Reagan administration official Bruce Fein, on why some Republicans support
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR: On Tuesday, November 6, Congressman Dennis Kucinich introduced a resolution to impeach Vice President Dick Cheney. Today we’re joined by attorney Bruce Fein, a Republican pundit who supports Cheney’s impeachment. Fein is the former associate deputy attorney general for the Reagan administration. Currently he’s working as an advisor to the Ron Paul presidential campaign. Bruce, you’re a longtime Republican, but you’re supporting the bid to impeach Vice President Dick Cheney. Why?
BRUCE FEIN, AMERICAN FREEDOM AGENDA: Because I’m a lifelong Republican and believe in Republican conservative values, which the vice president has abandoned and endorsed unchecked power, the idea that “trust me” should be the measure of civil liberties. Those are the themes that would have been abhorrent to any Republican twenty, thirty years ago and certainly to our founding fathers.
JAY: There were three parts to the Kucinich resolution: one about manipulating intelligence pre-Iraq war; two about manipulating intelligence on Saddam/Al Qaeda connection; and three, threatening war against Iran. Did you support this resolution that Kucinich put forward?
FEIN: Well, I would have indicted the vice president for other reasons that more distort and warp the checks and balances system of the constitution. I would blame Congress as much as the president for continuing our quagmire Tar Baby in Iraq, because Congress has voted $800 billion to support President Bush’s invasion and aftermath of Saddam. Congress can hardly claim innocence with all that money being appropriated month after month after month, whether the Congress is controlled by Democrats or Republicans. And similarly, with regard to threatening Iran, the fact is Congress could prevent any kind of incursion into Iran by a simple appropriations bill saying no monies of the United States shall be spent to employ military force in Iran. And that’s a Democratic-controlled Congress that refuses to do that. It seems to me difficult to impeach the vice president or president for things that Congress is complicit in. After all, Congress is the accuser here. And if you’re looking at the warping of the Constitution, it’s every bit as much these matters in the hands of Congress as the executive.
JAY: I think the leadership of the Democratic Party might agree with this analysis, seeing as they’ve done everything they can to bury the impeachment resolution. But if it were up to you, what would be the three outstanding reasons for the impeachment of Vice President Dick Cheney?
FEIN: First, he’s the champion of the so-called warrant less surveillance program that constituted criminal violations of the federal statutes regulating the gathering of foreign intelligence to ensure that a judge decides whether the privacy interests of an American shall be invaded or not; and claiming that the president has power to torture, assassinate, kidnap, or otherwise to gather foreign intelligence without any ability of Congress to regulate the gathering whatsoever. The second, these claims of executive privilege, namely the authority of the vice president, president to run a secret government and be unresponsive to the Congressional requests for information regarding spying programs, the legal rationale for the programs, the reasons for firing U.S. attorneys. Otherwise, governance in secrecy is an invitation to abuses and lawlessness. And the third area is this use of military commissions and enemy combatant detainees at Guantanamo Bay that are held totally outside the legal system. These are practices that are abhorrent to any civilized system of law that recognizes the need for independent judges to determine whether the executive branch has correctly or improperly detained any individual and deprived him of their liberty for life.
JAY: Now, you worked in the justice department during the Reagan administration. Is what’s happening now really so different than then? I mean, many people accused the Reagan administration of, certainly, violating international law and some American law—Iran-Contragate and other kinds of activities of the CIA. Have things really changed all that much?
FEIN: Yes. Everything in life is matters of degree. And certainly that comes as well with regard to high crimes and misdemeanors and the danger to the Constitution. One violation of the Constitution every five hundred years is not a problem. When it comes every five seconds, it’s a problem. So it’s matters of degree. And the Reagan administration certainly was one that was […] Iran-Contra President Reagan ordered his national security advisors to testify before a congressional committee. I was right in the room then. He insisted on the need for full disclosure in order to reassure the American people that he was not engaged in any kind of criminal cover up. And even though there are these allegations of violating the so-called Boland Amendment that restricted aid to the Nicaraguan resistance, there never was any court decision that ever concluded that there was a violation of law. And moreover the congressional oversight authority functioned as it was intended, with questioning, hearings, an ability to ask national security advisors, the secretary of state, the secretary of defense, the reasons for the sale of arms to Iran, the diversion of funds or otherwise. There was an independent council who investigated criminal wrongdoing and did find some cases of misleading Congress. That’s totally different than President Bush, who’s operated in complete secrecy since 9/11, and we don’t know the scope of the alleged or suspected crime, because Congress has not insisted on ascertaining what the president and the vice president have done in the name of national security.
