In the midst of one of the most serious policy discussions in our nation's history, Attorney General Albert Gonzales lied to Congress.
At the hearing, (Senator Russ) Feingold asked Gonzales...whether Gonzales believed the president could, for example, act in contravention of existing criminal laws and spy on U.S. citizens without a warrant.
Gonzales said that it was impossible to answer such a hypothetical question but that it was "not the policy or the agenda of this president" to authorize actions that conflict with existing law.
Which is fine except that the President, with Gonzales's help, had already authorized warrantless spying long before Gonzales' testimony. Feingold's question was not hypothetical, and Gonzales's statement that warrantless wiretapes were "not on the policy or agenda of this president" was a bald-faced lie, told to keep secret a policy that is -- at the very least -- Constitutionally questionable.
The niggling defense of this will be that "existing law" as defined by, among others, Gonzales gives the President the power to ignore laws passed by Congress.
There is not, among Republicans that I know of, any serious engagement in the Constitutional crisis that is building as a result of this novel legal interpretation. Instead, seeking political cover, Republicans shift the discussion to an entirely separate issue: Is spying necessary to protect this country from terrorists. That's more politically fertile ground, even if it's completely irrelevant.
What's as stake here is not personal safety; it's the fundamental balance of powers at the heart of American government. The issue is whether the President of the United States has to obey the laws that Congress passes, including laws against lying to Congress to cover-up Constitutionally questionable activities.
The answer to that seems pretty clear. Of course the President -- Democrat or Republican -- has to obey the law. That's fundamental to our system of governance.
Today's Republicans seem unable to grasp that. Politics in the era of Bush and Rove is like cheering for a football team; winning is the only thing. For all their lapel-pin patriotism, Republicans seem incapable of putting nation over party. They're selling the country they purport to love down the river just to keep their jobs. That's a disgrace, and it's about time some Republican stood up on the floor of Congress and said so.