Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Specter to Call for hearings on Signing Statements

Bush’s contention that he can ignore provisions of the Patriot Act, whose renewal he ushered last month, has drawn scrutiny. (Jim Young/ Reuters) Just days after an article in the Boston Sunday Globe highlighted the massive number of “Signing Statements” that President G.W. Bush has filed on laws he has had some issues with, Senators Arlen Specter (R-PA) and Russ Feingold (D-WI) have called for answers from the White House about number and breadth of the assertions that Pres. Bush has made in the more than 750 signing statements he has recorded since he took office (this represents a rate of about 1-in-10 of the bills signed.), with Specter calling for Senate hearings in June on the issue. (See this article from the 05/03/06 Boston Globe).

Since he has vetoed no bills, President Bush has not had any public debate over issues the he, in his role of the head of the Executive Branch may have had with legislation that comes across his desk for signing. In some cases, it has been reported that his signing statements directly conflict with some provisions that were crafted as compromises in order to satisfy objections to some proposals in a bill. As I noted in my own article yesterday, because the Office of the President is the overall head of the Executive branch of the Federal government, the signing statements provide guidance to officers of the Executive, including the Departments of Justice, Energy and Defense, when those entities craft regulations or act under provisions of those laws.

This reinterpretation process of legislative provisions came to the fore during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on 05/02/06 when Sen. Specter announced his plans for calling for hearings, and when Sen. Feingold was bluntly told by FBI Director Robert Mueller that, if so directed by the executive branch, the real possibility was that the FBI would not comply with the oversight and Congressional briefings called for by the Patriot Act.

At the hearing yesterday, Feingold pressed FBI director Robert Mueller to give assurances that the bureau would comply with provisions in the Patriot Act and to tell Congress how agents are using the law to search homes and secretly seize papers.

Mueller said he saw no reason that the bureau couldn't share that information with Congress. But he also said that he was bound to obey the administration, and declined to promise that he would ''go out there and fight" on behalf of Congress if Bush decided to override the Patriot Act's oversight provision and ordered the FBI not to brief Congress.
''How can we know whether the government will comply with the new laws that we passed?" [Feingold] said. ''I'm not placing the blame on you, obviously, or your agents who work to protect this country every day, but how can we have any assurance that you or your agents have not received a secret directive from above requiring you to violate laws that we all think apply today?"

Mueller replied: ''I can assure with you with regard to the FBI that our actions would be taken according to appropriate legal authorities."

As in the question of what “is”, “is,” the question could become the definition of “appropriate legal authorities.”

And, judging by past performance, the roster of those the Bush/Cheney Administration would call on for “advice” in these matters is truly troubling.

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