Jonathan Alter's Alternate Universe
In his latest column, Newsweek columnist Jonathan Alter sems positively gleeful over an apparnet Oval Office meeting between President Bush and senior executives of The New York Times. According to Alter, Mr. Bush summoned Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger and executive editor Bill Keller to the White House, in a futile effort to talk them out of running last week's expose on expanded domestic surveillance by the National Security Agency. The President urged the Times not to run the story, citing national security concerns. Of course, the paper rejected the President's request, and ran the story anyway.
Alter is happy because he believes the Times caught the President red-handed. In the Newsweek columnist's alternate universe, the security concerns cited by Mr. Bush are bogus; in fact, the meeting with the newspaper executives was little more than an effort to help conceal law-breaking:
Bush was desperate to keep the Times from running this important story—which the paper had already inexplicably held for a year—because he knew that it would reveal him as a law-breaker. He insists he had “legal authority derived from the Constitution and congressional resolution authorizing force.” But the Constitution explicitly requires the president to obey the law. And the post 9/11 congressional resolution authorizing “all necessary force” in fighting terrorism was made in clear reference to military intervention. It did not scrap the Constitution and allow the president to do whatever he pleased in any area in the name of fighting terrorism.
Law breaker? That's pretty amazing stuff from a member of a MSM establishment that accused Mr. Bush of "pre-judging" a case when he suggested that Texas Congressman Tom Delay might be innocent. But Alter--who isn't a lawyer, BTW--is quite ready to judge the surveillance program as illegal, and even suggests that a Democratic Congress might prepare articles of impeachment against President Bush. More remarkably, Alter makes his pronouncement before the first Congressional hearing or court case can be held.
Before Alter consigns Bush to the disgraced ranks of impeached Presidents, he might want to bone up on some legal precedents and relevant case law. Orin Kerr has an excellent summary of relevant laws and legal decisions in these areas; suffice it to say, he is not prepared to hop on Alter's "impeachable offense" bandwagon. Hugh Hewitt also has useful information on the subject, as does Tom Smith, who has some disagreement with some of Orin Kerr's analysis. Collectively, they seem to find sufficient constitutional and statutory authority for the NSA program.
But that won't deter the Jonathan Alters of the MSM. Mr. Alter was a history major at Harvard, and judging from his column, he sees instant parallels between the NSA surveillance effort and Watergate. Never mind that Watergate sprang from a political operation; it wasn't routinely reviewed by the Justice Department (as is the NSA program) and, of course, the inner workings of Watergate were never briefed to Democratic Congressional leaders. Alter ignores those glaring dissimilarities, since his "illegal action" theme ties in nicely with the "culture of corruption" charge that Howard Dean and the DNC have been trying to launch for several weeks. Nice to see you're getting the DNC's talking points, Jonathan. Apparently, modern communications still work in your universe, where it's still 1974, and there's a Republican crook that must be removed from the White House.