The Bush administration has long held that President Bush's expanded executive power is justified due to 9/11. "I believe in a strong, robust executive authority and I think that the world we live in demands it," claimed Vice President Cheney in 2005.
But in his new book, Takeover: The Return of the Imperial Presidency and the Subversion of American Democracy, Boston Globe reporter Charlie Savage reveals that Cheney has been on a thirty-year quest to implement his views of unfettered executive power.
For example, when it was revealed in 2005 that the Bush administration had been illegally spying on Americans, Cheney responded: "If you want to understand why this program is legal…go back and read my Iran-Contra report." In that report — authored in 1987 — Cheney and aide David Addington defended President Reagan by claiming it was "unconstitutional for Congress to pass laws intruding" on the "commander in chief."
Decades later, Bush's legal team used their first meeting in January 2001 — nine months before 9/11 — to map out a plan to expand presidential authority. According to Savage, who appeared on C-SPAN's Washington Journal this morning, Cheney was looking for a moment to "seize" power in the weeks before 9/11:
We are going to expand presidential power in any way we can. This was discussed in January 2001 at the first meeting of the White House legal team after the inauguration, long before 9/11. If an opportunity arises to expand presidential prerogatives, you will seize it.
Savage, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his seminal work exposing President Bush's abuse of signing statements, suggested that the administration knew its power grab would be unpopular and thus avoided any mention of their plans prior to being elected:
In hindsight, it is clear this is something that has been a central agenda of [Cheney's] for thirty years. And yet, in 1999 and 2000, no one was talking about this at all, how he might use his influence as the most experienced vice president in history dealing with the least experienced president in history.
Regarding his secretive nature, Cheney acknowledged last month that he "learned early on [under Ford] that if you don't want your memos to get you in trouble some day, just don't write any."