Bush tells Dems war denial is dangerous
Nov 1, 2007
By JENNIFER LOVEN
President Bush compared Congress’ Democratic leaders Thursday to people who ignored the rise of Lenin and Hitler early in the last century, saying “the world paid a terrible price” then and risks similar consequences for inaction today.
Bush accused Congress of stalling important pieces of the fight to prevent new terrorist attacks by: dragging out and possibly jeopardizing confirmation of Michael Mukasey as attorney general, a key part of his national security team; failing to act on a bill governing eavesdropping on terrorist suspects; and moving too slowly to approve spending measures for the Iraq war, Pentagon and veterans programs.
“Unfortunately, on too many issues, some in Congress are behaving as if America is not at war,” Bush said during a speech at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank. “This is no time for Congress to weaken the Department of Justice by denying it a strong and effective leader. … It’s no time for Congress to weaken our ability to intercept information from terrorists about potential attacks on the United States of America. And this is no time for Congress to hold back vital funding for our troops as they fight al-Qaida terrorists and radicals in Afghanistan and Iraq.”
Bush’s remarks were his second in two days alleging inaction on Capitol Hill, which has been led by Democrats since January. This speech focused on measures related to the war on terror, while Wednesday’s emphasized disputes between the White House and Congress over domestic issues.
Bush argued the current debate over the Iraq war and the administration’s anti-terror methods harkens back to debates decades ago over resisting action when Soviet founder Vladimir Lenin first talked about launching a communist revolution, when Adolf Hitler began moves to establish an “Aryan superstate” in Germany, and in the early days of the Cold War when some advocated accommodation of the Soviet Union.
“Now we’re at the start of a new century, and the same debate is once again unfolding, this time regarding my policy in the Middle East,” Bush said. “Once again, voices in Washington are arguing that the watchword of the policy should be stability.”
Bush said any denial of war is dangerous.
“History teaches us that underestimating the words of evil, ambitious men is a terrible mistake,” Bush said. “Bin Laden and his terrorist allies have made their intentions as clear as Lenin and Hitler before them. And the question is, will we listen?”
Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-.N.Y., running for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination, took issue with Bush’s comparisons.
“George Bush’s faulty and offensive historical analogies aren’t going to end the war in Iraq, make America safer or bring our troops home,” she said in a statement. “Americans are tired of the president’s efforts to play politics with national security and practice the politics of division.”
Congress earned Bush’s scorn even while he offered praise because a key Senate committee has passed a new eavesdropping bill containing many provisions the president wants. “It’s an important step in the right direction,” he said.
Bush repeated earlier criticisms of a move to combine spending bills for the Defense Department and veterans programs with one for labor, health and education matters that Republicans consider bloated. Bush also lamented that his emergency spending request for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan still languishes.
“When it comes to funding our troops, some in Washington should spend more time responding to the warnings of terrorists like Osama bin Laden and the requests of our commanders on the ground,” Bush said, “and less time responding to the demands of MoveOn.org bloggers and Code Pink protesters.”
Bush: No attorney general if not Mukasey
Nov 1, 2007
By LAURIE KELLMAN
President Bush sought to save Michael Mukasey’s troubled nomination for attorney general Thursday, defending the retired judge’s refusal to say whether he considers waterboarding torture and warning of a leaderless Justice Department if Democrats don’t confirm him.
“If the Senate Judiciary Committee were to block Judge Mukasey on these grounds, they would set a new standard for confirmation that could not be met by any responsible nominee for attorney general,” Bush said in a speech at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank.
“That would guarantee that America would have no attorney general during this time of war,” the president said.
Nonetheless, opposition continued to grow. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., became the fourth of 10 Democrats on the 19-member Judiciary Committee to declare he will vote against Mukasey when the panel decides Tuesday whether to endorse or reject his nomination.
