So Much For The Constitution

Ken AshfordConstitution1 Comment

"A U.S. attorney would not be permitted to bring contempt charges or convene a grand jury in an executive privilege case," said a senior official, who said his remarks reflect a consensus within the administration. "And a U.S. attorney wouldn’t be permitted to argue against the reasoned legal opinion that the Justice Department provided. No one should expect that to happen."

The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the issue publicly, added: "It has long been understood that, in circumstances like these, the constitutional prerogatives of the president would make it a futile and purely political act for Congress to refer contempt citations to U.S. attorneys."

Mark J. Rozell, a professor of public policy at George Mason University who has written a book on executive-privilege issues, called the administration’s stance "astonishing."

"That’s a breathtakingly broad view of the president’s role in this system of separation of powers," Rozell said. "What this statement is saying is the president’s claim of executive privilege trumps all."

When you break this Washington Post article down to its essence, it says this:

"According to the Bush Administration, nobody in the Bush Administration can be prosecuted for contempt (i.e., failing to comply with a congressional subpoena) because the prosecutors themselves (i.e., the DOJ) are within the Bush Administration and must do the Bush Administration’s budding."

Or, put more simply, the Bush White House is now claiming that they can break the law, because they are the law.

Scary times we live in.  Eric Alterman thinks we’re dangerously close to a constitutional crisis:

So we have come this far: The president and vice president assert a right to defy the law, and if Congress lets them get away with it, then the law is not the law.

6 years ago, bin Laden wanted to destroy the fabric of America.  He took thousands of lives and some very expensive real estate, but he ultimately failed in destroying the things that America stood for.  Bush, on the other hand, has succeeded where bin Laden failed.

Greenwald nails it down:

What is most significant is, as always, the underlying theory on which this claim is based. From the Post article:

David B. Rifkin, who worked in the Justice Department and White House counsel’s office under presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, praised the position and said it is consistent with the idea of a "unitary executive." In practical terms, he said, "U.S. attorneys are emanations of a president’s will." And in constitutional terms, he said, "the president has decided, by virtue of invoking executive privilege, that is the correct policy for the entire executive branch."

Just contemplate what that actually means. One of the primary, defining attributes of a civilized society that lives under the rule of law is prosecutorial independence. Without that, political opponents of those in power can be prosecuted for political rather than legal reasons. And worse still, our most powerful political leaders are free to break the law with impunity because they control the prosecutorial process, which — in this warped view of our republic — means that presidents have an absolute power to block criminal prosecution of their subordinates who break the law, provided it was done at the President’s behest.

The administration’s theory is an absolute denial of prosecutorial independence. It means that federal prosecutors are nothing more than obedient servants of the President. They are not merely appointed by the President, but their specific decisions about whether to prosecute executive branch officials for criminal acts are controlled and dictated by the President. They are nothing more, as Rifkin said, than "emanations of the president’s will."

It is hard to overstate how threatening that posture is to the defining attribute of a government that lives under the rule of law.

He adds:

The theory they are touting places criminal Executive Branch employees beyond the reach of courts, and means that they would have the right to defy any court which rejects their theory and rules against them. Though they have not yet explicitly exercised that court-defying power, they clearly believe they possess it.