It’s not uncommon for legal opinions from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel to be classified; whenever the President wants to do something nefarious — like authorizing the CIA’s program of torture — he’ll get a memo out of the OLC, and then classify the whole thing: the action and its justification.
But Trump’s memo justifying his decision to bomb Syria is classified, while the bombing, obviously, isn’t.
What’s more, the level of secrecy slapped on the OLC memo explaining how the President could order an act of war when the Constitution explicitly says that Congress alone can authorize this is so secret that even Congress isn’t allowed to see it.
That’s right: the President got a secret memo drafted that explains why he can go to war without Congressional approval, and Congress isn’t allowed to read that memo.
When GW Bush kept his torture-authorizing memos a secret, it was because he wanted to keep the torture a secret, too. But Trump isn’t even keeping up with that pretense of internal consistency. Instead, the justification for taking an action that the President personally announced on his Twitter feed is, “I don’t want you to know.”
So the general outlines of Trump’s legal basis for Friday’s bombing are fairly clear. There also are truly extreme. As Jack Goldsmith, one of the heads of the OLC during the Bush administration, has said, it’s a perspective that “places no limit at all on the president’s ability to use significant military force unilaterally.”
That would be bad enough, of course, if everything were out in the open. But at least then it could be debated on specifics, rather than supposition. Instead, we have allowed the Constitution to be eviscerated to the point that not only does the president have nearly unlimited war powers, we can’t even say exactly why.
Donald Trump Ordered Syria Strike Based on a Secret Legal Justification Even Congress Can’t See [Jon Schwarz/The Intercept]