These episodes have certain themes in common. Yes, one of them is that they were all hatched in the first term of Republican presidencies and revealed only after reelection, but that’s not the answer I’m looking for. ...
First, all of them produced a backlash. ... The lesson seems clear: In a constititutional system, those who want executive power to be protected and respected, should be especially wary of presidents who take it too far.
Second, all of them involved creating a zone of extreme secrecy in which decisions, and even the processes leading to those decisions, were kept secret not just from Congress and the Courts, but within the executive branch itself. The defense of the warantless eavesdropping that seems to be emerging on the right is that it was not the FISA court they were trying to evade, since that was no obstacle, but the process within the executive branch of generating a request and getting it to the FISA court. Dana Priest’s recent story in the Post reports that even the legal reasoning behind the NSA program was kept secret from the executive branch lawyers who are supposed to handle these things and are capable of handling classified information....
Third, in these zones of extreme secrecy, in which nothing ever has to be justified to anyone outside of the closed circle, all sorts of insanity flourishes.
I had wondered when the program was first revealed why we were hearing about Alberto "Bind Torture Kill" Gonzales and Harriet "Best President Ever" Miers, and not John "Hijab for statues" Ashcroft. As we learned recently, we didn't hear about him because he was out of the loop until after his surgery in March 2004.
While Ashcroft fills me with relatively little confidence, it's odd that they'd hide a major program like this from the AG for 2 or 3 years. Especially a program that is, at best, extra-legal, and I'm inclined to say outright illegal.
This is not how things are supposed to work.