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Profile: John Dean
John Dean was a participant or observer in the following events:
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Former White House counsel John Dean helps destroy the credibility of the sensationalistic new book Silent Coup, which alleges that Dean masterminded the Watergate burglary (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972), that his wife was involved in a Democratic Party-operated prostitution ring (see May 6, 1991), that Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward, one of the reporters instrumental in exposing the Watergate conspiracy, was a CIA plant, and former White House chief of staff Alexander Haig orchestrated the “silent coup” that removed Richard Nixon from office (see May 8, 1991). Dean learns that convicted Watergate burglar G. Gordon Liddy (see January 30, 1973) worked behind the scenes with the book’s authors, Leonard Colodny and Robert Gettlin, on developing, sourcing, and writing the book. Although Dean has played a key role in destroying the book’s credibility, the publisher, St. Martin’s Press, intends on publishing the book anyway, now marketing it to what Dean will later call “Nixon apologists and right-wingers, giving them a new history of Nixon’s downfall in which Bob Woodward, Al Haig, and John Dean were the villains, and randy Democrats had all but invited surveillance. Who better to peddle this tale than uber-conservative Gordon Liddy?” Preparing for an onslaught of negative publicity and legal actions, St. Martin’s Press doubles its defamation insurance and reissues Liddy’s Watergate biography, Will, with a new postscript that endorses Silent Coup. Dean notes that for years, Liddy has attempted to restore Nixon’s tarnished reputation at the expense of others, particularly Dean and Liddy’s fellow burglar, E. Howard Hunt. The book comes at a perfect time for Liddy, Dean will later note: “Since the first publication of Will in 1980 he had made a living by putting his dysfunctional personality on display. By the early nineties speaking engagements were becoming less frequent for him, and his business ventures, including several novels, were unsuccessful. Silent Coup put him back in the spotlight, where he loved to be—publicly misbehaving.” Dean is disturbed when another convicted Watergate figure, former White House counsel Charles Colson, joins Liddy in backing the book. Dean believed that he and Colson had forged a friendship during their incarceration in federal prison (see September 3, 1974), and questions Colson’s integrity and his public reinvention as a Christian minister because of Colson’s endorsement. [Dean, 2006, pp. xx-xxii]
The cover of Silent Coup. [Source: Amazon (.com)]Silent Coup, an alternate theory of the Watergate conspiracy by Leonard Colodny and Robert Gettlin (see May 6, 1991), is published. It quickly makes the New York Times bestseller list. [Dean, 2006, pp. xxiv] The same day it is published, the Washington Post runs an article by media reporter Howard Kurtz that thoroughly discredits the book. Kurtz notes that both CBS and Time magazine chose not to feature the book because the authors refused to provide any proof of their allegations (see May 7, 1991); two of the authors’ primary sources of information, former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Thomas Moorer and former Pentagon spokesman Jerry Friedheim, both disavow statements they are said to have made; and the primary Watergate figures, Post reporter Bob Woodward, former White House aide Alexander Haig, and former White House counsel John Dean, harshly repudiate the book’s contentions. [Columbia Journalism Review, 11/1991]
Entity Tags: Thomas Moorer, Robert Gettlin, Time magazine, Leonard Colodny, John Dean, Jerry Friedheim, Alexander M. Haig, Jr., CBS News, Howard Kurtz, Bob Woodward
Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate
When Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, the first and only African-American to serve on the Court, announces his retirement, the Bush administration is ready with a far more conservative replacement. President Bush himself is already under fire for previously naming a moderate, David Souter, to the Court, and Bush is determined to give his conservative base someone they can back. Although Bush had wanted to nominate an appropriately conservative Hispanic, his eventual nomination is Clarence Thomas, who is completing his first year as a judge on the DC Court of Appeals. Thomas has two qualifications that Bush officials want: like Marshall, he is African-American; unlike Marshall, he is as conservative a jurist as Antonin Scalia (see September 26, 1986) or Robert Bork (see July 1-October 23, 1987). Two of former President Reagan’s closest legal advisers, C. Boyden Gray and Lee Liberman (a co-founder of the conservative Federalist Society), privately call Thomas “the black Bork.” Bush calls Thomas “the most qualified man in the country” for the position. [New York Times, 7/2/1991; Dean, 2007, pp. 146-153] During the July 2 press conference to announce Thomas’s nomination, Bush says: “I don’t feel he’s a quota. I expressed my respect for the ground that Mr. Justice Marshall plowed, but I don’t feel there should be a black seat on the Court or an ethnic seat on the Court.” For his part, Thomas extols his upbringing as a desperately poor child in Georgia, crediting his grandmother and the nuns who taught him in Catholic schools as particular influences on his life and values. Republican senator Orrin Hatch says that opposing Thomas will be difficult: “Anybody who takes him on in the area of civil rights is taking on the grandson of a sharecropper.” [New York Times, 7/2/1991] However, the non-partisan American Bar Association’s recommendation panel splits on whether Thomas is qualified or not, the first time since 1969 the ABA has failed to unanimously recommend a nominee. Twelve panelists find Thomas “qualified,” two find him “not qualified,” and none find him “well qualified.” One senior Congressional aide calls the assessment of Thomas “the equivalent of middling.” [New York Times, 8/28/1991; Dean, 2007, pp. 146-153] In 2007, former Nixon White House counsel John Dean will write, “For the president to send a nominee to the Supreme Court with anything less than a uniformly well-qualified rating is irresponsible, but such decisions have become part of the politicization of the judiciary.” Thomas, himself a beneficiary of the nation’s affirmative action programs, opposes them, once calling them “social engineering;” he has no interest in civil rights legislation, instead insisting that the Constitution should be “color-blind” and the courts should stay out of such matters. Civil rights, women’s rights, and environmental groups are, in Dean’s words, “terrified” of Thomas’s nomination. To overcome these obstacles, the Bush administration decides on a strategy Dean calls “crude but effective… us[ing] Thomas’s color as a wedge with the civil rights community, because he would pick up some blacks’ support notwithstanding his dismal record in protecting their civil rights. [New York Times, 7/2/1991; Dean, 2007, pp. 146-153] The nomination of an African-American quells some of the planned resistance to a conservative nominee promised by a number of civil rights organizations. [New York Times, 7/2/1991] Three months later, Thomas will be named to the court after a bitterly contentious brace of confirmation hearings (see October 13, 1991).
Entity Tags: Orrin Hatch, US Supreme Court, Lee Liberman, Robert Bork, John Dean, Thurgood Marshall, David Souter, American Bar Association, Bush administration (41), Antonin Scalia, George Herbert Walker Bush, Clayland Boyden Gray, Clarence Thomas
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
To promote the book Silent Coup (see May 6, 1991 and May 9, 1991 and After), convicted Watergate burglar G. Gordon Liddy “calls out” fellow Watergate defendant John Dean on a Cleveland radio show. Liddy dares Dean, the former White House counsel, to file a lawsuit against the book, as Dean has threatened (see May 7, 1991). On the air, Liddy leaves a message on Dean’s home answering machine, saying: “You have promised to sue me and Len Colodny and Bob Gettlin [the authors of the book]. Let’s get this suit started, John. We want to get you on the stand, under oath, yet again (see June 25-29, 1973).… Come on, John, I’m publicly challenging you to make good on your promise to sue.” On the same message, radio host Merle Pollis makes a veiled sexual innuendo about Dean’s wife Maureen, who according to the book, was involved in a prostitution ring: “[T]his new book, however, reveals some things about Maureen that irk me. I didn’t want to think of her in that way, and it makes me very sad, and it also makes me feel, well, never mind.” Before Liddy goes off the air, he gives out Dean’s home phone number to Pollis’s radio audience, resulting in a storm of phone calls that drive Dean to disconnect the phone. Maureen Dean screams aloud when she plays back the message and hears Liddy’s voice. The Deans decide that they will indeed sue Liddy, the authors, and the publisher of the book, “but,” Dean will later write, “on our terms, not theirs.” Dean refuses to respond to Liddy’s baiting, and instead will “spend the next eight months collecting evidence and preparing the case.” [Dean, 2006, pp. xxiv-xxv]
Clarence Thomas. [Source: AP / World Wide Photos]The Senate Judiciary Committee hearings for Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas begin (see July 2-August 28, 1991). Thomas is exhaustively coached by a team headed by former senator John Danforth (R-MO), whom Thomas had worked for when Danforth was attorney general of Missouri. As per his coaching, Thomas says as little as possible in response to senators’ questions, staying with generalities and being as congenial, diffident, and bland as the questions will allow. Still, some of his statements defy belief.
Abortion Rights - Thomas is well-known as an ardent opponent of abortion rights, but he claims in testimony that he has no position on the fundamental abortion case of Roe v. Wade (see January 22, 1973), even though he has disparaged the case in his own legal writings. He even claims not to have discussed the case with anyone. His sympathetic biographer Andrew Peyton Thomas (no relation) later admits that “these representations about Roe proved a laughingstock.” Even conservative stalwart Paul Weyrich, who is running a “war room” to counter any negative statements about Thomas in the press or in the hearings, says publicly that Thomas has spoken of the case in discussions between the two, and calls Thomas’s dissembling “disingenuous” and “nauseating.” Weyrich considers, and rejects, withdrawing his support for Thomas.
Comparison with Rehnquist Hearings - Author and former Nixon White House counsel John Dean will write, “[I]t was clear that Thomas was going the route that [Supreme Court Justice William] Rehnquist had traveled” (see September 26, 1986): “Say anything that was necessary to win confirmation, regardless of the conspicuousness of the lie. Regrettably, it would get worse.” The Senate Judiciary Committee splits on sending Thomas’s name to the full Senate, 7-7, therefore making no recommendation either way. But head counts show that Thomas has a narrow but solid majority of senators ready to vote him onto the bench. [Dean, 2007, pp. 146-153]
The Columbia Journalism Review gives a decidedly mixed review to the recently published book, Silent Coup, by Leonard Colodny and Robert Gettlin (see May 6, 1991). Reviewer Steve Weinberg notes that the book “mixes superb and shoddy research, sound reasoning with logical inconsistencies, clear writing with incomprehensible passages.” The book lacks verifiable sourcing. Thus, Weinberg notes, the book “cannot be dismissed out of hand, but it cannot stand on its own.” Weinberg details the competing claims for the book:
Some Watergate figures, most notably convicted burglar G. Gordon Liddy, support the book. (Weinberg observes that the book contradicts many of the claims advanced in Liddy’s Watergate biography, Will. Weinberg is apparently unaware that Liddy secretly co-authored the book—see May 9, 1991 and After.) In contrast, Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward, cited as a shady intelligence asset in the book, calls it “untrue and pathetic.” Woodward’s partner in the Watergate investigations, Carl Bernstein, dismisses the book as a “lunatic” piece of work. Former White House chief of staff Alexander Haig, accused in the book of fomenting the coup that forced Richard Nixon out of the presidency, calls the book “a scandalous fabrication.” Former White House counsel John Dean, named the “mastermind” of the Watergate conspiracy, calls the book “absolute garbage” (see May 6, 1991).
The book was discredited by the Washington Post the day it was published (see May 1991) and again five weeks later (see June 1991). Eminent historian Stephen Ambrose dismissed the book out of hand in a New York Times review. But other, equally reputable reviewers and media outlets such as the Los Angeles Times and the more ideologically conservative National Review praised the book. [Columbia Journalism Review, 11/1991] The Post called it one of “the most boring conspiracy books ever written” despite its “wild charges and vilifications,” and the Times observed the book showed “a stunning ignorance of how the government under Mr. Nixon operated.” Samuel Dash, the chief counsel for the Senate Watergate Committee, called the book “a fraud… contradicted by everything on the White House tapes and by the evidence.” [Washington Post, 7/23/1997]
Entity Tags: Stephen Ambrose, Senate Watergate Investigative Committee, Steve Weinberg, Samuel Dash, Robert Gettlin, Columbia Journalism Review, Alexander M. Haig, Jr., Carl Bernstein, Leonard Colodny, G. Gordon Liddy, John Dean, Bob Woodward
Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate
Author Terry Eastland, the editor of Forbes Media Critic and a fellow with the Ethics and Public Policy Center, publishes Energy in the Executive: The Case for the Strong Presidency. The book makes an impassioned case for the “unitary executive” theory of the presidency (see April 30, 1986). In essence, Eastland’s argument is that a strong presidency, combined with a much diluted Congress and Supreme Court, is the best way for conservatives to achieve their aims. While traditional conservatives tend to reject this theory as unacceptably authoritarian, many others on the right—neoconservatives, social conservatives, the religious right, and other groups—have embraced the concept. Author and former Nixon White House counsel John Dean will call Eastland’s arguments “weak… deeply flawed as history and constitutional law, and closer to cheerleading for presidential hubris, excessive secrecy, and monarchical-like authority than a solid justification for a strong presidency.” [Dean, 2007, pp. 100-106]
Former White House counsel John Dean reaches a successful settlement over his libel suit against St. Martin’s Press, the publisher of the 1991 book Silent Coup (see May 6, 1991). Dean has alleged that the book, which accused him of masterminding the Watergate conspiracy and his wife Maureen of being involved with a prostitution ring, is defamatory. Dean’s suit was for $150 million in damages; he is not at liberty to divulge the terms of the settlement, but says, “All I can say is that we’re satisfied.” Dean is still suing authors Leonard Colodny and Robert Gettlin, and convicted Watergate burglar G. Gordon Liddy, who not only helped write the book, but has recently called Maureen Dean a prostitute. St. Martin’s Press issued a revision of Silent Coup which removed defamatory material about Mrs. Dean. [Washington Post, 7/23/1997] In 2006, Dean will write that the lawsuit took years to settle, largely because “St. Martin’s tried every possible ploy to prevent its going to trial.” One of the key witnesses would have been lawyer Philip Macklin Bailey, who was allegedly involved in the purported prostitution ring, and had a notebook supposedly containing Maureen Dean’s name (under her maiden name, “Mo” Biner). Dean will call Bailey “the worst possible source of information in the annals of defamation law.” Bailey has shuttled in and out of mental institutions for decades, and if Bailey had testified, his lawyer would have presented medical evidence that Bailey was unable to distinguish fact from fiction. Dean will write that by the time the other lawsuits would have gone to trial, he was prepared to present evidence that the central thesis of the book was entirely fabricated. Colodny will eventually settle with Dean; a judge will then terminate the litigation, essentially letting Liddy and Gettlin off the hook. (Dean will note that it was pointless from a financial viewpoint to sue Liddy, since Liddy had long since transferred all of his assets to his wife’s name, and St. Martin’s Press is paying all of his legal expenses.) [Dean, 2006, pp. xxv-xxvi] Colodny will continue to maintain a Web site, the “Nixon Era Times,” that features material from Silent Coup and adds further, equally questionable, allegations to the book’s main contentions. [Leonard Colodny, 2008] Dean will note that the book has continued to gain followers, largely among right-wing media personages such as MSNBC’s Monica Crowley and Fox News anchor Brit Hume. The book also played a large role in gaining Liddy a position as a radio talk show host. [Dean, 2006, pp. xxvi-xxvii]
Disbarred lawyer and convicted Watergate figure Charles Colson (see June 1974), now the head of the Christian Prison Fellowship ministry, writes that “the Constitution does not give the Supreme Court final say on constitutional questions.” Colson, a traditional social conservative, makes this startling claim in an op-ed about the recent Boerne v. Flores decision of the Court, in which the Court struck down the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) as an unconstitutional encroachment on the fundamental concept of the separation of church and state. Colson writes that the decision has “precipitat[ed] what may be the greatest constitutional crisis of our age.” Colson, a supporter of the RFRA, says the striking down of the act makes “religious liberties… once again vulnerable.” The overarching question Colson raises is whether the Supreme Court is the final judicial arbiter of the Constitution. Colson gives a blunt answer: “Contrary to what most Americans think, the Constitution does not give the Supreme Court final say on constitutional questions. And the Founders resisted the idea.” Colson cites the landmark 1803 case of Marbury v. Madison, in which the Court, he says, took up the power of judicial review, then gives three examples of presidents defying Court orders. However, fellow convicted Watergate figure John Dean, a former White House counsel, refutes Colson’s arguments. In 2006, Dean will write that “Colson, like [televangelist Pat] Robertson and others on the religious right, is seeking, in effect, to nullify Supreme Court decisions of which he does not approve.” Dean will note that although Colson has long since lost his license to practice law, he is considered a scholar of some importance by his conservative contemporaries, and therefore has some influence.
