WASHINGTON Call it the un-impeachment hearing one where former Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson joined a chorus of Democrats calling for the removal of President Bush.
The House Judiciary Committee held a hearing Friday it insisted was not about removing President Bush from office. But critics of Bush's policies couldn't pass up the chance to charge the president with a long list of impeachable "high crimes and misdemeanors."
Leading the way was Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, the former Democratic presidential candidate who has brought repeated impeachment resolutions on the House floor against Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.
Kucinich got a rock star welcome of whistles, hoots and clapping as he walked into the hearing room, holding hands with his wife, from hundreds of anti-war, anti-Bush people crammed into the room and lining the hallways outside. T-shirts reading "Arrest Bush" and "Veterans for Impeachment" illustrated the sentiments of many.
"The decision before us is whether to demand accountability for one of the gravest injustices imaginable," Kucinich testified, avoiding use of the "I" word.
The House Democratic leadership, not interested in a bloody impeachment battle in the last year of Bush's presidency, steered Kucinich's resolutions to the Judiciary Committee where they could quietly fade away, but Friday's hearing gave Kucinich and his allies an opportunity to air their views.
"To the regret of many, this is not an impeachment hearing," said committee chairman John Conyers, D-Mich., pointing out the less incendiary title of the event, "executive power and its constitutional limitations."
Still, Conyers, a vocal opponent of Bush, noted that his panel had pursued many issues that Kucinich and others regard as impeachable offenses: manipulating intelligence about Iraq; misusing authority with regard to torture, detention and rendition; politicizing the Justice Department and retaliating against critics, as in the outing of former CIA agent Valerie Plame.
Anderson, the former Salt Lake mayor who founded and now heads the High Road for Human Rights Education Project, was among witnesses who called for impeachment of Bush.
"There has never been a more compelling case for impeachment," he said, accusing the administration of using "unbridled, dictatorial power."
He called for special prosecutors to investigate the administration for such things as "felonious warrantless wiretapping, torture and kidnappings."
He urged Congress to comprehensively study abuses by the administration "to ensure that the horrendous damage to our nation and to much of the rest of the world as a result of the illegal and abusive misconduct of administration officials is never again repeated."
Anderson said that is vital to "our political and moral standing throughout the world."
Republicans, clearly in the minority at the hearing, expressed suspicion at Democratic motives. Rep. Dan Lungren, R-Calif., called it "impeachment lite," where people were given free rein to impugn Bush but not to impeach him.
"It seems that we are hosting an anger management class," said Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas, the committee's senior Republican. "This hearing will not cause us to impeach the president; it will only serve to impeach Congress's credibility."
The committee also reminded lawmakers and those testifying that House rules prohibit "personal abuse, innuendo or ridicule of the president." The House Rules and Manual points out that suggestions of mendacity, or accusations of hypocrisy, demagoguery or deception were out of order.
"The rules of the House prevent me or any witness from utilizing familiar terms," Kucinich said. "But we can put two and two together in our minds."
Former Los Angeles County Prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi, known for his prosecution of Charles Manson in 1970, acknowledged that "I am forbidden from accusing him of a crime, or even any dishonorable conduct" under House rules. But he could still encourage people to read his book, "The Prosecution of George W. Bush for Murder."
Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., was less circumspect in asserting that Bush was "the worst president that our nation has ever suffered."
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Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y., concluded that "this is the most impeachable administration in the history of America because of the way that it has clearly violated the law."
"I am really astonished at the mood in this room," commented one witness, George Mason University School of Law professor Jeremy Rabkin.
"The tone of these deliberations is slightly demented," Rabkin said. "You should all remind yourselves that the rest of the country is not necessarily in this same bubble in which people think it is reasonable to describe the president as if he were Caligula."
Jim Abrams of the Associated Press also contributed to this report.