The Banality of the Unitary Executive

It’s weird, blogging the Libby trial. I’m putting out details at such a tremendous rate all day that I have a real hard time getting the big picture–though I do get that by the time I talk it through with others here. But I do feel like I’m missing the middle ground.

Except relating to one thing. David Addington. By far the biggest surprise to me, in terms of personal impressions, is David Addington.

As I’ve been reminding at every opportunity, David Addington is Mr. Unitary Executive, the guy who has provided legal justification for many of Cheney’s biggest power grabs: torture, extraordinary rendition, domestic spying, and so on.

I truly expected his interviews to be terribly hostile. I truly expected to see Addington bristle at every question. But that didn’t happen.

72 replies
  1. GREYDOG says:


    You are doing a great, great job!!! Thank you so much!

    The news has been cancelled in America, but you and your collegues at firedoglake (and a few others in the blogsphere) are real American Heroes, resurrecting the news, making information and analysis available to those of us who are hungry for the truth. There is no better example of this than your live blogging at the Libby Trial. If you weren’t there, we would get some diluted, b.s. version from the talking heads, at best…or nothing at all.

    Thank you for your time, skills, intelligence and your patriotism. All of you women give me hope for the future of this country and I thank you for that. You are an inspiraton!

    PS. Best to Jane Hamsher. I hope she is doing well.

  2. dunderhead says:


    Caught your webcast last night. Kudos! You and Jerelyn were wonderfully concise, easy to understand and sooo much better informed than the reporter I heard on CNN. It was great to see your lovey faces for the first time.

    You are doing important work. I think you’ll hear and report even bigger surprises. Please take care of yourselves!

    On to Cheney!

  3. John Casper says:

    emptywheel, I would characterize your PoliticsTV appearances as unbelieveably economical. You listen closely to what Christy or Jeralyn says and then â€riff†off their comment covering so much territory, so briefly. I’m glad they gave you your own mike.

    Wrt Addington, my take, is that he’s been hemmed in by his FBI testimony. As I learned from you, so many thought Ashcroft would protect them, why not tell the truth. He just went with the flow.
    He might not be so calm in a later trial when Fitz starts asking why he didn’t take any action to stop the leaking he clearly knew was going on. Addington may not have known it was Scooter, but he knew leaks were happening. My guess is he’ll say, â€not in my job description,†FBI was handling it, or words to that effect. Given his access to the information that leaked, his tolerance for the leaks may not look so good down the road.

    IMHO there are different kinds of intelligences. Some people are good in math, some science, some liberal arts, music, ethics, kinesthetics…. Some people such as yourself, are gifted in many areas and in addition you have that ethical core. IMHO, Addington doesn’t have that ethical intelligence or core. He could just as easily be writing a program for updating bus schedules in Cleveland as justifying torture. He appears to have no historical sense for how counter his unitary executive runs to the entire American anti-monarchical tradition. His kind probably had no problem running concentration camps for the Third Reich or slaves prior under the Mason Dixon line or enforcing legalized white supremacy until the 60’s. It’s just another technical problem to him. IMHO, he probably figures Scooter is guilty, because he was not technically proficient in avoiding prosecution. It’s just a high stakes video game.
    Completely agree with KdmfromPhila about the Arendt reference.

  4. Jim E. says:

    In terms of Addington, right-wing wackos don’t all have to be screamers like O’Reilly. And if you look at the brain-power in this administration, those who use their intellect to prop up their king are almost all soft-spoken folks who come across as very polite. Look at Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, Dick Cheney, and now Addington. They are all fanatics, they are all waaaay to the right, they all scare the shit out of me, but they are all rather professorial in terms of their personal style. Heck, you could even put Newt Gingrich in that category: he says outlandish and non-outlandish things in the same reasonable-sounding way.

  5. J. Thomason says:

    Really all Addingtion has done from a rhetorical perspective with respect to the theory of the unitary exective is take interstitial voids in constitutional case law and filled them with an argument for executive power-a forensic trop actually for an interest apparently some what confused with respect to the nature of self-governance. In other words the Executive has chosen to find his limits in the checks of the other branches where they can actually be applied under a guiding principle of expansive power. It is a direct challange that governance be imposed by others in a search for the limits of self. A reaction to this tendency argues for narrower holdings with the Supreme Court as a matter of jurisprudence rather than expansive nuanced discursive considerations, but this is a technical consideration.

