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This Week in History
August 10-16, 2014

40 Years After Watergate:
Impeachment Then, and Now

August 9, 1974

by Nancy Spannaus

Nixon’s departure after resigning, August 1974

August 9, 2014 —By now the story is well-known. When Richard Nixon resigned and left the Presidency 40 years ago today, he did it with the knowledge, conveyed to him by three powerful Republican legislators on August 7, 1974 that he would inevitably be impeached, and convicted, if he did not leave office. He chose not to conduct the fight.

To some, especially cowardly Republicans, this reality means that they should not launch impeachment proceedings against President Barack Obama until they can promise the same kind of surety. That argument is a dangerous fraud, which keeps us on the pathway to World War III.

When the impeachment proceedings were first launched against Richard Nixon seven months before his resignation, no such surety existed. In fact, there were the very same charges of "partisan attack" from the Republican Party against the effort, charges which the Democratic Party mouths today. But over the course of the ensuing months, new evidence unearthed by the very launching of the impeachment investigation changed the minds of a lot of people, including in the American political establishment. Many of such figures became increasingly alarmed about the reality they saw emerging: that Richard Nixon was attempting to consolidate an FBI/CIA police state in these United States. They decided that Nixon had to go.

In short order, some of the most egregious of those fascist police-state measures were further exposed, and at least nominally halted, with the launching of the Church Committee hearings and ensuing legislation, the most important of which was the establishment of an oversight procedure through the creation of the House and Senate Select Committees on Intelligence, and the passage of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to eliminate warrantless wiretapping.

"Small Potatoes"

White House/Chuck Kennedy
Obama has gone far beyond the Nixon and the Bush-Cheney White Houses in pursuing rule by bureaucratic dictatorship. .

Yet today, in light of the process initiated by the British Empire-instigated 9/11 atrocity and carried out by President George W. Bush and Barack Obama, the violations of the U.S. Constitutional liberties of the American people being carried out by the Nixon administration have to be characterized as "small potatoes" in comparison.

In his remarks on this week's web-radio LaRouche Show, LaRouche movement political leader Tony Papert persistently stressed this point. Yes, Obama—even more than Bush—is violating the Constitution by spying on Americans, usurping the perogatives of Congress, and launching illegal wars. But even Nixon, for all his virulent anti-communism, did not have the criminal insanity to put the United States on the course for war against a thermonuclear power, the Soviet Union. By contrast, Barack Obama has put the United States on a course for thermonuclear war against Russia—a war which could result in the extinction of the human race at virtually any point ahead.

As LaRouche Show host Harley Schlanger noted, Obama is openly doing today what Nixon had to do covertly.

Attorney Douglas Caddy, who was involved in Watergate through being an attorney for E. Howard Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy, and appeared as a guest on the same show, agreed that the "imperial Presidency," which was a popular charge against Nixon then, is an actuality today. The difference, he said, was that there was actually a democratic process in 1972-74, which is why the members of Congress were able to deliberate and come to the situation whereby Nixon voluntarily resigned.

Today, the institutions of government appear paralyzed from doing what is necessary to save the nation from destruction.

Voices of Reason

While the LaRouche movement has been fighting for Obama's impeachment, on Constitutional grounds for at least 5 years (See "The Case for Impeachment of President Barack Obama," EIR, January 15, 2010), motion toward its necessity within Congress has been extremely slow. Both the Democratic and Republican leaderships in the House and the Senate have done their utmost to stymie any action, and to try to turn the whole discussion into a political game. This was on display during the recent House debate on Speaker Boehner's proposed lawsuit against Obama, when the Republicans refused to give time to supporters of impeachment during the debate, and the Democratic leadership spent its allotted time telling Boehner to "put impeachment aside" the way Nancy Pelosi did with Bush and Cheney.

If the Democrats had had the guts to go ahead with the well-justified impeachment against Bush and Cheney at that time, the world would not be in the kind of imminent danger of conflagration it is today.

Among the Congressmen now coming forward strongly for impeachment is Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC), who has collaborated with Democrats during both the Bush and Obama administration, in order to try to stop the train of senseless wars.

U.S. Representative. Walter Jones, R-NC.

Jones gave an interview on impeachment to the North Carolina "Talk of the Town" program on August 4, 2014, which laid out his reasoning. Jones said that Alexander Hamilton had given us the remedy of impeachment; that Speaker John Boehner's lawsuit will cost taxpayers $2-3 million; and that he's seen from involvement in two lawsuits against Presidents that such suits do not work.

Jones opened, "I am one that believes sincerely that the Constitution says that when a President, be it a Republican or a Democrat, exceeds his authority, and you can't stop the President from exceeding his authority, then we do have what's called impeachment. Thank Alexander Hamilton. He felt that the Congress needed to use this process to get the attention of a President. And if the President had lost the public trust, then move forward in that area. We recently had a vote to go to Federal courts. I did not vote for that. I was one of five [Republicans that did not]."

Hamilton's Argument

Alexander Hamilton laid out his thinking on impeachment in Federalist Paper no. 65, as follows:

"A well constituted court for the trial of impeachments, is an object not more to be desired than difficult to be obtained in a government wholly elective. The subjects of its jurisdiction are those offenses which proceed from the misconduct of public men, or in other words from the abuse or violation of some public trust. They are of a nature which may with peculiar propriety be denominated POLITICAL, as they relate chiefly to injuries done immediately to the society itself. The prosecution of them, for this reason, will seldom fail to agitate the passions of the whole community, and to divide it into parties, more or less friendly or inimical, to the accused. In many cases, it will connect itself with the pre-existing factions, and will inlist all their animosities, partialities, influence and interest on one side, or on the other; and in such cases there will always be the greatest danger, that the decision will be regulated more by the comparative strength of parties than by the real demonstrations of innocence or guilt."

To deal with the dangers of impeachment, Hamilton thus argued for the model of the charges being brought forward in the lower House, and the trial being conducted by the Senate—rather than some other body. The Senate, one should recall, had been explicitly constituted so as to minimize being buffeted by transitory public opinion, and thus more conducive to rational debate.

The debate as to whether the Chief Executive should be subject to impeachment was considerable, and went hand in glove with Hamilton's additional argument that there should be a single executive, not a government council. Having a single executive, subject to impeachment for abusing his authority, would prevent the concealing of faults and responsibility, Hamilton said, which is necessary in order to clearly discover the "misconduct of the persons in [the public] trust, in order either to their removal from office, or to their actual punishment in cases which admit of it."

In other words, the intent was that the Executive not be able to hid from his accountability. In his usual ironical style, Benjamin Franklin said that the Executive should look at the impeachment clause favorably, because where it was not available and the chief magistrate had "rendered himself obnoxious," recourse was had to assassination.