Inhaling the Constitution

Connoisseurs of Clintonian evasion will savor the first of the president’s responses to questions from the House Judiciary committee, finally released by the White House this afternoon. (The timing of the release is itself an evasion; Friday is Washington’s preferred day of the week for dumping bad news, because people don’t pay much attention to the Saturday newspaper; Fridays during holiday weekends like this one are better still.)

Q: Do you admit or deny that you are the chief law enforcement officer of the United States of America?

A: The President is frequently referred to as the chief law enforcement officer, although nothing in the Constitution specifically designates the President as such. Article II, Section 1 of the United States Constitution states that “[t]he executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America,” and the law enforcement function is a component of the executive power.

Leave it to Bill Clinton to give a who-wants-to-know answer to a question about his basic constitutional responsibilities. Does it depend on what the meaning of “are” is? Less flippantly, Chatterbox surmises that it’s marginally better for Clinton to have lied under oath if the constitution doesn’t pin a sheriff’s badge too conspicuously onto his lapel. Though it’s kind of pointless given Clinton’s later admission, in response to a subsequent question, that the constitution does say the president should “take care that the Laws be faithfully executed.” But score one petty triumph for Clinton: The wording appears in Article II, Section 3–not Section 2, Clinton corrects the committee. Chatterbox also notes that in Clinton’s version of the quotation, “Laws” gets an 18th century capital letter, whereas in the Judiciary committee’s it’s lowercase.

–Timothy Noah