Wednesday, November 15, 2017

CONYERS: Why Nixon Should Have Been Impeached - 1974

Dean of the U.S. House
of Representatives
John Conyers, Jr.
RICHARD NIXON, like the President before him, was in a real sense a casualty of the Vietnam War, a war which I am ashamed to say was never declared. Since the hearings of the House Judiciary Committee began on May 9th, 1974, we have had a professional staff of some 89 men and women gather in great detail over 42 volumes of information that was considered throughout some 57 sessions. My analysis of the evidence clearly reveals an Administration so trapped by its own war policy and a desire to remain in office that it entered into an almost unending series of plans for spying, burglary and wiretapping, inside this country and against its own citizens, and without precedent in American history.

Let us turn back to 1969 when the war was still going on and the President authorized the bombing of infiltration routes that passed through two independent and sovereign nations, Cambodia and Laos. On May 9, 1969, shortly after the bombing began, William Beecher, the Pentagon correspondent for the New York Times, published a story disclosing that "American B-52 bombers in recent weeks have raided several Viet Cong and North Vietnamese supply dumps in Cambodia for the first time." That story triggered the beginning wiretaps and shortly thereafter, the Administration embarked upon a program of illegal surveillance involving both members of the press and of the Government.

And so this secret war in Cambodia, which seemed at first incidental as I studied the record before us, has emerged as the starting point which enables me to understand the tremendous amount of surveillance and spying and burglary that has characterized the evidence and this Administration, and led to eventual impeachment proceedings.

THE JUDICIARY Committee undertook its impeachment inquiry with a clear recognition of the gravity of its responsibility to the Congress and the Constitution. Our task was unique in modern history and complicated by the sheer weight of the evidence to be evaluated. But the process of impeachment is not, and was never intended to be, familiar, convenient, or comfortable. It was framed with the intention that it be used only as a last constitutional resort against the danger of executive tyranny. The Congress should not lightly interpose its judgment between the President and the people who elect him, but we cannot avoid our duty to protect the people from "a long train of Abuses and Usurpations."

The articles of impeachment recommended by the Judiciary Committee, although narrowly drawn, are fully consistent with our constitutional responsibility. There is clear and convincing proof that Richard Nixon violated his oath of office and committed high crimes and misdemeanors which jeopardized the liberties of the people. In calling him to account, we also re-establish the proper parameters of presidential conduct. It is essential, therefore, that the record of our inquiry be complete so that no future president may infer that we have implicitly sanctioned what we have not explicitly condemned.

President Nixon's determination to extend the Vietnam War throughout Indochina led him to conclude that the infiltration of men and supplies through Cambodia and Laos had to be interdicted. This could have been done by bombing North Vietnam, but at the cost of destroying the fragile Paris Peace talks, then in progress. His only recourse, given his assumptions, was to bomb the supply routes in Cambodia which led into South Vietnam At the same time, he apparently realized that public disclosure of such bombing would create a firestorm of Congressional and public protest.
The logic of the White House becomes clear: Vietnamization required the bombing of Cambodia, which in turn required secrecy at all costs. The pressures of concealment led in turn to a spirit of distrust within the administration which spread as the President and his aides became increasingly enmeshed in the snare of lies and half-truths they had themselves created. Having decided that the People and the Congress could not be trusted with the truth, Mr. Nixon's distrust was soon extended to his own foreign policy advisors and assistants.

The authorization and concealment of the Cambodian bombing, and the means he employed to prevent its disclosure, illustrated in the very first months of his administration that the President was prepared to do anything he considered necessary to achieve his objectives. To defend both the bombing and the subsequent wiretapping, he invoked the concept of national security, a convenient rationalization to be used whenever the occasion demanded an explanation for some concealed governmental conduct. The imperial presidency of Richard Nixon came to rely on this claim as a cloak for clandestine activity, and as an excuse for consciously and repeatedly deceiving the Congress and the people.

