What the Bush administration wants

Defending the president's warrantless spying plan, the Justice Department says the government would "like" to have more power vested in the executive.

Published January 20, 2006 2:27PM (EST)

The Justice Department is out with a new white paper in which it lays out its legal justification for the Bush administration's program of warrantless spying on American citizens. It's nothing you haven't heard before: The president has "inherent" authority to authorize internal surveillance as commander in chief, and Congress somehow implicitly gave him power to monitor e-mail messages and phone calls by American citizens when it authorized the use of force against those who attacked the United States on 9/11.

But in unveiling the report for reporters Thursday, the acting assistant attorney general for the Office of Legal Counsel seemed to confuse what the administration wants with what the law allows. As the Washington Post reports, Steven Bradbury said that the president has the duty to take whatever military action is necessary -- including the spying on Americans -- to counter attacks on the United States. "When it comes to responding to external threats to the country ... the government would like to have a single executive who could act nimbly and agilely," Bradbury said.

We don't have any doubt that the administration would "like" to have that sort of power. As Bush himself once said -- we thought it was a joke at the time -- "a dictatorship would be a heck of a lot easier, there's no question about it." But there's this thing called the Constitution, see. And as the Congressional Research Service noted the other day, it gives Congress more than a little say over matters of war.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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