Reidblog [The Reid Report blog]

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Sunday, December 18, 2005
The Madness of King George
Once again, I turn to George Will for wisdom. Will on "This Week" put the matter very succinctly, when he said that (paraphrasing) "the founders clearly intended that no branch of government should be the one to decide the scope of its own power."

This country was founded precisely on the basis of removing from the people of this country the shadow of the king (at that time, George III). The notion that today, our president has the power, in wartime (this particular war being perpetual), to ignore whichever laws he chooses "in order to protect the American people" should be shocking and frightening to anyone who believes in the founding ideals of America. George W. Bush has gone too far.

Now the links:

The Sunday WaPo discusses the Bush administration's expansive definition of presidential power, as evidenced by the probably illegal authorization by the president of the NSA to spy on American citizens without the approval of a FISA court, and the use of the military to spy on peace protesters.

Also in WaPo, Bush defends his domestic spying actions and has the cheek, with all we now know about what his administration has been up to, urges Congress to renew the Patriot Act. The polar responses from the Hill:
Some of them were further incensed by Bush's remarks yesterday. "The president believes that he has the power to override the laws that Congress has passed," Sen. Russell Feingold (Wis.) said. "He is a president, not a king." Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (Vt.) said the administration "seems to believe it is above the law."

Rep. Dan Burton (Ind.) was among Republicans responding. "The liberal media and its liberal allies are attacking the president" for spying tactics that are legitimate and legal, he said on the House floor yesterday afternoon. "The fact is, the president is defending the United States of America."

... in addition to Burton, the other Constitutional wimps and sycophants in our first branch of government think they might finally like to give a bit of presidential oversight a go... From that article:

Democrats have long complained about a dearth of congressional investigations into Bush administration activities, but their criticism has been gaining validation from others after the botched response to Hurricane Katrina, problems in Iraq and ethical lapses.

Lawrence B. Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, said this fall that "the people's representatives over on the Hill in that other branch of government have truly abandoned their oversight responsibilities [on national security] and have let things atrophy to the point that if we don't do something about it, it's going to get even more dangerous than it already is."

In an interview last week, Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, said "it's a fair comment" that the GOP-controlled Congress has done insufficient oversight and "ought to be" doing more.

"Republican Congresses tend to overinvestigate Democratic administrations and underinvestigate their own," said Davis, who added that he has tried to pick up some of the slack with his committee. "I get concerned we lose our separation of powers when one party controls both branches."

Democrats on the committee said the panel issued 1,052 subpoenas to probe alleged misconduct by the Clinton administration and the Democratic Party between 1997 and 2002, at a cost of more than $35 million. By contrast, the committee under Davis has issued three subpoenas to the Bush administration, two to the Energy Department over nuclear waste disposal at Yucca Mountain, and one last week to the Defense Department over Katrina documents.

Some experts on Congress say that the legislative branch has shed much of its oversight authority because of a combination of aggressive actions by the Bush administration, acquiescence by congressional leaders, and political demands that keep lawmakers out of Washington more than before.

"I do not think you can argue today that Congress is a coequal branch of government; it is not," said Lee H. Hamilton, president of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Hamilton, a former Democratic congressman and vice chairman of the Sept. 11 commission, told reporters this month: "It has basically lost the war-making power. The real debates on budget occur not in Congress but in the Office of Management and Budget. . . . When you come into session Tuesday afternoon and leave Thursday afternoon, you simply do not have time for oversight or deliberation." ...

... Specifically, Democrats list 14 areas where the GOP majority has "failed to investigate" the administration, including the role of senior officials in the abuse of detainees; leaking the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame; the role of Vice President Cheney's office in awarding contracts to Cheney's former employer, Halliburton; the White House's withholding from Congress the cost of a Medicare prescription drug plan; the administration's relationship with Iraqi politician Ahmed Chalabi; and the influence of corporate interests on energy policy, environmental regulation and tobacco policy.

Meanwhile, the House ethics committee has not opened a new case or launched an investigation in the past 12 months, despite outside investigations involving, among others, Cunningham and former lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
And the money quote:


"Republicans have made a mockery of oversight," said Rep. Henry A. Waxman (Calif.), the committee's ranking Democrat. "There was nothing too small to be investigated in the Clinton administration and there's nothing so big that it can't be ignored in the Bush administration."
...No truer words...

