The more I see from Fein talking about the Bush administration, the more I like what I see. This guy is really pulling no punches at all. He was on with Bill Moyers (see transcript here) and really blistered the administration, saying that we need statesmen who care more about country than party to stand up and push for impeachment. A few gems from that interview:
On the difference between Clinton’s actions and Bush’s and why Bush deserves impeachment much more:
BILL MOYERS: Bruce you wrote that article of impeachment against Bill Clinton. Why did you think he should be impeached?
BRUCE FEIN: I think he was setting a precedent that placed the president above the law. I did not believe that the initial perjury or misstatements– that came perhaps in a moment of embarrassment stemming from the Paula Jones lawsuit was justified impeachment if he apologized. Even his second perjury before the grand jury when Ken Starr’s staff was questioning him, as long as he expressed repentance, would not have set an example of saying every man, if you’re president, is entitled to be a law unto himself. I think Bush’s crimes are a little bit different. I think they’re a little bit more worrisome than Clinton’s. You don’t have to have–
BILL MOYERS: More worrisome?
BRUCE FEIN: More worrisome than Clinton’s– because he is seeking more institutionally to cripple checks and balances and the authority of Congress and the judiciary to superintend his assertions of power. He has claimed the authority to tell Congress they don’t have any right to know what he’s doing with relation to spying on American citizens, using that information in any way that he wants in contradiction to a federal statute called the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. He’s claimed authority to say he can kidnap people, throw them into dungeons abroad, dump them out into Siberia without any political or legal accountability. These are standards that are totally anathema to a democratic society devoted to the rule of law.
On past examples and the importance of checks and balances:
BRUCE FEIN: In the past, presidents like Abe Lincoln, who confronted a far dire emergency in the Civil War than today, sought congressional ratification approval of his emergency measures. He didn’t seek to hide them from the people and from Congress and to prevent there to be accountability. And, of course, Congress did ratify what he had done. Secondly, sure, times can be terrifying. But that also should alert us to the fact that we can make mistakes. The executive can make mistakes.
Take World War II. We locked up 120,000 Japanese Americans, said they were all disloyal. Well, we got 120,000 mistakes. They lost their property. They lost their liberty for years and years because we made a huge mistake. And that can be true after 9/11 as well. No one wants other downgrade the fact that we have abominations out there and people want to kill us. But we should not inflate the danger and we should not cast aside what we are as a people. We can fight and defeat these individuals, these criminals, based upon our system of law and justice. It’s not a– we have a fighting constitution. It’s always worked in the past. But it still remains the constitution of checks of balances.
On the need to put country above party:
BRUCE FEIN: There’s always going to be a political element, Bill. But in the past, there’s always been a few statesmen who have said, “You know, the political fallout doesn’t concern me as much as the Constitution of the United States.” We have to keep that undefiled throughout posterity ’cause if it’s not us, it will corrode. It will disappear on the installment plan. And that has been true in the past. When we had during Watergate Republicans and remember Barry Goldwater, Mr. Republican, who approached the president and said, “You’ve got to resign.” There have always been that cream who said the country is more important than my party. We don’t have that anymore.
On Cheney being the primary problem, not Bush:
BILL MOYERS: This is the first time I’ve heard talk of impeaching both a president and a vice-president. I mean, this– as you saw in that poll, more people want to impeach Dick Cheney than George Bush. What’s going on?
BRUCE FEIN: Well, this is an unusual affair of president/vice-president, where the vice-president is de facto president most of the time. And that’s why most of people recognize that these decisions, especially when it comes to overreaching with executive power, are the product of Dick Cheney and his aide, David Addington, not George Bush and Alberto Gonzalez or Harriet Miers, who don’t have the cerebral capacity to think of these devilish ideas. And for that reason, they equate the administration more with Dick Cheney than with George Bush.
On Bush’s overreaching claims of unchecked authority:
BILL MOYERS: Bruce, you talk about overreaching. What, in practical terms, do you mean by that?
BRUCE FEIN: It means asserting powers and claiming that there are no other branches that have the authority to question it. Take, for instance, the assertion that he’s made that when he is out to collect foreign intelligence, no other branch can tell him what to do. That means he can intercept your e-mails, your phone calls, open your regular mail, he can break and enter your home. He can even kidnap you, claiming I am seeking foreign intelligence and there’s no other branch Congress can’t say it’s illegal–judges can’t say this is illegal. I can do anything I want. That is overreaching. When he says that all of the world, all of the United States is a military battlefield because Osama bin Laden says he wants to kill us there, and I can then use the military to go into your homes and kill anyone there who I think is al-Qaeda or drop a rocket, that is overreaching. That is a claim even King George III didn’t make–
On Congress abdicating its duty to stop the President from taking power he does not have under the Constitution:
BRUCE FEIN: Well, that’s accurate but also we do find this peculiarity that Congress is giving up powers voluntarily. because there’s nothing right now, Bill, that would prevent Congress from the immediate shutting down all of George Bush’s and Dick Cheney’s illegal programs. Simply saying there’s no money to collect foreign intelligence-
BILL MOYERS: The power of the purse-
BRUCE FEIN: –the power of the purse. That is an absolute power. And yet Congress shies from it. It was utilized during the Vietnam War, you may recall, in 1973. Congress said there’s no money to go and extend the war into Laos and Cambodia. And even President Nixon said okay. This was a president who at one time said, “If I do it, it’s legal.” So that it we do find Congress yielding the power to the executive branch. It’s the very puzzle that the founding fathers would have been stunned at. They worried most over the legislative branch in, you know, usurping powers of the other branches. And–
BILL MOYERS: Well, what you just said indicts the Congress more than you’re indicting George Bush and Dick Cheney.
BRUCE FEIN: In some sense, yes, because the founding fathers expected an executive to try to overreach and expected the executive would be hampered and curtailed by the legislative branch. And you’re right. They have basically renounced– walked away from their responsibility to oversee and check. It’s not an option. It’s an obligation when they take that oath to faithfully uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States. And I think the reason why this is. They do not have convictions about the importance of the Constitution. It’s what in politics you would call the scientific method of discovering political truths and of preventing excesses because you require through the processes of review and vetting one individual’s perception to be checked and– counterbalanced by another’s. And when you abandon that process, you abandon the ship of state basically and it’s going to capsize.
Brilliant stuff and very accurate. And this from a guy with unimpeachable conservative credentials.