Wednesday, July 19, 2006

"Unitary executive" power: honest belief, or flimsy excuse from the start?

This is one of the most significant stories of the week: Alberto Gonzales acknowledged before the Senate Judiciary Committee that President Bush personally directed the DoJ to deny security clearances to its own Office of Professional Responsibility lawyers so that they could not investigate the NSA warrantless domestic spying program - with the excuse that each extra person who knows about the program is another potential leaker; in other words, the ethics lawyers at the OPR can't be trusted. But when it comes time to investigate who might have leaked information about the program, a huge crowd of lawyers and non-lawyer investigators from a variety of agencies were given security clearances without a second thought, putting paid to the excuse for blocking out the OPR.

Not only that - as the ever-vigilant Glenn Greenwald points out, this clear dichotomy serves as evidence for a culpable mens rea in the White House. The excuse that so many people have named as a last resort - that even if the administration's actions are illegal, they were being pursued with a good faith belief in their legality - is in shambles.

Update - Froomkin also reviews the revelation, comparing it to Nixon's firing of Archibald Cox, and puts it all in perspective: Bush blocked an investigation into the possible unlawfulness of his own program. The OPR had never previously been blocked from making an investigation since it was founded, 31 years ago - amid the effort to protect against any recurrence of the Nixon debacle. How many more parallels will cast this administration as the second coming of Watergate?

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