This is how it begins.
Democrats are eyeing several parliamentary maneuvers to prod Congress into investigating the so-called Downing Street memo and other recently disclosed documents that they contend shows that the Bush administration manipulated prewar intelligence to build support for the war in Iraq.
Although any Democratic move will almost certainly fail in the face of vigorous Republican opposition, such maneuvers would constitute the first steps toward filing articles of impeachment, a bold step that some Democrats have left as an open question in recent weeks.
“If you read the record of the writing of the Constitution, ‘high crimes and misdemeanors’ had a very particular meaning at the time of the drafting of the Constitution. It certainly didn’t mean lying about sex, but it might well mean lying to the Congress about a large public purpose such as Iraq,” Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) said at a forum held by Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) earlier this month, referring to the 1998 impeachment proceedings against then-President Bill Clinton.
Democrats and allied groups are mulling at least two options to spur an investigation.
Conyers and Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) are expected to give a special-orders speech on the Downing Street Memo on the floor tonight.
Still, other members may move forward with Conyers. “My sense is other members are following [Conyers’s] lead for now,” a House Democratic aide said. “However, the groups who are advocating for this may well lose patience with [Conyers’s approach] and may seek another member to do this.”
Another, lesser option being considered is a resolution of inquiry on the Downing Street memo. This less-drastic parliamentary maneuver would ask the administration to provide more information related to the claims.
Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), co-chairwoman of the Out of Iraq Caucus and a member of the International Affairs Committee, is circulating a letter calling for a resolution of inquiry. Employed from time to time by the minority, the resolution would be referred to the committee of jurisdiction, which would then have to vote it down in a set number of days or it would proceed to a floor vote.
Lee’s draft language does not mention impeachment, instead hewing in the direction of a letter Conyers sent to Bush on May 5 requesting more information on questions raised by the memo and other recently leaked documents, several sources said. More than 120 Democrats signed Conyers’s letter.
Waters said she too was working on a response to the memo. “I am working on something that I can’t talk about right now,” she said.
Democrats have considered steps leading toward impeachment before. Conyers met in 2003 with a Democratic lawyer and activist who were drafting articles of impeachment, but ultimately he took no action.
“My position is I want to be at a point where the data is overwhelming,” said Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) “We’re looking to have more hearings. We really want to turn this into official hearings of the respective committees.”