Turley on Bergdahl: Dems will “rue the day” they were silent

Jonathan Turley

Law Professor Jonathan Turley spoke to C-SPAN about the Bergdahl affair and Executive Branch Powers.

Law professor Jonathan Turley talked to C-SPAN on Thursday, and he said Democrats in Congress  will “rue the day they were silent” as their authority was drained away.

Turley’s segment focused on the exchange of U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl for 5 Taliban leaders, but the professor also waded into territory on the separation of federal powers. 

Turley acknowledged early on that President Barack Obama didn’t follow the law requiring 30 days notice to Congress when detainees such as the 5 Taliban are released. The professor also pointed out that law passed the Senate and was signed by this president. Commenting on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) defense of Obama’s actions, Turley said it was “fascinating” Reid brushed aside the law.

Presidents in the past have disregarded federal law, and animosity has existed between branches of Congress and the Executive Branch. A common populist meme pushes the idea of a dysfunctional Congress, with some rationalizing Obama’s right to act unilaterally if he can’t get something done otherwise.

“There is no license to go it alone in the Madisonian system,” said Turley. The reference is to James Madison, popularly called the “Father of the U.S. Constitution” and the Bill of Rights, and one author of the Federalist Papers.

“To say that our time is different is to ignore history,” Turley said of the “dysfunctional Congress” argument.

Even worse, said the professor and legal scholar, is that when Obama told Congress in his address that he would go it alone, “You had half of Congress applauding wildly.” The Senate, he said, is more “lockstep” with their party.

Turley likened Obama to an “uber-president” embraced by his fellow Dems, and he said political measures like the killing of the filibuster “will come back to haunt them.”

For Turley and others who respect the Constitution, the level of the expansion of power currently pushed by Obama is unprecedented, even compared to other presidents who have sought to expand Executive Branch power. Turley said Obama has “done many things that were in the articles of impeachment” for President Richard Nixon, a Republican. President Obama is “very likable…he has the power of personality.” But Turley said that is “dangerous.”

For the professor, the direction the country is going in suggests the president believes he is a “government unto himself.” Why is that dangerous? Because, said Turley, “separation of powers was designed to protect individual liberty.” The practice sets a dangerous precedent because Obama is “not our last president—these powers will last.”

Turley said it was “manifestly true” that President Obama “broke the law,” and he called such actions a “direct attack on the separation of powers.”

Turley has never spared presidents when it comes to criticism if he believes there is a violation of law. He advocated for President George W. Bush to be charged with war crimes because of the use of enhanced interrogation techniques such as waterboarding in the immediate aftermath of the attacks on 9/11/2001.

There is a well-sourced bio of Turley at Wikipedia. He is considered a social liberal, but he is also a staunch defender of the 2nd Amendment.

Turley said the White House handled the Bergdahl-Taliban exchange in a “remarkably ham-handed” way. “We’re a divided nation…a deeply divided nation,” he said.

Democrats like Reid have made various claims in an attempt to justify Obama’s action. However, the professor said, there was “no question” federal law had been violated, and that the situation undermined “any credibility” the White House might have had. He said he was surprised by who was released, and “taken aback” when he saw details on the list of Taliban released from Guantanamo Bay.

At least one detainee who was released is wanted for war crimes by the United Nations because of the alleged murders of “thousands” of Shiite Muslims.

Turley suggested that because of the nature of those released detainees, the issue is “legitimate” for public debate.  He said, “This president has repeatedly circumvented federal law…it has reached a level today that is unprecedented.”

Turley’s C-SPAN visit comprises a sound educational resource on separation of powers, Executive Branch behavior, and U.S. history.

(Filed by Kay B. Day/June 5, 2014)

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About Kay Day

Kay B. Day is a freelance writer who has published in national and international magazines and websites. The author of 3 books, her work is anthologized in textbooks and collections. She has won awards for poetry, nonfiction and fiction. Day is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors and the Authors Guild.
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