Letter Sent to 'Neutral Legal Authority' at Library of Congress for Clarification of Constitutional Impeachment Clause
Congressmen Express Belief that Clause 'Clearly Applies to High-Ranking Officials'!
By Brad Friedman on 7/15/2005, 1:57pm PT  

The BRAD BLOG has learned that Congressmen John Conyers (D-MI) and Barney Frank (D-MA) have inquired with officials at the Library of Congress' Congressional Research Service this afternoon into whether impeachment proceedings would be appropriate for Senior White House Officials.

The release of a letter by the two congressmen was accompanied by a press release from the office of the ranking minority House Judiciary Committee member, John Conyers. In the letter, the two seek clarification from "a neutral authority" of whether the U.S. Constitution's Article II, regarding impeachment of a sitting President and Vice-President and "all civil officers", would apply to Deputy Chief of Staff, Karl Rove who is currently embroiled in the on-going criminal investigation into who leaked classified information concerning the outting of covert CIA agent, Valerie Plame.

Article II, Section 4 of the Constitution speaks to impeachment, but is not completely clear about which "civil officers" would fall under its jurisdiction.

Art II, Sec. 4: "The President, Vice President and all civil officers of the United States, shall be removed from office on impeachment for and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors"

The letter from Frank and Conyers attempts to seek clarification of the term "civil officers of the United States" and whether the clause would be applicable to Rove as a "high-ranking official in the White House and Executive Branch," according to their news release.

Here is the letter sent today, followed by the Press Release issued by both Conyers and Frank.

July 14, 2005

Ms. Elizabeth Bazan
Mr. Charles Doyle
American Law Division
Congressional Research Service
The Library of Congress
101 Independence Avenue, SE
Washington, D.C. 20540

Dear Ms. Bazan and Mr. Doyle,

We write to request your opinion as to whether or not very high- ranking members of the President's staff are subject to the Congressional impeachment process. The Constitution in its discussion of impeachment does not spell out with any specificity which federal officials are impeachable. We believe that the rationale for impeachment clearly applies to high-ranking officials who wield presidential authority in many cases with even more impact than some cabinet officers. And we do not see any Constitutional language that would exclude such officials from the impeachment process. But because this appears to be a question of first impression, and because of the grave importance of this matter, we write to ask your opinion as to whether or not it is Constitutionally permissible to initiate impeachment proceedings against the President's Deputy Chief of Staff, or other similarly highly placed officials.

Rep. Barney Frank
Rep. John Conyers

The following news release from Conyres and Frank was released at the same time as the above letter to officials at the Library of Congress.

Congress of the United States
Washington, DC

For Immediate Release

Friday, July 15, 2005

REPS. CONYERS AND FRANK ASK WHETHER SENIOR WHITE HOUSE OFFICIALS CAN BE IMPEACHED BY THE HOUSE

Letter to Library of Congress seeks clarification of who in the government can be impeached by Congress

Washington, DC-House Judiciary Committee Ranking Democrat John Conyers (D-MI) and House Financial Services Ranking Democratic Member Barney Frank (D-MA) today asked the American Law Division of the Congressional Research Service at the Library of Congress whether it is Constitutionally permissible to begin impeachment proceedings against high-ranking federal officials. This would include members of the President's staff such as White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove.

"We write to request your opinion as to whether high-ranking members of the President's staff are subject to the Congressional impeachment process. The Constitution in its discussion of impeachment does not spell out with any specificity which federal officials are impeachable. We believe that the rationale for impeachment clearly applies to high-ranking officials who wield presidential authority in many cases with even more impact than some cabinet officers," Frank and Conyers write in their letter.

"We share the grave concern felt by many Americans about the revelation that the President's Deputy Chief of Staff and Chief Political Advisor, Karl Rove, improperly identified a CIA undercover operative to journalists as part of a campaign to discredit her husband, who is a critic of some aspects of administration policy," said Mr. Frank.

Mr. Conyers continued: "Mr. Rove continues to occupy this high position, which means that he continues to have access to the full range of the most secret information available to the federal government, with apparently no compunctions about misusing that information for political purposes. We believe that the impeachment power of Congress is in fact intended to cover precisely this sort of situation - that is, a high-ranking official who has not only abused his power, but appears ready to continue such abuse in the future, and subject to no apparent effective check within the executive branch itself."

Historically, impeachments have been launched against presidents and other officials who have been confirmed by the Senate. However, Conyers and Frank noted the language of the constitution--Art. II, Sec. 4: The President, Vice President and all civil officers of the United States, shall be removed from office on impeachment for and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors-does not explicitly impost such a requirement. The question Frank and Conyers are asking is what constitutes "civil officers" and does it include high-ranking officials in the White House and Executive Branch.

Given the importance of this issue, the grave abuse of power and unethical manner in which Mr. Rove has been engaged, impeachment may well be an appropriate response. This issue could be relevant in cases where there may be some uncertainty about the willingness of the Executive Branch, in which the criminal prosecution power lies, fully to use that power against someone so close to the President.

"We have asked a neutral legal authority whose function it is to advise Congress to give us the best judgment of its experts on this question, and we will speak with our colleagues about proceeding accordingly after we have received this advice," concluded Frank.