New Book Details Cheney Lawyer's Efforts to Expand Executive Power
Wednesday, September 5, 2007
Vice President Cheney's top lawyer pushed relentlessly to expand the powers of the executive branch and repeatedly derailed efforts to obtain congressional approval for aggressive anti-terrorism policies for fear that even a Republican majority might say no, according to a new book written by a former senior Justice Department official.
David S. Addington, who is now Cheney's chief of staff, viewed both U.S. lawmakers and overseas allies with "hostility" and repeatedly opposed efforts by other administration lawyers to soften counterterrorism policies or seek outside support, according to Jack L. Goldsmith, who frequently clashed with Addington while serving as head of the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel in 2003 and 2004.
"We're going to push and push and push until some larger force makes us stop," Addington said at one point, according to Goldsmith.
Addington, who declined comment yesterday through Cheney's office, is a central player in Goldsmith's new book, "The Terror Presidency." It provides an unusual glimpse of fierce internal dissent over the legal opinions behind some of the Bush administration's most controversial tactics in detaining and interrogating terrorism suspects.
"As I absorbed the opinions, I concluded that some were deeply flawed: sloppily reasoned, overbroad, and incautious in asserting extraordinary constitutional authorities on behalf of the President," Goldsmith writes, referring to Justice Department memoranda issued in the two years following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. "I was astonished, and immensely worried, to discover that some of our most important counterterrorism policies rested on severely damaged legal foundations."
The internal tensions peaked in March 2004 during the now-famous visit by then-White House counsel Alberto R. Gonzales to the hospital room of then-Attorney General John D. Ashcroft, whom Gonzales unsuccessfully pressed to approve a warrantless surveillance program that Goldsmith and other Justice lawyers had deemed illegal.
Goldsmith, who was in the room, recounted in an interview yesterday that as Gonzales and then-White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. turned and left, "Mrs. Ashcroft sticks out her tongue" to express her "strong disapproval."
Goldsmith also said in his book that -- like many other Justice Department hires -- he was quizzed about his political loyalties during his initial job interview. One of Gonzales's deputies, David Leitch, opened the conversation by asking him about an $800 campaign contribution Goldsmith had given to a law school dean who was a Democrat. "Why have you never given money to a Republican?" Leitch asked, according to the book. "Are you a Republican?"
Now a professor at Harvard Law School, Goldsmith, 44, described himself in the book as "a conservative and a Republican" who became troubled by what he saw as imprudent overreaching by the White House with support from badly-reasoned OLC memos, including at least two written or drafted by friend and fellow conservative John C. Yoo. The book was described in an article posted online yesterday by the New York Times. The Washington Post also obtained a copy.
Goldsmith portrayed the senior officials with whom he regularly met as unremittingly fearful of another terrorist attack and determined "to act aggressively and preemptively." At the same time, he wrote, they feared that they could one day be prosecuted for engaging in tactics that pushed legal boundaries. The solution was for lawyers "to find some way to make what [Bush] did legal," Goldsmith wrote.
Goldsmith for a time was in a unique position to do so, because OLC opinions carry unusual authority inside the government and are typically regarded as written in stone. Only a handful of OLC decisions have been altered by officials in successive administrations. But during Goldsmith's brief tenure, however, he wound up overturning numerous OLC decisions reached earlier in the Bush administration -- an unprecedented act.
Goldsmith's actions clearly surprised the White House. He was picked for the job, he wrote, because he had strongly supported trying detainees before military-run commissions instead of civilian courts, had opposed U.S. involvement in the International Criminal Court, and had spoken out against the rising influence of international legal norms on U.S. actions.