The Left -- from The Nation's Katrina vanden Heuvel to Newsweek's Jonathan Alter -- has pulled out the impeachment card and is brandishing it as the weapon that will drive George W. Bush from the White House. This could be more than talk. Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer is consulting with legal eagles as she explores the idea.
I must say, I am tickled at their efforts. I supported impeaching the perjury-prone President Clinton, but preferred censure to removing him from office. I also saw the damage to Republicans who pushed to chase Clinton out of office.
But the Bush-haters won't heed history, not when they see an opportunity to relive the glory days of Watergate: Republicans evil; Democrats uncorrupted; reporters respected. As Alter wrote after the story broke that President Bush authorized the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on international calls in efforts to uncover possible agents of al Qaeda, "Similar abuse of power was part of the impeachment charge brought against Richard Nixon in 1974."
Angry leftists are so hysterical that they cannot distinguish between government agents eavesdropping on a president's political enemies, and the data mining of international phone calls in an earnest effort to thwart another Sept. 11 terrorist attack. They don't see that Bush, rather then trying to hide his role in the effort, signed off on the program more than 30 times.
Warrantless wiretaps? Victoria Toensing, a former deputy assistant attorney general in the Reagan administration, called CNN recently to note that the Clinton administration authorized the warrantless search of the house of CIA employee Aldrich Ames.
But the Dems didn't talk of impeachment then.
George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley offers the best argument for impeachment -- not because he is persuasive, but because he is consistent. Turley said he supported the impeachment, conviction and removal of Clinton, and is advocating likewise for Bush, as the Bush wiretaps constitute "a clear and undeniable crime." (He ignores lawyers and judges who see the issue either as far from settled, or come down in Bush's favor.)
Turley added that what the Bushies did "wasn't necessary." The administration could have won warrants from the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Act court. Out of tens of thousands of eavesdropping requests since 1979, Alter reported, FISA rejected only four.
Toensing countered that it was necessary. FISA's turndown rate is low because government lawyers don't push for warrants unless they know they'll win.
Don't forget that the feds wouldn't even ask for a warrant to tap the laptop computer of Zacarias Moussaoui, the French citizen who later pleaded guilty to conspiring with the Sept. 11 hijackers. Turley says they should have sought a warrant. Toensing says officials knew they would lose because they could not establish Moussaoui was an "agent of a foreign power."
Turley also argues that if Bush had problems with the FISA law, then he should have gone to Congress to change it. But to do so, Toensing noted, officials would have had to reveal their surveillance methods.
Turley's best argument: If the president can circumvent FISA, then "he can circumvent any federal law."
Are we at war? I asked him. "That's a good question." Then, after deriding Congress for passing war resolutions -- not declarations of war -- Turley said, "As a constitutional matter, no."
As a practical matter, though, the answer is yes -- as any soldier in Iraq or Afghanistan can tell you. I respect Turley, but in the real world, it makes sense to monitor international communications to prevent another attack -- in America or against Americans abroad.
Instead, Washington delivers lowball partisan politics. Too many Democrats support Bush when polls support Bush -- the war, the Patriot Act -- then turn on his policies when they think they can get away with it. They don't think about the impact on U.S. soldiers on foreign soil.
This whole NSA story reinforces the fact that Bush is willing to be unpopular, risk the White House even, to get the job done, while too many of his Democratic critics will walk over anyone to stand up for their lack of principles.