THE ABUSE OF PRESIDENTIAL POWER. Today I attended a Center for American Progress event where Fred Schwarz and Aziz Huq (and moderated by Mort Halperin) talked about their new book, Unchecked and Unbalanced: Presidential Power in a Time of Terror. They were inspired by the reports published by the Church Committee following the last great abuse of presidential power by Richard Nixon. They smartly note that presidential power grabs are hardly unprecedented, with some of the greatest offenders including Lincoln and FDR.

What the current administration did was all in secret -- something new to the violation of constitutional powers. Further, not only were the illegal activities secret, the reasons for violating the law were also classified, and the administration intends to keep them classified indefinitely. Today, they note, both the president and the vice president have certainly committed "impeachable offenses," but the path to preventing further abuse of power is somewhat complicated.

Huq proposes the executive branch re-institute checks upon itself, including the Office of Legal Council, making records gathered by the CIA's Inspector General public (to increase the work of people like Glenn Fein), and playing up the strength of whistle-blowers and leaks to the press. When I asked about the constitutional checks already in place, the courts and the House Government Oversight Committee, Huq noted they were important. "There is a "whole continent of information" we don't know about what happened with Syria, Niger, and the like, Huq said. He also noted that the courts are doing something of a poor job of placing firm checks on the executive branch, because although they don't respond to "election results per se," they respond to other intellectual "currents."

The bottom line is that Schwarz and Huq are calling for an increased level of transparency, because while abuse of presidential power is never a good thing, ultimately it is far more dangerous if it's done in secret.

--Kay Steiger

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