by Scott Humor
Attorney General Barr accuses the left of systemic sabotage of Trump’s presidency
On a sunny day last May, I was standing on a street waiting for my ride to an airport, when a black woman, whom I didn’t know came up to me and said. “I apologize to bother you, but I just overheard you speaking to someone and realized that you are a Russian. I have never met or talked to a Russian person before. Is this okay if I asked you a few questions.”
I said ‘yes.’
“In this case, let me ask you why would you Russians want to live in a country under a tyrannical control of just one man? Why wouldn’t you go on the streets in protests and topple him?”
“We don’t do this,” I explained, “because we don’t live in a country of your imagination. The structure of Russia’s government very much resembles the structure of the US government. Just like you, we have a President and a Prime Minister, who is like your vice-president.”
“I’ve never heard that Russia has a Prime Minister!” she cried out in surprise. “media never speaks about any prime-minster in Russia.”
“Nevertheless, we have a Prime Minister. The government has three branches: the legislative branch called Duma, or a parliament, consisting of two chambers. The judicial branch of the supreme court and constitutional court, and the executive blanch consisting of the President and the Prime Minister. Everything is very much like here in the US. President Putin’s powers are over the foreign policies and the armed forces, while the prime Ministert is responsible for the economy and domestic affairs.”
The black woman stepped away from me and sad, “I don’t believe you. You’re lying.”
“Go and read the Wikipeadia, you can find same information there. In Russia, we also have more democratic elections. They are transparent, with the use of the paper ballots, each numbered and sealed with the hologram with its own unique number. Every ballot is traceable thought the unified election database and it’s impossible to create fake ballots or for someone to vote with multiple ballots. Attempts were made, but not successfully.”
“I don’t know if I should believe you,” a woman said.
“And still this is the true and correct information,” I answered. By then my ride had arrived and I left.
The meme that all powers in Russia are concentrated in president Putin’s hands is one of many invented by the psychological warfare specialists to instill in people’s minds hatred toward Russia. This something that is not easy to rebuff, as you can see from our conversation above. That’s why I found November 15, 2019 U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr’s speech at the Federalist Society’s 2019 National Lawyers Convention to be very useful not only for understanding the current Cold Civil war that is currently raging in the US, but also for explanations of the role of president in Russia.
This takes place amid the second day of the public impeachment proceedings.
The beginning of this speech I found especially useful for anyone who wishes to respond to the allegation of the ‘autocratic regime of Putin’ and that the presidential power in Russia should be reduced and the the legislative branch should, somehow have more executive power.
In the 90s, Russia per treason of the government was occupied by the US and it was the US “advisers” who designed the contemporary constitution. They also copied the US separation and sharing of powers scheme with the presidential to be just as powerful figure as in the US. Americans thought at the time what it was easy for them to control just one man, like Yeltsin, and they had the control over entire country. With the American help Yeltsin brought the country to the brink of absolute disaster, which was easy to accomplish for the Americans using Yeltsin’s powers that they had designed for him personally. However, when he agreed to step down and appointed his successor, the vested presidential powers were enough to turn the country into a super-power in twenty years without adding additional powers and without changing the constitution in this regard.
So, this what Barr has to say about the presidential powers.
The FULL transcript of his speech is here.
The video of his FULL speech is here
Here I will only post excerpts that I consider useful, in addressing the question of “authoritarian” power of a president. The US with their presidential powers have no leg to stand on when they criticize the presidential power of Russia’s president.
Some facts and citations from Barr’s speech should be useful in addressing the Americans and other western powers criticisms.
“I wanted to choose a topic for this afternoon’s lecture that had an originalist angle. It will likely come as little surprise to this group that I have chosen to speak about the Constitution’s approach to executive power.
I deeply admire the American Presidency as a political and constitutional institution. I believe it is, one of the great, and remarkable innovations in our Constitution, and has been one of the most successful features of the Constitution in protecting the liberties of the American people. More than any other branch, it has fulfilled the expectations of the Framers.
