Executive power

  • June 28, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    As expected the House of Representatives voted to find Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress for allegedly withholding documentation about the federal government’s troubled operations, dubbed “Fast and Furious,” to curb violence related to drug smuggling along parts of the nation’s Southwest border.

    The charge to tar Holder has been led by U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who spends large amounts of his time tending to his business holdings back home. Though the Department of Justice has provided nearly 8,000 documents to a House committee, Issa, one of Congress’s wealthiest members, has continued to claim there must be more, and that the government is covering up the bungled efforts, which started during the previous administration.

    House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was among nearly 100 House Democrats who walked out of the chamber in protest of today’s vote. Earlier this month, Pelosi blasted the Republicans’ hounding of Holder as rooted in their opposition to the Department of Justice’s efforts to ensure that new state restrictions on voting do not violate the Voting Rights Act.

    “These very same people holding in contempt are part of a nationwide scheme to suppress the vote,” Pelosi said. “They are closely aligned with those who are suffocating the system, special interests, secret money, and they are poisoning the debate. They are poisoning the debate with money.” TPM has video of Pelosi’s comments here.

    The New York Times in a June 21 piece noted the fairly obvious – that most recent attorneys general have faced partisan attacks.

    Nonetheless, The Times conceded, “Holder has become a recurring target for conservative anger because he is associated with some the administration’s more liberal policies. They include reinvestigating Bush-era torture allegations, using the civilian criminal justice system for terrorism cases, refusing to defend the law banning federal recognition of same-sex marriage, challenging Arizona’s crackdown on illegal immigrants and invoking civil rights laws to block voter ID measures.”  

  • June 20, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calf.), one of Congress’ wealthiest members and one who still oversees his business empire, worth hundreds of millions of dollars, while attempting to represent his congressional district, has advanced his attack on U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.

    The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, which Issa chairs, today voted along party lines to recommend the chamber find the attorney general in contempt of Congress for allegedly failing to provide enough documentation about the federal government's operations to curb drug smuggling and violence along the southern border, which was launched during the administration of George W. Bush.

    The vote followed President Obama’s assertion of executive privilege to withhold the documents, the first time the administration has taken such action. The administrations of George W. Bush and Bill Clinton invoked the privilege numerous times.

    Issa, who as The New York Times has reported juggles “dual careers, a meshing of public and private interests rarely seen in government,” came under sharp criticism from Democratic members of the House.

    U.S. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) told The Times the administration was forced into invoking privilege because of the Issa-led committee’s “unreasonable insistence on pressing forward with contempt despite the attorney general’s good faith offer.”

    The Department of Justice has provided Issa’s committee nearly 8,000 documents for the congressional investigation into the tactics used in the federal government’s efforts to stop violence related to drug smuggling along the southern border.

    But Issa and other Republican members on the committee have feigned disbelief, arguing that much more is needed to complete their work.

    Holder responding to the vote on a contempt recommendation said Issa’s actions are all about election-year politics.

  • June 11, 2012

    by John Schachter

    Let me make one thing perfectly clear, Richard Nixon was worse than we ever knew or imagined. That’s the key takeaway from Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s latest work in The Washington Post, some 36 years after their last joint byline. And as more and more tapes get released from Nixon’s time in office, we continue to see the pettiness, meanness, and darkness that consumed him.

    The intrepid reporting duo detail Nixon’s wars on many fronts – against the Democrats, the anti-war movement, the media, and history itself. But it’s Nixon’s war against the Constitution and the entire American system of justice that dominates his record.

    As we approach the 40th anniversary of Nixon’s astounding re-election in 1972 (and the 38th anniversary of his resignation), the enormity of his crimes and heinous actions have only become clearer over time.

    Former Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sam Ervin (D-N.C.) said Watergate was Nixon’s attempt to “destroy, insofar as the presidential election of 1972 was concerned, the integrity of the process by which the President of the United States is nominated and elected.” But Woodward and Bernstein say that “Watergate was far more than that. At its most virulent, Watergate was a brazen and daring assault, led by Nixon himself, against the heart of American democracy: the Constitution, our system of free elections, the rule of law.”

