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The President, In the Oval, With a Single Order…


          Alex, I’ll take Presidential Ass Covering for $800…

Prof had a thought this morning that I think really needs to be said up front:  I’m no longer going to call it "unitary executive theory."  For this President, it is more accurate to say "unilateral executive."

Which takes us to today’s testimony by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales — and his statement that it was George Bush himself who gave the order to kill the internal DoJ probe into the NSA domestic spying. 

The department’s Office of Professional Responsibility announced earlier this year it could not pursue an investigation into the role of Justice lawyers in crafting the program, under which the National Security Agency intercepts some telephone calls and e-mail without court approval.

At the time, the office said it could not obtain security clearance to examine the classified program.

Under sharp questioning from Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Arlen Specter, Gonzales said that the president would not grant the access needed to allow the probe to move forward.

“It was highly classified, very important and many other lawyers had access. Why not OPR?” asked Specter, R-Pa., referring to the Office of Professional Responsibility.

“The president of the United States makes the decision,” Gonzales told the committee hearing, during which he was strongly criticized on a range of national security issues by Specter and Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, the panel’s senior Democrat.

Let me say that again:  the President himself refused to give the DoJ attorneys clearance to continue their investigation, thus killing any look at the scope or the legality of his Administration’s actions in spying on American phone calls, e-mails or other communications without a warrant and without going to FISA for approval as required by law.

Jane covered this in May:

Much as I have been enjoying myself this evening watching the latest installment of the current left/right blogger food fight (here and esp. here for history), it appears play time is over. The Bush Administration has killed the Justice Department’s investigation into its illegal NSA wiretaps by refusing to grant the attorneys security clearance:

The inquiry headed by the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility, or OPR, sent a fax to Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y., on Wednesday saying they were closing their inquiry because without clearance their lawyers cannot examine Justice lawyers’ role in the program.“We have been unable to make any meaningful progress in our investigation because OPR has been denied security clearances for access to information about the NSA program,” OPR counsel H. Marshall Jarrett wrote to Hinchey.

It’s right in line with what they did last week — finally agreeing to Nancy Pelosi’s request to draw up a list of the members of Congress who were briefed on the program, and then classifying it so she couldn’t see it. It was the childish move of a petulant, power-mad emotional 8 year-old.

And now we know that the order to deny security clearance to the Justice Department attorneys for clearances came from George Bush. Just what is the President so afraid that the DoJ attorneys will find out?

Personally, I’m still waiting for some truth on the whole subject.  As I wrote back in May as well:

The FISA laws were written for a reason — and the prohibitions on the NSA doing any domestic spying have been honored for years because this nation of ours valued our system of laws and our commitment to liberty. That George Bush and his malignant band of cronies have just shoved the FISA laws, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights to the side like so much trash is appalling enough. The fact that the Republicans in Congress have allowed them to do so — by politicizing the Intelligence Committees in both houses and refusing to do the essential oversight hearings that might have actually raised appropriate questions on this illegality; by abdicating their oversight responsiblities as required by their oath to protect the Constitution and uphold our system of checks and balances; by essentially making their own jobs obsolete because they have functioned as nothing more than a rubber stamp for every Bush Administration program that has come down the pike…well, it’s unforgiveable.

Whatever threats have been made to ensure their complicity — either that Rove will turn off the donor tap or something else beyond that — Republicans run Congress and it is high time they started acting like a separate branch of government. Being too weak to hold oversight hearings, and too accommodating to ask the tough questions or issue subpoenas or even put the Attorney General under oath to answer questions is not good enough. Either do your jobs, or stop taking my tax dollars as part of your paychecks — because you sure as hell aren’t earning your salaries.

I expect better. So did our Founders. Shame on them — it’s time for some redemption, though, and some hearings which demand honest and thorough answers. The American public deserves nothing less. It is high time for some truth.

In the same time period, Glenn really hit the nail on the head in terms of the illegal NSA domestic spying — you know, the spying that the President does not want to be investigated by the Department of Justice:

That has all changed. We now learn that when Americans call their Aunt Millie, or their girlfriend, or their psychiatrist, or their drug counselor, or their priest or rabbi, or their lawyer, or anyone and everyone else, the Government is very interested. In fact, they are so interested that they make note of it and keep it forever, so that at any time, anyone in the Government can look at a record of every single person whom every single American ever called or from whom they received a call. It doesn’t take a professional privacy advocate to find that creepy, invasive, dangerous and un-American….

One of the disturbing aspects of the NSA warrantless eavesdropping program was that it was seen by many intelligence professionals as a radical departure from the agency’s tradition of not turning its spying capabilities on the American public domestically. The program disclosed yesterday decimates that tradition by many magnitudes. This is a program where the NSA is collecting data on the exclusively domestic communications of Americans, communicating with one another, on U.S. soil — exactly what the NSA was supposed to never do.

Still waiting on those answers.  Jack Cafferty might want to re-visit his high hopes for Arlen Specter’s ability to get them.  I’m just saying…

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Christy Hardin Smith

Christy Hardin Smith

Christy is a "recovering" attorney, who earned her undergraduate degree at Smith College, in American Studies and Government, concentrating in American Foreign Policy. She then went on to graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania in the field of political science and international relations/security studies, before attending law school at the College of Law at West Virginia University, where she was Associate Editor of the Law Review. Christy was a partner in her own firm for several years, where she practiced in a number of areas including criminal defense, child abuse and neglect representation, domestic law, civil litigation, and she was an attorney for a small municipality, before switching hats to become a state prosecutor. Christy has extensive trial experience, and has worked for years both in and out of the court system to improve the lives of at risk children.

Email: reddhedd AT firedoglake DOT com