Related:

On ABC's "This Week..." Russ Feingold calls Bush's actions illegal, and adds:

"We have a system of law," Feingold said. "He just can't make up the law. … It would turn George Bush not into President George Bush, but King George Bush."
And from the paper that first broke the story... the NYT editorial page weighs in:
In Friday's Times, James Risen and Eric Lichtblau reported that sometime in sometime in 2002, President Bush signed a secret executive order scrapping a painfully reached, 25-year-old national consensus: spying on Americans by their government should generally be prohibited, and when it is allowed, it should be regulated and supervised by the courts. The laws and executive orders governing electronic eavesdropping by the intelligence agency were specifically devised to uphold the Fourth Amendment's prohibition of unreasonable searches and seizures.

But Mr. Bush secretly decided that he was going to allow the agency to spy on American citizens without obtaining a warrant - just as he had earlier decided to scrap the Geneva Conventions, American law and Army regulations when it came to handling prisoners in the war on terror. Indeed, the same Justice Department lawyer, John Yoo, who helped write the twisted memo on legalizing torture, wrote briefs supporting the idea that the president could ignore the law once again when it came to the intelligence agency's eavesdropping on telephone calls and e-mail messages.

"The government may be justified in taking measures which in less troubled conditions could be seen as infringements of individual liberties," he wrote.

Let's be clear about this: illegal government spying on Americans is a violation of individual liberties, whether conditions are troubled or not. Nobody with a real regard for the rule of law and the Constitution would have difficulty seeing that. The law governing the National Security Agency was written after the Vietnam War because the government had made lists of people it considered national security threats and spied on them. All the same empty points about effective intelligence gathering were offered then, just as they are now, and the Congress, the courts and the American people rejected them.

This particular end run around civil liberties is also unnecessary. The intelligence agency already had the capacity to read your mail and your e-mail and listen to your telephone conversations. All it had to do was obtain a warrant from a special court created for this purpose. The burden of proof for obtaining a warrant was relaxed a bit after 9/11, but even before the attacks the court hardly ever rejected requests. ...

...President Bush defended the program yesterday, saying it was saving lives, hotly insisting that he was working within the Constitution and the law, and denouncing The Times for disclosing the program's existence. We don't know if he was right on the first count; this White House has cried wolf so many times on the urgency of national security threats that it has lost all credibility. But we have learned the hard way that Mr. Bush's team cannot be trusted to find the boundaries of the law, much less respect them. ...
Hear hear...! And lest we forget the other elements of the administration's journey to monarchy, the CS Monitor reminds us of Jose Padilla's unprecedented treatment at the hands of the Bush administration...

On the blogs:

Pennywit begins to see the tinfoil for the trees...
"Isn't Congress supposed to provide more oversight regarding these sorts of programs? Moreover, considering the programs that have been revealed so far, does anybody else wonder what else the Bush administration might be up to, what other domestic surveillance programs we don't know about? ..."

Yes and yes.

A couple of days ago, Michelle Malkin went all wacky on Drudge over the outrage... not of the spying, but of those who would dare to report it:
the Drudge Report--HUGE RED FONT and all--chose to aid and abet the civil liberties Chicken Littles at the N.Y. Times. That's a shame. The real headline news is not that President Bush took extraordinary measures to protect Americans in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, but that the blabbermouths at the Times chose to disclose classified information in a pathetically obvious bid to move the Iraqi elections off the front pages. And to help sabotage the Patriot Act reauthorization, which went down in the Senate this afternoon.

Whatever, Michelle. I wouldn't even want them to bug your wacky household...

Meanwhile, Hugh Hewitt continues to play the role of Bush's Monica Lewinsky, and Joshua Micah Marshall reasons that by the Bush reasoning, the president could, with no added authority, override John McCain's torture amendment, too...

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posted by JReid @ 12:24 PM  
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"I am for enhanced interrogation. I don't believe waterboarding is torture... I'll do it. I'll do it for charity." -- Sean Hannity
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