The president is the chief law enforcement officer in the administration. He’s now saying, well, this isn’t anything that he’s got anything to do with. He’s up on vacation on Martha’s Vineyard and his attorney general is going back and doing something that the president said some months ago he wouldn’t do.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz), who called the interrogation probe a “mistake,” said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” that Holder nonetheless has the authority to investigate. “The attorney general has a unique position in the cabinet obviously,” McCain said. “He can’t be told what to do by the president of the United States.”
Yet Cheney said the Constitution confers ultimate law enforcement authority on the president, not the Attorney General.
Well, I think if you look at the Constitution, the president of the United States is the chief law enforcement officer in the land. The attorney general’s a statutory officer. He’s a member of the cabinet.
Cheney appears to be taking an expansive view of Article II of the Constitution, which says: “The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States.” Yet in practice and common understanding, the chief law enforcement officer of the United States is the Attorney General. The Judiciary Act of 1789 established the AG’s office, “which evolved over the years into …. chief law enforcement officer of the Federal Government,” the Department of Justice’s Web site says.
The Attorney General’s office is unique in that it is expected to enforce the nation’s laws fairly, uphold the Constitution and represent the broader interests of the American people, not the political interests of the White House. While President Obama has said he opposes a new review of the CIA interrogation methods, he’s also repeatedly said the decision ultimately lies with Holder.
While no Attorney General is deaf and dumb to politics, there are lines that can’t be crossed without an uproar.
President Nixon’s attorney general, Elliot Richardson, resigned in protest when Nixon fired the Watergate special counsel, Archibald Cox. FBI Director Robert Mueller and then-Deputy Attorney General James Comey almost resigned after the White House tried to pressure then-Attorney General John Ashcroft, who was in the hospital, to reauthorize surveillance techniques believed to be illegal. And Attorney General Alberto Gonzales resigned after it was revealed the White House had directed the firings of nine U.S. Attorneys for political reasons.