Unfortunately, over the past several decades, we have seen steady encroachment on Presidential authority by the other branches of government. This process I think has substantially weakened the functioning of the Executive Branch, to the detriment of the Nation. This evening, I would like to expand a bit on these themes.
First, let me say a little about what the Framers had in mind in establishing an independent Executive in Article II of the Constitution.
The grammar school civics class version of our Revolution is that it was a rebellion against monarchial tyranny, and that, in framing our Constitution, one of the main preoccupations of the Founders was to keep the Executive weak. This is misguided. By the time of the Glorious Revolution of 1689, monarchical power was effectively neutered and had begun its steady decline. Parliamentary power was well on its way to supremacy and was effectively in the driver’s seat. By the time of the American Revolution, the patriots well understood that their prime antagonist was an overweening Parliament. Indeed, British thinkers came to conceive of Parliament, rather than the people, as the seat of Sovereignty.
During the Revolutionary era, American thinkers who considered inaugurating a republican form of government tended to think of the Executive component as essentially an errand boy of a Supreme legislative branch. Often the Executive (sometimes constituted as a multi-member council) was conceived as a creature of the Legislature, dependent on and subservient to that body, whose sole function was carrying out the Legislative will. Under the Articles of Confederation, for example, there was no Executive separate from Congress.
Things changed by the Constitutional Convention of 1787. To my mind, the real “miracle” in Philadelphia that summer was the creation of a strong Executive, independent of, and coequal with, the other two branches of government.
The consensus for a strong, independent Executive arose from the Framers’ experience in the Revolution and under the Articles of Confederation. They had seen that the War had almost been lost and was a bumbling enterprise because of the lack of strong Executive leadership. Under the Articles of Confederation, they had been mortified at the inability of the United States to protect itself against foreign impositions or to be taken seriously on the international stage. They had also seen that, after the Revolution, too many States had adopted constitutions with weak Executives overly subordinate to the Legislatures. Where this had been the case, state governments had proven incompetent and indeed tyrannical.
From these practical experiences, the Framers had come to appreciate that, to be successful, Republican government required the capacity to act with energy, consistency and decisiveness. They had come to agree that those attributes could best be provided by making the Executive power independent of the divided counsels of the Legislative branch and vesting the Executive power in the hands of a solitary individual, regularly elected for a limited term by the Nation as a whole. As Jefferson put it, ‘[F]or the prompt, clear, and consistent action so necessary in an Executive, unity of person is necessary….”
While there may have been some differences among the Framers as to the precise scope of Executive power in particular areas, there was general agreement about its nature. Just as the great separation-of-powers theorists– Polybius, Montesquieu, Locke – had, the Framers thought of Executive power as a distinct specie of power. To be sure, Executive power includes the responsibility for carrying into effect the laws passed by the Legislature – that is, applying the general rules to a particular situation. But the Framers understood that Executive power meant more than this.
It also entailed the power to handle essential sovereign functions – such as the conduct of foreign relations and the prosecution of war – which by their very nature cannot be directed by a pre-existing legal regime but rather demand speed, secrecy, unity of purpose, and prudent judgment to meet contingent circumstances. They agreed that – due to the very nature of the activities involved, and the kind of decision-making they require – the Constitution generally vested authority over these spheres in the Executive. For example, Jefferson, our first Secretary of State, described the conduct of foreign relations as “Executive altogether,” subject only to the explicit exceptions defined in the Constitution, such as the Senate’s power to ratify Treaties.
A related, and third aspect of Executive power is the power to address exigent circumstances that demand quick action to protect the well-being of the Nation but on which the law is either silent or inadequate – such as dealing with a plague or natural disaster. This residual power to meet contingency is essentially the federative power discussed by Locke in his Second Treatise.
And, finally, there are the Executive’s powers of internal management. These are the powers necessary for the President to superintend and control the Executive function, including the powers necessary to protect the independence of the Executive branch and the confidentiality of its internal deliberations. Some of these powers are express in the Constitution, such as the Appointment power, and others are implicit, such as the Removal power.
