John McCain Q&A

By Charlie Savage
Globe Staff / December 20, 2007
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1. Does the president have inherent powers under the Constitution to conduct surveillance for national security purposes without judicial warrants, regardless of federal statutes?

There are some areas where the statutes don’t apply, such as in the surveillance of overseas communications. Where they do apply, however, I think that presidents have the obligation to obey and enforce laws that are passed by Congress and signed into law by the president, no matter what the situation is.

Okay, so is that a no, in other words, federal statute trumps inherent power in that case, warrantless surveillance?

I don't think the president has the right to disobey any law.

2. In what circumstances, if any, would the president have constitutional authority to bomb Iran without seeking a use-of-force authorization from Congress? And specifically, I'm thinking about non-imminent threat situations.

Well he doesn't. But if there is an imminent threat, the president has to act in America's security interest.

But in terms of a strategic bombing, where nothing is going to happen tomorrow or next week, then he's got to go to Congress?

He should, absent an imminent threat. But in the event of an imminent threat, the President has a constitutional obligation to protect the American people.

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? Is that beyond Congress' authority?

It's beyond Congress's authority to micromanage wars. Congress has the power of the purse and the power to declare wars; the President is responsible for leading the armed forces as Commander in Chief.

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?

As President, I won’t have signing statements. I will either sign or veto any legislation that comes across my desk..

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

The Supreme Court ruled in 2004 that, under the Congressional authorization of the use of force, the U.S. can hold even American citizens under the law of war if they are enemy combatants. But the Court also said that U.S. citizens must have due process to challenge their detention. And I think that is very important when it comes to American citizens.

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

Yes, the law recognizes a “deliberative process” type of executive privilege that is broader than direct communications to the President. So while we should not do anything to inhibit the communications between a president and his advisers, as President I will do my utmost to accommodate Congressional requests for information.

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. Article I, Section 8 gives Congress that power. Unless the president chooses to willfully violate the law and suffer the consequences, he must obey the law.

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?

I know of no circumstance. Again, it goes back to what the law says – if there is a treaty that the Congress has ratified, we have chosen to make it the law of the land, and it must be obeyed under the terms that it was ratified.

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?

On that one, the Supreme Court just heard oral arguments in the Boumedienne case and it is expected to rule early next year on that question. So I will be interested in seeing how the Court rules.

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?

McCain declined to answer this question.

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

McCain declined to answer this question.

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?

I agree. These are part of the judgment that the American people need.

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