Kennedy said Mukasey’s unwillingness to say that waterboarding, an interrogation technique that simulates drowning, is torture increases the chances that it will be used against U.S. troops.
“Judge Mukasey appears to be a careful, conscientious and intelligent lawyer and he has served our country honorably for many years,” Kennedy said in a Senate speech announcing his opposition. “But those qualities are not enough for this critical position at this critical time.”
Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., planned to announce Friday in his state how he will vote next week.
Bush framed Mukasey’s nomination with the familiar theme of national security and the attorney general’s role in it.
“It’s important for Congress to pass laws and/or confirm nominees that will enable this government to more effectively defend the country and pursue terrorists and radicals that would like to do us harm,” the president said earlier Thursday during a rare Oval Office session with reporters.
The comments raised questions about whether Bush would nominate anyone else to succeed Alberto Gonzales as the nation’s top law enforcer. Bush could bypass Congress by filling the job with someone serving in an acting capacity or appointing someone while lawmakers are in recess to serve out the last 14 months of his administration.
Asked if Bush was saying he would not nominate anyone if Mukasey is rejected, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said: “We don’t believe it would come to that. No nominee could meet the test they’ve presented.”
There is a way for Mukasey to get a full Senate vote even if committee Democrats are united in opposing him. The Senate Judiciary Committee could agree to advance the nomination with “no recommendation,” allowing Mukasey the chance to be confirmed by a majority of the 100-member Senate. Several vote-counters in each party said Mukasey probably would get 70 “yes” votes.
Despite that prospect, opposition to Mukasey was growing among Senate Democrats. Most cited his refusal to say whether waterboarding is torture and thus illegal under U.S. and international law.
In a letter to Senate Democrats this week, Mukasey said waterboarding is “repugnant to me” but added he wanted to review legal and other issues surrounding it before saying whether it is torture.
Democratic Sens. Joe Biden of Delaware, Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and Dick Durbin of Illinois said this week they will vote “no” in committee. Assuming all nine of the panel’s Republicans vote for Mukasey, only one Democrat would have to side with the president for the nomination to move to the full Senate with a favorable recommendation.
So far, the committee’s other Democrats have declined to announce their positions. That includes Mukasey’s chief Democratic sponsor, Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.
Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., told reporters he could not guarantee a full Senate vote if the nomination fails in committee.
“I really believe in the committee process,” said Reid, who has not said how he would vote. “If I’m asked by members of the committee to stay out of the fray, I am willing to do that.”
Two Republicans troubled by Mukasey’s initial answers said they would vote for him in the full Senate.
But in a letter to Mukasey, GOP Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina urged the nominee never to let waterboarding be used if he were to become attorney general.
Still, signs abounded that Mukasey’s nomination was in trouble. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., who is not on the Judiciary Committee, declared his opposition.
In the Oval Office, Bush complained about the delay and said it was unfair to ask Mukasey about interrogation techniques about which he has not been briefed. “He doesn’t know whether we use that technique or not,” the president said during the session.
Bush said, “It doesn’t make any sense to tell an enemy what we’re doing.”
Vice President Dick Cheney, speaking to veterans and National Guardsmen in Indianapolis, said classified CIA interrogation methods are not the same as those of the military, where waterboarding is not a permitted in the Army Field Manual.
“This CIA program is different. It involves tougher customers — men like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of 9/11, and it involves tougher interrogation,” Cheney said.
Bush urged swift approval of Mukasey, saying the U.S. needs an attorney general on the job to help with the fight against terrorism.
Without saying whether interrogators use waterboarding, Bush said, “The American people must know that whatever techniques we use are within the law.”
Asked if he considers waterboarding legal, Bush replied: “I’m not going to talk about techniques. There’s an enemy out there.”
Schumer said, who led the probe that pressured Gonzales to quit and suggested Mukasey as his replacement, continued to withhold comment on his vote.