One of the more amusing aspects of modern progressive polemic is their breathless attacks on the “unitary executive theory.” They portray this as some new-fangled “theory” to justify Executive power of sweeping scope. In reality, the idea of the unitary executive does not go so much to the breadth of Presidential power. Rather, the idea is that, whatever the Executive powers may be, they must be exercised under the President’s supervision. This is not “new,” and it is not a “theory.” It is a description of what the Framers unquestionably did in Article II of the Constitution.
After you decide to establish an Executive function independent of the Legislature, naturally the next question is, who will perform that function? The Framers had two potential models. They could insinuate “checks and balances” into the Executive branch itself by conferring Executive power on multiple individuals (a council) thus dividing the power. Alternatively, they could vest Executive power in a solitary individual. The Framers quite explicitly chose the latter model because they believed that vesting Executive authority in one person would imbue the Presidency with precisely the attributes necessary for energetic government. Even Jefferson – usually seen as less of a hawk than Hamilton on Executive power – was insistent that Executive power be placed in “single hands,” and he cited the America’s unitary Executive as a signal feature that distinguished America’s success from France’s failed republican experiment.
The implications of the Framers’ decision are obvious. If Congress attempts to vest the power to execute the law in someone beyond the control of the President, it contravenes the Framers’ clear intent to vest that power in a single person, the President. So much for this supposedly nefarious theory of the unitary executive.
I am concerned that the deck has become stacked against the Executive. Since the mid-60s, there has been a steady grinding down of the Executive branch’s authority, that accelerated after Watergate. More and more, the President’s ability to act in areas in which he has discretion has become smothered by the encroachments of the other branches. <…>
<… > there are two aspects of contemporary thought that tend to operate to the disadvantage of the Executive.
The first is the notion that politics in a free republic is all about the Legislative and Judicial branches protecting liberty by imposing restrictions on the Executive. The premise is that the greatest danger of government becoming oppressive arises from the prospect of Executive excess. So, there is a knee-jerk tendency to see the Legislative and Judicial branches as the good guys protecting society from a rapacious would-be autocrat.
This fundamental shift in view was reflected in the Convention debates over the new frame of government. Their concerns were very different from those that weighed on 17th century English Whigs. It was not Executive power that was of so much concern to them; it was danger of the legislative branch, which they viewed as the most dangerous branch to liberty. As Madison warned, the “legislative department is everywhere extending the sphere of its activity, and drawing all power into its impetuous vortex.” And indeed, they viewed the Presidency as a check on the Legislative branch.
The second contemporary way of thinking that operates against the Executive is a notion that the Constitution does not sharply allocate powers among the three branches, but rather that the branches, especially the political branches, “share” powers. The idea at work here is that, because two branches both have a role to play in a particular area, we should see them as sharing power in that area and, it is not such a big deal if one branch expands its role within that sphere at the expense of the other.
This mushy thinking obscures what it means to say that powers are shared under the Constitution. Constitution generally assigns broad powers to each of the branches in defined areas. Thus, the Legislative power granted in the Constitution is granted to the Congress. At the same time, the Constitution gives the Executive a specific power in the Legislative realm – the veto power. Thus, the Executive “shares” Legislative power only to the extent of the specific grant of veto power. The Executive does not get to interfere with the broader Legislative power assigned to the Congress.
In recent years, both the Legislative and Judicial branches have been responsible for encroaching on the Presidency’s constitutional authority
Immediately after President Trump won election, opponents inaugurated what they called “The Resistance,” and they rallied around an explicit strategy of using every tool and maneuver available to sabotage the functioning of his Administration. Now, “resistance” is the language used to describe insurgency against rule imposed by an occupying military power. It obviously connotes that the government is not legitimate. This is a very dangerous – indeed incendiary – notion to import into the politics of a democratic republic. What it means is that, instead of viewing themselves as the “loyal opposition,” as opposing parties have done in the past, they essentially see themselves as engaged in a war to cripple, by any means necessary, a duly elected government.