NIXON TURNED on his critics with a vengeance, apparently not appreciating that others could strenuously disagree with him without being either subversive or revolutionary. He took full advantage of the FBI's willingness to invade people's private lives without legal justification and without regard for their civil liberties. This willingness was documented during Congressional Black Caucus hearings on governmental lawlessness in June, 1972, which revealed that the files of the FBI and the Secret Service are laden with unverified information, often inaccurate and slanderous, on thousands of citizens, particularly blacks, who have had the temerity to speak out against racism, injustice, or the Indochina war. This surveillance of government critics by the FBI began, of course, before Mr. Nixon took office, but his administration gave renewed approval to some of the ugliest abuses of governmental power.

Obsessed by the notion that the disruptive activities of the blacks and students who criticized him were receiving foreign support, he repeatedly demanded that the FBI and CIA conduct extensive investigations to verify this potential conspiracy. But, even with additional authority conferred on these agencies, their reports continually indicated that his fears were unfounded. The inability of the FBI and CIA to substantiate the President's conviction that many of his critics were engaged in subversion or international conspiracy led him to increasingly question their operational efficiency.
Hence, the President's approval of the Huston plan in July, 1970, represented nothing more than an extension of an already demonstrated willingness to harass and spy on his political opponents. Even if the Huston plan itself was subsequently tabled, its spirit lived on in the White House and soon took tangible form with attempts to use the Internal Revenue Service for discriminatory personal and political purposes, and with the activities of the Plumbers unit.

The Plumbers put the essence of the Huston plan into practice and provided the President with his own secret intelligence force to investigate his critics and discredit them by any means possible, without even the most elementary regard for individual privacy or public morality.

With the assistance of the President's closest advisors, the Plumbers violated the charter of the Central Intelligence Agency by seeking CIA assistance to impugn the integrity of Senator Edward Kennedy, and to assess the administration's potential vulnerability from ITT's Dita Beard, whose confidential memo implied that a bribe had been offered to settle the ITT antitrust case.

They sought to discredit the Democratic party by falsifying State Department cables to implicate President Kennedy in the assassination of South Vietnamese President Diem. They broke into the Los Angeles office of Dr. Fielding in an attempt to gain medical information that would defame Daniel Ellsberg and, through him, the critics of the President's war policies.

In these ways, and perhaps in other ways still undisclosed, they violated every canon of morality and legality which stood between them and their goal of discrediting and undermining the President's "enemies".

THESE ACTIVITIES demonstrate that the break-in and bugging of the Democratic National Committee, and the subsequent cover-up specified in Article I, were not inexplicable aberrations from a standing presidential policy of strict adherence to the law. Instead, in proper perspective, the Watergate break-in emerges as only one incident in a continuous course of conduct which had its origins in the first months following President Nixon's inauguration.

The subsequent concealment was intended not merely to protect the White House from its complicity in the Watergate incident itself, but to avoid disclosure of the entire train of illegal and abusive conduct that characterized the Nixon presidency:

-Obstruction of justice;
-Perjury and subornation of perjury;
-Offers of executive clemency;
-Attempts to influence a federal judge;
-Destruction of evidence;
-Disclosure of secret grand jury proceedings;
-Withholding information of criminal activity;
-Impoundment of Congressional appropriations;
-Willful tax evasion;
-Possible bribery in connection with the ITT antitrust and milk price support decisions;
-And interference with the lawful activities of the CIA, FBI, IRS, Special Prosecutor, House Banking and Currency Committee, Senate Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities, and finally, the House Judiciary Committee.

In these ways, the President sought to avert disclosure of a seamless web of illegality and impropriety.

That cover-up continued to the end, in that the President attempted to deceive the Congress and the American people by concealing and misrepresenting his knowledge and participation in these activities, and even while resigning, refusing to admit his complicity. Additionally, he withheld necessary information from the Special Prosecutors and fired Special Prosecutor Cox for his efforts to fully discharge his responsibilities. He refused to comply with the legal and proper subpoenas of the Judiciary Committee, as charged in Article III. He mutilated and destroyed evidence in his possession or caused that to happen, and did very nearly everything in his power to impede, delay, and obstruct the proper course of justice.

