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Context of 'January 18, 2007: Gonzales Says President Has Power to Ignore Law in Interest of National Security'

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Attorney General Alberto Gonzales sends a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee informing it that the lawsuit against the administration’s warrantless wiretapping program (see August 17, 2006) is moot—the National Security Agency will now operate under the aegis of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) in its wiretaps. One of the FISC judges, Gonzales writes, has issued an “innovative” and “complex” order that allows the NSA to continue doing what it had been doing with the overall approval of the court, or at least the approval of the single FISC judge. Gonzales does not go into detail about the judge’s ruling, but the administration intensifies its attack on the lawsuit, asking an appeals court to set the previous ruling aside in light of the new FISC protocol, and even to erase the ruling from judicial history as a matter of “public interest.” The appeals court votes 2-1 to set aside the previous ruling; the majority opinion finds that the state secrets privilege prevents the courts from learning whether the plaintiffs in the case had the standing to sue. [Savage, 2007, pp. 207]

Entity Tags: Alberto R. Gonzales, Senate Judiciary Committee, National Security Agency, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

In a second day of testimony (see January 17, 2007), Attorney General Alberto Gonzales tells the Senate Judiciary Committee that the president has always had the inherent authority to bypass or ignore statutory law if he is acting in the interest of national security. Gonzales is referring to a recent Bush administration decision to use a sympathetic FISC judge to sign off on the warrantless wiretapping program (see January 17, 2007). “We commenced down this road five years ago because of a belief that we could not do what we felt was necessary to protect this country under FISA [the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act],” Gonzales testifies. “That is why the president relied upon his inherent authority under the Constitution. My own judgment is, the president has shown maturity and wisdom here in this particular decision. He recognizes that there is an inherent reservoir of inherent power that belongs to every president. You use it only when you have to. In this case, we don’t have to [anymore].” Yale law professor Jack Balkin strenuously disagrees. He points to a “remarkable similarity between the administration’s behavior in the Padilla case (see October 9, 2005 and December 21, 2005) and its behavior here.… Once again, the goal is to prevent a court from stating clearly that the president acted illegally and that his theories of executive power are self-serving hokum.” Instead of going to Congress for the authority to conduct a warrantless wiretapping program, Balkin writes that the administration used FISA’s supposed deficiencies “as an excuse to disregard the law, so that it could make claims of unbridled presidential authority to ignore FISA.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 207-208; Jack Balkin, 1/18/2007]

Entity Tags: Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Alberto R. Gonzales, Bush administration (43), Senate Judiciary Committee, Jack Balkin, George W. Bush, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales comes under fire from members of the Senate Judiciary Committee regarding the National Security Agency’s domestic warrantless wiretapping program (see December 15, 2005. Testimony from the day before by former deputy attorney general James Comey (see May 15, 2007) showed that White House and Justice Department officials were, and still are, deeply divided over the legality and efficacy of the program. But Gonzales has said repeatedly, both under oath before Congress and in other venues, that there is little debate over the NSA surveillance program, and almost all administration officials are unified in support of the program. In February 2006, he told the committee, “There has not been any serious disagreement about the program that the president has confirmed. There have been disagreements about other matters regarding operations, which I cannot get into.” Gonzales’s veracity has come under question before, and many senators are disinclined to believe his new testimony. Committee Democrats point out that Comey’s testimony flatly contradicts Gonzales’s statements from that February session. A letter from Senators Russ Feingold, Charles Schumer, Edward Kennedy, and Richard Durbin asks Gonzales, “In light of Mr. Comey’s testimony yesterday, do you stand by your 2006 Senate and House testimony, or do you wish to revise it?” And some Senate Republicans are now joining Democrats in calling for Gonzales’s removal. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) says, “The American people deserve an attorney general, the chief law enforcement officer of our country, whose honesty and capability are beyond question. Attorney General Gonzales can no longer meet this standard. He has failed this country. He has lost the moral authority to lead.” White House press secretary Tony Snow says of Hagel’s statement, “We disagree, and the president supports the attorney general.” Hagel joins three other Republican senators, John Sununu, Tom Coburn, and presidential candidate John McCain, and House GOP Conference Chairman Adam Putnam, in calling for Gonzales’s firing. Former Senate Intelligence Commitee chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) says that Gonzales should consider resigning, a stance echoed by fellow Republican senators Arlen Specter and Gordon Smith. [Associated Press, 5/17/2007] Gonzales’s defenders say that his testimony to the committee, while legalistic and narrowly focused, is technically accurate, because the NSA program also involves “data mining” of huge electronic databases containing personal information on millions of US citizens, and that program is not exactly the same as the so-called “Terrorist Surveillance Program,” as the NSA’s wiretapping program is now called by White House officials (see Early 2004). But Feingold disagrees. “I’ve had the opportunity to review the classified matters at issue here, and I believe that his testimony was misleading at best.” [New York Times, 7/29/2007]

Entity Tags: Charles Schumer, Arlen Specter, Terrorist Surveillance Program, Tom Coburn, Tony Snow, US Department of Justice, Adam Putnam, Senate Intelligence Committee, Russell D. Feingold, Senate Judiciary Committee, Pat Roberts, Richard (“Dick”) Durbin, Edward M. (“Ted”) Kennedy, Chuck Hagel, Gordon Smith, John Sununu, John McCain, National Security Agency, Alberto R. Gonzales, James B. Comey Jr.

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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