He provided a detailed specification of crimes against the U.S. Constitution and concluded by calling for the immediate appointment of a special counsel by Attorney General Gonzalez whose position is sorely compromised by conflict of interest. The future of the American experiment in rule by laws rather than men, the Constitution rather than tyranny, is at stake. Gore made the case that Executive Branch abuses of the Constitution represent rule through tyranny.
Gore quoted former Congressman Bob Barr who said, “The President has dared the American people to do something about it. For the sake of the Constitution, I hope they will.” Gores bill of particulars included the following actions: 1. Appointment of a special counsel immediately to investigate gross violations of the U.S. Constitution. Gore said, “Patrick Fitzgerald has, by all accounts, shown neither fear nor favor in pursuing allegations that the Executive Branch has violated other laws.” The specific investigation should &ldquoursue the criminal issues raised by unwarranted wiretapping of Americans by the President.
2. “Whistle blower protections should immediately be established for members of the Executive Branch who report evidence of wrong doing” by the President and his team.
3. The Senate and the House should hold hearings “into these serious allegations of criminal behavior on the part of the President.”
4. “The Bush proposals for the Patriot Act “should under no circumstances be granted unless and until there are adequate and enforceable safeguards to protect the Constitution and the rights of the American people against the kinds of abuses that have recently been revealed.”
5. Gore called on “any telecommunications company” providing the government with access to private communication to “Immediately cease and desist their complicity in that apparent illegal invasion of the privacy of American citizens.”
6. Finally, going off of his prepared test, Gore said that any candidate for public office in 2006 should face a litmus test, regardless of party, based on their support for the appointment of a special counsel to investigate the President’s transgressions against the Constitution.
Al Gore – Image from Moveon.org
Bush: “…a threat to the very structure of our government.”
Gore began his speech with an example of disregard for Constitutional safeguards. He recalled the case of Martin Luther King and his victimization by the FBI. Through illegal surveillance, the government tried to end his effectiveness as a civil rights leader, destroy his marriage, “and blackmail him into committing suicide.” Gore pointed out that J. Edgar Hoover’s intimidation and threats to FBI staff caused them to perform illegal wire taps and engage on spying activities that they clearly knew were wrong. Then in a stunning indictment of former CIA Director, George Tenant by saying that “much the same thing” had happened in the delivery of intelligence, clearly false, to the President to justify the Iraq war. The crowd came to its feet for one of six standing ovations during the speech.
The author of the attack on the Constitution was clearly named, the President of the United States. Gore cited the example of unauthorized National Security Agency (NSA) “spying on large numbers of Americans for the last four years and eavesdropping on large volumes of telephone calls, e-mail messages and other internet traffic inside the United States.” Bush’s assurances that nothing like this was happening without appropriate judicial processes was cited as an example of false statements to serve the ends of executive power.
Bush: Assumes powers that “the Founders sought to nullify in the Constitution – an all powerful executive too reminiscent of the King from whom they had broken free.”
Gore cited Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and Thomas Paine to make his case. He quoted Madison’s argument that the accumulation of “all powers, legislative, executive and judiciary, in the same hands...” is ‘the very definition of tyranny.’” This was a critical point that the former Vice President returned to throughout the speech: the United States was established with the goal of rule by law and not by men, rule by participation not tyranny. His presentation made it very clear that Bush represents a new form of despotism that seeks power to meet its ends rather than competing for power in the political process.
Gore was clearly referring to Bush when he said, “A president who breaks the law is a threat to the very structure of our government.” As his central point, he focused on the case of domestic spying on Americans by the NSA for four years without any judicial authorization or legal basis. Gore illustrated the President’s all out power by citing additional acts of executive malfeasance. He accused Bush of arguing for “a heretofore unrecognized inherent power to seize and imprison any American citizen that he alone determines to be a threat to our nation…” and denying those citizens the rights to talk to a lawyer or even challenge the basis for the arrest. Gore left his prepared text at this point and said “No such right exists…it is foreign to our Constitution.”