In my judgment, this course of presidential conduct, outlined above and specified in Articles I, II, and III, provides irrefutable evidence that Richard Nixon was not fit to enjoy the trust and authority which reposes in the Presidency of the United States.

But of at least equal importance is the uncontroverted evidence that Mr. Nixon authorized an illegal war against the sovereign nation of Cambodia, and sought to protect himself from criticism and possible repudiation by engaging in deliberate policies of concealment, deception, and misrepresentation.

On July 30, 1974, I proposed the following article of impeachment:

In his conduct of the office of President of the United States, Richard M. Nixon, in violation of his constitutional oath faithfully to execute the office of President of the United States and, to the best of his ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States, and in disregard of his constitutional duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed, on and subsequent to March 16, 1969, authorized, ordered and ratified the concealment from the Congress of the facts and the submission to the Congress of false and misleading statements concerning the existence, scope and nature of American bombing operations in Cambodia in derogation of the power of the Congress to declare war, to make appropriations, and to raise and support armies, and by such conduct warrants impeachment and trial and removal from office.

Although this article was not recommended by the Committee, it is fully supported by the facts and the Constitution.

The President of the United States must exercise only those powers which are legally and constitutionally his to exercise, and, by his actions, he must demonstrate due respect for the democratic rights of the people and the constitutional responsibilities of the Congress. The manner in which the Cambodian bombing was initiated, conducted, and reported clearly exceeded the constitutional powers of the presidency, and presented indisputable evidence of impeachable conduct.
President Nixon unilaterally initiated and authorized a campaign of bombing against the neutral nation of Cambodia. For the next four years, he continually deceived the Congress and the American people as to when the bombing began and how far it extended. In so doing, he exceeded his constitutional power as commander-in-chief. He usurped the power of the Congress to declare war, and he expended monies for a purpose not authorized or approved by the Congress. In so doing, he also denied the people of the United States their right to be fully informed about the actions and policies of their elected officials.

It is important to note that the facts pertinent to the Cambodian bombing are not in question. On 11 February 1969, General Creighton Abrams, Commander of the United States Military Assistance Command Vietnam, recommended and requested authorization to conduct bombing strikes in Cambodia. Between 12 February and 17 March 1969, this request was considered by the President in meetings of the National Security Council. On 17 March 1969, President Nixon authorized the bombing of Cambodia.

The bombing began on 18 March 1969 and continued unabated until 15 August 1973. From 18 March 1969 to 1 May 1970, when the United States initiated ground combat operations in Cambodia, 3,695 B-52 sorties were conducted, during which a total of105,837 tons of bombs were dropped on Cambodia. From the beginning to the end of the bombing campaign in August, 1973,more than 150,000 sorties dropped in excess of 500,000 tons of bombs in Cambodia.

The bombing operations took the form of three different operations, code named "Menu Operation", "Patio", and "Freedom Deal". Under the procedure instituted for reporting "Menu Operation" bombing missions, the regular, operational reports prepared after each mission indicated that the strikes had taken place in South Vietnam rather than in Cambodia. Most "Patio" bombing missions were not reported at all; forty-eight "special" "Patio" strikes were reported as having occurred in Laos, rather than Cambodia. The "Freedom Deal" tactical air strikes began on 30 June 1970, the date on which the last contingent of American ground forces was withdrawn from Cambodia. These strikes were reported as having taken place in Cambodia, but in many cases, the targets of "Freedom Deal" strikes were not those which were authorized and reported.

SIMILARLY, THERE is no dispute that the President made a decision to keep the bombing secret. When President Nixon approved the first bombing strikes in Cambodia, he directed General Earle Wheeler, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to inform General Abrams that the bombing operations were not to be discussed with any unauthorized person, even though this meant circumventing the normal chain of command which would otherwise have included the Secretary of the Army, the Vice Chief of Staff for the Air Force, and the Commander of the Seventh Air Force.
The President's policy of concealment, deception, and misrepresentation was consistently reflected in his own public statements and in the Congressional testimony of his military and civilian subordinates.

