Fred Barbash and Peter Baker of WaPo posted this story a short time ago:
President Bush today offered his most elaborate defense yet of his administration’s domestic eavesdropping program, saying he was legally and constitutionally authorized to implement it and obligated to do so in order to protect the country from a new kind of enemy.
In a wide-ranging news conference this morning, Bush said his authority to have the National Security Agency eavesdrop without judicial involvement derived from his inherent constitutional powers as commander in chief as well as from the authorization for the use of military force approved by Congress in the wake of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. “Congress gave me authority,” he said.
The “inherent powers” argument is nonsense, but I think it’s fascinating the “strict constructionists” could have found powers in the Constitution no one ever noticed before. The same people who can’t see, for example, a right to privacy in the 4th Amendment certainly have developed an expansive view of Article II Section II. And they say the Constitution is not a living document. Haw.
It is true that some presidents, notably Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt, have claimed extraconstitutional “war powers.” But they did so publicly, not secretly, and they did not claim a right to flat-out ignore the Bill of Rights. I believe the closest example is Lincoln’s famous usurpation of the power of Congress to suspend habeas corpus. He argued that there was an emergency (a massive insurgency and widespread civic violence) and Congress was not in session at the time. He obtained consent of Congress after the fact. See further discussion at Findlaw. But what Lincoln did, agree or not, was very much in public view.
As far as the “Congress gave me authority,” argument goes, I can’t see how Congress can give authority to ignore the 4th Amendment, because that’s a power Congress doesn’t have, either. And members of Congress say they did no such thing. “The president has, I think, made up a law that we never passed,” Sen. Russell Feingold said. More here.
Barbash and Baker continue,
He expressed anger at the fact that someone revealed the secret program, saying he assumed the Department of Justice would launch an investigation to determine the source of the leak. “My personal opinion is it was a shameful act for someone to disclose this program in a time of war. . . . The fact that we’re discussing this program is helping the enemy,” he said.
And he was visibly angered when a reporter asked him what limits there were on “unchecked” presidential authority during wartime. “I disagree with your assertion of unchecked power,” Bush said. “There is the check of people being sworn to uphold the law for starters. There is oversight. We’re talking to Congress all the time. . . . To say ‘unchecked power’ is to ascribe dictatorial power to the president, to which I object.”
See, there’s what President Bush says, and then there’s what President Bush does. And I think this revelation of the President’s creative “construction” of his constitutional powers should tell the Senate to be very careful about Sam Alito and other Bush judicial appointees.
“President Bush’s acknowledgment that he unilaterally approved domestic spying is the latest piece of evidence supporting complaints that his White House operates essentially unchecked by the legislative and judicial branches,” says Dan Froomkin.
Update update: Digby.