Do Voters Have Right to Impeach the President?

This is a partial transcript of "The Big Story With John Gibson," June 27, 2006, that has been edited for clarity.

JOHN GIBSON, HOST: Berkeley, California. It's known as a hotbed of liberalism, and Tuesday night the city council is taking up a proposed ballot initiative, one that calls for voters — calls on voters to decide if there are grounds to impeach President Bush and Vice President Cheney. The group behind the ballot initiative is the Peace and Justice Commission, and the chairman of that group, Steve Freedkin, joins me now.

So, Steve, if the — what — what good is it exactly for the city of Berkeley to say it's time to impeach President Bush?

STEVE FREEDKIN, PEACE AND JUSTICE COMMISSION CHAIR: Well, this actually is not initiated by our Peace and Justice Commission. There's a nationwide organization called Constitution Summer, which is based in law schools primarily around the country, and they are trying to do this in a number of different cities.

What they are trying to do is get a public conversation started so that people can start to understand what is in the Constitution, what are the rights, what are the balance of power, how is this administration exceeding those.

We really feel that there's a need in this country for greater understanding of our Constitution and our system of government, and what the problems are that we're facing today.

GIBSON: OK, what would be the list of particulars for impeaching both the president and the vice president?

FREEDKIN: Well, there are a number of particulars that both have been involved in. There is the wiretapping, the electronic surveillance done without court approval, even after Congress passed the law specifying you have to go to the secret foreign intelligence courts and to get that approval. Bush simply signed a document saying, well, that's the law, I've signed the law, but I'm not going to follow it.

GIBSON: Steve, we're going to take these one at a time. On that point, the administration makes an argument that they — that this is — this is a legal program, despite your objections or that particular objection, and it's — it is a legal program. No court has said it isn't.

FREEDKIN: They are claiming it's legal, simply because they claim it's legal. Simply, he claims he's the commander in chief and can do whatever he wants. Congress explicitly wrote in there that they have to go to these foreign courts and get that approval, and they cutting them off.

GIBSON: I have heard those arguments, but they have gone — those arguments have gone on, and the administration has said, and even after Congress was notified and briefed exactly what he was doing, it quieted down there. Why would you...

FREEDKIN: It hasn't quieted down. Congress is still pursuing this matter. There are negotiations going on now. You have criticisms from Senator Warner, Senator Graham, Senator McCain, Senator Specter, all Republicans, saying the administration is clearly exceeding its authority.

And it's not just this. On 750 occasions, the Bush administration has signed laws and then written a signing document that says we signed this law, but we don't have to follow it. And that's just not how our system of government is supposed to work or can be allowed to work.

GIBSON: Steve, you see the Democrats, especially those that are in leadership positions in both Houses, backing away from you as fast as they can possibly go. Nancy Pelosi is stammering to get away from you as quick as she can. If they are so afraid of this, and they know that this is a political loser, why pursue it?

FREEDKIN: Well, first of all, I'm not working on behalf of the Democratic Party. I don't think many of us would argue that the Democratic Party today has demonstrated a great deal of courage on a number of issues. We really need the grassroots conversation to take place in communities throughout the country, and the Constitution Summer is working in 40, 50 communities now to do this, to get the public talking about what's in the Constitution, why is it important to us, and how has this administration overstepped, and what do we do about it?

And the Democrats, the Republicans, the leaders in Washington, as I'm sure you know, are often the last to come along and jump in front of a parade once a parade gets going. But it has to start with the people. This has gone on too long, that people don't understand what's in the Constitution.

GIBSON: Steve, thanks a lot. I've got to run. Appreciate it. It's coming out of Berkeley. We'll see what happens.

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