Monday, July 09, 2007

Weekend roundup

Notable events from today and the weekend just past:

EXECUTIVE PRIVILEGE
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.

NANCY'S PLACE
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.

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7 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

On Executive Privilage---the President WILL fight the Congress trying to usurp his powers AND what's more, all future presidents, Republicans and Democrats alike, will be grateful to him for it!!

Regarding your comments on Cheney and the Iran/Contra issue from 1987. This is almost laughable! The balls of the Democrat Majority back then in their effort to STOP the Reagan administration from fulfilling it's Executive powers----all the while these Democrats were engaging in their own "secret" war funding the Mujahadeen in Afghanistan by secretly appropriating themselves money......is really unbelievable. Read "Charlie Wilson's War" by George Crile if you doubt it. Democrat Congressman Charlie Wilson got himself on the Appropriations Committee and made deals with others---with a wink and a nod from House Majority Leader Tip O'Neill--- to get his secret funds to give to the Mujahadeen. The same Mujahadeen who wanted shoulder-fired missiles to bring down Russian helicopters----which they eventually did.

So, Sean---did you know back then that the Democrat Congress was running this "secret" little war they had absolutely NO AUTHORITY to? All the while they were having hearings against the Reagan administration on Iran/Contra after making a law to try and prevent him from fulfilling his presidential authority?

Bet ya didn't. Please read the book. Charlie Wilson himself and other Democrats were interviewed for the book. It's authentic. And I'd like to see if you'd defend them for what they did or not.

JP5

7/09/2007 4:23 PM  
Blogger Sean Aqui said...

On Executive Privilage---the President WILL fight the Congress trying to usurp his powers AND what's more, all future presidents, Republicans and Democrats alike, will be grateful to him for it!!

That depends on how you view the case. An overly powerful and secretive executive branch serves no one. Nor does one that is too badly weakened by subservience to Congress.

The balls of the Democrat Majority back then in their effort to STOP the Reagan administration from fulfilling it's Executive powers----all the while these Democrats were engaging in their own "secret" war funding the Mujahadeen in Afghanistan by secretly appropriating themselves money......is really unbelievable.

Congress has the power of the purse. It was their call whether to fund either conflict. That did not give Ollie North the right to break multiple laws in order to defy Congress.

So, Sean---did you know back then that the Democrat Congress was running this "secret" little war they had absolutely NO AUTHORITY to?

I was in high school back then, so no. But when you say "no authority", what do you mean? Wilson didn't spend money he didn't have; Congress appropriated it for him. And the administration knew what was going on. No laws were broken.

In addition the effort was directed squarely at the Soviets, not some proxy fight viewed through the prism of domino theory. Destabilizing Nicaragua served no useful purpose; bleeding the Soviets in Afghanistan did.

Did it have unpleasant downstream consequences? Sure. Were those consequences foreseen by most people at the time? No. And part of the problem is that we abandoned the mujahadeen after they were no longer useful to us.

7/09/2007 4:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So, then----you are "on record" for stating that a lone U.S. Congressman, along with a rogue CIA agent, have the RIGHT to run foreign policy?

Can you cite me the part of the U.S. Constitution that gives them the authority to do so?

JP5

7/09/2007 7:15 PM  
Blogger Sean Aqui said...

So, then----you are "on record" for stating that a lone U.S. Congressman, along with a rogue CIA agent, have the RIGHT to run foreign policy?

Please show me where the administration was in the dark about the program and wasn't, in fact, an active partner in it.

Congress can appropriate money for any purpose it wants. The president can veto that money if he doesn't want it. He didn't.

It is flatly ridiculous to think that our entire effort in Afghanistan was run by one congressman and his CIA lackey without the knowledge and assistance of both Congress and the executive branch.

7/10/2007 9:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"It is flatly ridiculous to think that our entire effort in Afghanistan was run by one congressman and his CIA lackey without the knowledge and assistance of both Congress and the executive branch."

From George Crile---the liberal "Sixty Minutes" producer who wrote the book:

"The arms were secretly procured and distributed with the aid of an out-of-favor CIA operative.

"At a time when Ronald Reagan faced a total cutoff of funding for the Contra war, Wilson, who sat on the all-powerful House Appropriations Committee, mananaged to procure humdreds of million of dollars to support the majahideen."

page 167....
"Congressman aren't supposed to become embroiled in the mechanics and decision making of a covert killing war, rather, they are expected to act as a watchdog over such things. Again, Tip (O'Neill) chose to give Wilson license to operate as a virtual member of the C.I.A. "We had our differences," recalled the Speaker warmly, "but I always admired and respected Charlie for what he did down there in Afghanistan. I've never known a congressman to take a role like that before. If you asked, 'Did Charlie do it with my approval?' No, but he did it with my consent."

And what Wilson did was to get money for the Afghans stuck into appropriations bills as "earmarks" for his....what he called "freedom fighters." He privately and on his own---with the help and connections of a Houston socialite who had Mideast connections to the area, took the money over to them. He eventually got them the shoulder-fired stingers that enabled them to bring down the Soviet helicopters and to win the war against the Soviets.

Read the book. It's ALL there.

JP5

7/11/2007 5:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

BTW, the entire last chapter is entitled, "Unintended Consequences" and talks about how this led to 9/11....as these "freedom fighters" turned on us and became emboldened by the 'win' in Afghanistan against the Soviets. A win that Democrat Congressman Charlie Wilson was instrumental in bringing about.

No where in the Constitution does he say this Democrat Congressman could do what he did---run foreign policy in a covert manner---but he did. And no one EVER investigated him....or Tip O'Neill or any others that were a part of it.



JP5

7/11/2007 5:41 PM  
Blogger Sean Aqui said...

As I said: It was done with the knowledge and consent of both the executive and Congressional branches.

For instance, here's a timeline on aid to the mujahadeen, focusing on Stinger missiles. Note that in March 1985 Reagan decided to sharply escalate covert aid to the rebels. In September 1986 we began supplying Stingers. It was a cooperative effort.

7/11/2007 5:44 PM  

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