FBI chief Mueller on whether the president can order killings in the US: "I'm not sure"

"I'm not certain if that's addressed or not"

by digby

There's been a lot of talk about this week's Eric Holder speech in which he absurdly attempted to split hairs between "due process of law" and "judicial process" (and which, unless you believe that it's reasonable for "the law" to reside in the decision of the president, flies in the face of the reasons our forefathers fought a revolution and wrote down a constitution in the first place.) I can't speculate about the motives for this ratcheting up of executive imperial power, but let's just say that it's clear the office of the president, regardless of party or ideological bent, will always seek to expand its power as much as it can. In fact, George Washington may have been the only one who didn't --- and now we're in the process, apparently, of restoring the crown that he refused.

This new iteration of presidential power takes it to a new level, however. We are now talking about a President's ability not just to "say what the law is" as disgraced President Nixon once declared. It's that he has the power to unilaterally order a citizen killed, without any of the due processes that have been developed over centuries. And despite their assurances, this isn't necessarily confined to some far away overseas "battlefield". Get a load of this from Jonathan Turley:

[T]he only limits stated by the Administration have been self-imposed standards and what Holder calls “due process” — expressly excluding “judicial process.” Now, FBI Director Robert Mueller has entered the fray. On Wednesday Mueller was asked in a congressional hearing whether the current policy would allow the killing of citizens in the United States. Mueller said that he simply did not know whether he could order such an assassination. It was the perfect moment to capture the dangerous ambiguity introduced into our system by this claim of inherent authority. I can understand Mueller deferring to the Attorney General on the meaning of his remarks, but the question was whether Mueller understands that the same power exists within the United States. One would hope that the FBI Director would have a handle on a few details guiding his responsibilities, including whether he can kill citizens without a charge or court order.

Mueller was asked whether the same criteria used to kill Americans abroad also would apply in the United States and whether the President retained the “historical” right to order such assassination on U.S. land. When asked this basic question by Rep. Kevin Yoder (R-Kan.), Mueller said that he was simply unsure where the President’s authority would end, if at all, in killing citizens: “I have to go back. Uh, I’m not certain whether that was addressed or not” and added "I’m going to defer that to others in the Department of Justice.” He appeared unclear whether he had the power under the Obama Kill Doctrine or, in the very least, was unwilling to discuss that power.

This is the head of the FBI. And he's a former US Attorney to boot. I'm fairly sure he knows the "traditional" answer to that. On the other hand, it's entirely possible that he hasn't been copied on the Top Secret memos that legalized the presidential kill orders, so he's no longer clear on the current policies.

But this isn't hard, really. As Jonathan Turley concluded:

For civil libertarians, the answer should be easy: “Of course, I do not have that power under the Constitution.”

I think he would be safe in saying that. I suppose the problem is that his job might not be.

Update: Credo Action has a petition going to ask Attorney General Holder to release the secret memos. C'mon, they have to know they'll come out sooner or later.

And nothing bad happened to John Yoo, so why should they care? (Funny how that works, isn't it?)