A prime example of this is the Senate’s unprecedented abuse of the advice-and-consent process. The Senate is free to exercise that power to reject unqualified nominees, but that power was never intended to allow the Senate to systematically oppose and draw out the approval process for every appointee so as to prevent the President from building a functional government.
Yet that is precisely what the Senate minority has done from his very first days in office. As of September of this year, the Senate had been forced to invoke cloture on 236 Trump nominees — each of those representing its own massive consumption of legislative time meant only to delay an inevitable confirmation. How many times was cloture invoked on nominees during President Obama’s first term? 17 times. The Second President Bush’s first term? Four times. It is reasonable to wonder whether a future President will actually be able to form a functioning administration if his or her party does not hold the Senate.
Congress has in recent years also largely abdicated its core function of legislating on the most pressing issues facing the national government. They either decline to legislate on major questions or, if they do, punt the most difficult and critical issues by making broad delegations to a modern administrative state that they increasingly seek to insulate from Presidential control. This phenomenon first arose in the wake of the Great Depression, as Congress created a number of so-called “independent agencies” and housed them, at least nominally, in the Executive Branch. More recently, the Dodd-Frank Act’s creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Branch, a single-headed independent agency that functions like a junior varsity President for economic regulation, is just one of many examples.
Of course, Congress’s effective withdrawal from the business of legislating leaves it with a lot of time for other pursuits. And the pursuit of choice, particularly for the opposition party, has been to drown the Executive Branch with “oversight” demands for testimony and documents. I do not deny that Congress has some implied authority to conduct oversight as an incident to its Legislative Power. But the sheer volume of what we see today – the pursuit of scores of parallel “investigations” through an avalanche of subpoenas – is plainly designed to incapacitate the Executive Branch, and indeed is touted as such.
The fact of the matter is that, in waging a scorched earth, no-holds-barred war of “Resistance” against this Administration, it is the Left that is engaged in the systematic shredding of norms and the undermining of the rule of law. This highlights a basic disadvantage that conservatives have always had in contesting the political issues of the day. It was adverted to by the old, curmudgeonly Federalist, Fisher Ames, in an essay during the early years of the Republic.
In any age, the so-called progressives treat politics as their religion. Their holy mission is to use the coercive power of the State to remake man and society in their own image, according to an abstract ideal of perfection. Whatever means they use are therefore justified because, by definition, they are a virtuous people pursing a deific end. They are willing to use any means necessary to gain momentary advantage in achieving their end, regardless of collateral consequences and the systemic implications. They never ask whether the actions they take could be justified as a general rule of conduct, equally applicable to all sides.
Conservatives, on the other hand, do not seek an earthly paradise. We are interested in preserving over the long run the proper balance of freedom and order necessary for healthy development of natural civil society and individual human flourishing. This means that we naturally test the propriety and wisdom of action under a “rule of law” standard. The essence of this standard is to ask what the overall impact on society over the long run if the action we are taking, or principle we are applying, in a given circumstance was universalized – that is, would it be good for society over the long haul if this was done in all like circumstances?
For these reasons, conservatives tend to have more scruple over their political tactics and rarely feel that the ends justify the means. And this is as it should be, but there is no getting around the fact that this puts conservatives at a disadvantage when facing progressive holy far, especially when doing so under the weight of a hyper-partisan media.
Let me turn now to what I believe has been the prime source of the erosion of separation-of-power principles generally, and Executive Branch authority specifically. I am speaking of the Judicial Branch.
