28 Jun The New Yorker on David Addington
Jane Mayer has yet another piece of informative reporting in this week’s New Yorker, this one profiling David Addington and his role in the Administration’s expansive post-9/11 conceptions of executive power. (The piece itself isn’t on-line, but you’ll find a Q&A with Mayer about it here.) Addington comes across as a shadowy and not very appealing figure, who can’t be much fun to work with.
A couple of quick thoughts. On the one hand, the story highlights the importance of personalities to decisionmaking – the Bush Administration ended up taking some pretty extreme positions because Addington was advocating them, he’s a vicious bureaucratic fighter (everyone’s description of him includes some use of the word “knife”), and he’s got Cheney behind him. On the other hand, the tide now seems to be turning against him, as the Administration starts to back down from Guantanamo and looks for a way to get out of Iraq (now even turning in quiet desperation to the UN, as described today by Richard Holbrooke here). The New Paradigm is unlikely to have any legs. Dianne Feinstein observed yesterday in hearings on presidential signing statements that expanded presidential prerogatives will be this Administration’s “lasting legacy.” I think it’s the crude attempt to expand them that is the more likely legacy, and its ultimate rejection.
There is also something strange and revealing about Mayer’s depiction of Addington as the Administration’s “single most influential legal thinker.” Who’s to say that he’s actually a legal thinker at all? Unlike John Yoo, who’s legal work is everywhere very much in evidence (the other and more obvious contender for the not-very-sought-after accolade, and who comes out of this piece looking, possibly, like little more than Addington’s academic front man), we have nothing on paper to measure this guy’s intellectual capacity and analytical methods. The piece describes how crestfallen he was by the destruction in a fire of a “vast collection of legal documents” he had amassed at home over 25 years (“All you get in this work is memorabilia. There is no cash.”), but one wonders, really, how any of that material, beyond Curtiss-Wright and the other standard citations of the executive-power canon, works into his calculations. His modus operandi, rather, seems to be to pistol-whip anyone who suggests in internal executive branch discussions the possibility of constitutional constraints on executive action as being “soft on terrorism,” all pursuant to his “philosophy of presidential power.” Conservative gadfly Bruce Fein thinks Addington would support killing someone in a public park on a presidential say-so, if deemed an enemy combatant. How does that get written up in a memo?
Update: The full article is now online here. Orin Kerr has a post tying the profile into the Hamdan decision, asking how and whether the Administration handicapped the New paradigm’s prospects before the Court.