'Marbury' and Judicial Review - Dean notes that Colson’s interpretation of the bedrock Marbury case is wrong. Judicial review by federal courts of Congressional legislation was a long-established principle by the time the Court issued its ruling. Even before the Constitutional Conventions, state courts had routinely overturned state legislative acts. The assumption of most during the debates over the contents of the Constitution was that federal courts, and most specifically the Supreme Court, would have similar power over federal legislation.
Thomas Jefferson and the Alien Imposition Act - Colson writes that “Thomas Jefferson refused to execute the Alien Imposition Act.” Colson is wrong: there was never such an act. Dean writes, “If Colson is referring to the infamous Alien and Sedition Act of 1798, it had nothing to do with a court order, and the example is therefore very misleading.” Jefferson’s predecessor, John Adams, enforced the law, which Jefferson considered unconstitutional. Jefferson pardoned those convicted of sedition under the statute when he gained the presidency. He never “refused to execute” it because it expired the day before he was inaugurated, March 4, 1801.
Andrew Jackson and the Bank of the United States - Colson writes that Andrew Jackson “spurned a Court order in a banking case.” Again, as Dean notes, the citation is misleading. Dean believes Colson is referring to Jackson’s 1832 veto of a bill to recharter the Bank of the United States. The Court had not issued an opinion on the rechartering of a federal bank, so Jackson did not defy a Court order.
Abraham Lincoln and the 'Dred Scott' Decision - Colson concludes his historical argument by saying that Abraham Lincoln “rejected the Dred Scott decision. Lincoln even asked Congress to overrule the Court—which it did, passing a law that reversed Dred Scott (1862).” Dean calls Colson’s argument “a stunning summation, not to mention distortion, of history.” The infamous 1857 Dred Scott v. Sanford decision found that slaves were neither citizens nor persons under the Constitution, that Congress could not prohibit slavery in the territories, and that the Declaration of Independence’s statement that “all men are created equal” applied only to white men. Lincoln argued passionately against the decision during his 1858 debates with his Senate opponent, Stephen Douglas, and swore that he would seek to reverse the decision. But, as Dean will note, “Seeking reversal is not defiance of the law.” Lincoln did defy the Court in 1861 by suspending the writ of habeas corpus, and explained his unprecedented action to Congress by arguing that he did so to save the Union from dissolution. Dred Scott was overturned, not by Congressional legislation, but by the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Bill of Rights.
The Danger Inherent in Colson's Arguments - Dean will note: “Colson’s baseless arguments are unfortunately typical of those that authoritarian conservatives insist on making, using facts that are irrelevant or misleading, if not demonstrably wrong. The self-righteousness of authoritarians [such as] Colson and Pat Robertson… has become so pronounced that at times it seems as if they believe themselves actually to be speaking ex cathedra [a sardonic reference to the infallibility of the Pope]. Their contention that the president of the United States is not bound by rulings of the Supreme Court, or, for that matter, by the laws of Congress, when these rulings or laws relate to the functions of the presidency, has gained increasing currency with authoritarian conservatives, both leaders and followers.” Such acceptance “is truly frightening in its implications.” [Christianity Today, 10/6/1997; Dean, 2006, pp. 111-115; Catholic Encyclopedia, 2008]
Texas governor and possible presidential candidate George W. Bush’s “Iron Triangle” of (four, not three) political advisers—Karen Hughes, Karl Rove, Donald Evans, and Joe Allbaugh—are preparing for Bush’s entry into the 2000 presidential campaign. His biggest liability is foreign affairs: despite his conversations with Saudi Prince Bandar (see Fall 1997) and former security adviser Condoleezza Rice (see August 1998), he is still a blank slate (see Early 1998). “Is he comfortable with foreign policy? I should say not,” observes George H. W. Bush’s former national security adviser, Brent Scowcroft, who is not involved in teaching the younger Bush about geopolitics. Bush’s son’s only real experience, Scowcroft notes, “was being around when his father was in his many different jobs.” Rice is less acerbic in her judgment, saying: “I think his basic instincts about foreign policy and what need[…] to be done [are] there: rebuilding military strength, the importance of free trade, the big countries with uncertain futures. Our job [is] to help him fill in the details.” Bush himself acknowledges his lack of foreign policy expertise, saying: “Nobody needs to tell me what to believe. But I do need somebody to tell me where Kosovo is.” Rice and former Defense Secretary Dick Cheney assemble a team of eight experienced foreign policy advisers to give the younger Bush what author Craig Unger calls “a crash course about the rest of the world.” They whimsically call themselves the “Vulcans,” [Carter, 2004, pp. 269; Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 117; Unger, 2007, pp. 161-163] which, as future Bush administration press secretary Scott McClellan will later write, “was based on the imposing statue of Vulcan, the Roman god of fire and metalworking, that is a landmark in Rice’s hometown of Birmingham, Alabama.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 85] The eight are:
Richard Armitage, a hardliner and Project for a New American Century (PNAC) member (see January 26, 1998) who served in a number of capacities in the first Bush presidency;
Robert Blackwill, a hardliner and former Bush presidential assistant for European and Soviet Affairs;
Stephen Hadley, a neoconservative and former assistant secretary of defense;
Richard Perle, a leading neoconservative and another former assistant secretary of defense;
Condoleezza Rice, a protege of Scowcroft, former oil company executive, and former security adviser to Bush’s father;
Donald Rumsfeld, another former defense secretary;
Paul Wolfowitz, a close associate of Perle and a prominent neoconservative academic, brought in to the circle by Cheney;
Dov Zakheim, a hardline former assistant secretary of defense and a PNAC member;
Robert Zoellick, an aide to former Secretary of State James Baker and a PNAC member.
McClellan will later note, “Rice’s and Bush’s views on foreign policy… were one and the same.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 85] Their first tutorial session in Austin, Texas is also attended by Cheney and former Secretary of State George Schulz. Even though three solid neoconservatives are helping Bush learn about foreign policy, many neoconservatives see the preponderance of his father’s circle of realpolitik foreign advisers surrounding the son and are dismayed. Prominent neoconservatives such as William Kristol, Jeane Kirkpatrick, and James Woolsey will back Bush’s primary Republican opponent, Senator John McCain (R-AZ). [Carter, 2004, pp. 269; Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 117; Unger, 2007, pp. 161-163] Ivo Daalder and James Lindsay, both former National Security Council members, write in the book America Unbound: The Bush Revolution in Foreign Policy, that under the tutelage of the Vulcans, Bush adopts a “hegemonist” view of the world that believes the US’s primacy in the world is paramount to securing US interests. As former White House counsel John Dean writes in 2003, this viewpoint asserts, “[S]ince we have unrivalled powers, we can have it our way, and kick ass when we don’t get it.” [FindLaw, 11/7/2003; Carter, 2004, pp. 269]
Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Robert B. Zoellick, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Armitage, Robert Blackwill, John McCain, Scott McClellan, Richard Perle, John Dean, James Lindsay, James Woolsey, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, Brent Scowcroft, Jeane Kirkpatrick, Dov S. Zakheim, George W. Bush, George Schulz, Stephen J. Hadley, Ivo Daalder, William Kristol
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, US International Relations, Neoconservative Influence
George W. Bush signs Executive Order 13233 which limits public access to papers of all presidents since 1980. A 1978 law provided for the release of presidential papers 12 years after the president leaves office, so Ronald Reagan’s papers would have been released next year. Reagan issued an order in 1989 that called for disclosure of most of his official papers 12 years after he left office but under the new executive order the papers can be kept secret even if the president in question wants them released. President Bush’s father was vice president during the Reagan administration. [Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 11/8/2001] The Guardian notes that now Bush’s “personal papers detailing the decision-making process in the current war on terrorism could remain secret in perpetuity.” [Guardian, 11/2/2001] In March 2001, Bush signed a temporary order delaying the release of these papers for 90 days, and then signed for another 90 day delay before signing this order making the change permanent (see January 20, 2001). [New York Times, 1/3/2003]
'Executive Fiat' - Bush’s executive order radically reforms the PRA and unilaterally imposes limitations never contemplated by Congress. Bush is, according to former Nixon White House counsel John Dean, “in essence… repealing an act of Congress and imposing a new law by executive fiat.” If not overturned by Congress or lawsuits, the executive order mandates the following, according to Dean:
Former presidents can keep their papers sealed indefinitely.
Vice presidents have the power to invoke executive privilege, an authority limited to the president since 1969.
The burden shifts from a presumption to release presidential documents unless good cause exists to keep them sealed, to the opposite, where an applicant must show good cause why a set of documents should be unsealed.
Any request to release a former president’s papers must be approved by both the former president and the current incumbent. Either one’s objection keeps the papers sealed.
“Representatives of former presidents” may invoke executive privilege after a former president’s death. Dean will write, “Although there is no constitutional basis whatsoever for this, under Bush’s order such a right can be passed from generation to generation, to friends, anyone.”
Tom Connors of the Society of American Archivists will say, “What seems to be coming out of the [Bush-Cheney] administration is the idea that public information is a dangerous thing.” Historian Hugh Davis Graham, who will, before his death, take part in a lawsuit to overturn the order, will observe, “George W. Bush has a fetish for secrecy. And unless this executive order is overturned, it will be a victory for secrecy in government—a victory so total that it would make [former president Richard] Nixon jealous in his grave.” Dean will add, “Bush and Cheney assumed office planning to take total and absolute control of executive branch information. The truth will be what they say it is. They will decide what the public should know and when, if ever.” [Dean, 2004, pp. 89-92]
The Bush administration solves the dilemma surrounding a request by Congressman Dan Burton (R-IN) for documents from the Clinton administration (see Early September, 2001) by placing secrecy and executive privilege above a chance to potentially attack Clinton. Burton has tucked the request for the Clinton documents in with another request on a far more serious matter, possible malfeasance by an FBI office. President Bush instructs Attorney General John Ashcroft not to turn over the documents on either case, explaining that turning over the documents would violate the “national interest” by giving Congress documents related to “prosecutorial decision making.” Burton, the Republican and Democratic members of the House Government Reform Committee, and editorial writers and commentators around the country criticize the administration over the refusal to turn over the documents, particularly the FBI information. The White House adds fuel to the controversy by claiming, both on this day and in a January 2002 letter from White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, that the refusal is consistent with long-standing Justice Department policy (see January 10, 2002). The committee will secure an opinion from eminent Constitutional scholar Professor Charles Tiefer, who will show that the White House’s argument is flatly wrong. [Dean, 2004, pp. 85-88]
'Your Guy's Acting Like a King' - An infuriated Burton confronts a lower-level Justice Department official sent to testify about the government’s position: “We’ve got a dictatorial president and a Justice Department that does not want Congress involved. Your guy’s acting like he’s king.” In his official comments, Burton accuses the Bush administration of setting a “terrible, terrible precedent” in the name of executive power. “This is not a monarchy,” Burton says. “The legislative branch has oversight responsibilities to make sure there is no corruption in the executive branch.” In the Senate, Charles Grassley (R-IA) agrees with Burton. “Anything that limits legitimate Congressional oversight is worrisome,” he says. “This move needs to be carefully scrutinized, particularly in an atmosphere where Congress is giving the Justice Department additional powers and authority.”
Politics over Principles - But the storm of Congressional criticism will have little lasting effect. In 2007, author Charlie Savage will write: “[P]olitics defeated… principles. Most Republicans were unwilling to challenge Bush, and many Democrats opposed Burton’s probes of the Clinton campaign fund-raising, so few members of either party were interested in fighting the White House about it. And because Bush’s first invocation of [executive privilege] was done in part to protect Clinton and the Democrats, the gesture seemed principled rather than self-serving. It was tactically brilliant.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 98]
Administration Later Turns Over Documents - After the media controversy, the administration quietly, and without public acknowledgment, will provide the FBI material to the committee. The committee’s final report on the FBI investigation will conclude with six pages of withering criticism of the administration’s fallacious claim to executive privilege. However, as former Nixon White House counsel John Dean will note in 2004, the criticism from the committee is essentially meaningless to the White House, because it will garner no attention from the media and thereby cost the administration no political capital. And while some observers cannot understand why the administration would take such a hardline stand on an issue that lacks any implications for national security, the public interest, or the protection of ongoing criminal investigations, Dean will write that “it makes absolute sense if the administration’s aim is total information control.” He adds: “Accordingly, its policy remains to employ executive privilege aggressively, as long as the political price is not too high. If this administration is given a second term, there will be no price too high to expand this presidential privilege, enabling the executive branch to remain completely unaccountable.” [Dean, 2004, pp. 85-88]
Court Upholds Bush Actions - In 2003, a district court will uphold the Bush administration’s refusal to turn over the documents to Burton’s committee (see March 28, 2003).
David Walker, comptroller of the General Accounting Office (GAO) and a Ronald Reagan appointee, files a lawsuit to compel Vice President Dick Cheney and his office to reveal the names of the private businessmen and organizational officials that his energy task force (see January 29, 2001) met with to craft the Bush administration’s energy policies (see May 8, 2001). This is the first time since its creation in 1920 that the GAO has been forced to file suit to compel another government agency to follow the law and cooperate with its requests. [Dean, 2004, pp. 78-79] In a statement, Walker writes: “This is the first time that GAO has filed suit against a federal official in connection with a records access issue. We take this step reluctantly. Nevertheless, given GAO’s responsibility to Congress and the American people, we have no other choice. Our repeated attempts to reach a reasonable accommodation on this matter have not been successful. Now that the matter has been submitted to the judicial branch, we are hopeful that the litigation will be resolved expeditiously. [General Accounting Office, 2/22/2002 ]
'Fundamental Questions' about Governmental 'Checks and Balances' - Former Nixon White House counsel John Dean will write in 2004: “This was, to say the least, a high-stakes lawsuit. It raised fundamental questions about the very nature of our system of checks and balances. If the GAO could not get the information it requested, then there was a black hole in the federal firmament—a no-man’s land where a president and vice president could go free from Congressional oversight.” By random selection, the case lands in the court of Judge John Bates, a career Justice Department lawyer who once worked for the Whitewater investigative team led by Kenneth Starr, and had just recently been appointed to the bench by President Bush. The choice of Bates will prove critical to the verdict of the case. [Dean, 2004, pp. 78-79]
Schlafly: Secrecy a 'Mistake' - Conservative commentator and activist Phyllis Schlafly will write in 2002: “[T]he public wants to know how our energy policy was developed. When information is kept secret, the natural inference is that there must be something the administration is very eager to hide. While private businesses and households can be selective about what they tell the world, the American people are not willing to accord the same privacy to public officials paid by the taxpayers. Regardless of the legal veil woven over the energy policy meetings, Cheney’s secrecy is a political mistake.” [Eagle Forum, 3/6/2002]
Entity Tags: Kenneth Starr, Phyllis Schlafly, US Department of Justice, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, John Dean, Government Accountability Office, Bush administration (43), David Walker, George W. Bush, Energy Task Force, John Bates
Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record, Civil Liberties
White House counsel Alberto Gonzales tells reporters that “the framers of the Constitution, I think, intended there to be a strong presidency in order to carry out certain functions, and [President Bush] feels an obligation to leave the office in better shape than when he came in.” Former Nixon White House counsel John Dean will sharply disagree with Gonzales in 2004. Dean will write, “In fact, the framers intended the exact opposite, and the president did not even have a staff until 1857, and what has become the modern presidency (beyond anything contemplated by the founders) occurred during the presidency of Franklin Roosevelt, with the creation of the Executive Office of the President.” [Dean, 2004, pp. 179]
Although he will later come to prominence for accusing it of failing to adequately address the al-Qaeda threat before 9/11 (see March 21, 2004), in a background briefing to reporters, former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke appears to praise the Bush administration for aggressively pursuing al-Qaeda from the outset. [CNN, 3/24/2004]
'Rapid Elimination' - During the briefing, Clarke says that when the Bush administration came into office in January 2001, it had “decided then” to “vigorously pursue the existing policy” on al-Qaeda, “including all of the lethal covert action findings.” He says that in the first week of February 2001, the administration decided in principle “to add to the existing Clinton strategy and to increase CIA resources, for example, for covert action, five-fold, to go after al-Qaeda.” He says the strategy was changed “from one of rollback with al-Qaeda over the course of five years, which it had been, to a new strategy that called for the rapid elimination of al-Qaeda.”
