Last week, the Inspectors General of five separate intelligence agencies released a congressionally-mandated report on the Bush administration’s post-9/11 surveillance programs. The report focuses much of its criticism on John Yoo, a former deputy assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Counsel, who wrote “legal memos undergirding the policy.”
In the Wall Street Journal today, Yoo responded to the report, claiming that the inspectors general are ignoring history and are simply “responding to the media-stoked politics of recrimination.” But in his attack on the report, Yoo neither responded to the specific criticisms of his legal reasoning nor mentioned that he refused to cooperate with the investigation.
Instead, Yoo persisted in pushing the flaws in his legal argument, such as the claim that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act did not take war into consideration:
It is absurd to think that a law like FISA should restrict live military operations against potential attacks on the United States. Congress enacted FISA during the waning days of the Cold War. … In FISA, President Bush and his advisers faced an obsolete law not written with live war with an international terrorist organization in mind. It was to meet such emergency circumstances that the Founders designed the presidency.
But the IG report stated:
Yoo wrote that “unless Congress made a clear statement in FISA that it sought to restrict presidential authority to conduct warrantless searches in the national security area — which it has not — then the statute must be construed to avoid such a reading.”
Yoo’s analysis of this point would later raise serious concerns for other officials in OLC and the Office of the Deputy Attorney General (ODAG) in late 2003 and early 2004. Among other concerns, Yoo did not address the section of FISA that creates an explicit exemption from the requirement to obtain a judicial warrant for 15 days following a congressional declaration of war. See 50 U.S.C. § 1811. Yoo’s successors in OLC criticized this omission in Yoo’s memorandum because they believed that by including this provision in FISA Congress arguably had demonstrated an explicit intention to restrict the government’s authority to conduct electronic surveillance during wartime.
In his op-ed, Yoo also argued that “the 1952 Supreme Court case of Youngstown Sheet & Tube v. Sawyer is the IG’s lodestar,” but that it doesn’t apply in the case of Bush’s warrantless wiretapping program. Yoo never mentioned, however, that he neglected to make that argument in his legal memos supporting the program:
Yoo’s legal memoranda omitted any discussion of Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer, 343 U.S. 579 (1952), a leading case on the distribution of government powers between the Executive and Legislative Branches. Justice Jackson’s analysis of President Truman’s Article II Commander-in-Chief authority during wartime in the Youngstown case was an important factor in OLC’s subsequent reevaluation of Yoo’s opinions on the legality of the PSP.
Finally, though he mentioned that IG report covers “‘other’ intelligence measures” that he signed off on, Yoo never addressed the charge that his “discussion of some of the Other Intelligence Activities did not accurately describe the scope of these activities,” which led former Attorney General John Ashcroft to conclude that he had “been certifying the Authorizations prior to March 2004 based on a misimpression of those activities.”