Charlotte Dennett, who entered the race for Vermont Attorney General this week, readily admits that it will be an uphill battle. But the Vermont Progressive Party’s candidate does have one thing going for her – an issue with the potential to mobilize voters upset about the Iraq War. At her first press conference, sitting next to renowned prosecutor and author Vincent Bugliosi, she pledged to prosecute George W. Bush for murder if elected and appoint Bugliosi as a special prosecutor to take on the job. (See video clips below)
Bugliosi had come to Vermont specifically to back Dennett’s bid against incumbent Attorney General William Sorrell, who has held the job since 1997. “There is no better state to bring this forward,” Dennett said, pointing to the fact that Vermont has lost more soldiers per capita than any other state during the war and that voters at 36 Town Meetings have called for Bush’s impeachment.
“No man is above the law,” Bugliosi argued, explaining that a state Attorney General can prosecute Bush for conspiracy to commit murder after he leaves office. The key is to establish “overt acts” that prove there was a conspiracy to mislead the country into war, he said. Bugliosi pointed specifically to Bush’s frequent public statements, which were broadcast nationally, and the recruitment of Vermonters to fight in Iraq. “Any Attorney General can do this,” he said.
Dennett, who has been practicing law since 1997, is also an investigative journalist. "When I read Mr. Bugliosi’s meticulously-argued case," she has explained, "it struck a chord with me as a Vermonter and an American citizen.”
Bugliosi has won 105 out of 106 felony jury trials and is best known for prosecuting Charles Manson. Yet his most recent book, The Prosecution of George W. Bush for Murder, has proven highly controversial. Mainstream media outlets have declined to review it or interview him, Bugliosi noted. Asked what explains the reaction, he speculated that the Right Wing in the US has frightened many people into silence. Thus, “the establishment has decided Bush should not be held accountable,” he said.
In recent days, there have been renewed calls to go after the president. For example, Seattle Congressman Jim McDermott has announced that he wants to see Bush impeached, whether or not he’s still in office. He has joined a call from Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich to launch impeachment proceedings, and has cited Bugliosi’s book as part of the reason for his decision.
Although pleased that McDermott is calling for impeachment, Bugliosi thinks congressional action doesn't go far enough. "Impeachment alone would be a joke for anyone interested in justice," he says. His recommendation is that a state official – Dennett, for example, if she is elected – should prosecute Bush for murder in the deaths of American soldiers fighting in Iraq.
On the campaign trail, Democratic Vice Presidential candidate Joe Biden recently said that an Obama/Biden Administration would pursue criminal charges against Bush over the treatment of captured terrorists held at the US Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay. “If there has been a basis upon which you can pursue someone for a criminal violation, they will be pursued,” Biden pledged at a Florida campaign stop.
Earlier this year, Barack Obama took a similar position, stating that he would look at whether Bush violated laws. But fearing that such a position could undermine their chances of victory, Biden subsequently softened his position, telling the Philadelphia Daily News that he didn’t want the start of an Obama/Biden term to look like a “witch hunt.”
At this point, Dennett’s chances of victory aren’t strong. Although Vermont Progressives have elected representatives to the state legislature, no candidate has yet come close to winning a statewide race. Anthony Pollina, the Progressive standard bearer who ran for governor in 2000 and received 24.8 percent of the vote in a 2002 race for Lt. Governor, decided this summer to run for governor as an Independent in hopes of broadening his base.
Sorrell, a Democrat, has enjoyed bi-partisan support, and received enough write-in votes in Vermont’s recent primary to appear on the November ballot as both the Democratic and Republican candidate. Nevertheless, a strong turnout for Dennett would send the message that the idea of prosecuting Bush is something to seriously consider.
In 2007, Vermont's State Senate passed a resolution calling on the US Congress to impeach Bush over his handling of the war. But House Speaker Gaye Symington, a Democrat who is currently running for governor against Republican incumbent James Douglas, argued at the time that the move wasn’t appropriate prior to a Congressional investigation. During the House proceedings, about 400 Vermonters from 102 communities showed up at the State House but the resolution was defeated. Vermont's congressional delegation has shown little interest in the idea.
The question raised by Dennett’s promise to pursue prosecution of Bush is whether anger about the war – and how the public and Congress were misled – are enough to create a competitive race against a successful incumbent. Vermonters don’t register by party, and identification as Democrats and Republicans is weaker than in most states. But it remains to be seen if the race can become an unofficial referendum. In essence, a strong turnout for Dennett would mean that Vermont voters want to take the lead in turning a former president into a criminal defendant.If nothing else, the campaign could produce a great bumper sticker: Prosecute Bush. Elect Dennett.
Video Report on Charlotte Dennett’s Pledge
Bugliosi testifies before House Judiciary Committee