Obama Executive Power Watch

Wednesday, February 18th, 2009

Bruce Fein writes…

Mr. Obama invoked the state secrets privilege a second time last week to block litigation challenging the legality of the Bush-Cheney “Terrorist Surveillance Program” (TSP) that he had assailed as a senator. For five years, the TSP targeted American citizens on American soil for electronic surveillance on the president’s say-so alone to gather foreign intelligence in contravention of the warrant requirement of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).

And then there’s this potential calamity in the offing:

Then-Sen. Obama descried the Bush-Cheney invocation of executive privilege to prevent former White House officials Karl Rove and Harriet Miers from even responding to congressional subpoenas for testimony about the firings of nine United States attorneys. That extravagant and unprecedented claim would have enabled President Nixon to muzzle his Watergate nemesis, former White House counsel John Dean, from testifying before the Senate Watergate Committee about Oval Office conversations implicating the president in obstruction of justice. Mr. Obama, however, is now hedging over whether to defend Mr. Rove’s non-responsiveness to a new congressional subpoena.

If Obama allows Rove to claim executive privilege to duck that subpoena, it’s a pretty good sign that he has no intention whatsoever of walking back Bush’s executive power grabs. Allowing Rove to claim executive privilege well after he’s no longer in public office would make any future investigation of the Bush administration nearly impossible.

I guess the one positive that would come out of that is that we’d get to see who on the left was sincere when calling out the danger in Bush’s expansive view of executive power these last eight years, and who’s willing to let it all slide so long as their own guy is holding the reins.

Obama got off to an encouraging start. Unfortunately, it looks like it didn’t take him long at all to begin to realize that any serious effort to curb the excesses of the Bush administration—excesses he excoriated as a senator and candidate—would also limit his own power.

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36 Responses to “Obama Executive Power Watch”

  1. #1 |  mcmillan | 

    One lefty here that’s disappointed to see this. What makes it worse is this seemed like one of the areas that Obama had some principles, so to see him going back on this really doesn’t look good.

  2. #2 |  Brandon Bowers | 

    One other positive: this HackWatch entry would practically write itself.

  3. #3 |  Thomas Paine's Goiter | 

    Fuck him. Fuck everything about this administration, and fuck everyone that voted for him.

    He’s going to save all of these idiots that couldn’t afford the houses they purchased, screwing over the rest of us that can afford the house we purchased. He’s not ending the war in Iraq, he’s increasing involvement in Afghanistan. He’s not giving up executive privilege that he thought was so evil THREE FUCKING MONTHS AGO.

    Fuck this cult of personality. I’m ready for the next one already.

  4. #4 |  Dave Krueger | 

    That sucks. I really expected Obama to undo the Bush power grabs that he complained about so pointedly when he was a candidate. You know, like the Democrats rolled back all the Republican backed excesses of the Patriot Act when they got control of Congress…

  5. #5 |  Helmut O' Hooligan | 

    “I guess the one positive that would come out of that is that we’d get to see who on the left was sincere when calling out the danger in Bush’s expansive view of executive power these last eight years, and who’s willing to let it all slide so long as their own guy is holding the reins.”

    Fair point, Radley. Call out hypocrites wherever you see them.

    The afterglow of the inauguration is starting to wear off for me. Perhaps that’s because I’m a liberal who’s still very in touch w/ the ideas of Classical Liberalism (and reads libertarian magazines, blogs, etc.). If the progressives totally give in to the statist impulses that led me to stop calling myself a “progressive,” then one point will become clear, to my chagrin: the progressives are merely a different side of the same authoritarian coin. I hope this doesn’t happen.

  6. #6 |  Mike Healy | 

    Never trust a politician. We should know better.

  7. #7 |  Helmut O' Hooligan | 

    Off topic, but for anyone that’s interested, Rick Sanchez (CNN) is covering the police-involved shooting in Bellaire, TX that Radley covered awhile ago (black male shot alllegedly because officers thought car was stolen, etc.).

  8. #8 |  freedomfan | 

    To repeat, start selling stock in the company that produces “HOPE” T-shirts and buying stock in the producer of “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss” T-shirts.

    BTW, the left needs to think twice about letting Obama slide on this. The right lost its brand because it let Bush slide one fiscal issues, thinking, “Maybe the gonzo spending isn’t so bad when our guy is in charge of it.” It has long been a myth that GOP politicians lead the party of smaller government, looking out for taxpayers in terms of spending and regulation, but it was a myth that served them well in getting voters to the ballot box. There is a similar myth that the Democrat politicians reign in government and look out for people’s civil liberties. If the left sits by while Obama dispels that myth, they may be looking at an alienated and apathetic core constituency just like the GOP did in ’06 and ’08.

