Watergate scandal of the early 1970s review

history of this country, efforts have been made to expand the power of the presidency, both intentional and unintentional. In 1798, for example, Congress enacted, and President John Adams signed, a series of laws that, together, became known as the Alien and Sedition Acts. Among other things, these acts gave the president the power to deport alien individuals during peacetime and, in an affront to the First Amendment, define treason, including in certain writings. Later, President Lincoln seized on fear generated by the U.S. Civil War to three times suspend the writ of habeas corpus. Twentieth Century presidents have been even more willing to expand their power. Presidents Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, Nixon, and Reagan all took steps to broaden the role of the presidency. But none can even remotely come close to the type of far reaching power grab executed by George W. Bush and his puppetmaster, Dick Cheney. The utter disdain for the constitutionally mandated notion of a separation of powers demonstrated by this administration will continue to represent this administration’s legacy and mark their eight years in office as years filled with failure.


Historical Background

Following Nixon’s failed presidency, and the Watergate scandal of the early 1970s, Congress implemented a series of reforms designed to curb the power of the executive branch. For several years leading up to this period, the trend had been otherwise, with successive presidents increasing their powers at the expense of the legislative branch. In the wake of the disgrace that was Nixon, for instance, Congress sought to reclaim some of its constitutionally derived powers and, among other things, passed the War Powers Act, which increased congressional control over executive power in matters of foreign policy, and the Federal Budget and Impoundment Act, which was designed to allow Congress to compete more effectively with the president in the budget making process. Then, in 1978, Congress passed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (“FISA”), which subjecting domestic surveillance to court supervision.

Although these, and other, reforms curtailed the presidencies of Ford and Carter, Ronald Reagan quickly learned that Congress would be an impediment to the advancement of his “goals.” In response, Reagan and his minions aggressively relied on executive power as a way to achieve conservative objectives that otherwise would have fallen to defeat (Zelizer). Successive presidents also relied heavily on presidential power, so that, by the time George W. Bush won, or perhaps more accurately, was handed the presidency by an ultra-conservative U.S. Supreme Court, the office was again very powerful.

Reclaiming the Power of War

Upon ascending his throne, however, Vice President, Dick Cheney, manned the White House with veterans of the post-Watergate era who believed, as he did, and all reality aside, that the best way to advance their radical right wing agenda was via an all powerful executive branch (Zelizer). In their view, the reforms of the 1970s had “emasculated” the presidency (Savage), and they systematically set out to dismantle them.

The attacks of September 11, 2001 provided just the pretext and opportunity Cheney and his underlings needed to begin their transformation of the executive branch. Believing that the restraints placed on the presidency by the Congressional reforms of the 1970s had enabled Al Qaeda to attack, and made wretched our destiny, Bush’s advisors worked to bypass the anti-Big Brother constraints FISA imposed (Savage). Then White House Counsel, Alberto Gonzalez, argued that precedent allowed the President, who should not be bound by Congress or international law, virtually unlimited power in times of war (Savage). A shocked Congress listened, and ceded its power when it passed the Authorization for the Use of Military Force on September 18, 2001. By the terms of this proclamation, the president was given virtually unlimited power to ” use all necessary and appropriate force against those…he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001.” (Pub. L. No. 93-148, § 5(b), 87 Stat. 555, 556 (1973) ).

Torturing George

Although the CIA has practiced and perfected torture through the years (see, Klein), the Bush Administration institutionalized the practice and made it a run of the mill occurrence. and, then, of course, repeatedly lied about it. According to a Newsweek investigation, Bush, and his cronies, Secretary of Defence, Donald Rumsfeld, and Attorney General, John Ashcroft, approved a secret system of illegal detention and interrogation, Setting aside the Geneva Convention, and operating against the objections of Secretary of State Colin Powell, and America’s top military lawyers, the administration left the gory details to field underlings. In essence, Bush found attorneys willing to state that his “policy” was legal and then went to work. When questioned by Congress about its torture program, Bush’s CIA lied time and again. According to Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, for example, the agency explicitly denied taking part in waterboarding.

