Friday, February 24, 2006
|WASHINGTON - President Bush's imperial impulses to expand his executive power can only be curbed by Congress. But who is going to tell him?|
With a genuflecting Republican-led Congress in his corner, the president doesn't have to worry much about his end-runs around the law.
It's up to Congress to rein in the White House.
Bush contends the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act which created the FISA court to review classified applications for warrants to spy on Americans doesn't apply to him.
He makes the far-fetched claim that his designation as "commander in chief" and the war resolution passed promptly after the 9-11 terrorist attack give him a constitutional carte blanche to do whatever he chooses to protect the nation.
Unfortunately, some of the president's loyalists are ready to give Bush a free hand to eavesdrop on American citizens without the required court order.
But Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wis., told the Senate in a recent floor speech that the president's admission that he ordered the National Security Agency to spy on Americans on American soil means that "this president is breaking the law."
Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, wants to change the FISA law to legalize Bush's illegal acts. The administration naturally heartily supports such a measure since it would absolve its illegal surveillances from any judicial review.
DeWine also wants to create subcommittees of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees with a professional staff to conduct oversight of the administration's personal prying.
Congressional oversight - at least in this era when Republicans run all three branches of government - is a charade, with party loyalty assuring that there will be few arms-length congressional investigations of the executive branch. Notable exceptions were the House and Senate investigations of the scandalous administration ineptitude in dealing with Hurricane Katrina.
Maybe members of the House and Senate should be reminded that they swore to uphold the U.S. Constitution when they took their seats in Congress.
Among Bush's congressional lackeys, Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kans., is a standout.
Roberts cancelled a vote of his committee last week on whether to investigate Bush's decision to have the NSA tap into overseas phone calls involving American citizens. He said he was working with the White House on amending the law so that the administration can keep on spying on the home front. Therefore, Roberts contends, no inquiry is needed.
As a historical note, the 27-year-old law requiring a court order before federal agencies could engage in domestic spying was passed to correct abuses of government power during the Nixon era. The Nixon administration had members of the White House's National Security Council wiretapped as well as reporters and anti-war protesters.
We know any president can invoke the magic phrase "national security" and scare off a legitimate congressional inquiry.
In a speech last Friday in Tampa, Fla., Bush expressed regret that "we're having this discussion" over wiretapping, maintaining he had to take extraordinary steps in time of war.
"It's too bad because guess who listens to the discussion: the enemy," he added.
Meantime, the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility has started an internal investigation into the department's role in giving the administration a green light to spy without a warrant.
The president obviously feels he is above the law in conducting his self-styled war on terrorism. But it's up to Congress to check his rogue ways.
Helen Thomas can be reached at 202-263-6400 or at the e-mail address firstname.lastname@example.org