  9. #9 |  TomMil | 

    What this really proves is that there is no remedy for this crap on even the very distant horizon. If Obama is not going to walk this stuff back I think it’s safe to say that none of the other major candidates would either. Paul and Kucinich never had a chance. We aren’t gonna be able to rely on Congress and I’m not hopeful that the Supremes are gonna walk these power grabs back. So we are left with a Republic that does not resemble the one created by the Constitution and no way to fix the problem.

  10. #10 |  Ben | 

    Mike Healy: Never trust a politician. We should know better.

    This. We only have ourselves to blame, though. We, as citizens of the United States have sanctioned these abuses by reelecting congresspeople, senators and presidents that lie, cheat and, worst of all, are not leaders.

    I, myself, thought that Obama might actually be a leader. How wrong I was. I can not, however, say that I voted for him.

  11. #11 |  Chuchundra | 

    Maybe it’s just me, but I think we need a better source than Bruce Fein at the Moonie Times.

    I don’t want to play the apologist here. I’m pretty disappointed by this stuff as well. But it hasn’t even been a month that Obama’s been in office. He’s only had an Attorney General for like a week now. And if haven’t been paying attention, he’s been dealing with a lot of shit.

    It’s maybe not completely unreasonable to think that there might be some complex policy and national security issues that need to be cleared before the administration feels comfortable un-asserting the state secrets privilege in these cases. Once the government gives up the privilege, they can’t just take it back if there’s an error.

  12. #12 |  Kristen | 

    I’m very, very, very, very, very disappointed. And I didn’t even vote for him.

    What a clusterfuck.

  13. #13 |  John Jenkins | 

    Well, *I’m* shocked. Really. This is my sincere face.

  14. #14 |  Radley Balko | 

    Maybe it’s just me, but I think we need a better source than Bruce Fein at the Moonie Times.

    Fein did work in the Reagan administration. But he also called for the impeachment of both Bush and Cheney.

    I don’t think you can dismiss him as a partisan.

  15. #15 |  Billy | 

    One lefty here that’s disappointed to see this. What makes it worse is this seemed like one of the areas that Obama had some principles, so to see him going back on this really doesn’t look good.

    You shouldn’t be. I once had a little “hope” – then he not only flipped on FISA and telecom immunity but ignored everyone who tried to hold him to his word. Note well shortly after that AT&T pumped tons of money into the Democratic convention. Et cetera. But, hey – at least the man can speak, and that’s a definite step up…

  16. #16 |  Kristen | 

    Well, there’s always the Post: http://tinyurl.com/abey26

    Or, a news.google.com seach for “state secrets”…just pick your poison.

  17. #17 |  Tim C | 

    I’d say Obama’s insincerity certainly shouldn’t be any surprise whatsoever. The man has a demonstrated history of lying, power-lust, and having pretty questionable associations with various anti-Americans. Any of this was obvious to anyone willing to dig around the web even a little bit – and after the MSM’s farcical election coverage, and utter failure to question these things that damn well should have been questioned, I’d say it’s hopelessly naive to expect said media to point out any of Der Annointed Fuhrer’s faults, reversals, lies, inconsistencies, etc, unless things get so bad that it’s impossible to ignore.

  18. #18 |  rp BUCKmurphy | 

    I refuse to make my emails public, no matter what anyone anywhere says, they are mine and only mine, why should Ihave to give them up. It is my right as a free American(at least for now) to keep my emails private, as they should be private in a private way. Did anyone complain about privacy when jackie chan wanted to keep his emails private? uhh no….so then why should I make my emails public? If I would make them public this could set a precedent concerning the privacy of emails, I am going to take a stand even if it means going to jail, stand with me in the fight for email privacy.

  19. #19 |  Michael Chaney | 

    But, hey – at least the man can speak, and that’s a definite step up…

    That’s a *huge* step down – that means he can continue to sucker the starry-eyed idiots who have been believing him all along.

  20. #20 |  Cynical in CA | 

    Couldn’t these types of stories be filed under, “Too Obvious to Bother Posting About?”

  21. #21 |  BamBam | 

    left/right is a false dichotomy. The words imply that the camps that claim each label are at polar opposites on the ideology spectrum. They are both very close to each other, therefore they can’t be accurately called left/right. The true polar opposites are those that represent anarchy (0%) and total fascism (100%). I submit that the left/right of today are at around 80% on this more accurate spectrum.

  22. #22 |  Helmut O' Hooligan | 

    #21 BamBam:
    Point well taken. The tired old left v. right “political spectrum” has been outdated for a long time. Libertarians realize this, which is why they often use a diamond shaped model, rather than some silly straight line.

