Unless the president is party to the wrongdoing that placed the cabinet secretary in jeopardy. And that is clearly the case we have here, which explains the historical anomaly that the possibility of Gonzales' impeachment is even a topic of serious conversation.In light of that big unless, I would remind you of this, for which we can thank James Madison:
[I]f the President be connected, in any suspicious manner, with any person, and there be grounds [to] believe he will shelter him, the House of Representatives can impeach him; they can remove him if found guilty...That quote was originally offered in a Daily Kos piece, in connection with the Scooter Libby pardon. But it's equally applicable to the Gonzales situation.
Obviously a President need not be impeached because an obscure official buried deep in the endless bureaucracy, someone he does not know and probably has never heard of, does something wrong. But it is an extraordinary idea that a President is not responsible to some degree for the behavior of those intimates with whom he chooses to surround himself in the White House and the Cabinet.Schlesinger, writing here in May 1974, is speaking of the impeachment of Richard M. Nixon in an article I've cited numerous times before entitled, "What if we don't impeach him?" (PDF) And his arguments are eerily prescient of the predicament we face today:
The practical point is irresistible. If Mr. Nixon did not know what his right-hand men were doing, it was only because he did not wish to know. He had every facility in the world for finding out. And if Congress should decide that a President is no longer to be held broadly accountable for the conduct of his most personal appointees, it would obviously encourage future Presidents to wink at every sort of skulduggery so long as nothing could be traced to a specific directive from the Oval Office.What, exactly, do you think all this, "I don't recall" business is designed to do? Wink, wink.
The constitutional point is equally irresistible. Madison was the father of the Constitution. The First Congress, because it contained so many men who had been at Philadelphia in the summer of 1787, has been called an adjourned session of the Constitutional Convention. Madison in the First Congress successfully argued that the President must have power to remove his appointees. Assuring the President this power, Madison said, would "make him, in a peculiar manner, responsible for their conduct, and subject him to impeachment himself [Schlesinger's emphasis], if he suffers them to perpetrate with impunity high crimes or misdemeanors against the United States, or neglects to superintend their conduct, so as to check their excesses. On the Constitutionality of the declaration I have no manner of doubt." If the Ninety-third Congress should now decide that it understands constitutionality better than Madison and the First Congress, if it concludes that Mr. Nixon has no responsibility for the conduct of his closest associates, it would confirm Mr. Nixon's success in breaking the Presidency out of the historic system of accountability and in fastening a new conception of Presidential responsibility on the American republic.What would that "new conception" be? Why, that the elections are the "accountability moment," after which, what the president says, goes. With the imprimatur of the people.
"We had an accountability moment, and that's called the 2004 elections."Remember that?
It's just as Schlesinger predicted. Jumping ahead a bit in his article:
Future Presidents will be tempted most of all to assume that the American people in the end really prefer a regime based on and limited to the idea of quadrennial accountability so long as it is divorced from the stupidity of a Watergate burglary.Elections are the extent of the people's ability to demand accountability, in George W. Bush's mind. And he wants them to be the extent of accountability in your mind, too.
The failure even to hold Gonzales accountable for his part in this would be a complete abdication of the Congress' responsibility to preserve and exercise an absolutely critical element of the ongoing scheme of accountability designed by the Founders. It was to the Congress that the Founders entrusted the only mechanisms of mid-term accountability that could be brought to bear directly on the president and his administration. Giving that up would be an error of incalculable magnitude.