Gore noted the Bush claim that “he has the authority to kidnap individuals in foreign countries and deliver them for imprisonment and interrogation….” He quoted the British Ambassador to Uzbekistan who said that the material obtained from torture was “useless. We are selling our souls for dross. It is in fact positively harmful.” He then cited Yale Law School’s Harold Koh who says that the chief executive who assumes the power to commit torture “…has the power to commit genocide, to sanction slavery, to promote apartheid, to license summary execution.”
“The Executive Branch has now put our constitutional design at grave risk. The stakes for America’s representative democracy are far higher than has been generally recognized.
Previous Constitutional abuses were corrected but this crisis is different.
Gore cited past examples of the United States lapsing into unconstitutional periods of citizen abuse: President John Adam’s Alien and Sedition Acts whereby political opponents were arrested; Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus; President Wilson’s Red Scare and Palmer raids; the imprisonment of Japanese Americans during World War II; and COINTELPRO, domestic spying and disruption of political opponents, e.g., the FBI acts against Rev. King. He pointed out that these periods of unconstitutional behavior were cyclical and were corrected after the abuses were identified and challenged.
He provided a dire warning when he pointed out that, “There are reasons for concern this time around that conditions may be changing and that the cycle (of correction) may not repeat itself.” He cited three reasons for concern. First, there has been an accelerating accumulation of Presidential power given the emphasis on foreign threats. Second, the administrations argument that the war on terror will “last for the rest of our lives” provides the perfect rationale to hang onto accumulated power. Finally, highly sophisticated eavesdropping and surveillance technologies make it easy for the Executive Branch to expand its reach to ever larger polls of “dissenters.”
No checks and balances from the judiciary or Congress
Recently appointed Supreme Court Chief Justice Roberts and nominee Alito advance a legal theory called “the unitary executive.” This theory argues that the President is essentially the sole decision maker for the government and should be allowed to exercise that latitude. Gore accused Bush of making these judicial appointments “to ensure that the courts will not serve as an effective check on executive power.”
Congress has served as an enabler of the Bush accumulation and exercise of Presidential power. With Senator Diane Feinstein, D, CA, in the audience, Gore noted the lax oversight that Congress gives the executive and even its own functions. Budget bills are passed without many members of Congress even reading the bill. The notion of “congressional oversight,” hearings on key legislation, has been virtually abandoned. House-Senate conference committees to reconcile legislative differences no longer include Democrats. He referred to “the pitiful state of our legislative branch” as the key components that allows Presidential abuses of the Constitution.
He noted the quiescence of the legislative and judicial braches and the effective self-censorship of the media enable this process as never before. He was particularly harsh on television news, the primary source for political information for most Americans. Gore called for ongoing and expanded protection of the Internet as the citizens last hope for political dialog and advocacy.
A call for political courage. Our founders were threatened with hanging. What is holding current leaders back?
Gore noted that “fear drives out reason” as one justification for lack of congressional action. He pointed out that “The founders of our country faced dire threats. If they failed in their endeavors, they would have been hung as traitors.” He noted that even with British troops on the march, the founders stood steadfast in defense of the cherished goal of a rule by laws rather than men, the Constitution rather than tyranny.. He posed two more rhetorical questions. Are we in more danger now than the threats we faced from fascism? Are we in more danger now than the world-ending threats posed by Soviet power?
This was a clear indictment of Congress for failing to check relentless Executive power grabs and abuses and a call to arms a real opposition movement, not just of Democrats but of all who value the Constitution and American ideals.
One of the boldest political speeches in decades.
Today’s speech was no ordinary political event. It represented one of the boldest political attacks on the President by a major leader since the Civil War. A former Vice President, Senator, member of the House of Representatives, has just accused the President of the United States of willfully lying to the people of the United States in order to accumulate unconstitutional powers, subvert the Constitution, and change the face of American democracy from a government that seeks the rule of law to one that relies on the rule of men, in this case President George W. Bush. Lincoln was attacked for trying to ruin a way of life and accused of destroying the fabric of the constitution. Roosevelt was charged with trying to create a welfare state. Nixon was accused of specific crimes which violated his oath of office. But no President since the Civil War has been accused by a former Vice President or President of deliberately trying to end Constitutional rule through the unlawful accumulation of power; trying to impose tyranny on the people of the United States.
It was a remarkable speech that will send shockwaves across the political spectrum for years to come.