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by Kenneth J. Theisen
Saturday, May. 27, 2006 at 2:11 PM
Attorney General Gonzales is using the Justice Department as a political tool to silence and intimidate Bush regime critics, but his actions may have backfired.
On the weekend of May 20, 2006 the Bush regime launched an attack on the separation of powers doctrine and the right of a free press. Significantly, both attacks originated with the actions and words of Attorney General Gonzales, the chief law enforcer (or is that breaker) in the nation. These attacks are part of the continuing effort to expand the imperial presidency or the unitary executive theory under this administration and to eliminate any so-called checks and balances between the branches of government.
The first attack broke precedent and crossed the separation of powers line between the presidency and Congress. On Saturday, May 20, more than a dozen FBI agents conducted an overnight search of the Congressional office of Representative William J. Jefferson (D-La.). Ostensibly the search was conducted as part of an ongoing bribery investigation. Jefferson is accused of taking bribes for promoting business ventures in Africa. The search was authorized by Gonzales. (As I write this, Congress and the President have brokered a deal to turn over the seized records to the Solicitor General and to seal the records for 45 days. This does not change the fundamental character of what is at stake. Bush admitted as much in his statement on the deal, “Our government has not faced such a dilemma in more than two centuries…it is clear these differences will require more time to be worked out.”)
The very next day, Gonzales appeared on ABC’s This Week but not to talk about the search. He was asked if journalists could be prosecuted for publishing classified information. He responded by saying, “There are some statutes on the book which, if you read the language carefully, would seem to indicate that that is a possibility.” He was also asked about the investigation into the leaks to the New York Times that led to the revelation of the National Security Agency’s surveillance of phone calls and emails. He responded, “We are engaged now in an investigation about what would be the appropriate course of action in that particular case, so I’m not going to talk about it specifically…We have an obligation to enforce the law and to prosecute those who engage in criminal activity.” During the interview he also admitted that the Bush administration would not hesitate to track phone calls made by reporters as part of a criminal leaks investigation.
The overnight search of congressional offices has raised even the ire of long-term Bush supporters. Dennis Hastert, the Speaker of the House stated, The actions of the Justice Department in seeking and executing this warrant raise important Constitutional issues that go well beyond the specifics of this case…since the founding of our Republic 219 years ago, the Justice Department has never found it necessary to do what it did Saturday night, crossing the Separation of Powers line.” House Majority Leader John Boehner, told reporters that Congress will deal with, “this issue of the Justice Department’s invasion of the legislative branch.”
(As I write this, further developments indicate that these attacks are out of control. ABC news has reported that an unnamed law enforcement source says that Hastert is “in the mix” of an ongoing federal investigation of bribery and influence peddling. Hastert charged that the leak came from the Justice Department as retaliation for his objections to the Congressional search. “This is one of the leaks that come out to try to, you know, intimidate people,” Hastert told a radio station.)
What would drive the Bush regime to so openly attack the New York Times and the media and raise concerns even among right-wing congress members on the same weekend by conducting an “invasion” of Congress? It would appear that these actions are an attempt to expand presidential powers, to break down even the few limits that a compliant Congress and media have attempted to set up since Bush took office.
The attacks are in keeping with past precedent of the administration. In conducting the NSA surveillance the administration circumvented the courts. Even though the FISA court granted almost all requests for wiretaps, the President bypassed even this minimal restriction. In obtaining tens of millions of phone records the administration merely signed contracts to do so with the phone companies. In launching and conducting the war in Iraq the regime just ignored numerous international laws, as it did in its treatment of prisoners. As we now know, the Geneva Convention and other laws that forbid torture are quaint in the eyes of Attorney General Gonzales.
It has become abundantly clear that Bush chafes at any limits on his power. Years ago, Richard Nixon in an interview with David Frost stated if the president does it, “that means it is not illegal.” In a written answer to the Senate Select Committee investigating his domestic intelligence operation, Nixon elaborated on his interpretation of the unitary executive theory, “It is quite obvious that there are certain inherent governmental actions which undertaken by the sovereign…are lawful but which if undertaken by private persons are not.” Bush seems to expand this theory to the proposition that what he does is legal under his “inherent powers” as the sovereign and if someone exposes or opposes what he does, they are acting illegally.
The Bush regime has attacked the courts and judges when they have interfered with its plans. It has refused fair trials to those accused as “terrorists” or “enemy combatants.” It limits the access to courts, attorneys and other legal rights. It refuses to seek warrants even when they are rubberstamped by the FISA court. It has consistently appointed right-wing judges in an effort to control the courts. Inconvenient laws are just ignored.
The legislative branch is allegedly a co-equal branch of government as are the federal courts. But even though the Bush regime has a majority of both houses it does not want to share power for fear that this will interfere with its ability to consolidate total control. It even refuses to go before Congress to change laws that it believes the president can ignore or re-interpret. This president has also made unprecedented use of signing statements.
These are statements the president issues when he signs a bill. Since 2001, Bush has issued 750 signing statements. In these statements he writes caveats and his own interpretation of the laws stating which parts he intends to ignore or twist to his view. Congress has not challenged the President on these statements. For instance when he finally signed the bill outlawing torture of detainees, his signing statement stated, “The executive branch shall construe [the law] in a manner consistent with the constitutional authority of the President… as Commander in Chief.” In other words, if I want to order torture, I will, and Congress be damned.
The search of the Congressional office, the failure to consult Congress or at least the majority around surveillance, and the signing statements are all consistent with the Bush regime’s view that the executive branch is supreme. The other branches of government must follow the President’s lead. The administration will undoubtedly continue to neutralize the legislative and judicial branches.
The press is often considered the “fourth branch” of government. Obviously Gonzales’ statements are an attempt to neutralize this branch as well as the other two. No one in the media has missed the message inherent in these statements. We may prosecute you if you report on our secret activities. Of course the occasional jailing of reporters for protecting sources has also helped deliver this message loud and clear. And the administration has done this too and will continue to do so. But for the most part intimidation has worked well enough at least with the mainstream media. Look upon Sunday’s statements as a warning to the press. Of course it is a warning backed up by real jails and the Chief law enforcement officer of the U.S.
The bottom line that this administration is delivering to Congress and the media with these recent attacks is that they better fall in line. The Bush regime needs to consolidate power here at home so that it can continue to dominate and expand its power abroad. Dissent, even of the mildest kind, can not be tolerated. Keep your mouth shut and fall into lockstep with our regime or face the consequences. It has all the subtlety of the horse head in the bed in the Godfather movie. But then this regime does not see the need for subtlety.
We need to understand that the Bush regime is acting out of desperation with these recent actions. Bush’s approval ratings are in a downward spiral. The vast majority see what the policies of this administration have done to the world. The regime is trying to silence critics because it realizes that people will no longer put up with its lies. While we need to deplore these attacks, we also need to seize the opportunity to further arouse the anger that exists toward the regime. We need to direct this anger toward action to drive the Bush regime from power. For more information on how to do this, see worldcantwait.org.
Kenneth J. Theisen is an organizer with The World Can’t Wait! Drive Out the Bush Regime! He frequently writes on national and international issues.
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