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Bill Richardson Q&A

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Charlie Savage
Globe Staff / December 20, 2007

1. Does the president have inherent powers under the Constitution to conduct surveillance for national security purposes without judicial warrants, regardless of federal statutes?

No.

2. In what circumstances, if any, would the president have the constitutional authority to bomb Iran without seeking a use-of-force authorization from Congress? (Specifically, what about the strategic bombing of suspected nuclear sites -- a situation that does not involve stopping an IMMINENT threat?)


The Constitution assigns to Congress, not to the President, the power to declare war. However, in the case of an imminent threat, when there is no time to go to Congress, the Commander in Chief may, and indeed must, act to protect the United States. Given that the Iranian nuclear program does not pose such an imminent threat, if the President believed it was in the US national interest to attack Iranian nuclear sites, he should seek prior authorization from Congress.

3. Does the Constitution empower the President to disregard a Congressional statute limiting the deployment of troops either by capping the number of troops that may be deployed to a particular country, or by setting minimum home stays between deployments? In other words, is that level of deployment management beyond the constitutional power of Congress to regulate?

This question really asks two separate questions. As to the latter one, no, that level of deployment management is not beyond the power of Congress to regulate. However, in some limited circumstances -- such as where it is necessary to protect the troops on the ground or to repel an attack not contemplated by the congressional directive -- the president retains the inherent authority as commander-in-chief to make decisions that run counter to such an express congressional directive. As a general matter, however, the Constitution does not empower the president to disregard properly enacted statutes.

4. Under what circumstances, if any, would you sign a bill into law but also issue a signing statement reserving a constitutional right to bypass the law?

None. Signing statements have been historically, and should continue to be, important sources of statutory interpretation and guidance, not only to the courts but also to Congress in its future deliberations on the matter and to subsequent administrations in carrying out the law. But such statements, as with other pieces of "legislative history," are interpretive aides, not law themselves. And, as I have already stated, as a general matter the Constitution does not empower the president to disregard properly enacted statutes. If a president feels that a statute improperly intrudes upon the constitutional authority of the office, that would render the statute unconstitutional and he should veto it.

5. Does the Constitution permit a president to detain US citizens without charges as unlawful enemy combatants?

No.

6. Does executive privilege cover testimony or documents about decision making within the executive branch not involving confidential advice communicated to the president himself?

Privilege may extend to the Senior Staff in rare cases where frank and open discussion happens prior to advising the President. Other than that-no.

7. If Congress defines a specific interrogation technique as prohibited under all circumstances, does the president's authority as commander in chief ever permit him to instruct his subordinates to employ that technique despite the statute?

No.

8. Under what circumstances, if any, is the president, when operating overseas as commander-in-chief, free to disregard International human rights treaties that the US Senate has ratified?

All treaties ratified by the Senate are US law, and the President does not have the right to break the law. If a President chooses to formally abrogate a treaty under that treaty's provisions, he may do so legally.

9. Do you agree or disagree with the statement made by former Attorney General Gonzales in January 2007 that nothing in the Constitution confers an affirmative right to habeas corpus, separate from any statutory habeas rights Congress might grant or take away?

This is clearly wrong. The Framers, in their declaration that habeas may be suspended only in cases of rebellion or invasion, made clear that the Constitution presumes the existence of the common law right to habeas corpus. Any other interpretation is sophistry.

10. Is there any executive power the Bush administration has claimed or exercised that you think is unconstitutional? Anything you think is simply a bad idea?

Virtually every issue touched upon in these questions illustrates an area in which the Bush Administration has tried wrongly to claim that it has powers to override the laws or the Constitution. I believe in a strong executive, but not one above the law. That is clearly not a view shared by the current Administration. As for any action they have taken that is "simply a bad idea," that list would be too long to enumerate here.

11. Who are your campaign's advisers for legal issues?

Jim Lamb and Eric Schnurer are our legal advisors

12. Do you think it is important for all would-be Presidents to answer questions like these before voters decide which one to entrust with the powers of the presidency? What would you say about any rival candidate who refuses to answer such questions?

Yes, it is important to answer these and other questions on the vital issues of our day. I will leave it to the voters to render a verdict on any who refuse to answer.

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