Response to Time Magazine - Clarke responds to a recent Time magazine article that suggested the Bush administration was unwilling to adopt suggestions made in the Clinton administration because of a general animus against its foreign policy. He says: “This is the one issue where the National Security Council leadership decided continuity was important and kept the same guy around, the same team in place. That doesn’t sound like animus against, uh, the previous team to me.” He is asked, “You’re saying that the Bush administration did not stop anything that the Clinton administration was doing while it was making these decisions, and by the end of the summer had increased money for covert action five-fold?” Clarke replies, “All of that’s correct.”
No Plan, No Delay - One reporter asks about an alleged Clinton administration plan against al-Qaeda, to which Clarke responds, “There was never a plan.” Regarding problems the Clinton administration faced in dealing with the al-Qaeda threat, a reporter asks, “And none of that really changed until we were attacked [on 9/11]?” Clarke says: “No, that’s not true. In the spring, the Bush administration changed—began to change Pakistani policy, um, by a dialogue that said we would be willing to lift sanctions.… So that’s really how it started.” He is asked, “[W]hat you’re saying is that… one, there was no plan; two, there was no delay; and that actually the first changes since October of ‘98 were made in the spring months just after the [Bush] administration came into office?” Clarke replies: “You got it. That’s right.” [Fox News, 3/24/2004]
Comments Published - In March 2004, the White House will violate a long-standing confidentiality policy by authorizing Fox News to publish these comments that Clarke has made off the record (see March 24, 2004). [Columbia Journalism Review, 3/25/2004; FindLaw, 4/9/2004]
Clarke's Explanation - Around that time, when Clarke appears before the 9/11 Commission (see March 24, 2004), Commissioner James Thompson will ask him about the apparent discrepancies between his comments during this briefing and the criticisms he makes of the Bush administration in his book Against All Enemies. Clarke will explain that his briefing was in the context of Time magazine’s critical story. He will say, “So I was asked by several people in senior levels of the Bush White House to do a press backgrounder to try to explain that set of facts in a way that minimized criticism of the administration.” He will add, “I was asked to highlight the positive aspects of what the administration had done, and to minimize the negative aspects of what the administration had done.” [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004] Former Nixon White House counsel John Dean will defend Clarke, writing, “The truth is that the background briefing simply does not conflict with anything Clarke says openly, if more bluntly, in his book.” [FindLaw, 4/9/2004]
Previous Briefing for 9/11 Congressional Inquiry - Two months before this, Clarke had briefed the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry on the Bush administration’s counterterrorism record and had been largely uncritical of its policies (see June 11, 2002).
District Court Judge John Bates rules against the General Accounting Office (GAO), the investigative arm of Congress, in its attempt to force Vice President Cheney to disclose some of his Energy Task Force documents (see January 29, 2001 and May 16, 2001). The judge writes, “This case, in which neither a House of Congress nor any congressional committee has issued a subpoena for the disputed information or authorized this suit, is not the setting for such unprecedented judicial action.” [Associated Press, 12/9/2002] Bates is a Republican who worked as the deputy independent counsel to Kenneth Starr in the Whitewater investigation, and was appointed to the bench by President Bush in 2001. [Savage, 2007, pp. 112] The GAO later declines to appeal the ruling (see February 7, 2003). In a similar suit being filed by Judicial Watch and the Sierra Club, the Bush administration has successfully delayed deadlines forcing these documents to be turned over. [Associated Press, 12/6/2002] That case will eventually be decided in the administration’s favor (see May 10, 2005).
Cheney Pushes Back - Unfortunately, the ruling’s claim of no Congressional involvement is somewhat misleading. The original request for information came from two ranking House members, Henry Waxman (D-CA) of the Committee on Government Reform and John Conyers (D-MI) of the Energy and Commerce Committee (see April 19 - May 4, 2001). Waxman and Conyers followed standard procedure by writing to David Walker, head of the GAO, to request information about who was meeting with the task force and what the task force was doing (May 8, 2001. Instead of complying with the request, Cheney’s legal counsel, David Addington, replied that the task force was not subject to the Federal Advisory Committee Act, and therefore not bound by law to provide such information (see May 16 - 17, 2001). Addington later challenged the GAO’s authority, saying that it was trying “to intrude into the heart of Executive deliberations, including deliberations among the President, the Vice President, members of the President’s Cabinet, and the President’s immediate assistants, which the law protects to ensure the candor in Executive deliberation necessary to effective government.” The GAO was not asking for such information; former Nixon White House counsel John Dean will write in 2004, “It was clear [Addington] was looking to pick a fight.”
Tug of War - The GAO advised Addington that it did indeed have the legal power to examine the deliberations of such entities as the task force, and provided Addington both the statutory law and the legislative history, which flatly contradicted Addington’s refusal. The GAO also noted that it was “not inquiring into the deliberative process but [was] focused on gathering factual information regarding the process of developing President Bush’s National Energy Policy.” The GAO even narrowed the scope of its original request, asking only for the names of those who had worked with the task force, and the dates (see July 31, 2001). But this provoked further resistance from Cheney and his office, with Cheney publicly stating on numerous occasions that the GAO was unlawfully trying to intrude into the deliberative process. Walker’s patience ran out in January 2002, and he notified the White House and Congress that the GAO was taking the administration to court (see February 22, 2002).
Hardball in Federal Court - Usually the case will be handled by lawyers from the Justice Department’s Civil Division. But this case is much more important to the White House to be left to the usual group of attorneys. Instead, this lawsuit is one of the very few to be handled by a special unit operating under the direct supervision of Deputy Solicitor General Paul Clement and Clement’s boss, Solicitor General Theodore Olson. Olson, the lawyer who spearheaded the team that successfully argued the December 2000 Bush v. Gore case that awarded George W. Bush the presidency. Dean later learns that this special team was created specifically to find and handle cases that they can take to the Supreme Court in order to rewrite existing law, mostly laws that restrict the power of the presidency (see January 21, 2001). Many career attorneys at the Justice Department will become so offended by the existence and the agenda of this special legal team that they will resign their positions. The administraton sent a strong signal to Judge Bates when it sent Olson, who has argued many times before the Supreme Court, to argue the government’s case in his court. Dean will write that Bates, a recent Bush appointee and a veteran of the Whitewater investigation, “got the message.” He knows this case is slated to go to the Supreme Court if it doesn’t go the way the White House wants.
Standing the Law On Its Head - According to Dean, Bates turns the entire body of statutory law overseeing the GAO and its powers to compel information from the executive branch on its head. He rules that the GAO lacks the “standing to sue,” saying that it doesn’t have enough of a legal stake in the controversy to have a role in trying to compel information. Bates, flying in the face of over eight decades of law and precedent, rules that, in essence, the GAO is merely an agent of Congress, and because neither the GAO nor Walker had suffered injury because of the task force’s refusal to comply with its request, the GAO has no legal recourse against the executive branch. Bates hangs much of his ruling on the fact that Congress has not yet subpoenaed the White House for the task force information. Thusly, Bates guts the entire structure of enforcement authority the GAO has as part of its statutory mandate. Bates does not go as far as the Justice Department wants, by not specifically ruling that the entire GAO statute is unconstitutional, but otherwise Bates’s ruling is a complete victory for the White House. [Dean, 2004, pp. 76-80] Authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein later write that “Bates’s ruling creates a legislative Catch-22 for Democrats.” Because the GOP is the majority party, and because GOP Congressional leaders refuse to subpoena the White House on virtually any issue or conflict, no such subpoenas as Bates is mandating are likely to ever be granted by Republican committee chairmen. [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 14] In 2007, author and reporter Charlie Savage will write that Bates’s ruling severely eroded the GAO’s “ability to threaten to file a lawsuit [and] damaged the congressional watchdog’s capability to persuade executive branch agencies to comply with its requests for information.… Bates had established a principle that, if left undisturbed, could change the attitudes of executive branch officials when the GAO asked for documents they did not want to disclose.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 112-113]
Entity Tags: John Dean, Lou Dubose, Paul Clement, Sierra Club, John Conyers, US Supreme Court, US Department of Justice, Theodore (“Ted”) Olson, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, John Bates, Judicial Watch, Henry A. Waxman, Bush administration (43), Charlie Savage, David Walker, David S. Addington, Government Accountability Office, Energy Task Force, Jake Bernstein, Federal Advisory Committee Act
Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record, Civil Liberties
Michael Ashcroft. [Source: Conservative Home Blogs.com]Former Drug Enforcement Administration analyst Jonathan Randel is sentenced to a year in prison on felony theft charges surrounding his passing of DEA information to Toby Follett, a London Times investigative reporter. Randel’s prosecution is unusual because he passed unclassified information to the reporter, and none of his actions threatened national security. The prosecutor of Randel’s case says flatly that Randel was taken to court to discourage other government employees from cooperating with the press. Additionally, there is wide speculation that Randel’s prosecution may have something to do with the target of Follett’s investigation, Lord Michael Ashcroft. Ashcroft (no relation to Attorney General John Ashcroft) was under investigation by the DEA because of his ownership of a bank in Belize that was a known outlet for laundered drug money. Randel provided Follett with information that was not classified, but was categorized as “sensitive.” Times editor Robert Thomson says that Randel’s prosecution is distressing because “[c]onfidential information is passed to journalists every day.” However, Justice Department prosecutor William Duffey, a former deputy independent counsel under Whitewater independent counsel Kenneth Starr, says that Randel’s prosecution was designed to warn other government workers of the dangers of cooperating with the media.
'Particularly Alarming' - Lucy Dalglish, head of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, says, “What is particularly alarming is that this is not classified information and is probably disclosable under the Freedom of Information Act. This is the kind of thing that journalists ask for every day.” She says that other, similar actions by other public employees have been addressed with reprimands and letters in their personnel files. “But jail?” she asks. Former Nixon White House counsel John Dean writes in 2004, “Clearly this was a warning aimed at potential whistleblowers in the federal bureaucracy, advising them to keep quiet, or risk jail.” [New York Times, 1/16/2003; Dean, 2004, pp. 67-69]
No Precedent - Neither Duffey nor anyone in the DEA can cite any other cases where the government has prosecuted an employee for leaking confidential but unclassified information. Lawyer Kevin Goldberg, legal counsel for the American Society of Newspaper Editors, says that such a prosecution is rare in the extreme. If such a broad standard were applied to other whistleblowers, then charges could well be brought against FBI agent Coleen Rowley, whose revelations of FBI mismanagement and obduracy before the 9/11 attacks earned her a citation as one of Time Magazine’s “Persons of the Year.” Journalism professor Catherine Manegold calls Randel’s prosecution “not too different from McCarthyism.… If we are confined to official, pre-vetted statements, that’s a terribly dangerous place to be.” [Fulton County Daily Report, 1/15/2003]
Protecting Lord Ashcroft - Dean will say that the Justice Department’s prosecution of Randel was extraordinary, writing that the Department “threw the book at him.” It filed a twenty-count indictment against Randel, including 16 separate charges for each time Randel used a DEA computer to locate information on Ashcroft, and characterizing each computer usage as a separate scheme to “defraud” the US government. If convicted of all charges and given the maximum possible sentence, Randel would have faced up to 580 years in prison—a prime reason, Dean believes, that Randel accepted a plea bargain to a single charge of felony theft. According to Dean, Randel strongly believes that the Justice Department prosecuted him to protect Ashcroft, a wealthy Conservative lord living in the United States. [Dean, 2004, pp. 67-69] According to his attorney, Steven Sadow, Randel thinks “Ashcroft was getting a free ride for crooked activities. That’s why he did what he did.” Ashcroft has filed a lawsuit for defamation of character against the Times over its charges that he was involved in drug trafficking and money laundering; the Times’s owner, Rupert Murdoch, settled the case by printing a front-page apology to Ashcroft (see December 8, 1999). [Fulton County Daily Report, 1/15/2003] Ashcroft is also being probed over his potentially illegal dealings with the US toy manufacturer Tyco, and is suspected of participating in racketeering, securities fraud, tax fraud, and/or falsification of records. [Dean, 2004, pp. 67-69]
Entity Tags: Robert Thomson, William Duffey, US Department of Justice, Steven Sadow, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, Lucy Dalglish, London Times, American Society of Newspaper Editors, Catherine Manegold, Michael Ashcroft, Drug Enforcement Administration, Jonathan Randel, Kevin Goldberg, John Dean, Toby Follett
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
The General Accounting Office (GAO), the nonpartisan investigative arm of Congress, declines to appeal a case attempting to force Vice President Cheney to disclose his Energy Task Force documents (see May 16, 2001, February 22, 2002, and December 9, 2002). This ends a potentially historic showdown between the Congressional watchdog agency and the executive branch. [Los Angeles Times, 2/8/2003] It is widely believed that the suit is dropped because of pressure from the Republican Party—the suit was filed when the Democrats controlled the Senate, and this decision comes shortly after the Republicans gained control of it. [Washington Post, 2/8/2003] The head of the GAO denies the lawsuit is dropped because of Republican threats to cut his office’s budget, but US Comptroller General David Walker, who led the case, says there was one such “thinly veiled threat” last year by a lawmaker he wouldn’t identify. [Reuters, 2/25/2003] Another account has Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK) and a number of other congresspeople making the threat to Walker. [Hill, 2/19/2003] The GAO has previously indicated that accepting defeat in this case would cripple its ability to oversee the executive branch. [Washington Post, 2/8/2003] A similar suit filed by Judicial Watch and the Sierra Club continues to move forward, but will ultimately be defeated by the Supreme Court (see May 10, 2005). [Washington Post, 2/8/2003]
Picking Its Battles - Walker explains that to continue the case “would require investment of significant time and resources over several years.” Later, he will say that he decided not to appeal the case for what reporter Charlie Savage will call “damage-control reasons.” Walker does not want to involve the GAO in what he fears will be perceived as a partisan conflict, and he does not want to risk further crippling the GAO’s ability to function by risking another negative ruling from a federal appeals court. “If the GAO was going to fight that legal battle,” Savage will write in explanation of Walker’s reasoning, “it was strategically unwise to use a case that involved records inside the White House itself instead of a less prominent part of the executive branch.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 113]
Refusal to Appeal 'Stunning' - In 2004, former Nixon White House counsel John Dean will write that he finds the GAO’s decision not to appeal the ruling “stunning.” Walker says the GAO isn’t going to challenge the ruling because it does not materially affect the GAO’s ability to function because the “decision did not address the merits” of the GAO’s arguments. The ruling, Walker says, “has no effect on GAO’s statutory audit rights or the obligation of agencies to provide GAO with information.” Dean calls this line of reasoning “wishful thinking at its best.” Dean will ask a high-level GAO official about the reported threats from Congressional Republicans. The official will reply that the threats did not worry Walker and the GAO lawyers nearly as much as the possibility that, if the GAO were to pursue the lawsuit, then, Dean will write, “the Supreme Court could do again what it did in Bush v. Gore and make Walker v. Cheney the landmark ruling ending virtually all Congressional oversight.” But lawyers for the Congressional Research Service (CRS) say that the ruling as it stands places severe restrictions on Congressional oversight. As Dean puts it: “The GAO has lost not only standing to file a lawsuit but the leverage of the threat of filing such a lawsuit, should an executive department or agency stonewall the way Cheney did. The GAO must now simply take what the White House (and its many appendages…) volunteers. This has never before been the case. [The GAO] will see only what Bush and Cheney want it to see.” The CRS notes that the ruling “calls into question the ability of Congress to delegate investigative authority to its agents;” Dean will write that this “may be the true reason for the lawsuit and for Cheney’s actions.” [Dean, 2004, pp. 80-81]
'Big Win' for Bush/Cheney - Constitutional scholar Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution will call the ruling a “big win” for the Bush-Cheney administration, saying: “President Bush and Vice President Cheney have an extreme and relentless executive-centered conception of American government, and it plays out every day, and there are dozens of fronts in this effort to strengthen the presidency. Power naturally gravitates to the presidency in times of uncertainty. But people are going to question putting all of our trust in an unfetttered presidency.” Former Justice Department official Bruce Fein is more blunt. “Now they have a precedent that they can hold over Congress’s head,” he will say. “Like a loaded gun. Forever.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 14-15]
Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Ted Stevens, Energy Task Force, John Dean, David Walker, Bruce Fein, Charlie Savage, Congressional Research Service, Brookings Institution, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Thomas Mann
Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record, Civil Liberties
President George Bush sends a “formal determination” on Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction to Congress in the form of a letter to Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) and Senate President Robert Byrd (D-WV). Congress had required, in its October 2002 authorization of military force (see October 10, 2002), that Bush affirm that diplomatic efforts to resolve the Iraq WMD crisis were no longer possible, and that Iraq had tangible ties to the 9/11 attackers or similar terrorists. The letter provides neither. Instead, it merely reiterates the language of the statute itself, using that language as the determination. The determination says that Congress itself had found evidence of Iraq’s diplomatic intransigence and of Iraq’s connections to the 9/11 terrorists, when Congress has found neither. Former Nixon White House counsel John Dean will comment: “Bush, like a dog chasing his tail who gets ahold of it, relied on information the White House provided Congress for its draft resolution; then he turned around and claimed that this information (his information) came from Congress. From this bit of sophistry, he next stated that these congressional findings were the basis of his ‘determination.’” The only additional information Bush provides is a citation from Colin Powell’s presentation to the United Nations (see February 5, 2003), where Powell noted the supposed existence of a terrorist training camp in the Salman Pak military facility (see April 6, 2003), a training camp that does not exist. Bush also cites “public reports” indicating that Iraq is harboring al-Qaeda terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (see October 2, 2002), and that Iraq has “provided training in document forgery and explosives to [al-Qaeda].” Bush provides no evidence of his claims. Dean writes that the law has stringent requirements for such “presidential determinations,” mandating solid evidence, legal citations, and so forth, but Bush’s “determination” contains none of this. “If there is a precedent for Bush’s slick trick to involve America in a bloody commitment, where the Congress requires as a condition for action that the president make a determination, and the president in turn relies on a whereas clause… and a dubious public report… I am not aware of it and could not find anything even close.” [Dean, 2004, pp. 148-152]
Entity Tags: United Nations, Robert C. Byrd, Reagan administration, John Dean, H.L. Mencken, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Al-Qaeda, Colin Powell, Dennis Hastert, George W. Bush, Lyndon B. Johnson
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion
Joseph Wilson, the former US ambassador to Gabon and a former diplomatic official in the US embassy in Iraq during the Gulf War (see September 20, 1990), writes an op-ed for the New York Times entitled “What I Didn’t Find in Africa.” Wilson went to Africa over a year ago (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002 and July 6, 2003) to investigate claims that the Iraqi government surreptitiously attempted to buy large amounts of uranium from Niger, purportedly for use in nuclear weapons. The claims have been extensively debunked (see February 17, 2003, March 7, 2003, March 8, 2003, and 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003). Wilson opens the op-ed by writing: “Did the Bush administration manipulate intelligence about Saddam Hussein’s weapons programs to justify an invasion of Iraq? Based on my experience with the administration in the months leading up to the war, I have little choice but to conclude that some of the intelligence related to Iraq’s nuclear weapons program was twisted to exaggerate the Iraqi threat.” Wilson notes his extensive experience in Africa and the Middle East, and says candidly: “Those news stories about that unnamed former envoy who went to Niger? That’s me” (see May 6, 2003). He makes it very clear that he believes his findings had been “circulated to the appropriate officials within… [the] government.”
