President Bush won't comply with Congressional requests for testimony from former aides, setting up a legal showdown over the extent of executive privilege. I had expected him to fold, given what I see as the weakness of his legal hand in this case. But if he doesn't, we can at least look forward to a rare judicial ruling clarifying a murky area of Constitutional law.
EXECUTIVE PRIVILEGE II
Coincidentally, the New York Times has an opinion piece examining the Congressional minority report in the 1987 Iran-Contra scandal, a report produced by none other than Dick Cheney, then a representative from Wyoming, and David Addington, who is now Cheney's official counsel.
The participants in Iran-Contra lied to Congress and broke an express Congressional directive to cease funding the Contras in Nicaragua. To do it they broke several other laws in order to sell weapons illegally to Iran and then launder the money before delivering it to the Contras. Cheney's report essentially admits all that, but says it was Congress' fault for passing a law that overreached its Constitutional power to restrain the executive branch. In other words, it was perfectly fine to break the law because the law should never have been passed.
The report was widely criticized at the time, both for its pinched view of historical precedent and the practical effect it would have: essentially eliminating any Congressional role in foreign policy. That did not change Cheney's mind, and he now refers to that report -- however ungrounded in reality it might be -- as a good explainer of his view of executive power -- and how he can view Watergate as merely "a political ploy by the president's enemies."
YET ANOTHER ETHICS BATTLE
I've written positively several times before about Sen. Jim DeMint, a conservative Republican who has held the Democratic majority to various ethics promises they made during the November elections.
This time, though, he's wrong. Cynically or unintentionally, he's letting the perfect get in the way of the pretty good.
The Senate's lobbying reform measure includes a provision that requires members to disclose the earmarks they propose and swear they have no financial interest in them. DeMint supports this measure.
So what's the problem? This: DeMint wants Democrats to promise that the measure won't be changed in conference committee with the House. That sounds reasonable, but Democrats say granting that exception would open the door to dozens of other side deals on the bill, creating a potential mess that could delay the whole thing.
DeMint should drop his demand and let the bill pass. If the Democrats water down the provision in conference, then it will be on their heads and he can tie the Senate in knots if he wants until the problem is fixed. Which could be done pretty easily at that point, by passing a separate, Senate-only rules change.
Making sure Democrats live up to their promises is one thing; obstructing real reform because he thinks Democrats might try to renege is another. Let the bill pass, and hold Democrats responsible for any changes.
Over in the House, meanwhile, Nancy Pelosi is apparently coming into her own as the Democratic leader, defying some senior committee chairmen who wanted a return to the days when such chairmen ran their committees like virtual fiefdoms, with little heed paid to party leadership. I have a philosophical sympathy for such divided power, disgusted as I am by the lockstep partisanship of modern politics. But I also recognize that central leadership is necessary in order to achieve anything resembling a national political agenda. Pelosi's challenge is to unite a fractious caucus and push through that agenda without unduly limiting the committees' independence.
Pelosi appears to be doing that, slowly freeing herself from the grip of her inner circle of advisers (Murtha in particular appears to be marginalized) while using a combination of favors, persuasion and hardnosed politicking to get her way with the wider caucus.
Pelosi, executive privilege, Iran-Contra, Cheney, ethics, DeMint, politics, midtopia