Executive Action Report: 4/15/09 - 4/21/09

By John Gochnour

 

  • On Wednesday, April 15, the New York Times reported that, according to some government officials, NSA surveillance operations have been engaged in “overcollection” in recent months, allegedly exceeding even the broad limits set by Congress last year. Although the NSA claims that its operations are “in strict accordance with U.S. laws and regulations,” the Senate Intelligence Committee is has decided to investigate the surveillance program.
  • As of Wednesday, April 15, President Obama was still mulling over proposals relating to the release of Bush administration torture memos. That same day, Attorney General Eric Holder reiterated the administration’s commitment to openness, but cautioned that transparency has its limits. The following day, however, the President announced the release of four OLC memos authored from 2002 to 2005 (as part of the ACLU’s FOIA litigation), stating that “these methods of interrogation are already a thing of the past.” Some think that more disclosures may still be coming.
  • In light of the grisly interrogation details (e.g., waterboarding Khalid Sheikh Mohammed 183 times in a single month) revealed in the newly released OLC memos, Senator Patrick Leahy has renewed his call for a Truth Commission to investigate the alleged abuses of the Bush administration, and various commentators (see here, here, here, and here) have urged the impeachment of Bush administration officials, especially Jay Bybee, former OLC head. While Obama initially stated that “[t]his is a time for reflection, not retribution,” he has stopped short of promising that Bush administration officials would not be sanctioned for their involvement with torture.
  • While President Obama may be hesitant to prosecute members of the previous administration, it looks as though Spain may take up the challenge. Although Spanish Attorney General Cándido Conde-Pumpido denounced the idea on April 16, Judge Baltasar Garzón seems keen on moving forward.
  • Although the Fed initially requested that banks undergoing “stress tests” not reveal the results, last week the administration announced that it would disclose “stress test” results for the nation’s 19 biggest banks by May 4. However, it appears that there is some uncertainty and disagreement as to how (and how much of) the information should be released.
  • As if disclosing “stress test” results weren’t enough to deal with, the Fed is now also facing a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, filed by Bloomberg LP on April 16. The suit alleges a lack of transparency with respect to $2 trillion that the Government has loaned to financial institutions.
  • After President Obama met with Mexican President Felipe Calderon this past week, administration officials revealed that the President would push the Senate to ratify an inter-American weapons treaty (signed by President Clinton in 1997) in order to help fight the Mexican drug trade.
  • In nominations news, on April 16 it was revealed that President Obama would nominate Stephen Preston as general counsel for the CIA, and on April 17 the administration announced the nomination of Robert Litt as general counsel for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Executive Watch’s own Christopher Schroeder is rumored to be the leading candidate to head the DOJ’s Office of Legal Policy.
  • On Friday, April 17, while attending the Summit of the Americas in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, President Obama pledged to “seek equal partnership” with the nations of North and South America; specifically, he stated, the U.S. “seeks a new beginning with Cuba.” The President also made headlines for warmly greeting Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. The move drew criticism from some Republicans, but Obama defended his actions on Sunday, April 19, saying that such “courtesy” was justified by the need to repair the United States’ global image. After speaking with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Chavez took a step toward warming icy U.S.–Venezuela relations, expressing his intention to appoint Roy Chaderton as a new ambassador to Washington.
  • Late Friday, U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker, entertained and rejected a second Obama administration challenge to a case weighing whether a U.S. President may bypass Congress, as President George W. Bush did, in establishing a program of eavesdropping on Americans without warrants.  The Obama administration argued that the release of certain information should be barred by the state secrets doctrine, and that the decision would threaten U.S. national security.
  • On Saturday, April 18, President Obama said that he would be seeking significant spending cuts from government agencies.  At the first meeting of Obama’s entire cabinet, the president challenged the agencies to cut $100 million from their budgets.  The small sum was decried by Republican leaders as, but Obama asserted that the cumulative effect of the savings would reinvigorate American’s faith in government.
  • On Sunday, April 19, the Obama administration revealed that the United States would be boycotting a planned U.N. conference on racism, due to a document that “singles out” Israel for criticism. While still in Trinidad, President Obama stated that although he “believe[s] in the United Nations,” his administration would not countenance the “hypocritical and counterproductive” anti-Israel language of the U.N. communiqué.
  • The administration also announced a proposal on Sunday to alter the terms of the bailout packages to the nation’s largest banks.  Under details of the proposal, government loan money would be changed from preferred stock to common stock; essentially a debt for equity swap.  The proposal would free up capital for the banks and allow the administration to avoid asking for more bailout money.  The announcement raised the ire of pundits and some Congressional leaders as a step towards nationalization.
  • On Monday, April 20, the President visited the CIA for the first time.  The President attempted to reassure the agency that agents will not be blamed for harsh interrogation techniques approved by Bush Administration lawyers.
  • Also on Monday, April 20, the Senate near-unanimously confirmed three Justice Department officials.  Lanny Breuer was confirmed to head Justice’s Criminal Division, Christine Varney was confirmed to head the Antitrust Division, and Tony West was confirmed as Civil Division head.

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