Journey to Niger - Wilson confirms that he went to Africa at the behest of the CIA, which was in turn responding to a directive from Vice President Cheney’s office. He confirms that the CIA paid his expenses during the week-long trip, and that, while overseas, “I made it abundantly clear to everyone I met that I was acting on behalf of the United States government.” About Nigerien uranium, Wilson writes: “For reasons that are understandable, the embassy staff has always kept a close eye on Niger’s uranium business. I was not surprised, then, when the ambassador [Barbro Owens-Kirkpatrick] told me that she knew about the allegations of uranium sales to Iraq—and that she felt she had already debunked them in her reports to Washington” (see November 20, 2001). Wilson met with “dozens of people: current government officials, former government officials, people associated with the country’s uranium business. It did not take long to conclude that it was highly doubtful that any such transaction had ever taken place.” Wilson notes that Nigerien uranium is handled by two mines, Somair and Cominak, “which are run by French, Spanish, Japanese, German, and Nigerian interests. If the government wanted to remove uranium from a mine, it would have to notify the consortium, which in turn is strictly monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Moreover, because the two mines are closely regulated, quasi-governmental entities, selling uranium would require the approval of the minister of mines, the prime minister, and probably the president. In short, there’s simply too much oversight over too small an industry for a sale to have transpired.” Wilson told Owens-Kirkpatrick that he didn’t believe the story either, flew back to Washington, and shared his findings with CIA and State Department officials. “There was nothing secret or earth-shattering in my report,” he writes, “just as there was nothing secret about my trip.”
State of the Union Reference - Wilson believed that the entire issue was settled until September 2002, when the British government released an intelligence finding that asserted Iraq posed an immediate threat because it had attempted to purchase uranium from Africa (see September 24, 2002). Shortly thereafter, President Bush repeated the charges in his State of the Union address (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). Wilson was surprised by the charge, but put it aside after discussing the issue with a friend in the State Department (see January 29, 2003). Wilson now knows that Bush was indeed referring to the Niger claims, and wants to set the record straight.
Posing a Real Nuclear Threat? - Wilson is now concerned that the facts are being manipulated by the administration to paint Iraq as a looming nuclear threat, when in fact Iraq has no nuclear weapons program. “At a minimum,” he writes, “Congress, which authorized the use of military force at the president’s behest, should want to know if the assertions about Iraq were warranted.” He is quite sure that Iraq has some form of chemical and biological weapons, and in light of his own personal experience with “Mr. Hussein and his thugs in the run-up to the Persian Gulf war of 1991, I was only too aware of the dangers he posed.” But, he asks, are “these dangers the same ones the administration told us about? We have to find out. America’s foreign policy depends on the sanctity of its information.… The act of war is the last option of a democracy, taken when there is a grave threat to our national security. More than 200 American soldiers have lost their lives in Iraq already. We have a duty to ensure that their sacrifice came for the right reasons.” [New York Times, 7/6/2003]
'Playing Congress and the Public for Fools' - Former Nixon White House counsel John Dean will write in 2004 that after Wilson’s editorial appears, he checks out the evidence behind the story himself. It only takes Dean a few hours of online research using source documents that Bush officials themselves had cited, from the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Department of Energy, the CIA, and the United Nations. He will write: “I was amazed at the patently misleading use of the material Bush had presented to Congress. Did he believe no one would check? The falsification was not merely self-evident, it was feeble and disturbing. The president was playing Congress and the public for fools.” [Dean, 2004, pp. 145-146]
Entity Tags: US Department of Energy, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, United Nations, Somair, Office of the Vice President, Joseph C. Wilson, Bush administration (43), Barbro Owens-Kirkpatrick, New York Times, Cominak, John Dean, George W. Bush, Central Intelligence Agency, International Atomic Energy Agency
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Police photo of Tom DeLay, after his 2005 indictment on election fraud charges. [Source: Mug Shot Alley]The co-founder and editor of the American Prospect, Robert Kuttner, subjects the 2002 House of Representatives to scrutiny, and concludes that under the rule of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX), it is well on its way to becoming what he calls a “dictatorship.” Kuttner writes that such authoritarian rule in “the people’s chamber” of Congress puts the US “at risk of becoming an autocracy.” He explains: “First, Republican parliamentary gimmickry has emasculated legislative opposition in the House of Representatives (the Senate has other problems). [DeLay] has both intimidated moderate Republicans and reduced the minority party to window dressing.… Second, electoral rules have been rigged to make it increasingly difficult for the incumbent party to be ejected by the voters, absent a Depression-scale disaster, Watergate-class scandal, or Teddy Roosevelt-style ruling party split.… Third, the federal courts, which have slowed some executive branch efforts to destroy liberties, will be a complete rubber stamp if the right wins one more presidential election. Taken together, these several forces could well enable the Republicans to become the permanent party of autocratic government for at least a generation.” Kuttner elaborates on his rather sweeping warnings.
Legislative Dictatorship - The House, and to a lesser extent the Senate, used to have what was called a “de facto four-party system”: liberal Democrats; Southern “Dixiecrats” who, while maintaining their membership as Democrats largely due to lingering resentment of Republicans dating back to the Civil War, often vote with Republicans; conservative Republicans; and moderate-to-liberal “gypsy moth” Republicans, who might vote with either party. Rarely did one of the four elements gain long-term control of the House. Because of what Kuttner calls “shifting coalitions and weak party discipline,” the majority party was relatively respectful of the minority, with the minority free to call witnesses in hearings and offer amendments to legislation. In the House, that is no longer true. While the House leadership began centralizing under House Speaker Jim Wright (D-TX) between 1987 and 1989, the real coalescence of power began under Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) between 1995 and 1999. The process, Kuttner asserts, has radically accelerated under DeLay and Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL).
Centralized Legislation - Under current practices, even most Republicans do not, as a rule, write legislation—that comes from DeLay and Hastert. Drastic revisions to bills are often rammed through late in the evening, with little or no debate. The Republican leadership has classified legislation as “emergency” measures 57 percent of the time, allowing them to be voted on with as little as 30 minutes of debate. Kuttner writes, “On several measures, members literally did not know what they were voting for.” Legislation written and proposed by Democrats rarely gets to the floor for debate. Amendments to legislation is also constrained, almost always coming from Hastert and DeLay. “[V]irtually all major bills now come to the floor with rules prohibiting amendments.” DeLay enforces rigid party loyalty, threatening Republican members who resist voting for the leadership’s bills with loss of committee assignments and critical campaign funds, and in some circumstances with DeLay’s sponsoring primary opponents to unseat the uncooperative member in the next election.
Democrats Shut out of Conferences - In the House, so-called “conference committees,” where members work to reconcile House and Senate versions of legislation, have become in essence one-party affairs. Only Democrats who might support the Republican version of the bill are allowed to attend. The conference committee then sends a non-amendable bill to the floor for a final vote.
No Hearings - The general assumption is that House members debate bills, sometimes to exhaustion, on the chamber floor. No more. Before DeLay, bills were almost never written in conference committees. Now, major legislation is often written in conference committee; House members often never see the legislation until it has been written in final, non-amendable form by DeLay and his chosen colleagues.
Abuse of Appropriations - Appropriations, or funding of events authorized by legislation, are ripe for use and misuse by the one-party leadership. Many appropriations bills must pass in order for Congress or other entities of the government to continue functioning. While “earmarks”—“pork-barrel” appropriations for individual members’ pet projects and such—are nothing new, under Gingrich and later Hastert/DeLay, the use of earmarks has skyrocketed. Huge earmarks are now routinely attached to mandatory appropriations bills. DeLay has perfected a technique known as “catch and release.” On close pending votes, the House Republican Whip Organization, made up of dozens of regional whips, will target the small but critical number of Republicans who might oppose the legislation. Head counts are taken; as members register (and change) their votes, some are forced to vote against their consciences (or their constituents) and others are allowed to vote no. Kuttner writes, “Basically, Republican moderates are allowed to take turns voting against bills they either oppose on principle or know to be unpopular in their districts.” This allows the member to save at least some face with their constituents. Under Wright, Republican members such as then-Representative Dick Cheney (R-WY) were outraged when Wright held a vote open for 15 minutes after voting was to end; Cheney called it “the most arrogant, heavy-handed abuse of power I’ve ever seen in the 10 years that I’ve been here.” It is not unusual for DeLay to hold votes open for up to three hours to get recalcitrant members in line. [American Prospect, 2/1/2004] In 2006, author John Dean will note that when the Republicans took control of the House in 1999, there were 1,439 earmarks in that year’s legislation. By the end of 2005, “there were a staggering 13,998 earmarked expenses, costing $27.3 billion.” Dean will write, “Needless to say, there is nothing conservative in those fiscal actions but there is much that is authoritarian about the wanton spending by those Republicans.” [Dean, 2006]
Lack of Opposition - Kuttner notes that Congressional Democrats have not mounted a systematic, organized denunciation of the DeLay operation. Kuttner believes that many Democrats believe voters are uninterested in what they call “process issues,” and that voters will dismiss complaints as “inside baseball,” of little relevance to their lives. Worse, such complaints “make… us look weak,” as one senior House staffer says. Kuttner writes that many Democrats believe such complaints sound “like losers whining.”
Permanent Republican Majority - If DeLay and his confreres in the White House have their way, there will be, in essence, a permanent Republican majority in the House and hopefully in the Senate as well. Bill Clinton routinely practiced what he called bipartisan “triangulation,” building ad hoc coalitions of Democrats and Republicans to pass his legislative initiatives, and in the process weakening the Democratic leadership. Kuttner writes, “Bush’s presidency, by contrast, has produced a near parliamentary government, based on intense party discipline both within Congress and between Congress and the White House.” Republicans have been busy reworking the district maps of various key states to ensure that Republicans keep their majorities, concentrating perceived Democratic voters to have overwhelming majorities in a few districts, and leaving the Republicans holding smaller majorities in the rest. Both parties have been guilty of such “gerrymandering” in the past, but with DeLay’s recent “super-gerrymandering” of his home state of Texas, the Republican makeup of the Texas House delegation is all but assured. DeLay and other House Republicans are working to redistrict other states in similar fashions. As of the 2004 midterm elections, of the 435 House seats, only around 25 are considered effectively contestable—over 90 percent of the House seats are “safe.” Democrats would have to win a disproportionate, and unlikely, number of those “swing” seats to take back control of the House. Kuttner writes: “The country may be narrowly divided, but precious few citizens can make their votes for Congress count. A slender majority, defying gravity (and democracy), is producing not moderation but a shift to the extremes.”
Control of Voting - Kuttner cites the advent of electronic voting machines and the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) as two reasons why Republicans will continue to have advantages at the voting booth. The three biggest manufacturers of electronic voting machines have deep financial ties to the Republican Party, and have joined with Republicans in opposing a so-called “verifiable paper trail” that could prove miscounts and possible fraudulent results. HAVA, written in response to the 2000 Florida debacle, requires that voters show government-issued IDs to be allowed to vote, a provision that Kuttner says is ripe for use in Republican voter-intimidation schemes. Republicans “have a long and sordid history of ‘ballot security’ programs intended to intimidate minority voters by threatening them with criminal prosecution if their papers are not technically in order,” he writes. “Many civil rights groups see the new federal ID provision of HAVA as an invitation to more such harassment.” The only recourse that voters have to such harassment is to file complaints with the Department of Justice, which, under the aegis of Attorney General John Ashcroft, has discouraged investigation of such claims.
