|Congress Has the Right – Perhaps the Duty – To Impeach Eric Holder|
By Ashton Ellis
Thursday, May 30 2013
As House Republicans ramp up their investigations into the Obama administration’s growing number of scandals, no one should be quick to dismiss the possibility that impeachment might be the only way to reassert accountability in the executive branch.
That should include GOP pollster Frank Luntz, who told a closed door meeting of House Republicans last week to stop using words like “impeachment,” “fire” and “replace.” Far better, he advised, to use this summer’s investigative hearings as ways to answer two key questions for the public: “How did this happen?” and “What are you going to do to ensure it never happens again?”
But congressional investigations aren’t just fact-gathering exercises. They’re about assigning culpability. This is an especially important function when members of the executive branch engage in illegal activity that would otherwise go unpunished, unless Congress holds them accountable.
The Framers of the Constitution understood human nature. They anticipated the possibility that government officials would be tempted to abuse their power, and then refuse to accept responsibility for the consequences. That is why the Constitution empowers Congress to prosecute criminal behavior by government officials through the impeachment process.
The process outlined in Article I mirrors a criminal prosecution. It begins with allegations of illegality that are confirmed through an investigation. As with a grand jury, an indictment follows if a majority of House members finds the evidence persuasive that a crime was committed. The indictment is called impeachment; it is not the end result.
Thereafter, a trial ensues in the Senate where two-thirds must vote to convict on the charges brought by the House. If convicted, the government official loses his position. Only then is he exposed to other potential punishment by fine or imprisonment for the underlying illegal behavior, and not by Congress.
It bears emphasizing that “Judgment in Cases of Impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from Office,” according to Article I, section 3. This means that, at its core, a successful impeachment is about judging a person unfit for the office he holds – not about throwing a political opponent in prison.
With this in mind, House Republicans – indeed, all Members of Congress – should ask themselves whether Eric Holder’s tenure as Attorney General proves him to be unfit for office.
Let’s examine the facts.
Regarding criminal conduct, there is a history of Holder and his subordinates lying to Congress.
Back in 2001, Holder, then the former Deputy Attorney General in the Clinton administration, told Congress under oath that he was “unfamiliar” with Marc Rich, the fugitive millionaire whom Holder helped to secure a last-minute presidential pardon.
As former Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew McCarthy documents, Holder knew about Rich as far back as 1995. That was when Holder was the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia and crowing about wringing a $1.2 million settlement from a Rich-controlled company.
Yet, Holder repeated his claimed lack of knowledge during his 2009 confirmation hearing to become Attorney General. Taking Holder at his word, the Senate confirmed him.
Since then a pattern of lying has emerged.
During the Fast and Furious investigation, a letter dated February 11, 2011, was sent from a top official in Holder’s Department of Justice to Congress asserting that DOJ never engaged in a controversial “gun-walking” program to arm Mexican drug cartels. It was later rescinded after a DOJ document dump revealed that Holder’s deputies had, in fact, signed off on the operation.
Under oath, Holder told the House Oversight Committee that he never knew about Fast and Furious. But then investigators uncovered a memorandum discussing the program that, as part of normal DOJ practice, Holder would have seen and heard about during his daily briefing. As with the Rich pardon, Holder pled ignorance instead of the truth.
For these and other failures to give full and accurate information, the House voted Holder in Contempt of Congress – a first in American history for a sitting Cabinet member.
Now, the Attorney General is in even worse shape. Last week he told another House panel – this one investigating DOJ targeting of reporters – that “In regard to potential prosecution of the press for the disclosure of material – this is not something I’ve ever been involved in, heard of, or would think would be wise policy.”
And yet, Eric Holder’s signature is on the search warrant to monitor Fox News reporter James Rosen, citing Rosen as a criminal “co-conspirator,” among other allegations. That document was signed in 2010, and kept secret until it was exposed in the past several weeks.
Both of Holder’s statements can’t be true. If Holder believed that Rosen’s news gathering was as the warrant attested, then he lied to Congress. But if he didn’t really think Rosen’s activities amounted to a crime, then he lied to the federal judge who granted the search warrant (and, it should be noted, two judges refused to grant the warrant). Either way, it looks as though the United States Attorney General committed perjury.
“How did this happen?” No one can trust Eric Holder to give the true answer. And it doesn’t look like his boss, President Barack Obama, is willing to impose any accountability. If Congress wants answers, it will have to find them through investigating.
When a government official can’t be trusted to tell the truth, he is no longer fit for the office he holds. With Eric Holder’s track record in mind, impeachment may be the only way Congress can answer that other important question – “What are you going to do to ensure it never happens again?”
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