Eric writes , “The question was whether The Times went about making its decision [to reveal the Bush administration’s violations of FISA] in a responsible way.” Marty and David ‘s responses (citing Eric Lichtblau’s column ) have devastated any suggestion to the contrary (at least to my satisfaction; Eric P. seems unconvinced). I see little to add to their very strong posts on that question.
But I think we do have to name the even more fundamental question: whether the Bush administration itself acted responsibly in keeping secret that same story. What was its legitimate justification in the first place for misleading the NYT into keeping that information secret for more than a year?
I’m afraid we are growing immune to just how outrageous and destructive it is, in a democracy, for the President to violate federal statutes in secret. Remember that much of what we know about the Bush administration’s violations of statutes (and yes, I realize they claim not to be violating statutes) came first only because of leaks and news coverage. Incredibly, we still don’t know the full extent of our government’s illegal surveillance or illegal interrogations (and who knows what else)-despite Congress’s failed efforts to get to the bottom of it. Congress instead resorted to enacting new legislation on both issues largely in the dark. Whether a President ever may legitimately act contrary to a statute is itself a controversial question. I believe the answer is yes, in extremely rare and limited circumstances (circumstances that clearly were not satisfied in the FISA or torture controversies). But how can it be faithful to our system of government for the President to act contrary to federal statutes in secret ?!