Bush Claims Right to Open Mail

Special to washingtonpost.com
Thursday, January 4, 2007; 12:38 PM

The New York Daily News today reports on a signing statement President Bush quietly issued two weeks ago, in which he asserts his right to open mail without a warrant.

Signing statements have historically been used by presidents mostly to explain how they intend to enforce the laws passed by Congress; Bush has used them to quietly assert his right to ignore those laws.

James Gordon Meek writes about the latest: "President Bush has quietly claimed sweeping new powers to open Americans' mail without a judge's warrant, the New York Daily News has learned.

"The President asserted his new authority when he signed a postal reform bill into law on Dec. 20. Bush then issued a 'signing statement' that declared his right to open people's mail under emergency conditions.

"That claim is contrary to existing law and contradicted the bill he had just signed, say experts who have reviewed it. . . .

"Most of the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act deals with mundane reform measures. But it also explicitly reinforced protections of first-class mail from searches without a court's approval."

The signing statement said, in part:

"The executive branch shall construe subsection 404(c) of title 39, as enacted by subsection 1010(e) of the Act, which provides for opening of an item of a class of mail otherwise sealed against inspection, in a manner consistent, to the maximum extent permissible, with the need to conduct searches in exigent circumstances, such as to protect human life and safety against hazardous materials, and the need for physical searches specifically authorized by law for foreign intelligence collection."

Meek notes that White House spokeswoman Emily Lawrimore denied Bush was claiming any new authority.

Here is the signing statement in question. Here is information on the bill in question.

It shouldn't be a surprise that although Meek was almost two weeks late with this story -- which was a matter of public record -- he still got a scoop.

Bush's signing statements have been widely ignored by the traditional media, with the significant exception of Boston Globe reporter Charlie Savage, who is on book leave right now.

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