Barr Urges House Judiciary to Hold President Accountable

For Immediate Release Sunday, July 27, 2008

Appearing before the House Judiciary Committee, Bob Barr called for ‘a thorough inquiry into the Bush administration’s attack on the Constitution’s system of separation of powers and checks and balances.’ He explained: ‘It is axiomatic that no matter how much power government has, it always wants more.”

“While the executive branch under George W. Bush has taken this truism to new heights,” Barr continued, “it is not unique in its quest for power. Unfortunately, the other branches of government have failed to do enough to maintain the constitutional balance. Particularly disturbing has been Congress’ recent reluctance, in the face of aggressive executive branch claims, to make the laws and ensure that the laws are properly applied.”

Barr informed Congress that the issue was more than an abstract legal controversy: The failure to check the executive ‘has inhibited the operation of the separation of powers, necessary to provide the checks and balances which under gird our system of constitutional liberty.’ Thus, he added, ‘if the choice before this Committee is either a constitutional inquiry or a constitutional silence, then by God, I choose a constitutional inquiry’ into administration misbehavior, “not silence.”

Barr pointed to multiple administration practices: claiming that the president was authorized to override statutes and the Constitution, conducting illegal surveillance of the phone calls of Americans, using executive privilege to frustrate congressional inquiries, claiming ‘state secrets’ to defeat private lawsuits over administration abuses, issuing ‘signing statements’ to justify violating bills that he signed into law, and contending the president alone was authorized to take the nation into war. ‘In most of these cases, President Bush admittedly built on the extravagant claims of his predecessors. But that makes it even more important for Congress and the courts to confront the executive branch when it pushes too far,’ notes Barr. ‘Otherwise we may never reestablish the constitutional balance.’

Responding to a challenge issued by Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC), Barr said that, if elected president, ‘I will not use signing statements as has President Bush, to justify disobeying laws passed by Congress. I call on Senators McCain and Obama to promise the same. The American people are entitled to have a president who obeys the law.’

That isn’t all, however. In response to another congressional query, Barr added: ‘If I am elected, I will stop using the ‘state secrets’ doctrine to hide government misconduct, start following the Bill of Rights, urge Congress to roll back recent legislation expanding surveillance of American citizens under the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Act, order executive branch officials properly subpoenaed by Congress to testify, and stop misusing ‘executive privilege’ to avoid being accountable to Congress and the people. Then I would turn my attention to my next week.’

Barr represented the 7th District of Georgia in the U. S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 2003, where he served as a senior member of the Judiciary Committee, as Vice-Chairman of the Government Reform Committee, and as a member of the Committee on Financial Services. Prior to his congressional career, Barr was appointed by President Reagan to serve as the United States Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia, and also served as an official with the CIA.

Since leaving Congress, Barr has been practicing law and has teamed up with groups ranging from the American Civil Liberties Union to the American Conservative Union to actively advocate every American citizen’s right to privacy and other civil liberties guaranteed in the Bill of Rights. Along with this, Bob is committed to helping elect leaders who will strive for smaller government, lower taxes and abundant individual freedom.

To read the full transcript from the testimony, click here .