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MORE: Bringing Bush to Court
Tue Nov 28, 2006 12:12
 

 


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Tomgram: Elizabeth de la Vega, Bringing Bush to Court

Keep in mind, I've run Tomdispatch.com for only a few years, but I've been a book editor in mainstream publishing for over 30 years. Sometime last spring, I was on the phone with former federal prosecutor Elizabeth de la Vega talking about books she might someday write, when she suddenly said to me, "You know what I'd like to do?" When I asked what, she replied, "What I've done all my life."

"What's that," I wondered innocently enough.

"I'd like to draft an indictment of President Bush and his senior aides, and present the case for prewar intelligence fraud to a grand jury, just as if it were an actual case of mine, using the evidence we already have in the public record. That's the book I'd like to do."

With those three decades of publishing experience, I never doubted that this was an idea whose time should come -- and now it has. De la Vega has drawn up that indictment -- a "hypothetical" one, she hastens to add -- convened that grand jury, and held seven days of testimony. Yes, it's a grand jury directly out of her fertile brain and the federal agents who testify are fictional, but all the facts are true. She understands the case against the Bush administration down to the last detail; and she's produced, to my mind, the book of the post-election, investigative season: United States v. George W. Bush et al.

It's a Tomdispatch.com book project, produced in conjunction with Seven Stories Press, a superb independent publisher, and officially published on December 1st. I think it's simply sensational. It makes a "slam dunk" case for the way we were defrauded into war; despite the grim subject matter, it's a beautifully designed little book, a pleasure to hold in your hand; and, because de la Vega is a natural as a writer, it's also thoroughly enjoyable reading. With genuine pride, I'll be turning the Tomdispatch.com website over to excerpts from the book this week, beginning with the posting of De la Vega's introduction on the Enronization of American foreign policy today. The actual "indictment" will be posted on Wednesday; the first day of grand jury testimony on Thursday.

I assure you, this is must-read event; no less important, this is a must-buy book that must be given over the holiday season to friends, relatives, those who politically disagree with you, and even perhaps sent to Congressional representatives. Please get the investigative ball rolling by purchasing the book at Amazon.com or, if you want to give all involved a few extra cents, directly at the Seven Stories website.

Today, United States v. George W. Bush et al remains in the realm of fiction, but tomorrow, if you lend a hand… who knows? Tom

A Fraud Worse than Enron
By Elizabeth de la Vega

Elizabeth de la Vega, appearing on behalf of the United States. That is a phrase I've uttered hundreds of times in twenty years as a federal prosecutor. I retired two years ago. So, obviously, I do not now speak for any U.S. Attorney's Office, nor do I represent the federal government. This should be apparent from the fact that I am proposing a hypothetical indictment of the President and his senior advisers -- not a smart move for any federal employee who wishes to remain employed. Lest anyone miss the import of this paragraph, let me emphasize that it is a DISCLAIMER: I am writing as a private citizen.

Obviously, as a private citizen, I cannot simply draft and file an indictment. Nor can I convene a grand jury. Instead, in the following pages I intend to present a hypothetical indictment to a hypothetical grand jury. The defendants are President George W. Bush, Vice President Richard Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and former Secretary of State Colin Powell. The crime is tricking the nation into war--in legal terms, conspiracy to defraud the United States. And all of you are invited to join the grand jury.

We will meet for seven days. On day one, I'll present the indictment in the morning and in the afternoon I will explain the applicable law. On days two through seven, we'll have witness testimony, presented in transcript form, with exhibits.

As is the practice in most grand jury presentations, the evidence will be presented in summary form, by federal agents -- except that these agents are hypothetical. (Any relationship to actual federal agents, living or deceased, is purely coincidental.)

On day seven, when the testimony is complete, I'll leave the room to allow the grand jury to vote.

If the indictment and grand jury are hypothetical, the evidence is not. I've prepared for this case, just as I would have done for any other case in my years as a prosecutor, by reviewing all of the available relevant information. In this case, such information consists of witness accounts, the defendants' speeches, public remarks, White House press briefings, interviews, congressional testimony, official documents, all public intelligence reports, and various summaries of intelligence, such as in the reports of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and the 9/11 Commission. I've discarded any evidence, however compelling, that is uncorroborated.

Then, using a sophisticated system of documents piled on every surface in my dining room, I've organized and analyzed the reliable information chronologically, by topic, and by defendant. I've compared what the President and his advisers have said publicly to what they knew and said behind the scenes. Finally, I've presented the case through testimony that will, I hope, make sense and keep everybody awake.

After analyzing this evidence in light of the applicable law, I've determined that we already have more than enough information to allow a reasonable person to conclude that the President conducted a wide-ranging effort to deceive the American people and Congress into supporting a war against Iraq. In other words, in legal terms, there is probable cause to believe that Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, and Powell violated Title 18, United States Code, Section 371, which prohibits conspiracies to defraud the United States. Probable cause is the standard of proof required for a grand jury to return an indictment. Consequently, we have more than sufficient evidence to warrant indictment of the President and his advisers.

Do I expect someone to promptly indict the President and his aides? No. I am aware of the political impediments and constitutional issues relating to the indictment of a sitting president. Do those impediments make this merely an empty exercise? Absolutely not.

