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Cheney Argues for Nixon-Era Powers
Published on Wednesday, December 21, 2005 by the Toronto Star
Cheney Argues for Nixon-Era Powers
Watergate eroded presidential clout
VP comments fuel firestorm in U.S.
by Tim Harper

WASHINGTON U.S. Vice-President Dick Cheney has upped the ante in a burgeoning scandal over the use of unauthorized wiretaps in the United States, touting the Bush administration's success in restoring presidential powers that were stripped during the Richard Nixon era.

Cheney said the Watergate scandal and the Vietnam War wrongly eroded the executive power of the White House, something he and U.S. President George W. Bush have remedied during their war on terror.

The U.S. vice-president spoke on a day when some moderate Republicans joined Democratic calls for a congressional inquiry into whether Bush broke the law by authorizing wiretaps without court permission.

At least two Democrats suggested Bush could be impeached for his alleged crimes and the White House scrambled late in the day to try to counter the perception that Bush had deliberately misled the nation when he spoke about wiretaps in April 2004.

"Watergate and a lot of things around Watergate and Vietnam, both during the '70s served, I think, to erode the authority ... the president needs to be effective, especially in the national security area," Cheney told reporters aboard the Air Force Two aircraft after a visit to Pakistan.

But the vice-president said he thought the Bush administration has been able to restore some of "the legitimate authority of the presidency."

He also said he believes that the U.S. War Powers Act, which gives the U.S. Congress the power to be fully engaged in a president's decision to go to war is unconstitutional.

"I am one of those who believe that was an infringement on the authority of the president," he said.

"I believe that the president is entitled and needs to have unfiltered advice in formulating policy. He ought to be able to seek the opinion of anybody he wants to and that he should not have to reveal, for example, who he talked to that morning.

"That issue was litigated all the way up to the Supreme Court and we won."

Cheney was, in fact, successful in hiding the participants in the task force he appointed to form energy policy in this country, fighting off legal challenges from environmentalists who said the secrecy shielded corporate interests from public scrutiny.

Cheney's extensive comments about the need for fewer constraints on presidential powers tossed fuel on a firestorm of controversy which has been building here since The New York Times first revealed the clandestine program on its website last Thursday.

"I think the vice-president ought to reread the constitution," said Senator Edward Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat.

"It reminds Americans of the abuse of power during the dark days of Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew," said Howard Dean, the chair of the Democratic National Committee.

But Republicans also have concerns.

Two of them, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Olympia Snowe of Maine, yesterday aligned themselves with Democrats seeking a congressional inquiry into Bush's authorization of the wiretapping by the National Security Agency.

Senator Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, has promised hearings in the new year.

Bush aggressively defended his decision to bypass the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, which allows emergency wiretaps for 72 hours, then compels the government to go to a secret court to seek retroactive permission. Bush said that law does not allow the administration to be agile enough in fighting the terrorist threats in the post-2001 era.

The NSA has been monitoring international phone calls and emails of Americans they believe are linked to terrorists.

That would presumably include calls made to Canada, although officials are offering no details.

Bush said he had the constitutional authority to act without court orders and Cheney said it was no coincidence the U.S. has not been hit by terrorists since the White House sought more unfettered powers.

Bruce Fein, a former associate deputy attorney-general in the Ronald Reagan administration, said Bush was abusing his power.

"It's more power than King George III had at the time of the revolution in asserting the theory that anything the president thinks is helpful to fighting the war against terrorism, he can do," Fein told National Public Radio.

California Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer has sent a letter to legal scholars asking their opinion on whether Bush's actions amount to an unconstitutional move that warrants Congress considering impeachment proceedings.

Boxer said her interest was sparked after former Nixon White House counsel John Dean said the surveillance order was an impeachable offence.

"I take very seriously Mr. Dean's comments, as I view him to be an expert on presidential abuse of power. I am expecting a full airing of this matter by the Senate in the very near future," she said in a statement.

Dean spent four months in prison for his role in the Watergate cover-up. The wiretapping scandal forced Nixon to resign in disgrace in 1972.

Representative John Lewis, a Georgia Democrat, also told a radio interviewer in Atlanta impeachment proceedings should be considered. Other senior Democrats, however, pulled back on such suggestions, calling instead for congressional hearings.

Democrats also pointed to remarks on wiretapping by Bush in Buffalo last year.

"Any time you hear the United States government talking about wiretap, it requires ... a court order," Bush said.

"Nothing has changed, by the way. When we're talking about chasing down terrorists, we're talking about getting a court order before we do so."

The White House said he was speaking in the context of the U.S. Patriot Act, not eavesdropping for foreign intelligence.

Bush also took a pummelling on the editorial pages of major U.S. papers.

The New York Times assailed him for a phoney choice, by suggesting he could save lives or follow the law.

"Mr. Bush says Congress gave him the power to spy on Americans," it said in an editorial. "Fine, then Congress can just take it back."

© Copyright 2005 Toronto Star Newspapers Limited.


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