    The hope inherent in this dialectic is that it is only truly addressed in our nature. What a wonderful opportunity to explore this you, EW, and others are affording.

  6. DonS says:

    EW – I appreciate all your effort. I read a few comments elsewhere about how the video could be â€improvedâ€. I just shook my head; its great.

    I realy enjoy your understated and occasional wryish, zingerish humor! Unless you intended it to be blatant, in which case, my apologies!

  7. Jodi says:

    {… very quitely and politely, … )

    There you go again, John Casper. Building them big mountain ranges out of simple mole hills.

    I dare say that if a Democrat() President had been elected to office in 2000, and 2004, and had thought that some of these actions, that many here carry on about, were necessary, then you would be on the mountain peaks shouting down the conservatives that had doubts about implementation.

    The major characteristic I have noted in all the blogs, left, liberal, democrat(), middle, republican, conservative, right is a tendency to demonize everyone else.

    Of course again, I am reminded of the wise DemFromCT who kindly explained to me, that that is what is to be expected on a political blog.

    And then there are those who when they really disagree call people names.

    … and by the way I don’t do that. God! I must be a technocrat! Or worse, objective.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Addington may well represent an authoritarian personality so well evolved that it has overridden any balance of humanity. His very being is so well entrenched in the economy of the monarchy he is creating that his radar screen is void of any balance. Truly dangerous.

    A chilling thought is to compare Addington’s open testimony to that of a psycopath who watches with distant interest the suffering of his victim. The detachment is what is the most telling.

  9. margaret says:

    He’s a lawyer, for heavens sake! They objectify everything and remain, emotionally, outside of the case they handle. I’ve always thought that this behavior bordered on the amoral, but, I realize that the LAW is the only thing that matters and how a lawyer can interpret, manipulate, and creatively apply the law or the loopholes to achieve the desired result. Addington may be a demon, or just a cool cucumber lawyer.

    Marcie, you are great!!!

  10. John Casper says:

    Jodi, I was raised a Barry Goldwater Republican and I was dumb enough to vote for Bush in 2000. Google on â€nation building.†You’ll find Ronald Reagan routinely ripped the U.N. for engaging in it. As I’ve reminded you before, the Posse Comitatus Act prohibits the Federal Government from using the US military to enforce the law in the US. Iraq has no military objectives for the U.S. It needs a police force and legal institutions. Our troops aren’t trained to provide that, especially in a foreign language and in a foreign culture.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Thanks — you’ve confirmed here what your live-blogging conveyed about Addington — he came across as a fairly conventional, competent lawyer. And I’d expected a nasty scheming monarchist. But he doesn’t feel any need to scheme.

    These wingers live entirely in their elite bubble and spin happy castles in their heads, then are injured when their victims point out they are murderers.

  12. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for clarifying who had marked documents â€treat as,†Marcy. It certainly sounded like a secrecy-obsessed Cheneyism, but from the liveblog bit about originals and copies I wasn’t quite clear whether it was done by OVP or as some kind of privacy indication by the prosecutor’s office.

    The funniest thing about it is that, based on Fleischer’s testimony, they treated actual secret information so casually, and yet they still thought that faux security labeling would protect their own embarrassing or incriminating information.

  13. alabama says:

    You’ve provided a precise, exact, and accurate description of someone with the look and the style of the late Richard Bissell.

  14. Anonymous says:

    I dare say that if a Democrat() President had been elected to office in 2000, and 2004, and had thought that some of these actions, that many here carry on about, were necessary, then you would be on the mountain peaks shouting down the conservatives that had doubts about implementation.

    I dare say you’re entirely wrong, Jodi. Blogs didn’t exist in the Clinton years, but he got plenty of crap (not cheers of support) for his â€triangulation†and moves to the right. Since the only president who has come close to this level of deciding that such power grabs â€were necessary†was Nixon, you’d have to start with a lot of wild assumptions to even speculate about this â€what if.â€

    And just because you don’t engage in name-calling (except for â€Democrat Presidentâ€) doesn’t make you â€objective.†Making unsupported assertions like this one and gross generalizations about all political bloggers (except your own enlightened self, of course) pretty much lets you off the hook for that.

  15. Leslie in CA says:

    I am jonesing, John Casper! I need my trial fix.

