In a post earlier today about the damage the Bush Administration has done to the Constitutional doctrine of separation of powers, I noted this telling exchange between former President Nixon and David Frost during their now-famous interviews:
FROST: The wave of dissent, occasionally violent, which followed in the wake of the Cambodian incursion, prompted President Nixon to demand better intelligence about the people who were opposing him. To this end, the Deputy White House Counsel, Tom Huston, arranged a series of meetings with representatives of the CIA, the FBI, and other police and intelligence agencies.
These meetings produced a plan, the Huston Plan, which advocated the systematic use of wiretappings, burglaries, or so-called black bag jobs, mail openings and infiltration against antiwar groups and others. Some of these activities, as Huston emphasized to Nixon, were clearly illegal. Nevertheless, the president approved the plan. Five days later, after opposition from J. Edgar Hoover, the plan was withdrawn, but the president’s approval was later to be listed in the Articles of Impeachment as an alleged abuse of presidential power.
FROST: So what in a sense, you’re saying is that there are certain situations, and the Huston Plan or that part of it was one of them, where the president can decide that it’s in the best interests of the nation or something, and do something illegal.
NIXON: Well, when the president does it that means that it is not illegal.
FROST: By definition.
NIXON: Exactly. Exactly. If the president, for example, approves something because of the 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.
WALLACE: This is at the core of the controversies that I want to get to with you in a moment. If the president during war decides to do something to protect the country, is it legal?
CHENEY: General proposition, I’d say yes. You need to be more specific than that. I mean — but clearly, when you take the oath of office on January 20th of 2001, as we did, you take the oath to support and defend and protect the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.
WALLACE: So what rights do the Congress — what constitutional rights do the Congress and the courts have to limit the power of the president when it comes to these matters of national security?
CHENEY: Well, the Congress has — clearly has the ability to write statutes and has certain constitutional authorities granted in the Constitution.
But I would argue that they do not have the right by statute to alter a presidential constitutional power. In other words, you can’t override his constitutional authorities and responsibilities.
So there you have it, if the President decides to do it, it’s not illegal, and it’s not reviewable by Congress.
In essence, the Bush/Cheney Administration spent the last eight years putting into practice the perverted imperialistic view of Executive Branch power that Nixon advocated and attempted to put into practice himself. The result has been a complete trashing of the idea that there are any real limits on the President’s power, and the complete emasculation of checks and balances thanks to a Congress that sat by and did nothing while the President and Vice-President trashed the Constitution, and it’s worth noting that for six of those years Congress was controlled by the party that claims to respect the Constitution above all else.
The Bush/Cheney Administration was, in the end, the final triumph of Richard Nixon.
H/T: Andrew Sullivan