24 October 2008

Administration to Bypass Reporting Law

NYT - October 24, 2008

WASHINGTON — The Bush administration has informed Congress that it is bypassing a law intended to forbid political interference with reports to lawmakers by the Department of Homeland Security.

The August 2007 law requires the agency’s chief privacy officer to report each year about Homeland Security activities that affect privacy, and requires that the reports be submitted directly to Congress “without any prior comment or amendment” by superiors at the department or the White House.

But newly disclosed documents show that the Justice Department issued a legal opinion last January questioning the basis for that restriction, and that Michael Chertoff, the homeland security secretary, later advised Congress that the administration would not “apply this provision strictly” because it infringed on the president’s powers.

Several members of Congress reacted with outrage to the administration’s claim, which was detailed in a memorandum posted this week on the Web site of the Office of Legal Counsel at the Justice Department.

Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, called the move “unconstitutional.” He said Mr. Bush should have vetoed the bill if he did not like the provision, and compared the situation to Mr. Bush’s frequent use of signing statements to reserve a right to bypass newly enacted laws.

“This is a dictatorial, after-the-fact pronouncement by him in line with a lot of other cherry-picking he’s done on the signing statements,” Mr. Specter said in a telephone interview. He added, “To put it differently, I don’t like it worth a damn.”


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