Saturday, March 25, 2006

Bush Quietly Says No Need Follow Patriot Act Oversight Measure; White House Says Signing Statement Is Normal and Constitutional

ABC News
Bush Quietly Says No Need Follow Patriot Act Oversight Measure
White House Says Signing Statement Is Normal and Constitutional

March 24, 2006 — - When President Bush renewed the revised USA Patriot Act on March 9, Congress added oversight measures intended to keep the federal government from abusing the special terrorism-related powers to search homes and secretly seize documents.

The additional provisions require law enforcement officials to safeguard all Americans' civil liberties and mandate that the Justice Department keep closer track of how often and in what situations the FBI could use the new powers, and that the administration regularly provide the information to Congress.

However, it was not known at the time that the White House added an addendum stating that the president didn't need to adhere to requirements that he inform members of Congress about how the FBI was using the Patriot Act's expanded police powers.

After the bill-signing ceremony, the White House discreetly issued a ''signing statement," an official document in which a president lays out his interpretation of a new law. In the statement, Bush said he did not consider himself bound to tell Congress how the Patriot Act's powers were being used and that, despite the law's requirements, he could withhold the information if he decided that disclosure would ''impair foreign relations, national security, the deliberative process of the executive, or the performance of the executive's constitutional duties."

Presidential Power in Question

In doing so, it appears the president once again cited his constitutional authority to bypass the law under certain circumstances.

For example, after The New York Times reported last year that Bush had authorized the military to conduct electronic surveillance of Americans' international phone calls and e-mails without obtaining warrants, as required by law, the president said his wartime powers gave him the right to ignore the warrant law.

When Congress passed a law forbidding the torture of any detainee in U.S. custody, Bush signed off on it but issued a signing statement declaring that he could bypass the law if he believed using harsh interrogation techniques was necessary to protect national security.

Bush's actions have provoked increased grumbling in Congress from both parties. Lawmakers have pointed out that the Constitution gave the legislative branch the power to write the laws and the executive branch the duty to ''faithfully execute" them.

On Thursday Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, took issue with Bush's assertion that he could ignore the new provisions of the Patriot Act. He said it represented ''nothing short of a radical effort to manipulate the constitutional separation of powers and evade accountability and responsibility for following the law."

''The president's signing statements are not the law, and Congress should not allow them to be the last word," Leahy said. ''The president's constitutional duty is to faithfully execute the laws as written by Congress, not cherry-pick the laws he decides he wants to follow." Leahy voted against renewing the Patriot Act this year after sponsoring the bill back in 2001.

The White House dismissed Leahy's concerns, saying Bush's signing statement was simply ''very standard language" that is ''used consistently with provisions like these where legislation is requiring reports from the executive branch or where disclosure of information is going to be required."

''The signing statement makes clear that the president will faithfully execute the law in a manner that is consistent with the Constitution," said White House spokeswoman Dana Perino. ''The president has welcomed at least seven inspector general reports on the Patriot Act since it was first passed, and there has not been one verified abuse of civil liberties using the Patriot Act."

The Patriot Act's renewal was viewed as a rare victory for the Republican-controlled Congress and the White House. The House of Representatives approved the measure by a vote of 280-138 after the Senate passed the controversial bill 89-10.