Balkinization  

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Nixon's Ghost

JB

Then:

Mr. David Frost: So what in a sense you're saying is that there are certain situations . . . where the President can decide that it's in the best interests of the nation or something, and do something illegal.

Mr. Nixon: Well, when the President does it, that means that it is not illegal.

Mr. Frost: By definition.

Mr. Nixon: Exactly. If the President, for example, approves something, approves an action because of national security, or, in this case, because of a threat to internal peace and order, of significant magnitude, then the President's decision in that instance is one that enables those who carry it out to carry it out without violating a law. Otherwise they're in an impossible position.

Now:

SPECTER: Was the [domestic wiretapping] program reauthorized without the requisite certification by the attorney general or acting attorney general?

COMEY: Yes.

SPECTER: So it went forward illegally.

COMEY: Well, that's a complicated question. It went forward without certification from the Department of Justice as to its legality.

SPECTER: But the certification by the Department of Justice as to legality was indispensable as a matter of law for the program to go forward, correct?

COMEY: I believed so.

SPECTER: Then it was going forward illegally.

COMEY: Well, the only reason I hesitate is that I'm no presidential scholar. But if a determination was made by the head of the executive branch that some conduct was appropriate, that determination -- and lawful -- that determination was binding upon me, even though I was the acting attorney general, as I understand the law. And so, I either had to go along with that or leave. And I believed that I couldn't stay -- and I think others felt this way as well -- that given that something was going forward that we had said we could not certify as to its legality.

SPECTER: Well, I can understand why you would feel compelled to resign in that context, once there had been made a decision by the executive branch, presumably by the president or by the president, because he was personally involved in the conversations, that you would resign because something was going forward which was illegal. The point that I'm trying to determine here is that it was going forward even though it was illegal.

. . . .

SPECTER: OK. Well, now I understand why you didn't say [continuing the NSA program without Justice Department reauthorization] was illegal. What I don't understand is why you now won't say it was legal.

COMEY: Well, I suppose there's an argument -- as I said, I'm not a presidential scholar -- that because the head of the executive branch determined that it was appropriate to do, that that meant for purposes of those in the executive branch it was legal. I disagreed with that conclusion. Our legal analysis was that we couldn't find an adequate legal basis for aspects of this matter. And for that reason, I couldn't certify it to its legality.

Comments:

Assuming one doesn't believe that a king (sorry, "unitary executive") sits in the White House, how is this not an impeachable offense?

Just asking.
 

First of all, jaywalking would be an impeachable offense if Conyers had his way. Second, just because the "Unitary Executive" basis has not been tested before the Supreme Court doesn't mean it's unconstitutional.
 

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