House Judiciary ranking member John Conyers (D-Mich.) assembled more than two-dozen prominent liberal attorneys and legal scholars on Tuesday to mull over articles of impeachment drafted against President Bush by activists seeking to block military action against Saddam Hussein.
The two-hour session, which featured former attorney general-turned-activist Ramsey Clark, took place in the downtown office of a prominent Washington tort lawyer. Participants said Conyers, who hosted the meeting, was the only Member of Congress to attend.
“We had a pretty frank discussion about putting in a bill of impeachment against President Bush,” said Francis Boyle, an Illinois law professor who has been working on the impeachment language with Clark.
Boyle said he was not aware of any Member who is willing at this point to introduce articles of impeachment, but added that he is certain the option is “being actively considered” by some on Capitol Hill.
Neither Conyers nor his aides would comment Wednesday on the meeting. But participants said there was no indication that support for such a proposal had grown at the meeting.
As many as 40 people attended, participants said.
“To a person, every other person in the room who spoke [besides Clark and Boyle] was opposed to it. Every single one,” one participant said, citing both practical and political objections that were raised.
Still, the session organized by Conyers infused new life into a quixotic proposal put forward by a small but intense segment of the anti-war movement as the country edges closer to a military conflict with Iraq.
The idea began to circulate inside the Democratic left on Capitol Hill more than two weeks ago, when Clark and Boyle, along with Marcus Raskin of teh Institute for Policy Studies, approached lawmakers with their plan.
The response at the time and subsequently had appeared tepid at best, and even some of the sharpest Congressional critics of the Bush administration’s approach to dealing with Saddam Hussein dismissed any suggestion of impeachment out of hand.
It is not clear why Conyers revived the idea. But aides to Members at the far-left end of the party suggested a good deal of frustration has been building as efforts to thwart President Bush on Iraq have appeared to have little effect.
“There are a lot of people who are very angry and would like to do something. A lot of people believe [Bush] should be impeached — convicted and thrown out of office,” a top aide to one anti-war lawmaker said. “The question is, what would be the result [of taking such a step]? Some folks wonder if they could be re-elected after doing it.”
The offices of several Congressional Democrats aligned with the anti-war movement, including Reps. Jim McDermott (Wash.), Jesse Jackson Jr. (Ill.) and Sheila Jackson Lee (Texas), confirmed that the lawmakers had been invited to the meeting, but did not attend.
Boyle said that he and Clark argued that the anti-war movement needs a “vehicle” for protest and that articles of impeachment “will give everyone something to rally around.” Boyle suggested the first President Bush had shown hesitation in entering the first Gulf War because of a concern that he might be impeached by Congress — an account that would appear to lack a solid foundation.
In fact, former Rep. Henry Gonzalez (D-Texas) introduced articles of impeachment at the time, but they were never considered.
“The difference between Bush Sr. and Bush Jr. is that Bush Sr. won an election, while Bush Jr. lost the election and then stole it at the Supreme Court,” Boyle said, indicating why he believes articles of impeachment might have more impact now than they did then.
The current President Bush “is using war with Iraq for 2004, to win re-election,” Boyle added. “He’s looking for some kind of democratic legitimacy, a democratic mandate, which he doesn’t have right now.”
Clark did not respond to a message left Wednesday at his New York law office.
Participants in the meeting said Boyle and Clark were not being realistic.
“He’s very invested in [impeachment] and prone to exaggeration,” one participant said of Boyle after the meeting. “He says, ‘[Impeachment] is going to be incredibly popular because it gets huge applause at anti-war rallies.’ Well, OK.”
Among those who spoke out at the meeting against introducing articles of impeachment was Laura Murphy, the Washington director of the American Civil Liberties Union, participants said.
Murphy, according to one source, said impeachment was a “horrible idea” that would potentially alienate many Americans who are otherwise inclined to agree with liberals that the Bush administration’s policies represent a threat to civil liberties. She suggested that a “bipartisan consensus” was already emerging around that perspective.
Murphy was travelling Wednesday and was unreachable.
Sources said the Conyers meeting was hosted in the downtown office of Jack Olender, a prominent Washington attorney who was once called “the king of the malpractice lawyers” by The Washington Post. Olender’s office did not respond to a request for confirmation.
Since serving as attorney general under President Lyndon Johnson, Clark has etched himself in the public consciousness as a tart and quirky far-left critic of the U.S. government. The International Action Center, which he heads, serves as a clearinghouse for extreme activist perspectives — for instance, that North Korea actually has no nuclear program and that a group of illegals known as the “Cuban 5,” who were arrested in Florida for spying, were in fact on an anti-terror mission and should be freed.
Clark has also put together a Web site that sets out his arguments for impeaching President Bush and Attorney General John Ashcroft. It includes 17 grounds.
Boyle, a professor at the University of Illinois College of Law in Champaign, also has firm roots in the activist left. Among other things, he was the counsel to a 1980s endeavor called the Pledge of Resistance, which used “nonviolent” means to oppose Reagan administration activities in Communist-controlled Nicaragua.
Damon Chappie contributed to this report.