On Fox News Sunday today, host Chris Wallace asked Vice President Cheney, “if the President, during war, decides to do something to protect the country, is it legal?” “I think as a general proposition, I’d say yes,” replied Cheney.
Cheney went on to defend the administration’s actions over the past eight years:
CHENEY: There are bound to be debates and arguments from time to time and wrestling back and forth about what kinds of authority is appropriate in any specific circumstances, but I think that what we’ve done has been totally consistent with what the Constitution provides for.
Cheney’s answer is eerily reminiscent of former President Richard Nixon’s claim that “when the president does it, that means that it is not illegal.” Nixon made the comment in his famous interview with David Frost, responding to a question about whether “there are certain situations” in which “the president can decide that it’s in the best interests of the nation or something, and do something illegal.”
Though Cheney thinks the administration’s actions have been “totally consistent with what the Constitution provides for,” numerous courts have ruled that the Bush administration has overstepped the bounds of the Constitution:
— In June 2004, The Supreme Court dealt a setback to the Bush administration by refusing to endorse the claim that “the government has authority to seize and hold suspected terrorists or their protectors and indefinitely deny them access to courts or lawyers while interrogating them.”
— In June 2006, the Supreme Court “rolled back the sweeping powers appropriated by the Bush administration in the war on terror, ruling it could not order military trials for Guantánamo detainees without the protections of the Geneva convention and American law.”
— In August 2006, U.S. District Judge Anna Diggs Taylor ruled that “the National Security Agency’s warrantless surveillance program is unconstitutional, delivering the first decision that the Bush administration’s effort to monitor communications without court oversight runs afoul of the Bill of Rights and federal law.”
It’s ironic that Cheney’s Nixon comment came during an interview with Chris Wallace, considering that Cheney recently thanked Wallace for defending the Bush administration against comparisons to Nixon.
WALLACE: This is at the core of the controversies that I want to get to with you in a moment. If the president during war decides to do something to protect the country, is it legal?
CHENEY: General proposition, I’d say yes. You need to be more specific than that. I mean — but clearly, when you take the oath of office on January 20th of 2001, as we did, you take the oath to support and defend and protect the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.
There’s no question about what your responsibilities are in that regard. And again, I think that there are bound to be debates and arguments from time to time, and wrestling back and forth, about what kind of authority is appropriate in any specific circumstance.
But I think that what we’ve done has been totally consistent with what the Constitution provides for.