Jimmy Carter falsely linked Democrat-authorized, politically-motivated, warrantless domestic spying on Dr. & Mrs. King with national-security-imperative listening to terrorist-connected telephone calls that originate outside the US during Mrs. King's funeral this week. It was shameful and wrong of him to do so.
But now we find out that warrantless surveilance for national security purposes was conducted by President Jimmy Carter -- with his personal authorization -- in 1977.
But in 1977, Mr. Carter and his attorney general, Griffin B. Bell, authorized warrantless electronic surveillance used in the conviction of two men for spying on behalf of Vietnam.
The men, Truong Dinh Hung and Ronald Louis Humphrey, challenged their espionage convictions to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, which unanimously ruled that the warrantless searches did not violate the men's rights.
In its opinion, the court said the executive branch has the "inherent authority" to wiretap enemies such as terror plotters and is excused from obtaining warrants when surveillance is "conducted 'primarily' for foreign intelligence reasons."
Notice -- that is "inherent authority". Authority which exists as a part of the authority granted each and every president by Article II of the US Constitution, independent of any statute or law. It is power that Congress cannot restrict or eliminate, and that the courts must recognize.
That is why all of the discussion of the FISA law is irrelevant, and the position of the Bush administration is correct.
That description, some Republicans say, perfectly fits the Bush administration's program to monitor calls from terror-linked people to the U.S.
The Truong case, however, involved surveillance that began in 1977, before the enactment of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which established a secret court for granting foreign intelligence warrants.
Democrats and some Republicans in Congress say FISA guidelines, approved in 1978 when Mr. Carter was president, are the only way the president may conduct surveillance on U.S. soil.
Administration officials say the president has constitutional authority to conduct surveillance without warrants in the name of national security. The only way Congress could legitimately curtail that authority, they argue, is through an amendment to the Constitution.
The administration's view has been shared by previous Democrat administrations, including Mr. Carter's.
I realize that must stick in the craw of a lot of liberals, but the Constitution trumps any statute. Congress cannot limit the constitutional powers delegated to the other two branches by statute, any more than the president can issue an executive order ending a filibuster or preventing the courts from hearing a case. Congress cannot prevent the exercise of such inherent powers of the Executive branch, any more than the Judicial Branch could issue an order prohibiting ta declaration of war or preventing the president from vetoing a bill.
Let's look at what the Carter Administration had to say about FISA.
When Mr. Bell testified in favor of FISA, he told Congress that while the measure doesn't explicitly acknowledge the "inherent power of the president to conduct electronic surveillance," it "does not take away the power of the president under the Constitution."
Did you get that -- the position of the Carter administration was that the FISA law permitted exactly the sort of activity Carter so inapproriately criticized at Mrs. King's funeral. He climbed on to her corpse to deliver a political attack that he knew was false. He condemned activity that he himself engaged in and defended -- and he knew it. That makes him a hypocritical SOB of the first order. Too bad we cannot impeach him retroactively.