    Has anyone here taken the “Political Compass” ideology test? I always wind up just slightly left-of-center and way down into the libertarian section. I think this test is a bit more convincing than some others. I will say I disagree with the fact that they show Milton Friedman as a far right-winger, because I believe someone who is truly “far-right” would advocate feudalism and/or corporatism, not free-market capitalism.

  23. #23 |  Tim C | 

    #21 BamBam – no shit! :) I.e, the only difference between the left and the right is that the left gets all pissy when the right does what Obama’s doing. @#%*&#@%)(*

  24. #24 |  Tim C | 

    OOOOH I hate automatic emoticons, I mean the damn ascii : )

  25. #25 |  AMW | 


    92% COMPLETE

  26. #26 |  DonH | 

    So when do we get to start calling it the “Bush-Cheney-Obama” Terrorist Surveillance Program?

  27. #27 |  Burrow Owl | 

    Tim C at #17:

    You took the words right out of my mouth.

    My alarm bells really started ringing when he picked Jackass Joe Biden to be his running mate.
    As he started naming off his cabinet/staff picks the alarms bells turned into air raid alarms- and the damned things keep getting louder.

  28. #28 |  Nick T | 

    #11 Chuchundra

    You have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about. “Obama’s” DOJ lawyers could have asked for more time with the court before taking a stand on the state’s secret issue; the ACLU would not have objected and it’s almost certain the court would have allowed them more time if they cited the not-yet-3-week-oldness of the administration. They didn’t even ask. So the “it’s only been a month of blah blah blah” is utter crap. Sorry.

    Secondly, the statement that they could not reclaim the privilege once they gave it up is BLATANTLY false. The state secret doctrine has existed for a long time but it has always been used to exclude *specific documents or infomration* from coming into evidence during a hearing. You do not need to claim this at the outset of the trial in order to be able to object when those documents come up any more than you have to make an argument against hearsay at the outset of a trial.

    The problem is that the state secrets document was never used to dismiss lawsuits altogether. The distinction between those two concepts is the essence of complaints by civil libertarians. Even the ACLU agrees the state secrets doctrine is a valid one,it’s just being applied unlawfully here.

    Sadly, I know you’ve heard your opinion on tv or whatever but ABOLSUTELY NONE of it is even remotely accurate.

  29. #29 |  Cynical In CA | 

    “Has anyone here taken the “Political Compass” ideology test?”

    Mmmm hmmm. I’m off the chart.

  30. #30 |  Helmut O' Hooligan | 

    #29 Cynical:

    “Mmmm hmmm. I’m off the chart.”

    Now I find that hard to believe (making my astonished face).

    BTW, did you agree with my point about Friedman.

  31. #31 |  Steam McQueen | 

    Decisively proving once again that if voting could really change things, it would be illegal.

  32. #32 |  Nicholas | 

    Can someone take a stab at a question for me?

    From what I’ve read there aren’t much in the way for “set rules” on Executive Privilege.

    Does EP carry over from one administration to another?

    Is it less formal than that (ie more of a co-operative agreement between administrations that they respect EP of previous admins)?

    Is Rove’s attorney wanting Obama to play arbitrateur because he’s betting it’ll bolster his case or because Obama has an official role in the matter?

    Any thoughts or relevant case law would be appreciated. Thanks.

  33. #33 |  scott in phx | 

    Sorry to dissappoint all the frothingj-at-the-mouth Bush hating zeolots but Obama and the Democrats are a far greater threat to liberty than Bush ever was (not that he was/is not dangerous – as ALL gov’t officials are).

    Don’t look for the LEFT to call him on this. They WANT a totalitarian gov’t – trouble is they’re going to get one that squashes them too.

    I’d be laughing if it wasn’t so terrifying.

  34. #34 |  Buck | 

    McCain / Palin would have been more fucked up but admittedly more amusing.

  35. #35 |  Li | 

    To be frank; I think he is afraid. Afraid of the consequences of letting all of these abuses come to light. Afraid of being compelled to arrest and try large numbers of former administration officials. And afraid of the fact that two of the people that would surely have to be sent to the Hague are Nancy and Harry. He is making a false choice; he must be reasoning “I have to work with congress and the Republicans, so I can’t allow these crimes to come to light.” False, because these actions ruin his brand and will inevitably block the only route to real change that he has; that is, the co-operation of the freedom loving people of America. And also false, in that working with lawless criminals inevitably makes you a criminal yourself, and there is no stricture against impeaching a Democratic president in this country. .

  36. #36 |  Jason | 

    Did anyone SERIOUSLY think Obama would do anything to limit his own power? Seriously? He rose from obscurity to POTUS in about 5 years, but he’s not in it for the power. Ha! He’s a democrat, but he doesn’t believe in big government. Ha!