Monday, May 29, 2006

addington, cheney and signing statements

this looks like it might get some legs, first reported by charlie savage in yesterday's boston globe and now picked up by the UPI wire. it's worth reading the whole thing but i've pulled what i take to be key passages below.

Cheney aide is screening legislation

WASHINGTON -- The office of Vice President Dick Cheney routinely reviews pieces of legislation before they reach the president's desk, searching for provisions that Cheney believes would infringe on presidential power, according to former White House and Justice Department officials.

The officials said Cheney's legal adviser and chief of staff, David Addington, is the Bush administration's leading architect of the "signing statements" the president has appended to more than 750 laws. The statements assert the president's right to ignore the laws because they conflict with his interpretation of the Constitution.

The Bush-Cheney administration has used such statements to claim for itself the option of bypassing a ban on torture, oversight provisions in the USA Patriot Act, and numerous requirements that they provide certain information to Congress, among other laws.

Previous vice presidents have had neither the authority nor the interest in reviewing legislation. But Cheney has used his power over the administration's legal team to promote an expansive theory of presidential authority. Using signing statements, the administration has challenged more laws than all previous administrations combined.[...]

Knowing that Addington was likely to review the bills, other White House and Justice Department lawyers began vetting legislation with Addington's and Cheney's views in mind, according to another former lawyer in the Bush White House.[...]

Cheney and Addington have a long history. Addington was a Republican staff member on the congressional committee investigating the Iran-Contra scandal in the 1980s, while Cheney was the ranking GOP House member. When Cheney became defense secretary under President George H. W. Bush , he hired Addington as Pentagon counsel.[...]

In October, when Cheney's former chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby , was indicted for perjury and resigned, Cheney replaced Libby with Addington.[...]

The use of signing statements was rare until the 1980s, when President Ronald W. Reagan began issuing them more frequently. His successors continued the practice. George H. W. Bush used signing statements to challenge 232 laws over four years, and Bill Clinton challenged 140 over eight years, according to Christopher Kelley, a political science professor at Miami University of Ohio.[...]

Bush has used the signing statements to waive his obligation to follow the new laws. In addition to the torture ban and oversight provisions of the Patriot Act, the laws Bush has claimed the authority to disobey include restrictions against US troops engaging in combat in Colombia, whistle-blower protections for government employees, and safeguards against political interference in taxpayer-funded research.[...]

Mainstream legal scholars across the political spectrum reject Cheney's expansive view of presidential authority, saying the Constitution gives Congress the power to make all rules and regulations for the military and the executive branch and the Supreme Court has consistently upheld laws giving bureaucrats and certain prosecutors the power to act independently of the president.[...]

In December 2005, shortly after the warrantless wiretapping program was exposed, Cheney gave a rare press conference to explain why he believed the program was legal. ...He told reporters to read a 1987 report whose production he oversaw when he was a leading Republican in the House of Representatives. The report offered a dissenting view about the Iran-Contra scandal.[...]

A congressional committee issued a 427-page report concluding that a "cabal of zealots" in the administration who had "disdain for the law" had violated the statute. But some of the Republicans on the committee, led by Cheney, refused to endorse that finding. They issued their own 155-page report asserting the real problem was Congress passing laws that intruded into a president's authority to run foreign policy and national security.

"Judgments about the Iran-Contra affair ultimately must rest upon one's views about the proper roles of Congress and the president in foreign policy," Cheney's report said. "The fundamental law of the land is the Constitution. Unconstitutional statutes violate the rule of law every bit as much as do willful violations of constitutional statutes."

Cheney's report includes a lengthy argument that the Constitution puts the president beyond the reach of Congress when it comes to national security. Some 18 years later, the Justice Department would repeat these same arguments in a 42-page memo arguing that Bush's warrantless wiretapping program is a lawful exercise of presidential power.

further evidence (as if we needed any) that these people are not conservatives but authoritarians and that we are in the midst of unprecedented abuses of executive power. can a vice-president be impeached?

(thanks to laura rozen for the tip. USN&WR has an extensive profile on addington in today's issue though it was available online as early as wednesday of last week. christy hardin smith at firedoglake has an extended take on this as well.)

(dig also this classic washington times version of reality. headline: "Cheney aide protects Bush on bills." story: "An aide to Vice President Dick Cheney reportedly has the job of seeing to it that new legislation would not infringe on presidential power.")

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