vi][vi] Center for Constitutional Rights.

[vii][vii] Holtzman, Elizabeth. "The Impeachment of George W. Bush," The Nation. January 30, 2006.

[viii][viii] Ibid.

[ix][ix] Ibid.

[x][x] Ibid.

[xi][xi] Ibid.

[xii][xii] The Constitution in Crisis.