I remember six years ago how important the rule of law was to the republicans in this country. I remember how we had nearly every republican operative and politician finding any camera or microphone they could to tell us how the very fabric which holds our democracy together was in grave danger of being eradicated by the nefarious Bill Clinton. The issue at that time was the fact that Clinton had lied under oath in a personal matter of sexual indiscretion. There was only one citizen who was directly affected, that being Monica Lewinski. Nonetheless, there was the GOP telling us that if a president breaks the law that potentially undermines the rule of law itself and since we are a nation of laws, that was an offense is simply inexcusable. The only answer that would resolve this egregious violation? Impeachment.
Fast forward six years and we again are a nation faced with the unsettling reality that our president has violated the law. Now President Bush has violated the law in the past either by lying to Congress to start a war or through operatives to reveal the secret identity of a CIA agent for political retribution. The difference this time though, is that we have a crime which the president openly admits to. It was revealed this past week that the president personally authorized the illegal wiretapping of US citizens and has been doing so for years. The law is very clear in that the president does not have the authority to conduct such matters without judicial oversight. To overstep the courts is a felony punishable by up to five years in jail.
Yet here was our defiant would-be-king holding a media blitz to assure the country that he did indeed have the legal right to violate the law. Lets settle some of the poor excuses being offered by Bush and his usual gang of apologists. We have heard that the process of obtaining warrants is somehow cumbersome and in this fast-paced world of terrorism, well, Bush just couldnt wait for the warrants. This is not only false; it is ludicrous as the Foreign Intelligence Security Act (FISA) actually allows the government to start the tap as soon as they deem necessary and allows them up to 72 hours to retroactively prove to the court the need for it. Additionally, government officials are able to get an emergency warrant from the secret court set up by FISA within hours, if not minutes. From 1979 through 2002 there were 15,264 surveillance warrants issued by the FISA court, clearly displaying that the process is quite favorable to the government seeking such wiretaps. Further supporting this is the amount of surveillance warrants which were rejected during that same 23 year period, ZERO. That is right; in a 23 year period not one request was denied. From 2002 until now, only four such requests were denied.
The best defense that Bush and his apologists can muster is that the president had the legal authority because he has sworn to protect American citizens. That argument is specious and subjective, two facets we do not allow when discussing the law. By the Bush defense, he can violate any law that is already on the books by simply saying he is doing so to protect the people. That is a completely ridiculous argument that cannot be allowed to be given any consideration.
Bush used the word "understand" 25 times in his nearly hour-long news conference today, trying to convey that the American people need to understand that his breaking of the law was in their best interest. At the end of the day however, we all do understand Mr. President. We understand that you broke the law.
Either way, one thing remains crystal clear after this revelation. This president has broken the law, period. He has violated the constitution and committed felonies against the citizens of this country. There is no gray area here. There are no implied powers in other acts of Congress which supersedes the statutes already on the books under FISA. The rule of law hangs in the balance. According to the republicans, it is the very fabric of our country and cannot be allowed to be sullied. We cannot allow a president to think that he is above the law. That is exactly what Bush is saying when he claims that he can illegally wiretap people, simply out of an alleged desire to protect America. It is not only disingenuous, it is a lie. It is a dangerous lie because it attempts to circumvent the checks and balances this country was founded on and grant dictatorial powers to the executive branch of government.
What you have here is quite simple. You have a law on the books which gives the president specific procedures he must follow if he wishes to wiretap American citizens. These procedures are not cumbersome at all and there is even a special court set up for obtaining these warrants. In the 26 year history of the FISA court only 4 warrants were denied out of over 15,000 requests. Instead of following these procedures, the President of the United States took it upon himself to bypass Congress and secretly authorize the wiretapping of US citizens. By doing so he clearly violated the law. To try and defend himself he claims he has a general legal right based on his war on terrorism. The problem is that federal law does not disappear by magic. It is not rendered quaint at the whim of a president who would be dictator. The law is not some flimsy, esoteric enigma which can be reshaped by only one branch of government. It is the fabric which holds this country together. A lesson I learned from republicans in the late 1990s. As such, the rule of law must be protected. It must be revered and upheld, not abused and reinvented. I have heard some democrats wrangling already about whether this should be investigated. They are using the wrong I word. As the republicans taught us so well six years ago, there is only one option when a president has admitted to violating the law, IMPEACHMENT.