Compliant Court System - Increasingly, federal courts with Republican-appointed judges on the bench have worked closely with Republicans in Congress and the White House to issue rulings favorable to the ruling party. Kuttner notes that if President Bush is re-elected: “a Republican president will have controlled judicial appointments for 20 of the 28 years from 1981 to 2008. And Bush, in contrast to both his father and Clinton, is appointing increasingly extremist judges. By the end of a second term, he would likely have appointed at least three more Supreme Court justices in the mold of Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, and locked in militantly conservative majorities in every federal appellate circuit.” The Supreme Court is already close to becoming “a partisan rubber stamp for contested elections,” Kuttner writes; several more justices in the mold of Justices Antonin Scalia (see September 26, 1986) and Clarence Thomas (see October 13, 1991) would, Kuttner writes, “narrow rights and liberties, including the rights of criminal suspects, the right to vote, disability rights, and sexual privacy and reproductive choice. It would countenance an unprecedented expansion of police powers, and a reversal of the protection of the rights of women, gays, and racial, religious, and ethnic minorities. [It would] overturn countless protections of the environment, workers and consumers, as well as weaken guarantees of the separation of church and state, privacy, and the right of states or Congress to regulate in the public interest.” [American Prospect, 2/1/2004]
Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Democratic Party, Dennis Hastert, Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia, Tom DeLay, Robert Kuttner, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Republican Party, John Ashcroft, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, House Republican Whip Organization, James C. (‘Jim’) Wright, Jr., John Dean, Newt Gingrich, Help America Vote Act
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Former Vice President Al Gore gives a keynote address to a conference at the New School of New York City on the topic, “The Politics of Fear.” [Social Research: An International Quarterly of the Social Sciences, 2/2004] In his address, Gore notes the success that the Bush administration has had in preying on the fears of the American public. “Fear was activated on September 11 in all of us to a greater or lesser degree,” he says. “And because it was difficult to modulate or to change in particular specifics, it was exploitable for a variety of purposes unrelated to the initial cause of the fear. When the president of the United States stood before the people of this nation—in the same speech in which he used the forged document (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003)—he asked the nation to ‘imagine’ how fearful it would feel if Saddam Hussein gave a nuclear weapon to terrorists who then exploded it in our country. Because the nation had been subjected to the fearful, tragic, cruel attack of 9/11, when our president asked us to imagine with him a new fear, it was easy enough to bypass the reasoning process, and short-circuit the normal discourse that takes place in a healthy democracy with a give-and-take among people who could say, ‘Wait a minute, Mr. President. Where’s your evidence? There is no connection between Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein.’ At one point, President Bush actually said, ‘You can’t distinguish between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden’ (see September 25, 2002). He actually said that.” Gore says that for a time even he had trusted Bush to do the right thing, but Bush had abused the trust he and the American people had in him. In 2006, author and former White House counsel John Dean will write in conjunction with Gore’s address: “In short, fear takes reasoning out of the decision-making process, which our history has shown us often enough can have dangerous and long-lasting consequences. If Americans cannot engage in analytical thinking as a result of Republicans’ using fear for their own political purposes, we are all in serious trouble.” [Social Research: An International Quarterly of the Social Sciences, 2/2004; Dean, 2006, pp. 178-179]
Cover of Wilson’s ‘The Politics of Truth.’ [Source: Barnes and Noble]Former ambassador Joseph Wilson, who helped disprove the White House’s claim that Iraq had attempted to buy uranium from Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002 and July 6, 2003) and in turn had his wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, exposed as a CIA agent through a White House leak (see July 14, 2003, September 26, 2003, and September 30, 2003), publishes his book, The Politics of Truth: Inside the Lies that Led to War and Betrayed My Wife’s CIA Identity: A Diplomat’s Memoir. He had signed with a relatively small publisher, Carroll & Graf, after making a gentleman’s agreement with C&G editor Philip Turner, and refused to allow his literary agent to bid his book out for a larger advance in order to honor the agreement with Turner. According to Wilson’s wife, he worked relentlessly for four months to complete the book, eager to tell not just the story of his trip to Niger and his wife’s outing, but to write about his wide and varied diplomatic career in Africa and the Middle East (see September 5, 1988 and After, September 20, 1990, and Late November, 1990). [Wilson, 2007, pp. 171-172] The book sells well and garners mostly positive reviews; for example, author and former White House counsel John Dean gives it a glowing review in the New York Times (see May 12, 2004). But right-wing supporters of the Bush administration quickly publish their own vilifications of Wilson and his book (see July 12, 2004). Plame Wilson will write in 2007: “Having lived through the first spate of attacks on Joe’s credibility and character in the wake of the leak, I thought I had acquired some armor. I was wrong. I knew the comments were politically motivated, but they were still painful to read, and once again we felt under siege.” Plame Wilson is particularly alarmed by the death threats made against her and her family by unidentified telephone callers, including one “seriously deranged person” who manages to talk to her four-year-old son for a moment. She asks the CIA for additional security measures to protect her children, a request that the agency will eventually deny. She will recall: “To say that the CIA response ‘disappointed’ me doesn’t begin to touch the betrayal that I felt. After [REDACTED] loyal service, I expected the agency to come through on its standing promise to protect its ‘family,’ something that had always been a point of CIA pride.… Clearly, I was on my own.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 178-180]
The Supreme Court hears oral arguments for and against the release of records pertaining to Vice President Cheney’s energy task force (the National Energy Policy Development Group—see May 16, 2001). The case is Cheney v. US District Court for the District of Columbia (03-0475) (see December 15, 2003). Two public interest groups, the environmentalist Sierra Club and the conservative government watchdog organization Judicial Watch, have joined to argue for the release of the records, saying that because the task force deliberations included energy industry executives and lobbyists, the task force is subject to the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA), which requires disclosure of the work of advisory groups that include non-federal employees. Bush administration lawyers, spearheaded by Solicitor General Theodore Olson, argue that releasing those records would violate the concept of “separation of powers.” The administration also argues that releasing the records, most pertinently the meetings between Cheney, his aides, and officials from energy corporations and lobbying firms, would damage the White House’s ability to receive candid advice. “This case is about the separation of powers and the president’s discretion to receive the opinions of subordinates,” Olson tells the court; Olson has resisted submitting task force documents even to the Court, saying that even that so-called “discovery” process would violate the Constitutional separation of powers. Lawyers for the Sierra Club and Judicial Watch argue that Cheney’s contacts with industry executives and lobbyists were improper while he was developing government policy that benefited their businesses. They are demanding to know whether energy lobbyists helped shape the government’s long-term energy policies. Lower courts agreed with Judicial Watch and the Sierra Club, and Cheney, with the Justice Department, has successfully ramrodded the case into the Supreme Court with unprecedented speed.
Justices Question Breadth of Requests - Justice Antonin Scalia, who refused to recuse himself from deliberations after accompanying Cheney on a duck-hunting trip in January, is one of the justices most favoring the government’s case. But even more moderate justices such as Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg question whether the information request is too broad and inclusive. As for the White House, it argues that neither the courts nor Congress have any right to make any inquiries into the decisions of federal agencies and officials. Sierra Club lawyer David Bookbinder says the White House appears to have violated laws supporting open government: “What the panel said to energy executives was: Help us decide what the energy policy should be. A line has been crossed because the process should have been transparent. The panel was inordinately influenced by the energy industry.” Cheney has said that the executive branch must defend itself against the “continual encroachment by Congress.” The White House has already turned over some 40,000 documents from the task force after a lower court ruling compelled it to do so (see July 17, 2003), but the lawsuit before the Supreme Court says that another 100,000 potentially relevant documents and files remain secret. [MSNBC, 4/26/2004; New York Times, 4/28/2004; CNN, 6/24/2004]
Cheney 'Beyond the Reach of the Law?' - In a legal analysis of the case, former Nixon White House counsel John Dean calls the case “extraordinary,” and notes that Cheney “contends that he is, in essence, beyond the reach of the law. It began as a set of rather pedestrian discovery matters in two consolidated civil lawsuits. Now, however, because of Cheney’s stance, it could be a landmark Constitutional decision.” Dean sees the case as an opportunity for Cheney, with the assistance of Olson and Scalia, “to expand executive powers.” [FindLaw, 3/26/2004]
Case Sent Back to Lower Court - The Court will vote to send the case back to the District of Columbia Appeals Court for further adjudication (see June 24, 2004). That court will rule in Cheney’s favor (see May 10, 2005).
Entity Tags: Stephen Breyer, Sierra Club, US Department of Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Theodore (“Ted”) Olson, US Supreme Court, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Judicial Watch, Antonin Scalia, David Bookbinder, Bush administration (43), John Dean, Federal Advisory Committee Act, National Energy Policy Development Group
Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record, Civil Liberties
Author and former Nixon White House counsel John Dean reviews former ambassador Joseph Wilson’s new book, The Politics of Truth (see April 2004). Dean, who has long been a fierce critic of the Bush administration, uses the review to examine aspects of the controversy surrounding the White House’s disproven claim that Iraq attempted to buy uranium from Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002 and July 6, 2003) and the outing of Wilson’s wife as a CIA agent through a White House leak (see June 23, 2003, July 7, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, July 8, 2003, 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003, Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003, Before July 14, 2003, and July 14, 2003). Dean calls the book “riveting and all-engaging… provid[ing] context to yesterday’s headlines, and perhaps tomorrow’s, about the Iraq war and about our politics of personal destruction,” as well as detailed information about Wilson’s long diplomatic service in Africa and the Middle East, and what Dean calls “a behind-the-scenes blow-by-blow of the run-up to the 1991 Persian Gulf war.”
'Anti-Dumb-War' - Dean also admires Wilson’s opposition to the Iraq war, saying that “Wilson is not antiwar. Rather, he is ‘anti-dumb-war’” and noting that while Wilson is not himself particularly conservative (or liberal), he considers the neoconservatives who make up the driving force in President Bush’s war cabinet “right-wing nuts.”
'Vicious Hatchet Job' - Dean quickly moves into the White House-orchestrated attempt to besmirch Wilson’s credibility, calling it “the most vicious hatchet job inside the Beltway since my colleague in Richard Nixon’s White House, the dirty trickster Charles W. Colson, copped a plea for defaming Daniel Ellsberg and his lawyer (see June 1974).… It was an obvious effort to discredit Wilson’s [Niger] report, and, Wilson believes, a you-hurt-us-we-will-hurt-you warning to others.” While Wilson writes with passion and anger about the outing of his wife, he restrains himself from giving too many personal details about her, relying instead on material already revealed in press interviews and reports. Dean notes that Wilson believes his wife’s name was leaked to the press by any or all of the following White House officials: Lewis “Scooter” Libby, the chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney; Karl Rove, Bush’s chief political strategist; and Elliott Abrams, a national security adviser and former Iran-Contra figure (see October 7, 1991). Though Dean is correct in noting that Wilson comes to his conclusions “based largely on hearsay from the Washington rumor mill,” he will be proven accurate in two out of three of his assertions (see July 8, 2003,
11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003, June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, and Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003). Wilson continues to fight attacks from Bush supporters, but, Dean notes, if they actually read his book, “they should understand that they have picked a fight with the wrong fellow.” [New York Times, 5/12/2004]
The Supreme Court rules in the case of Cheney v. US District Court for the District of Columbia (03-0475), in which two organizations, Judicial Watch and the Sierra Club, are attempting to force the White House to reveal information about the secret deliberations of Vice President Cheney’s energy task force (see April 27, 2004). Neither side gets what it asks for in the 7-2 ruling, as the Court sends the case back to the US Court of Appeals for further adjudication, with an order for that court to take a second look at its ruling that Cheney must allow a judge to review the task force documents (see August 2, 2002). Five justices—Stephen Breyer, Anthony Kennedy, Sandra Day O’Connor, Chief Justice William Rehnquist, and John Paul Stevens—vote to send the case back to the appeals court. Two justices, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and David Souter, vote to send the case all the way back to the original trial court, concurring with the majority. The Court’s two most conservative justices, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, vote to resolve the matter entirely in Cheney’s favor. Judge Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority, instructs the appeals court—and all other courts who might subsequently hear such a case—to use a legal standard far more aligned with the executive branch’s claim of immunity from disclosure. Courts must afford “presidential confidentiality the greatest protection consistent with the fair administration of justice,” Kennedy writes, to protect the executive branch from being sued. Former Nixon White House counsel John Dean will later write that the Court may have avoided making a firm ruling because it did not want to wrangle with the issue of separation of powers, and the privilege of executive branch secrecy, in an election year. While most media and court observers call the decision a “punt” of little import, at least one, former Justice Department official Shannen Coffin, sees it differently. In a column for the National Review, Coffin celebrates the ruling, writing that due to “the vice president’s resolute assertion that he and the president should have the right to receive in confidence the advice necessary to the performance of their duties,” the White House has won a “major victory” in expanding its power to keep its procedures secret, regardless of the appeals court’s eventual ruling (see May 10, 2005). [National Review, 6/25/2004; FindLaw, 7/2/2004; Savage, 2007, pp. 167-168] The appeals court will agree with Thomas and Scalia, and rule in Cheney’s favor (see May 10, 2005).