  • June 6, 2012
    Guest Post

    By Rob Weiner, formerly Associate Deputy General in the U.S. Department of Justice is a partner at Arnold & Porter LLP. Many of the points in the following post are reflected in an earlier post for Balkinization calledPolitics by Other Means,” though with a somewhat different focus


    Ambrose Bierce defined “accuse” as, “To affirm another's guilt or unworth; most commonly as a justification of ourselves for having wronged him.” Thus it is that the opponents of the Affordable Care Act, with no hint of irony, accuse those supporting the Act of interjecting politics into the cases before the U.S. Supreme Court for the purpose of intimidating the Justices. But it was those same opponents -- Republican politicians -- who initiated the litigation after Democrats won a partisan battle in the legislative arena and who have overtly framed the lawsuits as part of a grand political strategy.

    The focus of the legislative battle was the Affordable Care Act, adopted on March 23, 2010, with no Republican votes.  As Republican legislators were vowing to repeal the newly enacted bill, the Republican Attorney General of Florida, along with 11 other Republican State Attorneys General and one Democrat, filed suit seven minutes after President Obama signed it into law. Four of the Republican AGs proceeded over the objections of their Democratic governors. A twelfth Republican AG, from Virginia, sued separately.

    Bypassing the federal courthouse only blocks from his office in Tallahassee, the Florida AG brought the suit more than 200 miles away in Pensacola. That jurisdiction had no connection to the case, but it was an enticing forum for the plaintiffs. All three of its federal district court judges are conservatives appointed by Republican presidents. Although the federal rules did not prohibit this forum shopping, it highlighted the partisan coloration of the case.

    A few months later, seven more states joined the suit. Three were represented by their Republican AGs. The other four states, however, had Democratic AGs who believed the litigation to be meritless. The Republican governors of those states therefore filed instead. In January 2011, seven months after the court-ordered deadline for adding new parties, four more Republican AGs and one Republican governor sought to join the litigation. Why the belated “me-too”?  One reason: the November 2010 elections, which changed the leadership of these five States from Democratic to Republican.

  • May 29, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    As a presidential candidate in 2008, Barack Obama leveled broadsides against the counterterrorism efforts waged by the administration of George W. Bush. Deep into President Obama’s term many see a continuation if not drastic advancement of Bush counterterrorism policy.

    In an extensive piece Jo Becker and Scott Shane report for The New York Times that Obama has “preserved three major policies – rendition [where prisoners are sent to secretive sites to undergo harsh, often brutal interrogation], military commissions and indefinite detention – that have been targets of human rights groups since the 2001 terrorist attacks.” 

    The story also states that the president, who as a candidate railed against the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, and promised if elected to close it, did not have a plan to convince Congress to shutter the prison.

    A major piece of The Times reporting focuses on the personal involvement of the president in sessions to determine which terrorist suspects to kill or capture. “It is the strangest of bureaucratic rituals: Every week or so, more than 100 members of the government’s sprawling national security apparatus gather, by secure video teleconference, to pore over terrorist suspects’ biographies and recommend to the president who should be the next to die.” The president, The Times reports, will then sign off on who to target.

    In a piece titled “Obama the Warrior” for Salon, Glenn Greenwald highlights the support Obama has garnered from some of the far right architects of the Bush counterterrorism policy, noting a progressive myth that the far right never lauds the president:

    Virtually every one of the most far-right neocon Bush officials – including Dick Cheney himself – has spent years now praising Obama for continuing their Terrorism policies which Obama the Senator and Presidential Candidate once so harshly denounced. Every leading GOP candidate except Ron Paul wildly praised Obama for killing U.S. citizen Anwar Awlaki without a shred of due process and for continuing to drop unaccountable bombs on multiple Muslim countries.