“No nominee from this administration will agree with us on torture and wiretapping. The best we can hope for is someone who will rebuild the Justice Department and remain independent, even when pressured by this administration,” he explained. “I am weighing if Judge Mukasey is that person.”
Bush Warned About Mail-Opening Authority
Recent ‘Signing Statement’ Seen as Stretching Law
January 5, 2007
By Dan Eggen
President Bush signed a little-noticed statement last month asserting the authority to open U.S. mail without judicial warrants in emergencies or foreign intelligence cases, prompting warnings yesterday from Democrats and privacy advocates that the administration is attempting to circumvent legal restrictions on its powers.
A “signing statement” attached to a postal reform bill on Dec. 20 says the Bush administration “shall construe” a section of that law to allow the opening of sealed mail to protect life, guard against hazardous materials or conduct “physical searches specifically authorized by law for foreign intelligence collection.”
White House and U.S. Postal Service officials said the statement was not intended to expand the powers of the executive branch but merely to clarify existing ones for extreme cases.
“This is not a change in law, this is not new, it is not . . . a sweeping new power by the president,” spokesman Tony Snow told reporters. “It is, in fact, merely a statement of present law and present authorities granted to the president of the United States.”
But some civil liberties and national-security law experts said the statement’s language is unduly vague and appears to go beyond long-recognized limits on the ability of the government to open letters and other U.S. mail without approval from a judge.
Kate Martin, director of the Center for National Security Studies in Washington, said the government has long been able to legally open mail believed to contain a bomb or other imminent threat. But authorities are generally required to seek a warrant from a criminal or special intelligence court in other cases, Martin and other experts said.
“The administration is playing games about warrants,” Martin said. “If they are not claiming new powers, then why did they need to issue a signing statement?”
Administration critics said they were particularly confused because the relevant portion of the postal reform legislation — which prohibits opening mail without warrants in most circumstances — remains unchanged.
A White House official, who was not authorized to speak on the record, said the signing statement, first revealed by the New York Daily News, was intended only to make clear that the new law would not limit the ability of the president or attorney general to open mail under emergency provisions of the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which governs spying in the United States. That law allows authorities to conduct searches and surveillance without warrants in emergency situations, although they must apply for a warrant later.
“The point was that because Congress was passing this anew, the concern was that there would be some confusion,” the official said. “The law that’s been around since 1978 still allows you to conduct warrantless physical searches under some circumstances, and nothing changes that authority.”
The debate over the signing statement comes after disclosures over the past year that Bush authorized a program that allows the National Security Agency to monitor telephone and e-mail communications between the United States and other countrieswithout court oversight. The administration has strongly defended the legality of the NSA spying program, arguing that Congress authorized it as part of the war on al-Qaeda and, even if it had not, that the president has the power to order such surveillance.
In addition to searching for a bomb or other hazardous device, postal officials are legally allowed to open letters that cannot be delivered as addressed, but only to find a correct destination for the parcel. The FBI and other law enforcement agencies are also allowed to obtain authority from postal inspectors to track mail without opening it.
The latest statement caused a small ruckus on Capitol Hill yesterday just as Democrats were taking control of Congress. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, called the statement a “last-minute, irregular and unauthorized reinterpretation of a duly passed law.”
Sharp limits have been placed on the government’s power to open mail since the 1970s, when a congressional committee investigating abuses found that, for three decades, the CIA and FBI had illegally opened hundreds of thousands of pieces of U.S. mail. Among the targets were “large numbers of American dissidents, including those who challenged the condition of racial minorities and those who opposed the war in Vietnam,” according to a report by the Senate panel, known as the Church committee. Also surveilled was “the mail of Senators, Congressmen, journalists, businessmen, and even a Presidential candidate,” the report said.
During his tenure, Bush has made plentiful use of signing statements, which are issued along with a president’s signature on legislation. Although previous presidents used them as guidance for the executive branch, Bush has offered revised interpretations of laws on constitutional or national security grounds in some of his statements.