In recent years the Judiciary has been steadily encroaching on Executive responsibilities in a way that has substantially undercut the functioning of the Presidency. The Courts have done this in essentially two ways: First, the Judiciary has appointed itself the ultimate arbiter of separation of powers disputes between Congress and Executive, thus preempting the political process, which the Framers conceived as the primary check on interbranch rivalry. Second, the Judiciary has usurped Presidential authority for itself, either (a) by, under the rubric of “review,” substituting its judgment for the Executive’s in areas committed to the President’s discretion, or (b) by assuming direct control over realms of decision-making that heretofore have been considered at the core of Presidential power.
In any event, the prospect that courts can meaningfully resolve interbranch disputes about the meaning of the Constitution is mostly a false promise. How is a court supposed to decide, for example, whether Congress’s power to collect information in pursuit of its legislative function overrides the President’s power to receive confidential advice in pursuit of his executive function? Nothing in the Constitution provides a manageable standard for resolving such a question. It is thus no surprise that the courts have produced amorphous, unpredictable balancing tests like the Court’s holding in Morrison v. Olson that Congress did not “disrupt the proper balance between the coordinate branches by preventing the Executive Branch from accomplishing its constitutionally assigned functions.”
In recent years, we have lost sight of the fact that many critical decisions in life are not amenable to the model of judicial decision-making. They cannot be reduced to tidy evidentiary standards and specific quantums of proof in an adversarial process. They require what we used to call prudential judgment. They are decisions that frequently have to be made promptly, on incomplete and uncertain information and necessarily involve weighing a wide range of competing risks and making predictions about the future. Such decisions frequently call into play the “precautionary principle.” This is the principle that when a decision maker is accountable for discharging a certain obligation – such as protecting the public’s safety – it is better, when assessing imperfect information, to be wrong and safe, than wrong and sorry.
It was once well recognized that such matters were largely unreviewable and that the courts should not be substituting their judgments for the prudential judgments reached by the accountable Executive officials. This outlook now seems to have gone by the boards. Courts are now willing, under the banner of judicial review, to substitute their judgment for the President’s on matters that only a few decades ago would have been unimaginable – such as matters involving national security or foreign affairs.
The impact of these judicial intrusions on Executive responsibility have been hugely magnified by another judicial innovation – the nationwide injunction. First used in 1963, and sparely since then until recently, these court orders enjoin enforcement of a policy not just against the parties to a case, but against everyone. Since President Trump took office, district courts have issued over 40 nationwide injunctions against the government. By comparison, during President Obama’s first two years, district courts issued a total of two nationwide injunctions against the government. Both were vacated by the Ninth Circuit.
It is no exaggeration to say that virtually every major policy of the Trump Administration has been subjected to immediate freezing by the lower courts. No other President has been subjected to such sustained efforts to debilitate his policy agenda.
The legal flaws underlying nationwide injunctions are myriad. Just to summarize briefly, nationwide injunctions have no foundation in courts’ Article III jurisdiction or traditional equitable powers; they radically inflate the role of district judges, allowing any one of more than 600 individuals to singlehandedly freeze a policy nationwide, a power that no single appellate judge or Justice can accomplish;.. <…>
Importantly, however, the President coupled that rescission with negotiations over legislation that would create a lawful and better alternative as part of a broader immigration compromise. In the middle of those negotiations — indeed, on the same day the President invited cameras into the Cabinet Room to broadcast his negotiations with bipartisan leaders from both Houses of Congress — a district judge in the Northern District of California enjoined the rescission of DACA nationwide. Unsurprisingly, the negotiations over immigration legislation collapsed after one side achieved its preferred outcome through judicial means. A humanitarian crisis at the southern border ensued. And just this week, the Supreme Court finally heard argument on the legality of the DACA rescission. The Court will not likely decide the case until next summer, meaning that President Trump will have spent almost his entire first term enforcing President Obama’s signature immigration policy, even though that policy is discretionary and half the Supreme Court concluded that a legally indistinguishable policy was unlawful. That is not how our democratic system is supposed to work.
In so many areas, it is critical to our Nation’s future that we restore and preserve in their full vigor our Founding principles. Not the least of these is the Framers’ vision of a strong, independent Executive, chosen by the country as a whole.”
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