U.S. Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., has introduced legislation that would impose fines or prison time on presidents or executive-branch officials who “knowingly and willfully” mislead Congress to gain authorization to use U.S. military forces.
Jones, who has repeatedly and publicly regretted his vote to support the war in Iraq, said that he doesn’t know how far the Executive Accountability Act of 2009 will get when it comes to gaining passage. But even if all the bill gets is a springtime hearing in the House Judiciary Committee, Jones says, he thinks that is progress.
“We’re saying, ‘Mr. President, be sure,’” Jones said in an interview. “Be sure that if you are going to ask us to commit our boys and girls to risk their lives, that all the facts are on the table. … Make sure there are no questions. … Mr. President, you better be sure.”
Jones’ 3rd District is dotted with military bases, including Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point in Havelock and Camp Lejeune and New River in Jacksonville. He thinks of the young men and women serving on those bases and others, he said.
And he rejects the notion that a bill requiring the president to tell the truth about a potential war is an extreme measure.
“The Constitution says that the Congress shall declare war … but the Congress has been neutered,” he said.
Jones said his decision to support the Executive Accountability Act is based on history. But it was the Clinton administration, not that of former President George W. Bush, that Jones discussed in the next breath.
In April 1999, Jones and about 15 other legislators filed a federal lawsuit opposing former President Bill Clinton’s decision to commit troops to Kosovo.
The lawsuit “never went past the filing stage,” Jones said
The Executive Accountability Act was introduced last week and is co-sponsored by Rep. Neil Abercrombie, a Democrat from Hawaii. If passed, the act would apply only to current and future presidential administrations and executive branches.
The act calls for fines or up to 10 years in prison for leaders found guilty of misleading Congress in order to get authorization to go to war.
The five-year statute of limitations on prosecuting any such crime would not begin until the end the presidential term during which the alleged crime happened, according to the legislation.
Jones invoked the words of Abraham Lincoln to explain his own reasoning for supporting the legislation.
“Lincoln famously said, ‘I have faith in the people. … The danger is, they are misled. Let them know the truth and the country is safe,’” Jones said. “Our country is safest when the people and their elected representatives in the U.S. Congress can make decisions based on hard evidence and facts.”