Friday, June 15, 2007

The Myth of Executive Privilege

Just so everyone's up to speed:

The unprecedented firing this year of eight U.S. Attorneys, Conservatives all, led to their coming to Congress to testify on Justice Department improprieties. Compounding these accusations of improper conduct was former interim Attorney General James Comey's tale of Gonzalez, then White House Counsel, trying to strong-arm an ailing Attorney General John Ashcroft, in the middle of the night in his sick bed, into signing onto Bush's domestic spying program.

This led to the questioning of Alberto Gonzalez, who threw his underlings Kyle Sampson and Monica Goodling under the bus. Under questioning from the Senate Judiciary Committee, it came to light that Gonzalez had lied to the committee the first time around. This led to the memorable Gonzalez testimony in which he said he "couldn't recall" specific Justice Department meetings he'd been involved with or memos he'd written more than 60 times.

The Senate and House Judiciary committees, having gone as far up the chain as the evidence has taken them thus far, have both concluded that the list of U.S. Attorneys to be fired was based on purely political reasons, that the eight U.S. Attorneys refused to find and bring charges against Democrats before the '06 election. That same list, the Judiciary Committees concluded, was generated somewhere in the White House.

This week, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Rep. John Conyers (D-NY) issued subpoenas for former White House counsel Harriet Miers and former political director Sara Taylor. The White House has rejected the subpoenas, claiming the President has "Executive Privilege" to keep private any and all internal White House communications. Richard Nixon made the same shaky claims regarding the Watergate tapes, and we all know how that turned out.

However, this idea of "Executive Privilege," of the Executive branch being free from Congressional oversight and public sunshine, exists nowhere outside of the minds of hardcore Republicans. In fact, if you look at the Constitution, the Congress is defined at the first branch of government, considered by the founders as the first among equals because it was closest to the people. In fact, Article 1, Section 6, clearly states that Congressman are allowed "Congressional Privilege," but nowhere in the Constitution is there any mention of a similar privilege for the President.

The President's duty in our democratic government is to faithfully execute the laws as established by Congress. Basically, and I know Conservatives enjoy overlooking this little inconvenient truth, the President's Constitutional job is to do what the Congress says. I know that last statement is a little too broad, and I know that Presidents of both parties (Jefferson, Lincoln, Wilson, Roosevelt) have assumed broad powers and policy control, but the fact remains that the Conservative belief in a unitary executive, and of overarching secretive privilege for the President, is a myth. It wasn't until Watergate and Nixon that the idea came before the Supreme Court, and in The United States v. Richard Nixon the Court ruled that each branch of government owns a small amount of privilege from the others, but only in so much as it pertains to National Security.

In the case of Alberto Gonzalez, Karl Rove, and Attorneygate, while the Republican Party may consider a Republican stranglehold on government akin to National Security, the Constitution, the law, and all common sense, does not. Call and email your Congressfolk, and let's hope they get to the bottom of this political mud hole.

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