I’m not the only one to suggest that Bush’s submitting the domestic wiretap policy for regular “approval” by the Justice Department was a joke. (In the President’s words, “all kinds of lawyers” thought the program was legit.) And it was. But it turns out that some in Justice weren’t laughing: some political appointees remembered what an attorney at law is. An outstanding Newsweek story gives details. It turns out that more or less the same actors took the same sides on wiretaps as they did on torture—no great surprise, but not inevitable either. (Hat tip: Patriot Daily, via TalkLeft, via Kevin Drum. )
Drum says there’s “no simple takeaway,” but here’s one: even a religious fanatic can be a conscientious professional. And here’s another: a majority of the public may think that this controversy is just about warrantless taps on terrorists rather than a systematic campaign to expand executive power—but they’re wrong. The politics of this is still very perilous for Democrats, but the substantive lesson gets ever clearer.
UPDATE (January 31): Dan Drezner weighs in stressing the conservatism of the people who got forced out for insisting on playing by the rules and interpreting the law as it was traditionally understood. “The fact that Addington, Cheney, and by extension Bush managed to force out people like Goldsmith and Comey means that the legal consensus within the administration is way, way outside the legal mainstream. ” Hat tip: Kevin Drum, again.