Entity Tags: Sandra Day O’Connor, Sierra Club, William Rehnquist, US Supreme Court, Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, John Paul Stevens, National Energy Policy Development Group, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, Bush administration (43), John Dean, Judicial Watch, Antonin Scalia, David Souter
Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record, Civil Liberties
Former White House counsel John Dean examines the idea that the government may postpone the presidential elections in the light of an alleged terror threat (see July 8, 2004), and finds it wanting. Dean notes that the idea of postponing the elections is bogus: “There is no such proposal. In fact, it is not legally possible because there are no laws giving the president, or anyone else, such authority.” A Homeland Security spokesperson has said, “DHS is not looking into a contingency plan,” and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice has said, “I don’t know where the idea that there might be some postponement of elections comes from.” As others have noted, Rice pointed out that even during the Civil War, then-President Abraham Lincoln refused to consider the idea of postponing the 1864 elections. Christopher Cox (R-CA), the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said flatly: “Were we to postpone the elections, it would represent a victory for the terrorists.… The election is going to go forward.” Dean writes “that the Bush administration has completely disregarded the need to protect the workings of our electoral process, which is highly susceptible to terror attacks,” noting that large-scale, well-timed terror strikes could catastrophically disrupt the election process. [FindLaw, 7/26/2004] Author and media critic Frank Rich is more prosaic, writing in 2006 that both the terror alerts and the vague threats to consider suspending the elections are merely attempts to frighten and cow the American citizenry. [Rich, 2006, pp. 146]
Joseph Cirincione. [Source: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace]The nonpartisan Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (CEIP) releases a comprehensive study called WMD in Iraq: Evidence and Implications, written by Joseph Cirincione, the director of CEIP’s Nonproliferation Project; Jessica Tuchman Mathews, president of CEIP; and George Perkovich, vice president for global security and economic development studies at CEIP. The study takes a critical look at the arguments used by the Bush administration to support the claim Iraq had WMDs. Former Nixon White House counsel John Dean writes: “All of their key assertions are examined in detail and found to be wanting. Established evidence is lined up in charts beside the assertions of Bush-Cheney, making the administration’s dishonesty obvious.” The study finds that the administration “systematically misrepresented the threat from Iraq’s WMD and ballistic missile program”; conflated bits of evidence of pre-1991 weapons programs into arguments that Iraq had viable and growing WMD programs; distorted intelligence findings by “routinely dropping caveats, probabilities, and expressions of uncertainty”; and “misrepresent[ed UN] inspectors’ findings in ways that turned threats from minor to dire.” Despite the study’s precision, it is all but ignored by the mainstream media. [Dean, 2004, pp. 139-140; Cirincione et al., 8/2004]
Alvin Hellerstein. [Source: Associated Press]In 2003, after reports began to surface that some detainees in US custody had been abused, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a Freedom of Information Act request seeking records about the treatment of all detainees caught since 9/11 and held in US custody overseas. The ACLU eventually filed a lawsuit to get the records, and on September 15, 2004, judge Alvin Hellerstein orders the CIA and other government agencies to “produce or identify” all relevant documents by October 15, 2004. [FindLaw, 12/14/2007] Hellerstein also rules that classified documents must be identified in a written log and the log must be submitted to him for review. In December 2004, the CIA and other agencies make public a huge amount of information but fail to inform the judge about the videotapes and other classified information (see December 21, 2004). Since that time, the case remains delayed with stays, extensions, and appeals. In December 2005, the CIA will destroy videotapes of the interrogations of at least two high-ranking al-Qaeda detainees (see November 2005). After the destruction of the videotapes is publicly revealed in December 2007, the New York Times will comment on the ACLU case, “Some legal experts [say] that the CIA would have great difficulty defending what seemed to be a decision not to identify the tapes to the judge, and the subsequent decision to destroy the tapes.” [New York Times, 12/13/2007] Legal analyst John Dean will later comment, “It is difficult to see why the CIA is, in fact, not in contempt, given the nature of the [ACLU] request and the judge’s order.” He will suggest that the case may represent the best chance to find out why and how the CIA destroyed the videotapes. [FindLaw, 12/14/2007]
W. Mark Felt. [Source: Life Distilled.com]The identity of “Deep Throat,” the Watergate source made famous in Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward’s book All the President’s Men, is revealed to have been W. Mark Felt, who at the time was the deputy director of the FBI. As “Deep Throat,” Felt provided critical information and guidance for Bernstein and Woodward’s investigations of the Watergate conspiracy for the Washington Post. Felt’s identity has been a closely guarded secret for over 30 years; Woodward, who knew Felt, had repeatedly said that neither he, Bernstein, nor then-editor Ben Bradlee would release any information about his source’s identity until after his death or until Felt authorized its revelation. Felt’s family confirms Felt’s identity as “Deep Throat” in an article published in Vanity Fair. Felt, 91 years old, suffers from advanced senile dementia. Felt’s character as the romantic government source whispering explosive secrets from the recesses of a Washington, DC, parking garage was burned into the American psyche both by the book and by actor Hal Holbrook’s portrayal in the 1976 film of the same name. Woodward says that Holbrook’s portrayal captured Felt’s character both physically and psychologically. [Washington Post, 6/1/2005] Bernstein and Woodward release a joint statement after the Vanity Fair article is published. It reads, “W. Mark Felt was Deep Throat and helped us immeasurably in our Watergate coverage. However, as the record shows, many other sources and officials assisted us and other reporters for the hundreds of stories written in the Washington Post.” [Woodward, 2005, pp. 232]
Surveillance Methods to Protect Both Felt and Woodward - Felt used his experience as an anti-Nazi spy hunter for the FBI to set up secret meetings between himself and the young reporter (see August 1972). “He knew he was taking a monumental risk,” says Woodward. Woodward acknowledges that his continued refusal to reveal Felt’s identity has played a key role in the advancement of his career as a journalist and author, as many sources trust Woodward to keep their identities secret as he did Felt’s.
Obscuring the Greater Meaning - Bernstein cautions that focusing on Felt’s role as a “deep background” source—the source of the nickname, which references a popular 1970s pornographic movie—obscures the greater meaning of the Watergate investigation. “Felt’s role in all this can be overstated,” Bernstein says. “When we wrote the book, we didn’t think his role would achieve such mythical dimensions. You see there that Felt/Deep Throat largely confirmed information we had already gotten from other sources.” [Washington Post, 6/1/2005] Felt was convicted in 1980 of conspiring to violate the civil rights of domestic dissidents belonging to the Weather Underground movement in the early 1970s; Felt was pardoned by then-President Ronald Reagan. [Woodward, 2005, pp. 146-147] At that time, Felt’s identity as “Deep Throat” could have been revealed, but was not.
Felt, Daughter Decide to Go Public - The Vanity Fair article is by Felt family lawyer John D. O’Connor, who helped Felt’s daughter Joan coax Felt into admitting his role as “Deep Throat.” O’Connor’s article quotes Felt as saying, “I’m the guy they used to call Deep Throat.” O’Connor says he wrote the article with the permission of both Felt and his daughter. Woodward has been reluctant to reveal Felt’s identity, though he has already written an as-yet unpublished book about Felt and their relationship, because of his concerns about Felt’s failing health and increasingly poor memory. The Washington Post’s editors concluded that with the publication of the Vanity Fair article, they were not breaking any confidences by confirming Felt’s identity as Woodward’s Watergate source. [Washington Post, 6/1/2005]
Endless Speculation - The identity of “Deep Throat” has been one of the enduring political mysteries of the last 30 years. Many observers, from Richard Nixon to the most obscure Internet sleuth, have speculated on his identity. Watergate-era figures, including then-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Nixon speechwriter Pat Buchanan, Nixon deputy counsel Fred Fielding, Nixon chief of staff Alexander Haig, National Security Council staffers Laurence Lynn and Winston Lord, then-CBS reporter Diane Sawyer, and many others, have been advanced as possibilities for the source. Former White House counsels John Dean and Leonard Garment, two key Watergate figures, have written extensively on the subject, but both have been wrong in their speculations. In 1992, Atlantic Monthly journalist James Mann wrote that “Deep Throat” “could well have been Mark Felt.” At the time, Felt cautiously denied the charge, as he did in his 1979 memoir, The FBI Pyramid. [Woodward, 2005, pp. 153-156; Washington Post, 6/1/2005] In 1999, the Hartford Courant published a story saying that 19-year old Chase Coleman-Beckman identified Felt as “Deep Throat.” Coleman-Beckman had attended a day camp with Bernstein’s son Josh a decade earlier, and Josh Bernstein then told her that Felt was Woodward’s source. Felt then denied the charge, telling a reporter: “No, it’s not me. I would have done better. I would have been more effective. Deep Throat didn’t exactly bring the White House crashing down, did he?” Woodward calls Felt’s response a classic Felt evasion. [Woodward, 2005, pp. 158-159]
Motivated by Anger, Concern over Politicization of the FBI - Woodward believes that Felt decided to become a background source for several reasons both personal and ideological. Felt, who idealized former FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, was angered that he was passed over for the job upon Hoover’s death; instead, the position went to L. Patrick Gray, whom Felt considered both incompetent and far too politically aligned with the Nixon White House. The FBI could not become an arm of the White House, Felt believed, and could not be allowed to help Nixon cover up his participation in the conspiracy. He decided to help Woodward and Bernstein in their often-lonely investigation of the burgeoning Watergate scandal. Woodward and Bernstein never identified Felt as anyone other than “a source in the executive branch who had access” to high-level information. Felt refused to be directly quoted, even as an anonymous source, and would not give information, but would merely confirm or deny it as well as “add[ing] some perspective.” Some of Woodward and Felt’s conversations were strictly business, but sometimes they would wax more philosophical, discussing, in the words of the book, “how politics had infiltrated every corner of government—a strong-arm takeover of the agencies by the Nixon White House…. [Felt] had once called it the ‘switchblade mentality’—and had referred to the willingness of the president’s men to fight dirty and for keeps…. The Nixon White House worried him. ‘They are underhanded and unknowable,’ he had said numerous times. He also distrusted the press. ‘I don’t like newspapers,’ he had said flatly.” [Woodward, 2005, pp. 167-215; Washington Post, 6/1/2005]
Entity Tags: Diane Sawyer, W. Mark Felt, Vanity Fair, Ronald Reagan, Carl Bernstein, Weather Underground, Winston Lord, Chase Coleman-Beckman, Alexander M. Haig, Jr., Ben Bradlee, Bob Woodward, Patrick Buchanan, Nixon administration, Washington Post, Laurence Lynn, Fred F. Fielding, Hartford Courant, Henry A. Kissinger, Federal Bureau of Investigation, James Mann, J. Edgar Hoover, John D. O’Connor, Joan Felt, Josh Bernstein, L. Patrick Gray, Leonard Garment, John Dean
Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate
In an essay for the Virginia Law Review entitled “Liberalism, Torture, and the Ticking Bomb,” Georgetown law professor David Luban dismantles the familiar argument that torture of a detainee might be necessary to stop the so-called “ticking bomb scenario.” Author and former White House counsel John Dean, who quotes Luban in his 2006 book Conservatives Without Conscience, will describe the scenario and its ramifications thusly: “A nuclear bomb has been planted in the heart of a major American city and authorities have in custody a person who knows where it is located. To save possibly millions of lives, would it not be justified to torture this individual to get the necessary information to stop it? Absolutely. Is not this lesser evil justified? Of course it is. And this argument is a wonderful means to comfort those who have moral problems with torture. Its beauty is that once you concede there are circumstances in which torture might be justified, morally and legally… you are on the other side of the line. You’ve joined the torture crowd. To paraphrase [George W.] Bush, you’ve joined the evildoers.” Dean calls it “a bogus argument, a rhetorical device. It is seductively simple, and compellingly logical. But it is also pure fantasy.” The likelihood of such conditions are extremely remote, Dean writes, on the order of a giant meteor striking the Earth. Dean will cite Luban’s arguments as counters to the scenario. Luban writes, “[T]here are certain situations so monstrous that the idea that the processes of moral rationality could yield an answer in them is insane… to spend time thinking what one would decide if one were in such a situation is also insane, if not actually frivolous.” Luban notes that Senator John McCain (R-AZ), himself a victim of torture during the Vietnam War (see October 1, 2005 and November 21, 2005), “has said that ultimately the debate is over who we are. We will never figure that out until we stop talking about ticking bombs, and stop playing games with words.” [Dean, 2006, pp. 165]
President Bush, stung by the opposition from both left and right that derailed his nomination of Harriet Miers for the Supreme Court (see October 3-27, 2005), nominates appeals court judge Samuel Alito to the Court to replace the retiring Sandra Day O’Connor. [Dean, 2007, pp. 155-157]
Staunch Advocate of Expanding Presidential Power - Alito has impeccable credentials, especially in contrast to the widely derided Miers. He is a graduate of Yale Law School, a long-time member of the conservative Federalist Society, and has years of decisions behind him as an appellate court judge. He is a product of the Reagan-era Justice Department. Bush calls him “one of the most accomplished and respected judges in America.” He is a powerful anti-abortion advocate, and a staunch supporter of granting ever more power to the executive branch, especially at the expense of the legislative and judicial branches. During his time in the Reagan Justice Department, he worked on a project to “increase the power of the executive to shape the law.” In 2000 he called the “unitary executive theory” (see April 30, 1986) the “gospel according to the OLC,” the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, where he worked for four years, and said he was firmly committed to advancing that theory. [Savage, 2007, pp. 267-271]
Bland Facade at Hearings - Alito receives a unanimous “well qualified” assessment from the American Bar Association, and the Bush administration expects that his nomination will sail through the Senate confirmation hearings as quickly and painlessly as did Bush’s previous choice for the Court, John Roberts (see September 29, 2005). The hearings are more contentious than Bush would like, and former Nixon White House counsel John Dean will say in 2007 that Alito’s performance before the Judiciary Committee “only served to confirm that the entire process has become little more than a great charade.” Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA), one of the longest-serving members of the committee, observes that the Bush administration believes—correctly—that it can nominate radical right-wing extremists to the Court virtually at will, “as long as their views were not well known,” and adds, “[T]he current White House [has] turned the effort to hide nominees’ views into an art form.” Like Roberts, Alito presents a bland, non-confrontational facade to the committee (see January 9-13, 2006), refusing to take a personal stance on any issue and giving the impression that, as Kennedy will say after Alito and Roberts begin their service on the Court, he would be “as neutral as a baseball umpire.… The men who promised to be neutral umpires look more and more like loyal members of the president’s team.” [Dean, 2007, pp. 155-157]
Party-Line Confirmation - After an attempt by Senators Kennedy and John Kerry (D-MA) to filibuster Alito’s confirmation fails, the Senate confirms Alito’s ascension to the Court by a near-party line 58-42 vote, the closest such vote since Clarence Thomas’s (see October 13, 1991). Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) condemns what he calls the “very bitter partisanship” over Alito’s nomination, and accuses Democrats of playing politics: “When you have a man who has the decency, the legal ability and the capacities that Judge Alito has treated this way, I think it’s despicable.” Alito, whose hardline conservative beliefs are sufficiently masked during the hearings, replaces the far more moderate O’Connor, who before her retirement made up the “moderate center” of the Court with Justices Anthony Kennedy and David Souter. Now Alito joins Thomas, Roberts, and Antonin Scalia to form a hard-right conservative bloc on the Court which, when joined by center-right conservative Kennedy, forms a nearly unshakable conservative majority. [CNN, 2/1/2006]
Overturning Roe? - Many believe that Alito gives the Court the fifth vote it needs to finally overturn the landmark abortion case Roe v. Wade (see January 22, 1973), a longtime goal of social conservatives that would go far to make abortions illegal in the US. [Slate, 10/31/2005]
Entity Tags: Orrin Hatch, Sandra Day O’Connor, Samuel Alito, John Dean, US Supreme Court, John G. Roberts, Jr, John Kerry, George W. Bush, Clarence Thomas, Anthony Kennedy, David Souter, Edward M. (“Ted”) Kennedy, Harriet E. Miers, Antonin Scalia
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
While on a trip to the Middle East, Vice President Dick Cheney gives a frank outline of his view of the president’s powers, and refers to an Iran-Contra document as support for this view. In response to a question about his perspective as a veteran of the Ford administration, which the reporter says “arguably was the point at which presidential power had reached its absolute nadir,” Cheney replies, “Yes, I do have the view that over the years there had been an erosion of presidential power and authority, that it’s reflected in a number of developments.” Cheney lists several examples, including the War Powers Act, Congressional budget controls, the limitations placed on his own 2001 Energy Task Force, and numerous steps to limit the president’s power taken after Watergate and the Vietnam War. Cheney then advises the reporter: “If you want reference to an obscure text, go look at the minority views that were filed with the Iran-Contra Committee; the Iran Contra Report in about 1987 (see November 16-17, 1987). Nobody has ever read them, but we—part of the argument in Iran Contra was whether or not the president had the authority to do what was done in the Reagan years. And those of us in the minority wrote minority views, but they were actually authored by a guy working for me, for my staff, that I think are very good in laying out a robust view of the president’s prerogatives with respect to the conduct of especially foreign policy and national security matters. It will give you a much broader perspective.… I believe in a strong, robust executive authority. And I think the world we live in demands it. And to some extent, that we have an obligation as an administration to pass on the offices we hold to our successors in as good a shape as we found them.… I do think that to some extent now, we’ve been able to restore the legitimate authority of the presidency.” [White House, 12/20/2005]
Nixon Lawyer: Cheney 'Twisting History' - However, former Nixon White House counsel John Dean will call the Iran-Contra document to which Cheney refers “replete with factual and other errors,” a wholesale “twist[ing] of history” that nevertheless “sought to establish extreme standards for presidential powers vis-a-vis Congress.” According to Dean, Cheney believes now, as he did then, “that the Congress—other than writing checks to finance the president’s policies—has no real role whatsoever.” [Dean, 2007, pp. 86-88]
Former Republican Staffer: 'Chasm of Difference' between Then, Now - Former Justice Department lawyer Bruce Fein, who helped Cheney write the minority report and has since parted ways with his old boss, will say there is “a chasm of difference” between Iran-Contra and the secrecy of the Bush-Cheney administration. “Then it was part of the democratic process,” Fein will say in July 2006. “The way you debate the process, it allows for self-correction. This is the essence, the lifeblood of democracy.” Then, the Reagan administration was forced by a Democratic majority in Congress to disclose at least some details of its inner workings. There is no such disclosure today, Fein says. “They think that democracy ends if you win elections.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 81]
In his column for the legal website FindLaw, former Nixon White House counsel John Dean writes: “Rather than veto laws passed by Congress, [George W.] Bush is using his signing statements to effectively nullify them as they relate to the executive branch. These statements, for him, function as directives to executive branch departments and agencies as to how they are to implement the relevant law.… Bush has quietly been using these statements to bolster presidential powers. It is a calculated, systematic scheme that has gone largely unnoticed.… It is as if no law had been passed on the matter at all.… Bush is using signing statements like line item vetoes.” Dean writes that Bush’s signing statement for the Detainee Treatment Act (see December 30, 2005) marks the first time that serious media attention has been focused on the statements. He writes, “Despite the McCain Amendment’s clear anti-torture stance, the military may feel free to use torture anyway, based on the President’s attempt to use a signing statement to wholly undercut the bill.” [FindLaw, 1/13/2006]
Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Jon Kyl (R-AZ) file an amicus curiae brief with the Supreme Court in the case of Hamdan v. Rumsfeld (see June 30, 2006) saying that because of the passage of the Detainee Treatment Act (DTA—see December 15, 2005), the Court no longer has jurisdiction over the case. Graham and Kyl argue their point by citing the “legislative history” of the DTA, in particular the official statements Graham and Kyl made during debate over the bill, and specifically an “extensive colloquy” between the two that appears in the Congressional Record for December 21, 2005. Graham and Kyl argue that this “colloquy,” which argues that Guantanamo prisoners have no rights under the standard of habeas corpus, stands as evidence that “Congress was aware” that the DTA would strip the Court of jurisdiction over cases that involve Guantanamo detainees. (The Senate included an amendment written by Graham, Kyl, and Carl Levin (D-MI) to the DTA that would reject habeas claims in future court cases, but does not apply retroactively to cases already filed, such as Hamdan.) However, Graham and Kyl never engaged in such a discussion on the floor of the Senate. Instead, they had the text inserted in the Record just before the law passed (see December 30, 2005), meaning that no one in Congress heard their discussion. The brief indicates that the discussion happened during the debate over the bill when it did not. The Record indicates that the discussion that did take place concerning the Hamdan case comes from Democrats, and explicitly state that the DTA has no bearing on the case. C-SPAN video coverage of the debate proves that Graham and Kyl never made those statements, and Senate officials confirm that the discussion was inserted later into the Record. But in their brief, Graham and Kyl state that “the Congressional Record is presumed to reflect live debate except when the statements therein are followed by a bullet… or are underlined.” The Record shows no such formatting, therefore, says the brief, it must have been live. The debate between Graham and Kyl is even written to make it appear as if it had taken place live, with Graham and Kyl answering each other’s questions, Kyl noting that he is nearing the end of his allotted time, and another senator, Sam Brownback (R-KS) apparently attempting to interject a question. Lawyers for the prosecution will strenuously object to the brief, and Justice Department defense lawyers will use the brief as a centerpiece for their argument that the Supreme Court should throw the case out. [US Supreme Court, 2/2006 ; Slate, 3/27/2006; FindLaw, 7/5/2006] Former Nixon White House counsel John Dean will call the brief “a blatant scam,” and will accuse Graham and Kyl of “misle[ading] their Senate colleagues, but also sham[ing] their high offices by trying to deliberately mislead the US Supreme Court.… I have not seen so blatant a ploy, or abuse of power, since Nixon’s reign.… [Graham and Kyl] brazenly attempted to hoodwink the Court regarding the actions of Congress in adopting the DTA.” [FindLaw, 7/5/2006] Their efforts will not be successful, as the Supreme Court will ultimately rule against the Republican position in Hamdan vs. Rumsfeld (see June 30, 2006).
