"Dedicated to exposing the lies and impeachable offenses of George W. Bush"

The Bait-and-Switch White House
NY Times
Times Editorial
January 27, 2007

We often wonder whether there is a limit to the Bush administration's obsession with secrecy, its assault on the rule of law, its disdain for the powers of Congress, its willingness to con the public and its refusal to heed expert advice or recognize facts on the ground. Events of the past week suggest the answer is no.

In his State of the Union speech, Mr. Bush stuck to his ill-conceived plans for Iraq, but at least admitted the situation was dire. He said he wanted to work with Congress and announced a bipartisan council on national security.

That lasted a day. By Wednesday evening, Vice President Dick Cheney was on CNN contradicting most of what Mr. Bush had said. We were left asking, once again, Who exactly is running this White House?

While Mr. Bush has been a bit more forthright lately about how badly things have gone in Iraq, Mr. Cheney spoke of "enormous successes" there and refused to pay even curled-lip service to consulting Congress. Whatever votes Congress takes on Iraq, Mr. Cheney said, "it won't stop us."

Whenever the vice president does this sort of thing, and it's pretty often, Americans are faced with an unpleasant choice: Are Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney running a bait-and-switch operation, or does the vice president simply feel free to cut the ground out from under Mr. Bush?

All of that was distressing enough. But in Friday's Times, Adam Liptak gave an account of the way the administration — after grandly announcing that it was finally going to obey the law on wiretapping — is trying to quash lawsuits over Mr. Bush's outlaw eavesdropping operations by imposing outrageous secrecy and control over the courts.

Justice Department lawyers are withholding evidence from plaintiffs and even restricting the access of judges to documents in cases involving Mr. Bush's decision to authorize the warrantless interception of e-mail and phone calls. In one suit, Justice Department lawyers tried to seize computers from the plaintiffs' lawyers to remove a document central to their case against the government.

In response to these and other serious concerns, the Justice Department offered only the most twisted excuses, which a federal judge rightly compared to "Alice in Wonderland."

When government lawyers tried to take back a document that has circulated around the world, the judge asked a Justice Department lawyer, "Who is it secret from?" The answer: "Anyone who has not seen it."

These are not isolated events. The government has made the same Orwellian claims of secrecy in a lawsuit over the president's decision to create secret C.I.A. prisons for terrorism suspects. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales routinely stonewalls legitimate Congressional requests for documents and information on a wide range of issues. He negotiated a secret agreement to give supposed judicial oversight to Mr. Bush's wiretapping program, with a court that does not permit anyone into its hearings to argue against the government.

Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney claim that they are protecting the powers of the presidency. At least that's the bait they use to explain their trampling on civil liberties and the constitutional balance of power. But by abusing the government's legitimate right to claim secrecy in court hearings, they will make it harder for other presidents to do that when it is actually justified. And with that switch, they have done grievous harm to the credibility of the Oval Office and the country

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