The New York Times’ Charlie Savage reports that in a recent letter, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, top adviser to Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), said McCain believes that the Constitution gave President Bush the authority to wiretap Americans “without warrants,” bringing him “into closer alignment” with the Bush administration’s views of executive power. In the letter, Holtz-Eakin wrote:
[H]earings purportedly designed to ‘get to the bottom of things’ have already occurred; and neither the Administration nor the telecoms need apologize for actions that most people, except for the ACLU and the trial lawyers, understand were Constitutional and appropriate in the wake of the attacks on September 11, 2001.
As Savage notes, this exoneration of the Bush administration is a stark departure from McCain’s expressed views on Bush’s wiretapping without a court order. In December, McCain, when asked if he would authorize illegal wiretapping, said the President should not disobey “any law“:
McCAIN: There are some areas where the statutes don’t apply, such as in the surveillance of overseas communications. Where they do apply, however, I think that presidents have the obligation to obey and enforce laws that are passed by Congress and signed into law by the president, no matter what the situation is.
Q: Okay, so is that a no, in other words, federal statute trumps inherent power in that case, warrantless surveillance?
McCAIN: I don’t think the president has the right to disobey any law.
The flip-flop on Bush’s wiretapping program comes as McCain also recently embraced a key administration goal: retroactive telecommunications immunity. In May, a McCain lawyer said that the senator would support immunity for telecoms that aided the administration’s warrantless wiretapping program only if the companies offered “heartfelt repentance” for their actions.
Days later, however, the McCain campaign said the lawyer “incorrectly represented” McCain’s position. Furthermore, in his recent letter, Holtz-Eakin emphasized that telecoms do not need to “apologize.”
In the past, McCain has criticized President Bush’s executive power grab, stating, “As President, I won’t have signing statements.” Today, however, he is moving toward embracing Bush’s sweeping claims on surveillance authority.