Sunday, July 22, 2007

Following In Nixon's Footsteps

By Cernig

The new York Times editorial today says exactly what needs to be said.
Congress has a constitutional right to investigate the purge of nine United States attorneys last year. And there is no doubt that the investigation has unearthed improprieties: several administration officials have already admitted illegal or improper actions involving the politicization of the country’s chief law enforcement agency.

...The next question is how Congress will enforce its right to obtain information, and it is on that point that the administration is said to have made its latest disturbing claim. If Congress holds White House officials in contempt, the next step should be that the United States attorney for the District of Columbia brings the matter to a grand jury. But according to a Washington Post report, the administration is saying that its claim of executive privilege means that the United States attorney would be ordered not to go forward with the case.

There is no legal basis for this obstructionism. The Supreme Court has made clear that executive privilege is not simply what the president claims it to be. It must be evaluated case by case by a court, balancing the need for the information against the president’s interest in keeping his decision-making process private. Mark Rozell, an expert on executive privilege at George Mason University, calls the administration’s stance “almost Nixonian in breadth,” because of its assertion that “the mere utterance of the phrase executive privilege” means that “no other branch has recourse.”

The White House’s extreme position could lead to a constitutional crisis. If the executive branch refused to follow the law, Congress could use its own inherent contempt powers, in which it would level the charges itself and hold a trial. The much more reasonable route for everyone would be to proceed through the courts.

This showdown between a Democratic Congress and a Republican president may look partisan, but it should not. In a year and a half, there could be a Democratic president, and such extreme claims of executive power would be just as disturbing if that chief executive made them.
It's something I wrote about last year, when I suggested that every candidate should be asked to pledge a rollback of Bush's executive overreach should they win the presidency.
Just ask the damn question. It is a simple question and one which is, at base, unfair. It is:

Will you, if elected, pledge to roll back the Bush vision of total Presidential executive power?

Its unfair because, if the answer is no, then the candidate - and I mean for President, Senator, Congresscritter, Governor, whatever - has to launch into an explanation of why he or she thinks Bush's vision of utter power vested in the Oval Office is a good idea. I can't see any Democrat (or Republicans for that matter) being able to carry that one off in a way that will do them any good at all. The soundbite quotes it would hand their political opposition would be devastating. If the answer is "yes" less explanation is required and the soundbites will all be about balance of power and the vision of the Founders - good PR stuff - and then the pressure is there to act as if they mean it.
Such longer-term considerations just don't matter to the Bush administration, though. They have the mindset of asset-strippers - "take what isn't nailed down and split, who cares what happens after you're gone." Their only interest is in delaying the day when they must flee the scene, so that they can continue asset-stripping U.S.A. Inc.

The parallels with Nixon's reign, for veteran writer Robert Stein, are obvious.
The latest Bush move to hide what happened in the firing of the U.S. Attorneys is a perfect match for the Watergate “Saturday Night Massacre.”

...On that memorable Saturday night, the Attorney General and his assistant refused and resigned. Nixon reached down to the third in line, Robert Bork, who did the bloody deed. (Bork’s eagerness later helped deny him confirmation for the Supreme Court.)

That was the beginning of the end for Nixon, whose lawlessness was laid bare for the entire country to see. Less than a year later, in the face of impeachment, he left office.

George Bush won’t have to fire faithful Alberto Gonzales, who will never refuse an order, but their political perversion of the Justice Department is becoming clearer with every move they make to hide it.

Bush won’t be impeached or resign, but he is certain to go down in history with the same stain of misusing Executive Power as his role model, Richard Nixon.
Congress must at least ask the DoJ to act, so that Bush can order it not to. The vast majority of Americans will see that as exactly the kind of overreach which brought down Nixon. Then, with that realisation fresh in everyone's minds, Congress can move forward with "inherent contempt" proceedings.

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