Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Karl Rove subpoenas

The US Congress is working today to subpoena subpoena Karl Rove and other aides in connection with the firing of several Justice department attorneys, perhaps in connection with a probe of corruption in the CIA. Of course, the White House asserts that those aides are exempt from such oversight because of executive privilege.

Fortunately it is unlikely that the US Supreme Court will grant the executive branch such unchecked power. In United States v. Nixon the court found that the invocation of executive privilege was far from absolute. In that decision, writing for the putatively unanimous court, Chief Justice Berger affirmed that President Nixon's withholding of papers was not covered by executive privilege "absent a claim of need to protect military, diplomatic, or sensitive national security secrets." Similarly, President Clinton was denied the unchecked use of executive privilege during his impeachment hearings surrounding the (ahem) Lewinsky affair.

The need for oversight in all areas of government is a fundamental protection against corruption, and that need is historically recognized in our system of government. The White House's claim that details of the firing of those attorneys somehow merits an exception flies in the face of this principle. That claim should not, and likely will not, stand.

Friday, March 9, 2007

Shocked, shocked!

The FBI has been abusing it's authority under the Patriot Act, according to a DOJ audit. I don't mean to make more of this than it is, but it underscores why there's such an opposition to parts of the Patriot Act... there is a lot of power in those provisions, it's not balanced by appropriate checks that would prevent the abuse of that power when it happens, it's used in non-emergency contexts, and so on.

The audit blames agent error and shoddy record-keeping for the bulk of the problems and did not find any indication of criminal misconduct.

Still, "we believe the improper or illegal uses we found involve serious misuses of national security letter authorities," the audit concludes.

One can only conclude from this that "serious misuses of national security letter authorities" aren't considered criminal. That's an enormous flaw to begin with.

Over the entire three-year period, the audit found the FBI issued 143,074 national security letters requesting customer data from businesses.

140,000? All claimed to have a significant relationship to "national security"? I'm incredulous.