Barack Obama, no decider-in-chief

Former Vice President Cheney has lashed out at the Obama administration over the decision to have a Justice Department prosecutor revisit the legality of the conduct of CIA interrogators of terrorists. Cheney said that “President Obama’s decision” serves as “a reminder, any were needed, of why Americans question the administration’s ability to protect the nation.
The Obama team reacted not by defending the decision to investigate CIA interrogators, but rather by gutlessly attempting to evade responsibility for it. According to the Washington Post:

A senior administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, called Cheney’s comments “off base” and took umbrage at the idea that Obama had personally allowed Durham to expand his inquiry. “This was not something the White House allowed, this was something the AG decided,” the official said, referring to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.
“Now, this might have been the SOP in the previous administration as far as what you ‘allow’ the Justice Department to do, but I thought that there was statutory authority and responsibility to make sure that the attorney general has to make sure he does what he believes is in the best interest of justice,” the official said.

But the Justice Department is not an independent agency; it’s part of the Executive branch and under the control of the elected head of that branch, President Obama. No authority, statutory or otherwise, prohibits the president from deciding, for example, that the harm to our national security generally, or to the CIA specifically, outweighs the need to reopen this investigation, and therefore that the investigation should not proceed, whatever Eric Holder has concluded.
The president cannot, to be sure, block an investigation for an improper purpose. For example, he cannot do so to obtain financial gain or to help a friend or political ally. Similarly, it would be improper to block an investigation because it might reveal wrongdoing on the president’s part.
But nothing like that is involved here. So, if the president thinks Holder made a good decision, he should stand behind it. If he thinks Holder erred on a matter this important, he should reverse that decision.

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