Policy and News Updates for July 10, 2007

Policy Updates

In This Issue:

I. Asserting Executive Privilege
II. Gonzales was informed of FBI violations
III. Signing Statements legislation introduced

I. Asserting Executive Privilege

Claiming Executive Privilege for the second time in two weeks, President Bush has rejected a request from House and Senate Judiciary Chairs John Conyers Jr. [D-MI] and Patrick Leahy [D-VT] to allow former White House counsel Harriet Miers and former political director Sara Taylor to testify on the role of the White House in the firing of nine U.S. attorneys. In a letter to the Congressmen, White House Counsel Fred F. Fielding repeated the White House’s offer to make Miers and Taylor available for private, off-the-record interviews. On June 28, the White House also rejected a subpoena for documents related to the firings.

At this point, it is unclear whether Miers or Taylor will testify. Mark Rozell, a professor at George Mason University’s School of Public Policy who wrote Executive Privilege: Presidential Power, Secrecy and Accountability, told Salon.com’s War Room, “If Harriet Miers or Sara Taylor, both private citizens … want to appear before a congressional committee and answer questions, I don’t think the administration has any legal basis to stop them.”

II. Gonzales was informed of FBI violations

More information about the misuse of Patriot Act powers by the FBI has come to light this week due to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). In April, EFF filed the lawsuit seeking fundamental information about the FBI’s abuse of power, following a revealing report by the DOJ’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG). The report detailed failures at the FBI that led to repeated violations of federal law and agency policies in collecting personal information and a significant underreporting of National Security Letter (NSL) requests.

The new documents reveal that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales knew of violations at the FBI, contrary to assurances he made to Congress during the renewal process of the USA PATRIOT Act in 2005.

III. Signing Statements legislation introduced

Sen. Arlen Specter [R-PA] introduced legislation on June 29 to regulate the use of presidential signing statements. Presidential signing statements are official statements issued by the President at the signing of a bill. Signing statements have been used by Presidents to explain the interpretation of the language of the law, assert constitutional objections to certain provisions, and describe how the law will be administered.

Sen. Specter’s “Presidential Signing Statements Act of 2007” (S. 1747) seeks to reign in the use of signing statements by “first, preventing the President from issuing a signing statement that alters the meaning of a statute by instructing the courts not to rely on signing statements in interpreting an act; and second, granting Congress the power to participate in any case where the construction or constitutionality of an act of Congress is in question and a signing statement was issued when the act was signed.”
In January, Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee [D-TX] introduced a similar bill, the
“Congressional Lawmaking Authority Protection Act of 2007” (HR 264). It was referred to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

More information about signing statements, including the text of President Bush’s signing statements, is available from Joyce A. Green at coherentbabble.com

News from Coalition Partners and Others

40 Years of FOIA, 20 Years of Delay
The National Security Archive at George Washington University released a review of 87 agencies and major components, and found that oldest FOIA requests date back to the 1980s. The processing and reporting delays highlight the need to strengthen FOIA laws.

Visit the Policy and News Updates Archive here