In 2004, most people of a progressive political bent are focused on removing George W. Bush from the White House by voting him out in an election. But there is a substantial and growing minority of activists who are considering an alternative route. Working through the websites Impeach Central and the Impeach Bush Meetup, this movement aims to introduce articles of impeachment that will put George W. Bush on a highly public trial for a series of high crimes and misdemeanors.
We at Irregular Times were struck by the gumption of such a strategy in a year when so many others are following a more traditional means. So we asked organizer Sophie Grossman-Devries to explain where her movement got started, and where she sees it going. The transcript of our interview follows below.
Irregular Times: I'd like to get started by hearing your own story: how did you get interested in this movement to impeach George W. Bush?
Sophie Grossman-Devries: Well, the first thing I want to emphasize is that I'm not alone in this. I don't want to emphasize myself; I want to emphasize the work we're doing. There was a group of us in the late spring of 2003 who decided to do legislative lobbying work in our area, which is the Bay Area. Originally, I had the idea of going outside of the Bay Area to influence other congresspeople. After having a conversation with Professor Francis Boyle and Ramsey Clark in the summer, and in a conversation I had with my own Congresswoman, they indicated to me we had to get outside the "Marin Bubble" and outside the Bay Area. I was part of something called Marin Peace and Justice Coalition, which is a large organization of 2,000 people in Marin County, doing peace and justice work, anti-war work. I was also part of a smaller group within the coalition called the Impeachment Committee. At that time we were just doing local pro-impeachment activities. We hadn't done any real lobbying work, and I hadn't done any lobbying work myself, so this was kind of new to me. After having these conversations, I realized that time was running out and the election was going to be soon, and in order for Bush to be impeached we really had to take this out to the larger population.
IT: Your last statement raises a question for me which I'm sure you've heard often: with the election coming up, which is a natural periodic way to remove a president, why move impeachment? It seems like an awfully difficult task requiring a lot of resources, and there's already a lot of resources dedicated to removing him through other means.
SG-D: Right. First of all, the Constitution requires that a President, Vice President, and civil officers can be tried for high crimes and misdemeanors. I think as you well know, documented through our Articles of Impeachment (written by Ramsey Clark and Professor Boyle), a lot of the evidence is there that these people have committed high crimes.
IT: Those Articles of Impeachment, as I'm reading them, don't actually contain evidence.
SG-D: They do point to it. I think there is enough evidence out there. I think there is a moral imperative to do this, because I think these people have committed crimes. Elections don't provide for this. There is nothing in an election that provides for people to be punished for these kinds of crimes they've committed.
IT: Well, hang on a minute there. Let's follow up on that "punishment" thing. The punishment that falls at the end of an impeachment is removal from office.
IT: The punishment for committing a crime in a criminal court is actually some other sort of punishment such as jail time...
SG-D: Yes, and that very well could happen after these people are impeached.
IT: If the form of punishment is removal from office, that can be meted out in an election, can't it?
SG-D: I don't think so. I think we're talking about apples and oranges here, and both of them are good. We don't consider that it's the election or impeachment. Actually, we're helping move the election along, because what we're doing is providing a wide platform in impeachment proceedings for the whole public to see what's going on and to look at all the facts.
IT: So there's really a secondary purpose here, which is...
SG-D: There are several purposes here. There is not just one purpose. There are many reasons to impeach this President, yes.
IT: Okay, so getting out the word is really important on those particulars. If we're looking the actual Articles of Impeachment, one of the things that struck me was their generality. The Constitution speaks of -- and I'm not a lawyer, so I'm sure you know much more about this than I do -- but it says that a President, a Vice President or other civil officers of the executive branch can be removed for high crimes and misdemeanors. Now, Bill Clinton had a particular instance of lying under oath that he was impeached for, but I just see a lot of "lying," "threatening," "condoning false statements" written here. I don't see a particular law broken that's cited.
SG-D: I don't think you will, either, because frankly from what I know (and I'm not an expert on the Constitution to be clear on that) "high crimes and misdemeanors" can be interpreted in several different ways. It seems to be a case-by-case thing.
