‘When The President Does It, That Means That It Is Not Illegal’

Thirty years ago today:

Q: So what in a sense you’re saying is that there are certain situations…where the president can decide that it’s in the best interests of the nation or something, and do something illegal.

NIXON: Well, when the president does it, that means that it is not illegal.

Q: By definition.

NIXON: Exactly, exactly.

Watch it:


The echoes of President Nixon’s radical interpretation of American democracy are still heard frequently today, most notoriously in relation to President Bush’s warrantless domestic spying program.


In Dec. 2005, it was revealed that Bush had “signed a secret order in 2002 authorizing the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on U.S. citizens and foreign nationals in the United States, despite previous legal prohibitions against such domestic spying.”

A few months later, on Feb. 6, 2006, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales came before Congress and was asked to explain why President Bush didn’t simply work with Congress to develop a system that was legal:

KENNEDY: Now, we were facing the issue of electronic surveillance at another time, in 1976, when we had the attorney general, Ed Levi, and President Ford. And they followed a much different course than you have followed. Ed Levi came and consulted with us. … [T]hey dealt with the Congress, and they got FISA. … And the question that I have for you is, why didn’t you follow that kind of pathway, which was so successful at a different time? … Why didn’t you follow that pattern?

GONZALES: Sir, the short answer is that we didn’t think we needed to, quite frankly.