Senator Russell Feingold (D-WI) tells reporters that he intends to push through legislation that would censure President Bush because of his domestic surveillance program (see February 2001, Spring 2001, After September 11, 2001, After September 11, 2001, October 2001, Early 2002, September 2002, Late 2003-Early 2004, April 19-20, 2004, June 9, 2005, June 9, 2005, December 15, 2005, December 17, 2005, December 19, 2005, December 24, 2005, January 5, 2006, January 18, 2006, January 18, 2006, January 23, 2006, and January 30, 2006). “What the president did by consciously and intentionally violating the Constitution and laws of this country with this illegal wiretapping has to be answered,” Feingold tells an interviewer. “Proper accountability is a censuring of the president, saying, ‘Mr. President, acknowledge that you broke the law, return to the law, return to our system of government.‘… The president has broken the law and, in some way, he must be held accountable.… Congress has to reassert our system of government, and the cleanest and the most efficient way to do that is to censure the president. And, hopefully, he will acknowledge that he did something wrong.” Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) calls Feingold’s proposal “a crazy political move.” The Senate Intelligence Committee, following the Bush administration’s lead, has rejected some Democrats’ call for a full investigation of the surveillance program (see February 1-6, 2006). Instead, the committee has adopted a Republican plan for a seven-member subcommittee to conduct oversight. Feingold says his censure motion is not “a harsh approach, and it’s one that I think should lead to bipartisan support.” Frist, however, says: “I think it, in part, is a political move because here we are, the Republican Party, the leadership in the Congress, supporting the president of the United States as commander in chief who is out there fighting al-Qaeda and the Taliban and Osama bin Laden and the people who have sworn—have sworn—to destroy Western civilization and all the families listening to us.… The signal that it sends that there is in any way a lack of support for our commander in chief who is leading us with a bold vision in a way that we know is making our homeland safer is wrong. And it sends a perception around the world.” Only once in history has a president been censured by Congress: Andrew Jackson in 1834. In the House, Representative John Conyers (D-MI) is exploring the idea of introducing impeachment legislation against Bush. [New York Times, 3/12/2006; Associated Press, 3/12/2006] Feingold says on the Senate floor: “The president has violated the law and Congress must respond. A formal censure by Congress is an appropriate and responsible first step to assure the public that when the president thinks he can violate the law without consequences, Congress has the will to hold him accountable.” Most Congressional Democrats want nothing to do with either Feingold’s or Conyers’s legislative ideas, and some Republicans seem to be daring Democrats to vote for the proposal. Vice President Dick Cheney tells a Republican audience in Feingold’s home state of Wisconsin, “Some Democrats in Congress have decided the president is the enemy.” Democratic leaders in the Senate thwart an immediate vote as requested by Frist, and Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) says he is not sure the proposal will ever come to a vote. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) says he does not support it and has not read it. Senator Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) makes a similar assertion. In the House, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) refuses to support such a proposal, saying in a statement that she “understands Senator Feingold’s frustration that the facts about the NSA domestic surveillance program have not been disclosed appropriately to Congress. Both the House and the Senate must fully investigate the program and assign responsibility for any laws that may have been broken.” [Associated Press, 3/14/2006] Former Nixon aide John Dean testifies in support of Feingold’s censure motion (see March 31, 2006). However, the censure motion, lacking support from Democratic leaders and being used by Republicans as a means to attack Democrats’ patriotism, never comes to a vote. [Klein, 2009, pp. 84]
Entity Tags: Joseph Lieberman, George W. Bush, Bush administration (43), Bill Frist, Harry Reid, John Dean, Russell D. Feingold, Senate Intelligence Committee, Richard (“Dick”) Durbin, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Nancy Pelosi, John Conyers
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
John Dean. [Source: Truthdig.com]Nixon White House counsel and Watergate veteran John Dean says that President Bush’s domestic spying program is worse than anything his former boss, Richard Nixon, did while he occupied the Oval Office. Testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee during a hearing on Senator Russ Feingold’s (D-WI) motion to censure Bush over the program (see March 12, 2006 and After), Dean says Bush “needs to be told he cannot simply ignore a law with no consequences.” Republican committee leaders grudgingly agreed to hold the hearing over the censure motion, but dismiss the motion as little more than an election-year stunt designed by Democrats to, in committee member Orrin Hatch’s (R-UT) words, “weaken the commander in chief” in a time of war. Feingold’s measure, if passed, would condemn Bush’s “unlawful authorization of wiretaps of Americans within the United States without obtaining the court orders required” by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). The measure has little chance of passing, with even most Senate Democrats refusing to get behind the resolution. “To me, this is not really and should not be a partisan question,” Dean says. “I think it’s a question of institutional pride of this body, of the Congress of the United States.… [T]he president needs to be reminded that separation of powers does not mean an isolation of powers.” Dean has previously suggested, in his book Worse Than Watergate and in op-eds, that Bush may deserve impeachment over the surveillance program. [Associated Press, 3/31/2006]
The cover of ‘Conservatives Without Conscience.’ [Source: Barnes and Noble (.com)]Author and former Nixon White House counsel John Dean writes in his book Conservatives Without Conscience that it was never public opinion that drove Richard Nixon to resign his office (see August 8, 1974).
Loss of Support among White House Officials Forced Resignation - In 1981, social scientist Bob Altermeyer wrote in his book Right Wing Authoritarianism that Nixon resigned, not because of his plummeting poll ratings, but “because [Nixon]‘s attorney had forced the disclosure of evidence so damaging that it seemed certain he would be convicted of high crimes by the Senate.” Dean approvingly cites Altermeyer’s conclusion and adds, “This is true, but there is more to the story.” Nixon had a number of legal recourses to answer any charges brought against him, Dean writes, “many of which [President] Bush and [Vice President] Cheney are promoting today under the rubric of national security and the inherent power of the presidency.” Nixon finally resigned, Dean argues, not because of public opinion, or of fear of the law, or even because of the erosion of support he suffered among members of Congress. It was the abandonment of Nixon by his own defenders in the White House that finally drove Nixon to resign. “Other than White House counsel Fred Buzhardt, and possibly chief of staff Al Haig (with whom Buzhardt had roomed at West Point), no one was aware that Nixon was lying about what he knew and when he knew it once the cover-up had initially fallen apart. Nixon provided the lawyer he had hired to defend him in the House’s impeachment inquiry (see May 9, 1974), James St. Clair, with false information, and St. Clair—as it happened—was a man of integrity and not a right-wing authoritarian follower. When he found out that his client had lied to him he had two choices: to resign or to join the new cover-up. He was, as it happened, interested in participating in the latter.”
Bush, Cheney Would Defy Law, Dean Argues - Dean continues: “Nixon at one point considered defying the Supreme Court ruling that he turn over his incriminating tapes (evidence that revealed that his defense was a sham) (see July 24, 1974) on the very grounds that Bush and Cheney argue. They have authority under the Constitution to read it and comply with it as they see fit. Once it was apparent that Richard Nixon had broken the law, he made the most significant decision of his presidency: the decision to honor the rule of law and resign.… [T]here is little doubt in my mind that Bush and Cheney, in the same situation, would not budge; rather, they would spin the facts as they always have, and move forward with their agenda. The president and vice president, it appears, believe the lesson of Watergate was not to stay within the law, but rather not to get caught. And if you do get caught, claim that the president can do whatever he thinks necessary in the name of national security.” [Dean, 2006, pp. 181-182]
Former Nixon White House counsel John Dean is troubled by the Military Commissions Act (MCA) (see October 17, 2006) currently under consideration in Congress. The MCA authorizes military tribunals instead of criminal court trials for suspected terrorists. Dean supported the idea of tribunals when they were first suggested in 2001, but, he writes: “[T]he devil… arrived later with the details. It never occurred to me (and most people) that Bush & Co. would design a system more befitting a totalitarian state than a democratic nation that once led the world by its good example.” After a previous tribunal procedure was struck down by the Supreme Court (see June 30, 2006), Bush sent another proposal to Congress in early September. Where the bill did not actively rewrite the Court’s findings, it ignored them altogether, Dean writes. Dean finds the law a stunning reversal of decades—centuries, in some instances—of US jurisprudence and international law, including its dismissal of Geneva protections, its retroactive protection for US officials who may have tortured detainees, and its dismissal of habeas corpus rights for detainees. Dean calls the proposed legislation “shameful,” and writes: “This proposal… is going to tell us a great deal about where we are as a nation, for as General [Colin] Powell said, ‘The world is beginning to doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism. To redefine [the Geneva Conventions] would add to those doubts.’ As will amending the war crimes law to absolve prior wrongs, denying detainees ‘a regularly constituted court affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples,’ and enacting a law that insults the Supreme Court.” [FindLaw, 9/22/2006]
President Bush signs the Military Commissions Act into law. [Source: White House]President Bush signs the Military Commissions Act (MCA) into law. [White House, 10/17/2006] The MCA is designed to give the president the authority to order “enemy detainees” tried by military commissions largely outside the scope of US civil and criminal procedures. The bill was requested by the Bush administration after the Supreme Court’s ruling in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld (see June 28, 2004) that the US could not hold prisoners indefinitely without access to the US judicial system, and that the administration’s proposal that they be tried by military tribunals was unconstitutional (see June 28, 2004). [FindLaw, 10/9/2006] It is widely reported that the MCA does not directly apply to US citizens, but to only non-citizens defined as “enemy combatants. [CBS News, 10/19/2006] However, six months later, a Bush administration lawyer will confirm that the administration believes the law does indeed apply to US citizens (see February 1, 2007).