In a nationally televised address on 14 May 1969, two months after the bombing in Cambodia began, the President stated, "1 have tried to present the facts about Vietnam with complete honesty, and I shall continue to do so in my reports to the American people."

At a news conference on 8 December 1969, the President asserted that the people of the United States were entitled to know everything they could with regard to any involvement of the United States abroad.

At another news conference on 21 March 1970, President Nixon declared that the United States would continue to "respect Cambodia's neutrality."

On 30 April 1970, when the President announced the American invasion of Cambodia, he reviewed previous American policy toward Cambodia in the following terms:

American policy since then has been to scrupulously respect the neutrality of the Cambodian people. We have maintained a skeleton diplomatic mission of fewer than 15in Cambodia's capitol, and that only since last August. For the previous 4 years, from1965 to 1969, we did not have any diplomatic mission whatever in Cambodia. And for the past 5 years, we have provided no military assistance whatever and no economic assistance to Cambodia. For 5 years, neither the United States nor South Vietnam has moved against these enemy sanctuaries because we did not wish to violate the territory of a neutral nation. Even after the Vietnamese Communists began to expand these sanctuaries 4 weeks ago, we counseled patience to our South Vietnamese allies and imposed restraints on our own commanders.

On 30 June 1970, the President released a report entitled "The Cambodian Operation" which stated in part:

For five years. North Vietnam has used Cambodian territory as a sanctuary from which to attack allied forces in South Vietnam. For five years, American and allied forces - to preserve the concept of Cambodian neutrality and to confine the conflict in Southeast Asia - refrained from moving against these sanctuaries.

The evidence is unmistakeable, therefore, that President Nixon personally and directly lied to the American people by repeatedly concealing the fact that the United States had begun to bomb Cambodia in March, 1969.

THE PRESIDENT'S public assurances were complemented by the erroneous and misleading statements made to the Congress by his civilian and military subordinates. Such statements were made by the Chief of Staff of the Air Force, the Secretary of State, the Secretary of the Army, the Secretary of Defense, and the Secretary of the Air Force in testimony before the Senate Committee on Armed Services, the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, the Senate Committee on Appropriations, and the House Committee on Appropriations.

For example, on 27 April 1970, Secretary of State Rogers testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, declaring that, "Cambodia is one country where we can say with complete assurance that our hands are clean and our hearts are pure . . . Our best policy is to be as quiet as possible, to avoid any action which appears to violate the neutrality of Cambodia."

For example, on 16 April 1970, Secretary of the Army Resor testified before the Senate Appropriations Committee that there had been no "U.S. military aid and no Army support for Cambodia" since January, 1964.

For example, on 31 March 1971, Secretary of the Air Force Seamans was requested by the Senate Armed Services Committee to submit a report on American bombing missions in Indochina. Seamans subsequently submitted a classified report which indicated that no bombing strikes had been conducted in Cambodia prior to 1 May 1970, even though bombing strikes had actually begun in March, 1969.

It was not until 16 July 1973 that Secretary of Defense Schlesinger was forced to confirm earlier disclosures to the Senate Armed Services Committee that the United States had bombed Cambodia, a sovereign and neutral nation, before May, 1970.

Richard Nixon authorized the bombing of Cambodia. In a series of subsequent public statements, he deliberately and intentionally lied to the American people. And in their testimony before duly authorized committees of the Congress, his civilian and military subordinates failed to testify fully and accurately. Whether his subordinates deceived the Congress intentionally or unintentionally, the fact remains that the President must have known that they testified inaccurately, and he made no attempt to correct the record.

BY HIS SECRET bombing of Cambodia, President Nixon unquestionably exceeded his powers as commander-in-chief, for not even the most tortured interpretation of Article II, Section 2 could support a war begun and pursued in secrecy. He also violated Sections 7 and 8 of Article I, which give to the Congress the authority to make appropriations and declare war. For the "power of the purse" to have any meaning, the Congress must know how the money it appropriates is spent.
By conducting a war without the knowledge of the Congress, President Nixon further eroded whatever remains of the constitutional power of the Congress to decide when and where the United States shall be at war. We cannot sanction such a policy of deliberate deception, intended to nullify the constitutional powers of the Congress to legislate for the people we represent.

