The beginning of the end?

Via Brad Spangler, President Bush may have made history last night when he admitted to authorizing the NSA to spy on Americans without a warrant, according to the Washington Monthly:

This is against the law. I have put references to the relevant statute below the fold; the brief version is: the law forbids warrantless surveillance of US citizens, and it provides procedures to be followed in emergencies that do not leave enough time for federal agents to get a warrant. If the NY Times report is correct, the government did not follow these procedures. It therefore acted illegally.

Bush's order is arguably unconstitutional as well: it seems to violate the fourth amendment, and it certainly violates the requirement (Article II, sec. 3) that the President "shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed."

I am normally extremely wary of talking about impeachment. I think that impeachment is a trauma for the country, and that it should only be considered in extreme cases. Moreover, I think that the fact that Clinton was impeached raises the bar as far as impeaching Bush: two traumas in a row is really not good for the country, and even though my reluctance to go through a second impeachment benefits the very Republicans who needlessly inflicted the first on us, I don't care. It's bad for the country, and that matters most.

But I have a high bar, not a nonexistent one. And for a President to order violations of the law meets my criteria for impeachment. This is exactly what got Nixon in trouble: he ordered his subordinates to obstruct justice. To the extent that the two cases differ, the differences make what Bush did worse: after all, it's not as though warrants are hard to get, or the law makes no provision for emergencies. Bush could have followed the law had he wanted to. He chose to set it aside.

And this is something that no American should tolerate. We claim to have a government of laws, not of men. That claim means nothing if we are not prepared to act when a President (or anyone else) places himself above the law. If the New York Times report is true, then Bush should be impeached.

If this analysis is even close to accurate, then the only thing standing in the way of impeachment is the political will to do the right thing - something Congress has been lacking utterly lately. Also, check out Brad's reading of the situation:

The court that has been illegally circumvented, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court, has long been notorious among civil liberties advocates for being a mere "rubber stamp" court. The administration could have gotten any warrant from it that they would have bothered to request.


We can be reasonably sure that his administration HAS politically abused these illegal surveillance powers - already. It's the only conceivable reason they would try so hard to avoid doing the paperwork.

Makes sense to me - any other ideas?

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Written on Monday, December 19, 2005