Sweeping New Executive Powers - The MCA virtually eliminates the possibility that the Supreme Court can ever again act as a check on a president’s power in the war on terrorism. Similarly, the law gives Congressional approval to many of the executive powers previously, and unilaterally, seized by the Bush administration. Former Justice Department official John Yoo celebrates the MCA, writing, “Congress… told the courts, in effect, to get out of the war on terror” (see October 19, 2006). [Savage, 2007, pp. 319, 322]
'Abandoning' Core 'Principles' - The bill passed the Senate on a 65-34 vote, and the House by a 250-170 vote. The floor debate was often impassioned and highly partisan; House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) called Democrats who opposed the bill “dangerous,” and Senate Judiciary Committee member Patrick Leahy (D-VT) said this bill showed that the US is losing its “moral compass.” Leahy asked during the debate, “Why would we allow the terrorists to win by doing to ourselves what they could never do, and abandon the principles for which so many Americans today and through our history have fought and sacrificed?” Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Arlen Specter (R-PA) had said he would vote against it because it is “patently unconstitutional on its face,” but then voted for it, saying he believes the courts will eventually “clean it up.” Specter’s attempt to amend the bill to provide habeas corpus rights for enemy combatants was defeated, as were four Democratic amendments. Republicans have openly used the debate over the MCA as election-year fodder, with House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) saying after the vote that “House Democrats have voted to protect the rights of terrorists,” and Boehner decrying “the Democrats’ irrational opposition to strong national security policies.” Democrats such as Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) say they will not fight back at such a level. “There will be 30-second attack ads and negative mail pieces, and we will be called everything from cut-and-run quitters to Defeatocrats, to people who care more about the rights of terrorists than the protection of Americans,” Obama says. “While I know all of this, I’m still disappointed, and I’m still ashamed, because what we’re doing here today—a debate over the fundamental human rights of the accused—should be bigger than politics.” [Washington Post, 10/19/2006] After winning the vote, Hastert accused Democrats who opposed the bill of “putting their liberal agenda ahead of the security of America.” Hastert said the Democrats “would gingerly pamper the terrorists who plan to destroy innocent Americans’ lives” and create “new rights for terrorists.” [New York Times, 10/19/2006]
Enemy Combatants - The MCA applies only to “enemy combatants.” Specifically, the law defines an “unlawful enemy combatant” as a person “who has engaged in hostilities or who has purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States or its co-belligerents,” and who is not a lawful combatant. Joanne Mariner of Human Rights Watch says the definition far exceeds the traditionally accepted definition of combatant as someone who directly participates in hostilities. But under the MCA, someone who provides “material support” for terrorists—whether that be in the form of financial contributions or sweeping the floors at a terrorist camp—can be so defined. Worse, the label can be applied without recourse by either Bush or the secretary of defense, after a “competent tribunal” makes the determination. The MCA provides no guidelines as to what criteria these tribunals should use. Taken literally, the MCA gives virtually unrestricted power to the tribunals to apply the label as requested by the president or the secretary. Mariner believes the definition is both “blatantly unconstitutional” and a direct contradiction of centuries of Supreme Court decisions that define basic judicial rights. [FindLaw, 10/9/2006] Under this definition, the president can imprison, without charge or trial, any US citizen accused of donating money to a Middle East charity that the government believes is linked to terrorist activity. Citizens associated with “fringe” groups such as the left-wing Black Panthers or right-wing militias can be incarcerated without trial or charge. Citizens accused of helping domestic terrorists can be so imprisoned. Law professor Bruce Ackerman calls the MCA “a massive Congressional expansion of the class of enemy combatants,” and warns that the law may “haunt all of us on the morning after the next terrorist attack” by enabling a round of mass detentions similar to the roundup of Japanese-American citizens during World War II. [Savage, 2007, pp. 322]
Military Commissions - The MCA mandates that enemy combatants are to be tried by military commissions, labeled “regularly constituted courts that afford all the necessary ‘judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples’ for purposes of common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions.” The commissions must have a minimum of five commissioned military officers and a military judge; if death is a possible penalty, the commissions must have at least 12 officers. The defendant’s guilt must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt; convictions require a two-thirds vote. Sentences of beyond 10 years require a three-quarters vote, and death penalties must be unanimously voted for. Defendants may either represent themselves or by military or civilian counsel. The court procedures themselves, although based on standard courts-martial proceedings, are fluid, and can be set or changed as the secretary of defense sees fit. Statements obtained through methods defined as torture are inadmissible, but statements take by coercion and “cruel treatment” can be admitted. The MCA sets the passage of the Detainee Treatment Act (DTA—see December 15, 2005) as a benchmark—statements obtained before the December 30, 2005 enactment of that law can be used, even if the defendant was “coerced,” if a judge finds the statement “reasonable and possessing sufficient probative value.” Statements after that date must have been taken during interrogations that fall under the DTA guidelines. Defendants have the right to examine and respond to evidence seen by the commission, a provision originally opposed by the administration. However, if the evidence is classified, an unclassified summary of that material is acceptable, and classified exculpatory evidence can be denied in lieu of what the MCA calls “acceptable substitutes.” Hearsay evidence is admissible, as is evidence obtained without search warrants. Generally, defendants will not be allowed to inquire into the classified “sources, methods, or activities” surrounding evidence against them. Some human rights activists worry that evidence obtained through torture can be admitted, and the fact that it was obtained by torture, if that detail is classified, will not be presented to the court or preclude the evidence from being used. Public access to the commissions will be quite limited. Many experts claim these commissions are illegal both by US constitutional law and international law. [FindLaw, 10/9/2006]
Secret Courts - The military tribunals can be partially or completely closed to public scrutiny if the presiding judge deems such an action necessary to national security. The government can convey such concerns to the judge without the knowledge of the defense. The judge can exclude the accused from the trial if he deems it necessary for safety or if he decides the defendant is “disruptive.” Evidence can be presented in secret, without the knowledge of the defense and without giving the defense a chance to examine that evidence, if the judge finds that evidence “reliable.” And during the trial, the prosecution can at any time assert a “national security privilege” that would stop “the examination of any witness” if that witness shows signs of discussing sensitive security matters. This provision can easily be used to exclude any potential defense witness who might “breach national security” with their testimony. Author and investigative reporter Robert Parry writes, “In effect, what the new law appears to do is to create a parallel ‘star chamber’ system for the prosecution, imprisonment, and elimination of enemies of the state, whether those enemies are foreign or domestic.” [Consortium News, 10/19/2006]
Appeals - Guilty verdicts are automatically appealed to a Court of Military Commission Review, consisting of three appellate military justices. The DC Circuit Court of Appeals has extremely limited authority of review of the commissions; even its authority to judge whether a decision is consistent with the Constitution is limited “to the extent [that the Constitution is] applicable.”
Types of Crimes - Twenty-eight specific crimes fall under the rubric of the military commissions, including conspiracy (not a traditional war crime), murder of protected persons, murder in violation of the bill of war, hostage-taking, torture, cruel or inhuman treatment, mutilation or maiming, rape, sexual abuse or assault, hijacking, terrorism, providing material support for terrorism, and spying. [FindLaw, 10/9/2006]
CIA Abuses - The MCA, responding to the recent Supreme Court decision of Hamdan v. Rumsfeld (see June 30, 2006) that found the CIA’s secret detention program and abusive interrogation practices illegal, redefines and amends the law to make all but the most pernicious interrogation practices, even those defined as torture by the War Crimes Act and the Geneva Conventions, legal. The MCA actually rules that the Geneva Conventions are all but unenforceable in US courts. It also provides retroactive protection under the law to all actions as far back as November 1997. Under the MCA, practices such as waterboarding, stress positioning, and sleep deprivation cannot be construed as torture. [FindLaw, 10/9/2006] The MCA even states that rape as part of interrogations cannot be construed as torture unless the intent of the rapist to torture his victim can be proven, a standard rejected by international law. The MCA provides such a narrow definition of coercion and sexual abuse that most of the crimes perpetrated at Abu Ghraib are now legal. [Jurist, 10/4/2006] Although the MCA seems to cover detainee abuse for all US agencies, including the CIA, Bush says during the signing of the bill, “This bill will allow the Central Intelligence Agency to continue its program for questioning key terrorist leaders and operatives.” International law expert Scott Horton will note, “The administration wanted these prohibitions on the military and not on the CIA, but it did not work out that way.” Apparently Bush intends to construe the law to exempt the CIA from its restrictions, such as they are, on torture and abuse of prisoners. [Salon, 5/22/2007]
No Habeas Corpus Rights - Under the MCA, enemy combatants no longer have the right to file suit under the habeas corpus provision of US law. This means that they cannot challenge the legality of their detention, or raise claims of torture and mistreatment. Even detainees who have been released can never file suit to seek redress for their treatment while in US captivity. [FindLaw, 10/25/2006]
Retroactive Immunity - The administration added a provision to the MCA that rewrote the War Crimes Act retroactively to November 26, 1997, making any offenses considered war crimes before the MCA is adopted no longer punishable under US law. Former Nixon White House counsel John Dean will write in 2007 that the only reason he can fathom for the change is to protect administration officials—perhaps including President Bush himself—from any future prosecutions as war criminals. Dean will note that if the administration actually believes in the inherent and indisputable powers of the presidency, as it has long averred, then it would not worry about any such criminal liability. [Dean, 2007, pp. 239-240]
Entity Tags: Human Rights Watch, Joanne Mariner, US Supreme Court, Patrick J. Leahy, Military Commissions Act, John Dean, George W. Bush, Scott Horton, Geneva Conventions, Bruce Ackerman, Dennis Hastert, American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International, Detainee Treatment Act, Arlen Specter, War Crimes Act, Barack Obama, Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), John Boehner
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Former Nixon White House counsel John Dean considers the newly passed Protect America Act (PAA—see August 5, 2007) a dire threat to American civil liberties. Dean writes that the ire of rank-and-file Democrats with their Congressional leadership is well earned, that the Democrats meekly lined up and voted it into law after some pro forma protestations. Dean notes that editorialists from around the country, and organizations as politically disparate as the ACLU (see August 6, 2007), the Cato Institute, and the John Birch Society (see March 10, 1961 and December 2011) all agree that the new law is a serious threat to civil liberties. They all agree that the law violates the Fourth Amendment while at the same time hides its operations under the rubric of national security secrecy. Dean notes, “Congress was not even certain about the full extent of what it has authorized because President Bush and Vice President Cheney refused to reveal it.”
Executive Power Grab - Dean writes that as much of a threat as the PAA is to citizens’ privacy, it is more threatening because it is another step in the Bush administration’s push for enhancing the powers of the executive branch at the expense of the legislative and judiciary branches, a move towards a so-called “unitary executive.” Bush and Cheney have worked relentlessly “to weaken or eliminate all checks and balances constraining the executive,” Dean writes, pointing to “countless laws enacted by the Republican-controlled Congresses during the first six years of the administration, and in countless signing statements added by the president interpreting away any constraints on the Executive.” The new law “utterly fails to maintain any real check on the president’s power to undertake electronic surveillance of literally millions of Americans. This is an invitation to abuse, especially for a president like the current incumbent.”
Repairing the Damage - Dean is guardedly optimistic about the Democrats’ stated intentions to craft a new law that will supersede the PAA, which expires in February 2008, and restore some of the protections the PAA voids. Any such legislation may be quickly challenged by the Bush administration, which wants retroactive legislative immunity from prosecution for both US telecommunications firms cooperating with the government in monitoring Americans’ communications, and for government officials who may have violated the law in implementing domestic surveillance. Dean writes: “[B]efore Congress caved and gave Bush power to conduct this surveillance, he and telecommunication companies simply opted to do so illegally. Now, Bush will claim, with some justification, that because Congress has now made legal actions that were previously illegal, it should retroactively clear up this nasty problem facing all those who broke the law at his command.” Dean writes that Democrats need only do one thing to “fix [this] dangerous law: [add] meaningful accountability.” He continues: “They must do so, or face the consequences. No one wants to deny the intelligence community all the tools it needs. But regardless of who sits in the Oval Office, no Congress should trust any president with unbridled powers of surveillance over Americans. It is not the way our system is supposed to work.” [FindLaw, 8/10/2007]
President Bush has abused his prerogative to issue “signing statements” that state the White House’s interpretion of Congressionally passed laws (see Early 2005), according to former White House counsel John Dean and constitutional law professor Laurence Tribe.
History - Signing statements have no weight in law, but presidents have traditionally used them to state their belief that a particular legislative provision is unconstitutional, and on rare occasion (before the current president) to state their refusal to enforce that provision. Since Jimmy Carter’s administration, various Justice Department officials have said presidents can refuse to enforce a particular provision of signed, legally binding legislation. [Dean, 2007, pp. 112-116] A group of young conservative lawyers in the Reagan administration decided that signing statements were a powerful, and stealthy, way to expand presidential power.
Dean: Bush's Use of Signing Statements 'Extraordinary' - However, Dean says that Bush has used signing statements far more extensively than any president before him. Dean notes that, while presidential signing statements themselves are not illegal or inherently wrong, “[i]t is Bush’s abuse of them that is extraordinary.” Dean writes there has been no concerted effort to find out if Bush is just saying he will not comply with the inordinate number of legislative provisions he has objected to, or if he is refusing to comply with them in practice. If the latter is the case, Dean writes, “he should be impeached immediately… because it would be an extraordinary breach of his oath” of office.
Tribe: Bush's Signing Statements 'Bizarre,' 'Reckless' - Dean cites Tribe, who said in 2006, “[W]hat is new and distressing [about Bush’s use of signing statements] is the bizarre, frighteningly self-serving, and constitutionally reckless character of those views—and the suspicion that the president either intends actually to act on them with some regularity, often in a manner that won’t be publicly visible at the time, or intends them as declarations of hegemony and contempt for the coordinate branches—declarations that he hopes will gradually come to be accepted in the constitutional culture as descriptions of the legal and political landscape properly conceived and as precedents for later action either by his own or by future administrations.” [Dean, 2007, pp. 112-116; Joyce Green, 2007] Political science professor Christopher Kelley agrees. Kelley, who studied the Bush administration’s use of signing statements, says: “What we haven’t seen until this administration is the sheer number of objections that are being raised on every bill passed through the White House. That is what is staggering. The numbers are well out of the norm from any previous administration.”
Signing Statements Supplanting Vetoes - In another disturbing trend, according to author and reporter Charlie Savage, Bush is using signing statements to supplant the traditional presidential veto. By mid-2007, Bush had vetoed just two bills. In contrast, Bush’s predecessor, Bill Clinton, vetoed 37 bills. George H. W. Bush vetoed 44, and Ronald Reagan vetoed 78. Legal experts studying Bush’s signing statements conclude that Bush and his legal team are using signing statements to function almost as line-item vetoes, a power the president does not have. The Supreme Court ruled in 1998 that the Founding Fathers wanted the president to either accept a Congressional bill or reject it entirely, and if Congress overrode the veto, then the president had no other recourse than to follow the new law. But now, Savage writes, “the Bush-Cheney administration had figured out that if a president signed a bill and then instructed the government to consider selected provisions null (see December 30, 2005), he could accomplish much the same thing. Moreover, it was an absolute power because, unlike when there is a regular veto, Congress had no opportunity to override his legal judgments.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 230-231]
Former Nixon White House counsel John Dean says that after reading the nine newly released Bush-era Justice Department memos that asserted sweeping powers for the president not granted by the Constitution (see March 2, 2009), “you’ve gotta almost conclude we had an unconstitutional dictator. It’s pretty deadly and pretty serious, what’s in these materials.” Anyone deemed a terrorist by President Bush could be kidnapped, incarcerated, and tortured, all without any legal recourse. “Who in this formula was supposed to decide that these were terrorists?” asks MSNBC host Keith Olbermann. Dean replies: “Well, according to these memos, that was rather limited to the president of the United States and there are no guidelines as to how he might describe who was or was not a terrorist. The president can unilaterally or, theoretically, even somebody he delegates can decide who indeed can be incarcerated, who can not. That is why I say, this is pretty close to being an unconstitutional dictator, in any definition under the law of this country.” [MSNBC, 3/2/2009; Raw Story, 3/3/2009]
Former Nixon White House counsel John Dean says that the allegation of an “executive assassination wing,” as recently made by investigative reporter Seymour Hersh (see March 10, 2009), could well be a war crime if it is true. Both Dean and MSNBC host Keith Olbermann note that if true, Cheney’s actions could well violate a 1976 executive order that states in part, “No employee of the United States government shall engage in or conspire to engage in political assassination.” Dean says: “[F]ighting terrorism is not dealing with tiddlywinks. We want our government to deal with the most effective tools they have. But they also have to be legal. The executive order, really, is nothing more than direction to the executive branch and the presidency is the only one who you can even argue might have the authority to engage in assassinations. It’s an unresolved question. So, it’s potentially a war crime, it’s potentially just outright murder, and it could clearly be in violation of the Ford executive order.” In the same broadcast, author and political analyst Howard Fineman says of Hersh’s report: “In checking around in the intelligence community today, I can say this, you know, Seymour Hersh is somebody they respect. They don’t always trust. But they put it this way, as one of them said to me, ‘Look, I don’t know anything about this specifically at all, but I wouldn’t dismiss what Sy Hersh is saying without checking carefully.’ That’s their backhanded way of saying it’s worth looking into, for sure.” [MSNBC, 3/12/2009]
Former Nixon White House counsel John Dean says that former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice may have unwittingly admitted to being part of a criminal conspiracy in regards to the Bush administration’s torture policies. Rice recently told students at Stanford University that she did not authorize any torture policies, she merely forwarded the authorization for them from higher up (see April 28, 2009). Dean tells MSNBC talk show host Keith Olbermann that she may have admitted to a criminal conspiracy. Dean calls Rice’s comments “surprising,” and says she has mired herself in the possibility of legal proceedings. “She tried to say she didn’t authorize anything, then proceeded to say she did pass orders along to the CIA to engage in torture if it was legal by the standard of the Department of Justice,” Dean says. “This really puts her right in the middle of a common plan, as it’s known in international law, or a conspiracy, as it’s known in American law, and this indeed is a crime. If it indeed happened the way we think it did happen.… These kinds of statements are going to come back and be interesting to any investigator.” Dean says that President Obama will stand in violation of the Geneva Conventions if he refuses to prosecute those found responsible for the torture policies. “He is indeed in violation if the United States does not undertake investigation of this, or ultimately prosecution, if that’s necessary,” Dean says. “It’s not only the Geneva Convention, the Convention Against Torture (see October 21, 1994) also requires this. There are no exceptions with torture. There are no real things like ‘torture light.’ The world community I think is going to hold the United States responsible, and if we don’t proceed, somebody is going to proceed.” [Raw Story, 5/1/2009; MSNBC, 5/1/2009]
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