Where is the accountability? This is the single biggest question of the Bush Era. When the Democrats swept into control of both houses of Congress, we expected that tough investigations by Waxman, Conyers and Leahy would expose six years of BushCo. dirty laundry for all the world to see – maybe even enough to get the gears of impeachment grinding.

Almost a full year later, what do we have? The investigations have found a lot of smoke, but none of the Constitution-scented blaze behind it, nor have they caught Bush or his lieutenants holding a match and jerrycan. They’ve gotten off some great zingers, but by refusing to go beyond their comfort zone of subpoenas and Strongly Worded Letters, the Democrats have allowed the White House to stall and stonewall with impunity.

…Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights… said: "The majority of lawyers in this country understand that the Bush administration has really gone off the page of constitutional rights and off the page of fundamental rights…" Ratner said he was "dismayed" that a Democratic majority has failed "to push on key illegalities… the torture program, and now the destruction of the tapes involving the torture program; the warrantless wiretapping, the denial of habeas corpus, the secret sites/rendition program, special trials, and of course what we now know is the firing of US Attorneys scandal…. The minimal that absolutely is needed to get us back on the page of law is to have serious investigative hearings that go up the chain of command and figure out who is responsible for what."

Ratner noted that even with regard to the US attorney’s investigations, where Congressional committees held Harriet Miers, Josh Bolten, and Karl Rove in contempt, leadership has failed to enforce these actions by bringing the resolutions to a vote. "Just announcing that investigations will be held and subpoenas will be issued is terribly insufficient unless Congress is willing to enforce the subpoenas by issuing contempt citations," Ratner said. "Congress has a constitutional duty to oversee the activities of the executive branch and our entire system of government is threatened when Congress simply folds before an obstinate executive. Issuing contempt citations against Bolten, Miers, and Rove should be Congress’s first order of business in 2008."

Yes, I’m sure the Republicans will scream "fishing expedition" and "vendetta" and "witch hunt" if the Democrats escalate the stakes and scope of their investigations, but so what? Is that really a reason to let BushCo. off the hook, to shrug off their constitutional obligation and say, "Oh well, if they won’t obey the subpoenas there’s nothing we can do"?

1,000+ lawyers (including Mario Cuomo and Reaganaut Bruce Fein) don’t think so:

We are lawyers in the United States of America. As such, we have all taken an oath obligating us to defend the Constitution and the rule of law…

We believe the Bush administration has committed numerous offenses against the Constitution and may have violated federal laws…. Moreover, the administration has blatantly defied congressional subpoenas, obstructing constitutional oversight of the executive branch.

Thus, we call on House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers and Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy to launch hearings into the possibility that crimes have been committed by this administration in violation of the Constitution, federal statutes, and international treaties. We call for the investigations to go where they must, including into the offices of the President and the Vice President. Should these hearings demonstrate that laws have in fact been broken by this administration, we support all such legal and congressional actions necessary to ensure the survival of our Constitution and the nation we love.

To rehabilitate an old anti-lawyer joke: What do you call 1,000 lawyers committed to the Constitution and the rule of law?

A good start.

If you know any lawyers, please send them the link to this statement so they can add their voice.

(h/t dakine, and big props to looseheadprop for kicking it off here and here – thanks for the nudge, Peterr)