JAY: Most of the Republican Party, the Republicans at least that are visible that adopt a position similar to yours, in the presidential candidate lineup only Ron Paul, I would think. And what’s happened to the rest of the Republican Party? And not just the rest of the Republican Party. I think one could say most of corporate America has kind of stood by this last almost eight years, and at the least has seen one of the very worst strategic disasters to face U.S. foreign policy in Iraq, a centralization of power, as you described, not seen before except perhaps during World War II. Why has most of the Republican Party and corporate America been so quiet?
FEIN: Well, I think you’re a little exclusionary there. I’d put the Democratic Party in. Remember, it was Nancy Pelosi, the house speaker and the Democratic icon who said “impeachment’s off the table.” This was last November. No matter what this president will do, impeachment will never be on the table again. The Democrats are as complicit as Republicans and corporate America. And largely it’s the decay of the political culture. People grow up not knowing what the Constitution means, not recognizing the sacrifices at Valley Fjord, Cemetery Ridge, Omaha Beach that have kept checks and balances intact, freedom of speech and our liberties, while maintaining our national sovereignty. They know nothing of our history and the nobility of government by the consent of the governed. So they are largely indifferent to the crumbling of our constitution and the deterioration of the checks that keep our liberties intact. And we are on a trajectory that mimics that of the decline and fall of Rome chronicled by Edward Gibbon. And when you find a country whose moral decay has set in as pronounced as this one is, you see how easy it is for one leader to usurp power relatively with impunity, even with disasters like Iraq, which is a failure by anyone’s standard. We have a president whose popularity is at Nixon-like levels before his resignation, and still he dictates everything, and Congress capitulates and yields and follows like they’re sheep. So that’s the basic reason is that we have lost our moral fiber and devotion to constitutional philosophy that gave the nation its birth.
JAY: I know you’re working with Ron Paul on his campaign. A few days ago, to everyone’s—I shouldn’t say everyone—to the media’s surprise—I don’t think to those following the Internet—but to the media’s surprise, Ron Paul raised millions of dollars in a very short time. What effect is his candidacy having inside the Republican Party? Is he getting people to actually talk about these questions?
FEIN: Not within the Republican Party or the Democratic Party either. Just like Kucinich, the Democrat who’s sort of the flip-side of Ron Paul on these issues, only a Democrat, and then pushed Hillary Clinton to raise these issues or others. No. In large measure the members in Congress, the aspirants for the presidency covet what President Bush and Cheney have done, because they desire to exercise the same power that these two have done. The fact is that this is not something that can be blamed upon one or two individuals, one or two parties; it effects the entire country, which makes it far more worrisome, because it’s not going to go away when Cheney and Bush leave the White House at least as early as 2009, when we have the next inauguration. Now, some have speculated are we going to have a President Musharraf putsch and a declaration of emergency? No, that’s not going to happen here. But the fact is this slow accretion of power in the executive branch will continue because the members of Congress don’t take themselves seriously. They actually think all the serious decision making should be in the president, because they really don’t have any convictions about what their obligations are to check and oversee the executive branch.
JAY: Some people, the Democratic Party leadership, certainly the leadership of the Republican Party, are saying the campaign to impeach Cheney is either a diversion, a waste of time, and so on. But do you see that impeachment process as a constructive process?
FEIN: Of course it is. It’s not only constructive, it’s obligatory. You’ll notice that everyone in the Congress of the United States, every officer of the United States, under Article 6 of our Constitution, takes an oath—an oath—to defend and protect the Constitution of the United States, which includes a clause that says the president and vice president shall be removed from office for high crimes and misdemeanors—impeachable offences. The Constitution says nothing about loyalty to the Democratic Party, like worrying about the Democratic retention of power in Congress. The Constitution is silent. There’s no obligation. Certainly no unflagging obligation to subordinate the Constitution to these other more progue objectives. And the idea that the constitutional enforcement and protection in defence of the document is a diversion that’s preposterous on its face. Without the Constitution, all these other issues would be meaningless and we wouldn’t have a rule of law. We would be returning to a monarch-like executive branch, a government by executive edict. And these comments and slighting of impeachment show how far we’ve gone in our constitutional ignorance and failure to recognize what keeps a country free and democratic.