The issue was a program for warrantless surveillance of U.S. citizens. A number of administration officials, including Attorney General John Ashcroft and James Comey, his deputy, thought the program was illegal and were refusing to certify it.
The judge in charge of the special surveillance program, Royce Lambeth, is quoted as saying, "We could have gone to Congress, hat in hand, the judicial branch and the executive together and gotten any statutory change we wanted in those days I felt like. But they wanted to demonstrate that the president's power was absolute."
In the end, Bush made some minor changes in the program and Justice Department officials who were ready to resign, including Comey, didn't. But now, in this election season, that of course isn't the point.
The point is that someone, in the first of the upcoming presidential debates, should ask Senators McCain and Obama where they stand on this. Personally, I would vote against anyone who believed in an all-powerful president in time of war. The men who wrote the Constitution had experienced a king and rebelled against him; they didn't want another one. And the Constitution itself very carefully spells out the different branches of government. Article I begins "All legislative powers herein granted shall be vested in Congress..." and so on. Article II spells out the powers of the president, and they are limited. Congress, for instance, is supposed to declare war, though we've certainly gotten away from that lately.
Anyway, Mr. Cheney is wrong, in my view; the president is not all-powerful. Let's find out what the new guys think.
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