gall and gumption

Friday, March 03, 2006


People think of Watergate, or Iran Contra as constituting crises. They were in the sense that an executive branch was acting in violation of the law, and in tension with the majority party in the congress. But in the end, the system worked, the abuses were investigated, and actions were taken - even if presidential pardons ultimately prevented a full measure of justice.

Today, the crisis is substantively and systemically far worse. The alleged acts of wrongdoing - lying about the decision to go to war; manipulation of intelligence; facilitating and countenancing torture; using confidential information to out a CIA agent; open and flagrant violations of federal wiretap laws - are far more egregious than any I have witnessed in my 41 years in Congress. The majority party has shown no ability to engage in simple oversight, let alone challenge the Administration directly. The courts, while operating as an occasional and partial check, are institutionally incapable of delving into most of the controversies we are presented with as a result of limitations on standing, ripeness, and other doctrines. The media, which is increasingly concentrated, was shell-shocked and in some respects cowered by 9/11, and for the most part unwilling to alienate the party in charge.

Faced with that dilemma, we had a choice. We could simply ignore the myriad of transgressions being committed, and continue to reacting to the legislative agenda put before us by the Republican Party on a day-to-day basis, or we could do everything in our power to call attention to and document these very grave abuses of power. I opted for the latter course.

I could not live with myself or my children, if when faced with an Administration that went to war under false pretenses, used classified information to smear political opponents; and wiretapped innocent Americans without warrants, I did not formally respond to it. If the Ranking Member of the Judiciary Committee, which has jurisdiction over the constitution, is silent on these matters, who else can we expect to speak out?

Get the March issue of Harper's. It's out now.


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