Don’t Get Me Started, Regulars and Shorts

Don’t Get Me Started: Presidential Prerogatives

By John deJong

Will Congress and the American people succeed in their efforts "to sap and impurify" the precious presidential prerogatives?
by John deJong

Will Congress and the American people succeed in their efforts "to sap and impurify"* the precious presidential prerogatives?

It's a strange turn of events that the person most directly responsible for upholding the laws of our country has worked the hardest to undermine those very laws. Then again, maybe it's not so strange; every Republican president since Richard Nixon has appointed attorney generals who seek to strengthen the presidency at the expense of the other two branches of our government. My reading of history is that America's strong system of separation of powers and checks and balances was designed to thwart the reign of another king like George the Third.

We are now faced with damning evidence of the abuses of power by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who is essentially the Chancellor (counselor) to another George who fancies himself king.

One conservative pundit thought it unfair to call for Gonzales' resignation because no single thing Gonzales has done has risen, he thought, to a firing offense. But Gonzales' sole purpose in the Bush administration seems to have been to undermine the Constitution and the treaties and conventions to which the United States is a party. Signing letters, extraordinary rendition, secret detention, unauthorized domestic eavesdropping, no right of habeas corpus-Gonzales' fingerprints are all over the Bush administration's most blatant abuses of our constitution. Even the inept FBI, which reports to Gonzales, should be able to trip over enough evidence to indict him for a failure to uphold the Constitution that rises to the level of treason.

I would expect Bush to stand by his man to the bitter end. Bush has always been a "my man, right or wrong" type and expects the same from his minions as well as Congress and the American people.

Bush says he's standing on principle in not allowing Karl Rove, Harriet Miers and other presidential staff to testify to Congress under oath. Which principles would those be? The principles of a dictator? The principles of a spoiled child? The principles of a band of thieves?

Why is it every time a Republican president gets in trouble for abusing the powers of the presidency they invoke "presidential privilege" in their efforts to conceal their abuses? Their interpretation of "presidential privilege" seems to be that no one in the executive branch owes Congress, the courts or the American people any explanation for their actions. And further, that any explanation they do offer can be a pack of lies.

Bush has offered to let Karl Rove, Harriet Miers and others in the loop have conversations with "select" members of the Congressional committees investigating Attorney Generalgate – as long as they aren't "forced" to swear an oath to tell the truth and no recording of the conversations are made.

What's wrong with swearing to tell the truth? The first condition is important to the White House because if Rove and Miers tell the truth about Attorney Generalgate, it'll blow the lid off the whole scandal. Political operatives in the White House were elbow deep in the firings. The second condition is important because it allows Bush royalists in Congress to dispute any information that comes out of the conversations.

Monica Goodling, the Justice Department's liaison with the White House, has refused to testify before the Senate Judiciary committee, citing her fifth-amendment right not to incriminate herself. It would be unfair to judge everyone who invokes the fifth as guilty or having something to hide. After all, most people who plead the fifth are nice old grandmothers who never did anything wrong in their lives. Goodling's lawyer stated that Ms. Goodling could not receive a fair hearing before the Senate Judiciary committee. If she can't receive a fair hearing in the Senate where can she? The BYU law school moot court?

Gonzales' defense has been that he delegated the firing to an underling. Do you really believe that firing nearly one in 10 federal prosecutors is something a responsible executive would delegate? The real reason Gonzales delegated such a task was to provide himself with plausible deniability. That old, tried-and-true CIA trick of keeping the scene of the crime free from the fingerprints of upper-level management. Oliver North proved its value in the Iran-Contra scandal during the Reagan/Bush administration when he took the bullet for upper-level management. Everyone in the upper levels of Reagan's administration knew what was going on from the moment Reagan said "make it so," The reason Oliver North was the only person indicted was because Reagan invoked "presidential privilege," and no records of the meetings and conversations where the operation was discussed were available to Congress or prosecutors.

Why is it that whenever Republicans are caught doing something wrong, they accuse Democrats of "playing politics" whenever the wrong-doing is mentioned? With Attorney Generalgate they are essentially saying that there is nothing wrong with playing politics with the federal prosecutor positions across the country-that the people most responsible for seeing justice done are no more than pawns in a political struggle the Bush administration will use any means to win.

It comes down to Bush's boast that he is the decider. Judging by the fanaticism of the palace guard, he has obviously been getting "You're the decider, boss" from a chorus of greasy sycophants. But George and his sycophants have got it wrong; according to our Constitution, no one branch of government is the decider. In America the people are the deciders. Only in a dictatorship are the legislative and judicial branches rubber stamps for the executive branch.

* General Ripper, a machismo madman who fears the degradation of his male potency and sexual functioning, reasons that his actions will forestall the Soviet plot to fluoridate US drinking water: "I can no longer sit back and allow Communist infiltration, Communist indoctrination, Communist subversion, and the international Communist conspiracy to sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids."
– from "Dr. Strangelove," 1964

This article was originally published on March 31, 2007.