The President’s Will

In the latest development in the Bush Administration’s broad grab of power and assertion of authority over all other branches of government, an anonymous government official has said that Congress cannot pursue contempt charges against former officials who refuse to answer subpoenas on the grounds of executive privilege. While this latest development raises my hackles on multiple fronts, I have a stylistic and substantive complaint that I will focus on here.

First, the anonymity of the source. It is sad that the Administration’s penchance for secrecy and closed door dealing has reached such depths that it won’t even publicly put forth the supposed legal justifications for its actions. Such broad claims of presidential power should be made openly: to do so anonymously is craven and disrespectful to the public. The Washington Post, who broke the story, should be just as ashamed for granting this official immunity on such an important subject. Of course, I am sure the story helped sell papers . . .

Substantively, the claim flies in the face of the rule of law. The Post quotes former Reagan and Bush I official David Rifkin as saying, “U.S. attorneys are emanations of a president’s will,” as if the conversation should start and end with this statement. While the president has the ability, and right, to hire and fire attorneys, they are not simply an “emanation” of his will meant to serve his desires. They are officers of law, and they are public servants. Their first loyalty should be to the constitution and the country, not to the man who appointed them.

The law, as much as the Bush Administration would like to think otherwise, does not ebb and flow with whomever occupies the executive office. Crafted through time by elected officials and judges, honed by the adversarial process, the law is much bigger than any one man. The most recent assertion of executive privilege, while not surprising, is yet another insult to the American people and the principles of our country. The debate should not end here: Congress must gather the political will to turn back this attack on our values.

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