As liberal Democrat calls for special prosecutor on Iraq, Democrats duck
Published: February 8, 2006
Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), the feisty septuagenarian congressman who serves as the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee will issue yet another missive to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales later this week calling for the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate possible criminal misconduct in regard to the Bush Administration's march to war in Iraq.
Just five other Democrats have signed Conyers' letter: Reps. Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) Mike Honda (D-CA) and Jim McDermott (D-WA), Susan Davis (D-CA,) and Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) along with Bernie Sanders (I-VT).
Conyers' move comes on the heels of yet another British memorandum showing that President Bush had conspired with Prime Minister Tony Blair to set a fixed date for war before even bringing Iraq to the United Nations. The memo also asserts that Bush had proposed a plan to paint a U.S. spyplane with UN markings and use it to attempt to lure Saddam Hussein into war.
What's striking isn't that Conyers is calling on Gonzales to appoint a special prosecutor. He's done it before, and he'd likely do it again. But his decision to take public action to seek a Justice Department investigation of pre-war policy and manipulation of the press has met resounding silence among his Democratic Party.
While a handful of House members sign on to Conyers' proposals each time, the leading voices in the party are silent when it comes to formal legal action on Iraq. In other words, Democrats are quick to criticize the Administration, but are loath to make legal attempts to bring them to account. Democratic senators have called for a special prosecutor to investigate both the fallen conservative lobbyist Jack Abramoff and the National Security Administration's domestic surveillance program. But they have yet to seek a criminal inquiry into how the United States got into a war that has cost taxpayers $300 billion dollars and is burning the nation's reserves at the rate of $100,000 a minute.
Conyers says the body of evidence showing that Bush misled Congress into war deserves a special counsel's investigation.
"We write to request that the U.S. Department of Justice appoint an outside special counsel to investigate and prosecute any and all criminal acts committed by members of the Bush Administration in connection with misinformation concerning the decision to go to war in Iraq and other misconduct associated with the war," the Michigan Democrat writes. "We are aware that there may be other legal and congressional avenues being pursued on these matters; however, due to the severe constitutional crisis that they pose, it is imperative that a special counsel undertake a comprehensive and objective criminal investigation."
Democrats won't sign onto Conyers letter - and have ignored his moves on Iraq in the past. Aides tell RAW STORY that Abramoff and the NSA wiretaps are better issues because they feel they have more political resonance, and because their caucus is divided on the handling of Iraq policy. None would be identified by name, and most declined to be quoted - even anonymously.
"The [push] to go after Abramoff is because a lot of Republicans are tied into it," one aide remarked. "The NSA thing splits the Republican base."
With regard to Iraq, the aide added, "Certainly more vulnerable Democratic members that don't like that kind of stuff."
One aide noted that the issues surrounding the lead-up to the Iraq war are a hard issue for Democrats because many believed - and said - they thought Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. President Clinton also took a hard line, saying in 1998, "We want to seriously diminish the threat posed by Iraq's weapons of mass destruction program."
So did House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).
"Saddam Hussein has been engaged in the development of weapons of mass destruction technology which is a threat to countries in the region and he has made a mockery of the weapons inspection process," Pelosi said in 1998.
"Was Clinton lying to the people, was he falsifying that stuff?" one aide asked. "I honestly think [Bush] thought that there were weapons over there. Everybody thought there were weapons over there."
Democrats have pressed for investigations into pre-war intelligence, but not as vociferously as they have for fuller inquiries into Abramoff and domestic eavesdropping.
Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid (D-NV) stunned the nation when he forced the Senate into secret session, angry that a report on pre-war intelligence had not been completed. The report, called Phase II, remains in limbo in the Senate Intelligence Committee because the Pentagon has not finished an internal probe into Douglas Feith, one of the architects of the Iraq war. Senate Democratic aides say they are waiting on that report and have not yet decided on further action.
Democrats are not alone in their silence on the memo. Neither the Washington Post nor the New York Times have published articles about the latest British U-2 document. Both papers also declined to publish any articles about the Downing Street minutes until long after they were printed in Britain. The earlier minutes recorded a meeting between Bush Administration officials and the Blair government at which the director of British intelligence said that intelligence was being "fixed" around a policy for war.
Democratic aides acknowledge, however, that Conyers has been instrumental in orchestrating a fury over the lead-up to war in Iraq.
"You've got to remember that Conyers and a few others early on were speaking about the war in Iraq and how wrong it was and that number has grown tremendously," one aide said. "Sometimes it takes someone like him to get the fire up and ignited."
Conyers' latest letter follows.
Re: Request for the Appointment of Outside Special Counsel for the Investigation and Prosecution of Violations, and Conspiracy to Violate, Criminal Laws in Misconduct Associated with the Iraq War
Dear Attorney General Gonzales:
We write to request that the U.S. Department of Justice appoint an outside special counsel to investigate and prosecute any and all criminal acts committed by members of the Bush Administration in connection with misinformation concerning the decision to go to war in Iraq and other misconduct associated with the war. We are aware that there may be other legal and congressional avenues being pursued on these matters; however, due to the severe constitutional crisis that they pose, it is imperative that a special counsel undertake a comprehensive and objective criminal investigation.
There have been recent, startling media and other reports detailing how members of the Administration misled Congress and the American people concerning the decision to go to war. Notably, late last week, a new book by Professor Philipe Sands described minutes of a White House meeting between President Bush and Prime Minister Blair on January 31, 2003 in which President Bush made it clear that he would invade Iraq regardless of whether UN inspectors found evidence of a banned Iraqi weapons program and that "the diplomatic strategy had to be arranged around the military planning."1 President Bush reportedly stated that he was so concerned by the failure to find WMD that he proposed that the US "fly U2 reconnaissance aircraft planes with fighter cover over Iraq, painted in UN colours." President Bush added: "If Saddam fired on them, he would be in breach [of UN resolutions]"2 Neither the Blair nor the Bush Administrations have challenged the accuracy of this new document.
End Part I