Will Obama roll back the Bush tyranny and restore the rule of law?
From the coming Times Magazine, by Jonathon Mahler:
Bruce Fein [see Bill Moyers interview], a Justice Department lawyer in the Reagan administration who is now a critic of presidential power, told me a few weeks ago that he expects the next president to “take everything Bush has given him and wield it with even greater confidence because Congress has given him a safe harbor to do so with impunity.”
Why on earth would he think that?
A number of administration officials have invoked executive privilege rather than answer questions at hearings; others have simply refused to show up altogether, often ignoring subpoenas in the process. While hardly pleased, the Democrats have yet to issue a single contempt-of-Congress citation.
Nor has the Democratic Congress made much use of the rest of its tools against the executive branch. Take, for instance, the Senate’s power to confirm appointments. When President Bush nominated Michael Mukasey to serve as attorney general in the fall of 2007, the Senate could have easily insisted on any number of conditions before confirming him, even something as simple as a public statement that the president is bound by the laws passed by Congress. ... The Senate made no such preconditions with respect to Mukasey. In fact, he was confirmed even after stating during his confirmation hearing that the administration’s secret surveillance program was not illegal because the president has the right to ignore statutory law if he thinks it’s necessary to defend the country.
At the president’s urging, the new FISA bill, which Obama and McCain supported, also went a step further, granting immunity to telecom companies that cooperated with the government’s secret surveillance program. As a result, we will probably never know how many people were spied on, what criteria were used to select them and what was done with the information gleaned from the wiretaps.
Now, it is true, and Mahler duly notes it, that Obama, answering the invaluable Charlie Savage's questionnaire, said encouraging things like "The President is not above the law." But a questionnaire is a questionnaire, and a vote is a vote.
What does the law mean when corporations that break it get retroactive immunity?
What does the law mean when the lawbreakers are never held accountable?
What does the law mean when we know the law was broken, and yet we don't know by whom or how badly?
By now, Obama has a legislative record on executive power: His vote for FISA [cough] reform. It's not encouraging. The best way for Obama to support the rule of law would be to hold those who broke it accountable. Will he do that?
NOTE Mahler's article is also interesting because it marks the first time, so far as I know, that "sternly worded letter" has been used in a mainstream publication (at least in a significant article):
Still, apart from the occasional sternly worded letter, Warner tried assiduously to prevent his relationship with Rumsfeld from becoming openly hostile.