Obama Aide: A Strong President Doesn’t Check With Lawyers

We have seen in the Republican primary how candidates have engaged in a type of race to the bottom in embracing torture and suggesting that they would launch attacks against Iran and other countries. In this debate, the law and the Constitution are often dismissed as weak considerations for a strong president. Not to be outdone in such macho posturing, the Obama campaign has mocked Mitt Romney for even suggesting that he would consult with lawyers before launching attacks or taking critical actions. Stephanie Cutter, President Obama’s Deputy Campaign Manager, delivered the message on MSNBC that Obama was strong because he didn’t need no stinkin’ lawyers.

Cutter appeared on MSNBC to offer this analysis of Romney:

The most egregious falsehood would be the President’s position on Iran, whether it’s Mitt Romney or Rick Santorum, attacking the President for not being tough enough on Iran. Ask any foreign policy expert out there, we have the toughest sanctions in place today than we’ve had in decades thanks to this President.  . . . Now look at Mitt Romney. What he didn’t say on the stage tonight is that just four years ago, when asked the same question on Iran, he said he’d have to check with his lawyers. That does not make a Commander-in-Chief, somebody who has to check with his lawyers.

Of course, Obama has shown repeatedly that he has the “strength” to not only ignore lawyers, but ignore the law. On torture, he promised CIA officials that they would never be prosecuted despite his acknowledgment that waterboarding is torture — a war crime under controlling treaties. On Libya, he launched a war without achieving authorization from Congress. [For full disclosure, I represented the members challenging this war in federal court]. For areas ranging from privacy to detention, Obama has proven the type of strong leadership that Cutter describes. Her comments vividly illustrate that the White House has little concern for the objections by civil libertarians and will continue to model Obama on the image of George Bush — the strong leader who refuses to be weakened by lawyers.

Cutter’s comments should be condemned by the President but they will not be. It was not even challenged on MSNBC at the time or in later segments. After all, this election is only about “them” and not “us.” Moreover Cutter was reading from a script that has been followed since the very beginning of Obama’s term. The image of the strongman, so popular in places like Russia, has found a place in the United States. In this new paradigm, the law and the Constitution are synonymous with weakness. Even consulting with lawyers is an indication of a lack of character and strength.

By the way, Cutter is a lawyer (trained at Georgetown).

Glenn Greenwald has an excellent piece on the comments.

196 thoughts on “Obama Aide: A Strong President Doesn’t Check With Lawyers”

  1. “The CIA was created by The National Security Act in 1947.” -Dredd



    Last September, the CIA quietly changed its long-standing policy for how it would process certain records requests by implementing a new fee structure that will essentially discourage the public from trying to get the agency to declassify secret government documents because the costs are too high, open government advocates have charged.

    The policy, which the CIA started to enforce last December, applies to Mandatory Declassification Reviews (MDR), a procedure under a section of an executive order signed by President Obama (which replaced a similar executive order signed by former President Bush), that allows the public to seek the declassification of specific CIA records and appeal unfavorable rulings to an independent panel. Truthout filed several MDR’s last year to try and gain access to materials in custody of the CIA that were written by a high-value detainee and other classified documents pertaining to the Bush administration’s interrogation policies.

    “Overnight, without public comment or notice, the [CIA] decreed that declassification reviews would now cost requesters up to $72 per hour, even if no information is found or released,” wrote Nate Jones of George Washington University’s National Security Archive, a historical research group that files numerous Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests and publishes declassified documents.

    Previously, the CIA charged the public fees that were on par with general requests for agency records filed under FOIA. Jones, who first spotted the policy changes in the Federal Register, said the new regulations are “are a covert attack on the most effective tool, [MDR], that the public uses to declassify the CIA’s secret documents” and undercuts the transparency promises Barack Obama made after he was sworn in as president three years ago.


    Kenneth F. Bunting, executive director of the National Freedom of Information Coalition, which provided McClanahan’s law firm with a grant to file the lawsuit, said the CIA is “an out-of-control agency that wants to operate with accountability to no one.”

    “We understand and even appreciate that secrecy is inherent in their culture,” Bunting said. “But allowing them to operate with total disregard for rules and laws that affect the rest of government serves no good national interest.” (end of excerpts)

  2. Jim,

    Does He care for the victims or war, violent crimes, tsunamis and earthquakes…the poverty stricken…the tortured and raped? Not all are as fortunate as you–but maybe that is of no concern to you.

  3. Jim,

    Does God deposit money in your bank account and sign your checks for you?

    BTW, I’m doing well. I pay all my own bills. I don’t depend on a heavenly being to take care of my affairs. I’m self-sufficient.

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