By the same policies of secrecy and deception, Richard Nixon also violated a principal tenet of democratic government: that the President, like every other elected official, is accountable to the people.

For how can the people hold their President to account if he deliberately and consistently lies to them? The people cannot judge if they do not know, and President Nixon did everything within his power to keep them in ignorance. In all good conscience, we must condemn his deception regarding Cambodia with the same fervor and outrage we condemn his deception regarding Watergate.
The difficult question is not whether the secret bombing of Cambodia constitutes impeachable conduct. That is too obvious to require further argument.

Instead, the question we must ponder is, why the Congress has not called Mr. Nixon to judgment for the bombing of Cambodia? The painful answer is that condemning the Cambodian bombing would also have required us to indict previous administrations and to admit that the Congress has failed to fully meet its own constitutional obligations.

WHETHER INTENTIONALLY or not, the Congress has participated in the degeneration of its power to declare war. Although a War Powers Act was passed recently, over the veto of President Nixon, no legislation is self-executing. Whatever its limitations and faults, this legislation, and the constitutional provisions on which it is based, will only have meaning to the extent that the Congress invests them with meaning. Instead of merely ratifying the decisions and recommendations of the executive branch, the Congress must demonstrate that it is once again prepared to play an active and constructive role in the formulation of foreign policy - in the creation of policies which will direct this nation toward war or peace.

If this is truly to be a representative government, then the people's representatives in Congress must no longer allow any one person to decide unilaterally when, where, and why Americans shall die violent deaths or kill others. The Congress may not be subject to impeachment, but it is subject to emasculation.

We must directly confront the fact that the secret bombing of Cambodia is only the most recent and egregious illustration of the disintegration of the war power of Congress, and that the Congress has participated in this process, wittingly or unwittingly.

If, during the impeachment proceeding, we have failed to learn this lesson, then we deserve the obloquy, not the gratitude, of the people of the United States. If we do not now fully dedicate ourselves to regaining every bit of constitutional ground we have surrendered, then - to paraphrase one of the President's men - we shall have lost our constitutional and moral compass.

IT HAS FREQUENTLY been argued during the past weeks that the Committee's inquiry and the President's subsequent resignation demonstrate that "the system works." But such satisfaction or complacency is misguided. We must recognize that we were presented with a seemingly endless series of public revelations and presidential actions which did more to undermine Mr. Nixon's position than any independent investigation undertaken by this Committee or its staff.

The Congressional inquiry has been the beneficiary of literally years of work by investigative reporters, the Special Prosecutor's office, and the Senate Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities. And most importantly, the President himself documented his words and actions through his secret taping system, without which our inquiry might never have even been begun. The President himself did more than anyone or anything to insure his removal from office.

If the system has worked, it has worked by accident and good fortune. It would be gratifying to conclude that the House, charged with the sole power of impeachment, exercised vigilance and acted on its own initiative. However, we would be deluding ourselves if we did not admit that this inquiry was forced on us by an accumulation of disclosures which, finally and after unnecessary delays, could no longer be ignored.

Perhaps, ironically, and certainly unintentionally, we have ourselves jeopardized the future of the impeachment process. Before this inquiry, the prospect of impeaching a president was disquieting because it had not been attempted in more than a century. Now with our inquiry as a precedent, future Congresses may recoil from ever again exercising this power. They may read the history of our work and conclude that impeachment can never again succeed unless another President demonstrates the same, almost uncanny ability to impeach himself.

If this is our legacy, our future colleagues may well conclude that ours has been a pyrrhic victory, and that impeachment will never again justify the agony we have endured. It is imperative, therefore, that we speak to them clearly: impeachment is difficult and it is painful, but the courage to do what must be done is the price of remaining free.

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