This is, of course, only a hypothesis and actually contradicts my usual preference for sticking to what I really think with some certainty. The Cons' constant flirtation with impeachment is a puzzlement and the explanation that it is an avenue for attention-seeking, while probably salient, is not sufficient, especially since their one significant office holder preempted the process by removing himself from office before he could be adjudged either innocent or guilty.
And therein, I think, lies the key. What the Cons want to argue, in retrospect and based, ironically, on the Bill Clinton experience, is that Richard Nixon need not have resigned and left office because his initial assessment that "when the President does it, it's not a crime," was correct. What the Cons in Congress desperately want is for the principle of sovereign immunity to be affirmed both as to office holders in the executive branch and for themselves. The latter is why they keep flirting with telling lies within the confines of the House and Senate.
That William J. Jefferson was convicted of taking a bribe and sent off to prison and his claim to sovereign immunity was refuted does not put much of a dent into the Congressional shield of immunity, because the physical evidence found in his freezer proved indisputable. However, it is telling that both Republican and Democratic members of the House raised a legal challenge to the investigative actions of the FBI and it took Judge Thomas F. Hogan's ruling that
the Speech or Debate Clause does not shield Members of Congress from the execution of valid search warrantsto let the case go forward. In other words, as recently as 2008, when the Supreme Court denied further review, the boundaries of sovereign immunity were being pushed. And impeachment, which ultimately went nowhere with William Jefferson Clinton, is seemingly being promoted, akin to the virtually constant ethics investigations by Congress, as a lesser self-administered law enforcement tool.
So, the argument would seem to be, if Richard Nixon had just entrusted his fate to the tender mercies of the Congress, instead of preemptorially giving up his post, the supremacy of all office holders would have been upheld. As it stands, the Federal Tort Claims Act of 1947 puts all public officials under the cloud of being held accountable not just for malfeasance, but for negligence. Though, so far, the principals in the Bush Administration have escaped being held to account for the latter under the Alien Tort Claims Act.
The impeachment and removal of federal judges by Congress is not frequent but, having been practiced since 1803, when John Pickering of New Hampshire was the first removed, the process is by now a matter of routine. However, only 15 federal judges have ever been removed, the latest being G. Thomas Porteous, Jr. of Louisiana. Porteous, unlike Alcee L. Hastings of Florida, was additionally barred from ever holding a public office again.
In a sense, the power to impeach, partnered with the "Speech or Debate clause," imparts to Congress a perception of potency, or self-importance, to which they stubbornly cling in the face of an electorate that can throw them out rather preemptorially after a single term. Ethics investigations serve the same end by propounding the notion that the moral standards the Congress adheres to are somehow of a higher order and not to be questioned by the hoi poloi -- an argument that is also put forward for why the United States should not be subject to the jurisdiction of any international judicial body. "We're just too good for that." Exceptional, don't you know?
The extent to which the U.S. Congress touts itself as a bastion of honor and respectable behavior, even as the incompetence of much of the membership can no longer be disguised, is quite amazing. Making a spectacle of oneself turns out to be such a good disguise. And Richard Nixon keeps looking better. Just imagine if he had trusted the Congress to give him a pass for conspiring with crooks and then trying to hide the lie in a Presidential variation of the "Speech and Debate clause." The legislative capture of the executive would have been complete.
Talk about unanticipated consequences. The founders were keen to protect legislators from the arbitrary behavior of the executive. That the Congress would aim to slough off obligations and exercise power surrpetitiously via the tax codes to advantage their friends seems not to have occurred to them. Or, perhaps it did and the short term in office for the House, where management of the currency originates, was designed to throw the incompetents out.
If so, then if men are mesmerized by the peacocks' feathers it is the electorate's fault, regardless of how large or how small. Throwing the bums out should be priority number one.