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Monday, May 29, 2006

Dick Cheney's omnipotent hand.

The Boston Globe's Charlie Savage filed another front-page report on the Bush administration's zealous use of signing statements on Sunday, finally giving David Addington — Dick Cheney's general counsel — the marquee attention he so richly deserves. Addington and his crew pore over legislation looking for provisions that could challenge Cheney's frighteningly expansive views of executive power. Only when a law has been vetted by Addington, or effectively rewritten by one of his "signing statements," does it go on to the Oval Office for approval. That's one mighty powerful vice president's office.

Who's bothered by the Cheney-Addington approach to legislation? Savage quotes several conservative critics:

Douglas Kmiec, who as head of the Office of Legal Counsel helped develop the Reagan administration's strategy of issuing signing statements more frequently, said he disapproves of the "provocative" and sometimes "disingenuous" manner in which the Bush administration is using them.

Kmiec said the Reagan team's goal was to leave a record of the president's understanding of new laws only in cases where an important statute was ambiguous. Kmiec rejected the idea of using signing statements to contradict the clear intent of Congress, as Bush has done. Presidents should either tolerate provisions of bills they don't like, or they should veto the bill, he said.

"Following a model of restraint, [the Reagan-era Office of Legal Counsel] took it seriously that we were to construe statutes to avoid constitutional problems, not to invent them," said Kmiec, who is now a Pepperdine University law professor.

And on the use of signing statements to declare that Congress can't regulate the use of military or intelligence assets:

One prominent conservative, Richard Epstein of the University of Chicago Law School, said it is "scandalous" for the administration to argue that the commander in chief can bypass statutes in national security matters.

"It's just wrong," Epstein said. "It is just crazy as a matter of constitutional interpretation. There are some pretty clear issues, and this is one of them."

Others have written about Addington before. A few weeks before Bush and Cheney were reelected back in 2004, Dana Milbank profiled Addington (on page A21) for the Washington Post:

[Addington] was a principal author of the White House memo justifying torture of terrorism suspects. He was a prime advocate of arguments supporting the holding of terrorism suspects without access to courts.

Addington also led the fight with Congress and environmentalists over access to information about corporations that advised the White House on energy policy. He was instrumental in the series of fights with the Sept. 11 commission and its requests for information.

This aggressiveness by the executive branch isn't just a problem for Congress; it's also raising tensions with the judiciary:

"Addington adds to the problems the president has with the courts," said Bruce Fein, who was an official in the Reagan Justice Department and worked with Addington during the Iran-contra probe. Fein said Addington is the "intellectual brainchild" of overreaching legal assertions that "have resulted in actually weakening the presidency because of intransigence."

Fein said Cheney and Addington, while arguing that they are reclaiming executive authority, are actually seeking to push it to new levels. Many of the restraints on executive authority — the War Powers act, anti-impoundment legislation, the legislative veto and the independent counsel statute — have already disappeared or become insignificant.

"They're in a time warp," Fein said. "If you look at the facts, presidential powers have never been higher."

For more on the madness of Dick Cheney's team, see Richard Dreyfuss's American Prospect article, "Vice squad."

("Cheney aide is screening legislation: Adviser seeks to protect Bush power," Charlie Savage, Boston Globe 5.28.06, reg req'd; "In Cheney's shadow, counsel pushes the conservative cause," Dana Milbank, Washington Post 10.11.04, reg req'd, via Tapped; "Vice squad," Robert Dreyfuss, American Prospect 4.17.06)

Copyright © 2006 by Philocrites | Posted 29 May 2006 at 9:32 PM

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Doug Muder:

May 31, 2006 05:12 PM | Permalink for this comment

So, I guess that means Addington should be in line for an appellate court nomination sometime soon. Jay Bybee got one after writing the famous "torture memo". William Haynes got one after designing the "enemy combatant" policy.

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