On December 23, 2001, and in response to an intelligence bill, Bush sent to Congress a signing statement in which he rebuffed the first of many Congressional efforts to gain some semblance of notification and/or oversight over Bush’s draconian military and intelligence policies (Kaye). The next year, Bush continued to build his secret underworld of prisons and torture chambers, largely under the guise of special access programs (SAPs). When Congress attempted to pass a law in January, 2002 requiring that all funding to initiate special access programs be prohibited “until 30 calendar days of congressional session have elapsed after the executive branch has notified the congressional defense committees of initiation of the program,” Bush took umbrage and, in essence, stated he would try, but could make no guarantees (Kaye). On and on the lying went until, finally, in May, 2009, CIA Director, Leon Panetta, was forced to admit that, the CIA had, indeed, misled Congress concerning “significant actions” from 2001 to the present.

King George.

As its name might suggest, a signing statement is a statement signed by the President of the United States at the time he signs a bill into law. Although signing statements have rarely been used throughout American history, recent presidents, beginning with Reagan, have more frequently made use of them. Indeed, beginning with the presidency of Reagan and ending with that of President Clinton, approximately 200 signing statements were issued. Bush II, however, signed over 750, alone (Savage). Often signing statements represent pronouncements on how the sitting president intends to interpret the law. In Bush’s case, they represented pronouncements on his intention to interpret and implement the law to the extent it coincided with his idea of legality. He further declared that he had the power to set aside laws that conflicted with his interpretation of the Constitution (Savage). In a report issued for members of Congress by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, the Bush Administration was accurately portrayed as using signing statements as a means to condition lawmakers into accepting his particular view of the expansive nature of presidential power.

Thus, on March 9, 2006, when signing into law a provision requiring the Justice Department to provide reports to Congress detailing how the FBI is using the U.S.A. Patriot Act to search homes and secretly seize papers, Bush executed a signing statement in which he stated he had the power to order Justice to withhold any information he decides could jeopardize national security. Likewise, in response to a December, 2005 law forbidding U.S. interrogators from torturing or using other, cruel and/or inhumane techniques, a Bush signing statement proclaimed he reserved the right to waive the mandate. and, on October 29, 2004, in connection with a provision prohibiting Defense Department personnel from interfering with the ability of military lawyers to give independent legal advice to their commanders, Bush claimed that all military attorneys were bound to follow legal conclusions reached by the administration’s lawyers. Altough these examples are illustrative, they merely scratch the surface. In all ways, Bush sought to rule the United States like a king.


We have seen but three of the many ways President Bush, and his puppetmaster, Vice President, Dick Cheney, sought to, and did, expand the power of the presidency. Other examples, from Cheney’s ultra secret Energy Commission, to the destruction of documents and terminantion of Justice Department attorneys who would not do their bidding, abound. Taken together, it was a dark, regressive time for the United States and its people. The legacy will remain.

Sources List

Barry, John, Michael Hirsch, and Michael Isikoff. ” the Roots of Torture.” Newsweek May 24, 2004. Web. http://www.newsweek.com/id/105387/page/1

Boston.com. Boston Globe. “Examples of the president’s signing statements.” April 30, 2006. Web. May 16, 2010. http://www.boston.com/news/nation/articles/2006/04/30/examples_of_the_presidents_signing_statements/

Critchlow, Donald T. The Conservative Ascendancy: How the GOP Right Made Political History. Cambridge, MA: (2007).

Kaye, Jeff, Firedoglake. ”

Withholding Information to Congress on Torture”

Bush Signing Statements Withholding Information to Congress on Torture

.” April 25, 2010. Web. May 16, 2010. http://firedoglake.com/2010/04/25/bush-signing-statements-withholding-information-to-congress-on-torture/

Pub. L. No. 93-148, § 5(b), 87 Stat. 555, 556 (1973)

Savage, Charlie. Takeover: The Return of the Imperial Presidency and the Subversion of American Democracy. New York: Little, Brown and Company (2007)

Zelizer, Julian E. Arsenal of Democracy: The Politics of National Security – From World War II to the War on Terrorism. New York: Basic Books (2009).

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