I believe this presentation adds a singular perspective to the debate about the President's use of prewar intelligence: that of an experienced federal prosecutor. Certainly, scholars and experts such as Barbara Olshansky, David Lindorff, Michael Ratner, John Dean, and Elizabeth Holtzman have written brilliantly about the legal grounds for impeachment that arise from the President's misrepresentations about the grounds for an unprovoked invasion of Iraq. But for most Americans, the debate about White House officials' responsibility for false preinvasion statements remains fixed on, and polarized around, the wrong question: Did the President and his team lie about the grounds for war? For many, the suggestion that the President lied is heresy, more shocking than a Baptist minister announcing during vespers that he's a cross-dresser. For many others -- indeed, now the majority of Americans -- that the President lied to get his war is a given, although no less shocking.

So my goals are threefold. First, I want to explain that under the law that governs charges of conspiracy to defraud, the legal question is not whether the President lied. The question is not whether the President subjectively believed there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The legal question that must be answered is far more comprehensive: Did the President and his team defraud the country? After swearing to uphold the law of the land, did our highest government officials employ the universal techniques of fraudsters -- deliberate concealment, misrepresentations, false pretenses, half-truths -- to deceive Congress and the American people?

My second goal is to supplement the scholarly analyses already written, by moving beyond exposition, beyond theory, to the inside of the courtroom, or more precisely, the grand jury room. By presenting the President's conspiracy to defraud just as a prosecutor would present any fraud conspiracy, I hope to enable readers to consider the case in an uncharged atmosphere, applying criminal law to the evidence that they believe has been proved to the standard of probable cause, just as grand jurors would in any other case.

Why is it important to do this? Because whether the President and his senior officials conspired to defraud the United States about the grounds for war is, at least on one level, a legal question, but, without a shift in political will, there will never be any reasoned consideration of it as such. The President will not be held accountable for misrepresenting the prewar intelligence unless and until Congress conducts hearings similar to the Watergate hearings. As yet, however, we seem painfully incapable of reaching that point. We are like inept tennis partners, collectively letting the ball slip by in the no-man's-land between the service line and the baseline, or in this case, between the legal and the political.

Perhaps more important, however, is that, although the evidence of wrongdoing is overwhelming, the facts are so complicated -- far more so than those that prompted the Watergate hearings--that it's impossible to have a productive debate about them in the political sphere. Indeed, modern-day spin has vanquished substance so thoroughly that even the most well-grounded charge of deliberate deception is often considered more despicable than the deception itself.

One forum where that's not true is the courtroom. The court system is far from perfect, but there we at least expect that people will not substitute personal attacks for argument. We expect a reasoned exploration of fact versus fiction, honest mistake versus deliberate fraud. We also expect, and the law requires, that people hear all the evidence before deciding, thereby avoiding the rapid volley of sound bites that so regularly masquerades for debate on television. Hence, this hypothetical grand jury presentation: it is a vehicle to deliver a message.

My third goal is to send the message home -- to whomever will listen. And this is it:

The President has committed fraud.

It is a crime in the legal, not merely the colloquial, sense.

It is far worse than Enron.

It is not a victimless crime.

We cannot shrug our shoulders and walk away.

Why? Because We Are All Kitty Genovese's Neighbors

As an Assistant U. S. Attorney in Minneapolis, a member of the Organized Crime Strike Force in San Jose, and Chief of the San Jose Branch U.S. Attorney's Office, I prosecuted all manner of criminal cases. There were bank embezzlements, government frauds, violent takeover robberies, piloting a commercial passenger flight while under the influence--the pilot had had twenty rum and (diet) Cokes and four hours' sleep before takeoff--and investment frauds, to name a few. Most were interesting; some downright loopy. One hapless fellow, for example, stole a truck filled with frozen turkeys and drove it across state lines to Wisconsin, thereby landing himself in federal prison rather than in county jail. For good measure, the following week -- before he'd been apprehended for the frozen-turkey heist -- he stole a truck filled with packaged frozen broccoli and drove it to Iowa.

Unquestionably, though, the most compelling cases were those that involved victims -- of violent crimes, robberies, or fraud. So I was not surprised to hear the lead Enron prosecutor's comment after the jury convicted former Enron CEOs Ken Lay and Jeffrey Skilling: "What inspired me," John Hueston said, "was just that, that I had spoken to so many employees, so many victims who lost their savings, people who pleaded with me and the other prosecutors to see justice done."

Thanks to Hueston and his team, the victims of the Enron fraud -- a $68 billion dollar crime that left 20,000 people without jobs, pensions, and life's savings -- have obtained some measure of justice. They will never be made whole, but at least the CEOs who orchestrated the fraud have been held accountable. In the case of the largest corporate fraud ever prosecuted in the United States, the system has worked, albeit imperfectly.
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[Coming Wednesday: Part 2 of United States v. George W. Bush at Tomdispatch.com -- the indictment of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, and Colin Powell.]

Elizabeth de la Vega is a former federal prosecutor with more than 20 years of experience. During her tenure, she was a member of the Organized Crime Strike Force and Chief of the San Jose Branch of the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Northern District of California. Her pieces have appeared in the Nation Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, and Salon. She writes regularly for Tomdispatch. This is the introduction to her new book, United States v. George W. Bush et al. She may be contacted at ElizabethdelaVega@Verizon.net.

Excerpted from United States v. George W. Bush et al. by Elizabeth de la Vega, published December 1, 2006 by Seven Stories Press and HTTP://WWW.Tomdispatch.com.

Copyright 2006 Elizabeth de la Vega




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