WASHINGTON – Rep. Dennis Kucinich's quest to impeach President Bush is got an unofficial airing in the House Judiciary Committee on Friday.
The Ohio congressman's single impeachment article is not expected to move forward, but critics of the Bush administration were taking the opportunity in a House Judiciary Committee hearing to push for removing the president from office.
Kucinich got a rock star welcome of whistles, hoots and clapping as he walked into the hearing room, holding hands with his wife, from hundreds of anti-war, anti-Bush people crammed into the room and lining the hallways outside. T-shirts reading "Arrest Bush" and "Veterans for Impeachment" illustrated the sentiments of many.
"The decision before us is whether to demand accountability for one of the gravest injustices imaginable," Kucinich testified, avoiding use of the "I" word.
The committee reminded lawmakers and those testifying that House rules prohibit "personal abuse, innuendo or ridicule of the president." The House Rules and Manual points out that suggestions of mendacity, or accusations of hypocrisy, demagoguery or deception were out of order.
"The rules of the House prevent me or any witness from utilizing familiar terms," Kucinich said. "But we can put two and two together in our minds."
Later, former Los Angeles County Prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi, known for his prosecution of Charles Manson in 1970, acknowledged that "I am forbidden from accusing him of a crime, or even any dishonorable conduct" under House rules. But he could still encourage people to read his book, "The Prosecution of George W. Bush for Murder."
Despite several mentions early of the "I" word elsewyer, committee chairman Rep. John Conyers explained to the audience it was not, technically, an impeachment hearing "to the regret of many." He said the House would have to vote for an impeachment inquiry to begin, a test not met by the July 15 vote to send Kucinich's impeachment resolution to the Judiciary Committee.
The hearing began shortly after 10 a.m. ET, and it didn't take long for the call to impeach Bush to bring an applause line, if not to wade through political statements on each side of the aisle.
Rep. Robert Wexler, D-Fla., said the administration has committed "serious abuses, that if proven, would certainly constitute high crimes." Therefore, "The most appropriate response to this unprecedented behavior is to hold hearings for impeachment."
The line drew hoots of approval from some members of the audience, which drew a warning to the audience from Conyers, D-Mich.
"Let's restrain ourselves, please," Conyers said.
Just after he spoke, Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., made her thoughts known: "It is my judgment that President Bush is the worst president that our country has suffered."
The top-ranked Republican on the committee, Lamar Smith of Texas, dismissed the hearing as a waste of time.
Likening the hearing to "an anger management class," Smith said, "Nothing is going to come out of this hearing with regard to impeachment. ... That's because there is no evidence to support impeachment."
He said the partisan tone of the hearing was probably one of the reasons congressional approval ratings are at historic lows, recently below 10 percent. "That makes President Bush's approval rating of 32 percent look pretty good," Smith said.
Cracking a joke at his Democratic colleagues' expense, Rep. Dan Lungren, R-Calif., belittled the hearing, saying, "Maybe what we're here for is impeachment light' " -- a "never, never land" where Democrats lay out their accusations, but don't follow up on impeachment.
Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., tried to argue against the point of the hearing on a legal point.
"The framers (of the Constitution) did not intend impeachment as a political device," Pence said, adding that he believed the president has "consistently put the American people's need before his own."
It took the committee more than an hour to get to Kucinich, the first witness.
But the fact that the hearing took place was almost as improbable as the intended outcome of Kucinich's wishes — the ouster of the president.
Under the Constitution, impeachment powers lie in the House. But despite deep divisions between the House Democratic Caucus and White House on a broad swath of issues — the Iraq war, the economy, energy, climate change, to name a few — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has pointedly said impeachment is off the table.
The hearing Friday, titled "Executive Power and Its Constitutional Limitations," followed the July 15 vote to send Kucinich's impeachment resolution to the panel.
The witness panel that is loaded with people from the foundations of the anti-Bush movement.
Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y., for instance, earlier this month repeated his long-held belief that the administration invaded Iraq solely to secure oil and benefit oil companies.
"That is why this administration let Usama bin Laden go because they wanted to justify attacking Iraq," Hinchey said, according to The (Kingston, N.Y.) Daily Freeman.
Another witness scheduled for Friday, Reagan administration lawyer turned Bush-basher Bruce Fein, met with reporters alongside antiwar activist Cindy Sheehan on Thursday, ahead of the hearing. According to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Fein accused Bush of making a power-grab on the presidency, but also took on Democrats for letting him do it.
"It doesn't matter if the country goes to hell in a hand basket as long as Democrats are steering the Titanic when it sinks," Fein said according to the paper.
The list also included Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., an Iraq war critic; Rep. Brad Miller, D-N.C.; former Rep. Elizabeth Holtzman, D-N.Y.; former Rep. Bob Barr, R-Ga., now the Libertarian Paty presidential candidate; Ross "Rocky" Anderson, founder of High Roads for Human Rights and former mayor of Salt Lake City.
The other witnesses are: Stephen Presser, of the Northwestern University School of Law; Jeremy Rabkin, George Mason University School of Law; Elliot Adams, board president of Veterans for Peace; and Frederick A. O. Schwarz Jr., of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.