IT: So you don't need to actually cite a particular law that George W. Bush has violated in order to impeach?
SG-D: I'm not saying that at all. I'm saying that there are documented crimes that these people have committed and are committing every single day. We're not just talking about the war, either. They're circumventing the Constitution, they're trying to strip the Bill of Rights. There are different areas. I'm not going to speak where I don't feel I'm an authority on this. I feel very confident that there are enough crimes committed, OK, high crimes committed that these people can be impeached.
At least brought to answer. The whole thing about impeachment, I don't know if you're aware, is that the House is like a grand jury. The whole trying of the President is done in the Senate.
IT: The House of Representatives determines whether the case is even worth hearing, and...
SG-D: Yes, and we need to at least have it go that far.
IT: How do you get it that far? Do you think you have a chance of getting articles of impeachment introduced? I was looking at Thomas, the Library of Congress' record of the U.S. Congress, and I don't see any bill introducing articles of impeachment. How close are you to that?
SG-D: We're getting closer. Let me just simply say that we've done a lot of work in the Bay Area here, and our work started less than a year ago. Already we've seen a lot of movement with congresspeople here in the Bay Area. They've been changing their positions, have been much more open to looking into it. I know that it's being discussed by different congresspeople at this time. We know that.
I think that with using the Meetup tool across the board in different cities to coordinate impeachment efforts with their own congresspeople, that's a powerful thing.
IT: Is there a reason that this bill hasn't been introduced?
SG-D: There has to be momentum, there has to be a build-up. There has to be a critical mass, and that's what we're in the process of building.
IT: What do you need in order for that critical mass to be reached?
SG-D: Well, we're going to need more than one or two congresspeople to step up and say "I'm going to introduce articles of impeachment." We need a broad coalition of congresspeople -- they don't necessarily have to be Democrats, they could be Republicans or someone like Bernie Sanders -- to hop on and cosponsor a bill. The bill of impeachment doesn't have to have the same wording as the articles of impeachment. They have a lot of freedom in how they're going to word it and reword it.
IT: But someone will actually going to have to be the sponsor...
SG-D: Yes, there will be.
IT: So to get that accomplished, there's going to have to be a lot of support beyond the Bay Area. You mentioned Bernard Sanders of Vermont, but has the movement really spread beyond the Bay Area?
SG-D: It is spreading. Yes.
IT: You have a petition, with about 5,000 signatures at this point. Is that gaining momentum?
SG-D: By doing legislative lobbying, we don't just use petitions. What's been extremely effective for us is having constitutents in a congressional area write letters to a congressperson. That's been very effective. If you were to go to the Impeach Central webpage and to download the impeachment lobbying kit, you'd see exactly what we're trying to do.
IT: Yes, I have the impeachment kit right in front of me, and it has a series of talking points, which go through a possible letter to a congressperson. Have you had a lot of people downloading that and following through?
SG-D: At this point, it's hard to determine. We don't have a tracking device. But I do know for a fact, talking with different host organizers of the Meetup, that that's what they're doing for themselves. They'll be bringing the kits to the next Meetup to discuss with members.
IT: You've brought up the Impeach Bush Meetup, which allows people to organize themselves in their own communities. Is that something that's going to be directed from the top down?
SG-D: They can adapt the impeachment toolkit for their own needs. I think we're going to be organizing in a number of ways. It will be top-down. It will be horizontal. It will be every which way. We're trying to build a broad coalition with organizations, virtual and real. We're using the Meetup because that's where the public is, and people can go to their own congressperson and do exactly what we're doing in the Bay Area.
IT: I want to ask you a final question: do you really think there's a chance for George W. Bush to be impeached, or is the goal really symbolic?
SG-D: I think that there is a chance for him to be impeached, because I think it's becoming clear to a lot of people that people in the Bush administration have committed crimes, and as time goes on, more and more of these crimes will be exposed. I think also that just symbolically it's important, because there's a moral imperative for us as citizens to uphold the Constitution and uphold the rule of law.
IT: Thanks very much for your time.
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