    And btw, you are far more equable than I would be in certain situations.

  16. cboldt says:

    With FDL being unable to serve web pages, perhaps Marcy will post her notes here, until whatever issue at FDL is sorted out.

    I sure hope she’s not getting wrapped up in web-related troubleshooting at the expense of taking notes on the trial proceedings.

  17. Tap Duncan says:

    Yeah me too!! So much for getting the word out about our little secret addiction. I’ve been trying for 15 minutes now, and I just started to itch, now come the bugs crawling all over me, and then curling up on the floor in a fetal position with deep abdominal pains!! HELP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  18. Jodi says:



    bear with me. I just had a little fun after reading that Democrat() Congress or some such was like chalking a board.

    Never thought of it.

    Probably last time I do it.

    I do have been blocked, at least temporarily, from FDL. Perhaps their host has noticed all the traffic.

  19. clueless says:

    emptywheel – have the servers crashed at FDL? Doesn’t refresh for me nor take any comment updates – says something about server problems. Figured I’d try to here since FDL appears to be down. Status?

  20. clueless says:

    btw, emptywheel, your last Judy update ended at 11:00, per my computer update (’server down’).

  21. Leslie in CA says:

    I seem to remember a mention earlier in the week, or late last week, of heavy DOS attacks on FDL. They may have succeeded.

  22. clueless says:

    Yeah me too!! So much for getting the word out about our little secret addiction. I’ve been trying for 15 minutes now, and I just started to itch, now come the bugs crawling all over me, and then curling up on the floor in a fetal position with deep abdominal pains!! HELP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Posted by: Tap Duncan | January 31, 2007 at 12:06

    Holy shit, Duncan…you sound pretty pathetic.

    I thought I was the only one doing that! (I’ve stayed home from work the last 2 days so I could follow this trial.)

  23. obsessed says:

    1) great post
    2) video updates fabulous – I love your wry sense of humor
    3) I can’t get into FDL either

  24. William Ockham says:

    I think that folks here are misinterpreting Addington’s performance. I expected a competent lawyer, close associate of the defendant, and chief of staff to the apparent real target of the investigation to take a much different approach. I expected him to answer questions (esp. from the prosecution) as minimally as possible. I expected him to be polite, non-confrontational, but tight-lipped. Instead, he was voluble and seemingly oblivious to the problems he was causing for Libby and Cheney.

    I get the impression that he is a true believer in the sense that he is so convinced of the rightness of his cause and the goodness of the people he works for that he has no fear of consequences of his actions. At one level, you don’t expect folks like him to be so naive, but I’ve met enough of those folks (and, to be honest, I am one of those folks, albeit I’m a true believer in a mostly diametrically opposed worldview) to know how common it really is. I hope I’m reading the situation correctly, because, if I am right, Cheney is doing a true slow burn. Cheney knows he needs Addington to get what he wants, but he must be furious about his testimony.

  25. emptywheel says:

    Just FYI

    If servers go down, I’ll go to DKos. They can handle the traffic. I doubt TNH can. Plus, Typepad is the worst choice for a liveblog, in terms of softwarre.

  26. Anonymous says:

    Yeah, Adolf Eichman was a pretty bland, banal kind of guy, too. Didn’t stop him from being one of the biggest criminals in history, just like it doesn’t stop Addington, who should be tried for treason to the Constitution.

  27. Anonymous says:

    Addington is bland and banal because he can’t believe there’s anyone worth talking to in the world who doesn’t believe as he does.

    Asking him about the unitary executive theory, the right of the executive to out Plame and lie about it, or what his favorite ice cream flavor is are all likely to elicit the same level of emotion.

  28. Powerpuff says:

    Congruency is often mistaken for strength of character. Mr. Addingington has no conflicts about his beliefs of President Bush’s absolute powers, so he appears as a learned, knowledgeable person.

  29. Anonymous says:

    John Casper @ 10:34

    Did you know one of the last acts of the Republican Congress before it recessed for the election ripped the heart out of Posse Comitatus.

    There was a dailyKos diary on this. You can get a start with Leahy’s commnents.

    â€â€¦Not only does this Conference Report unfortunately drop the Empowerment amendment entirely, it adopts some incredible changes to the Insurrection Act, which would give the President more authority to declare martial law. Let me repeat: The National Guard Empowerment Act, which is designed to make it more likely for the National Guard to remain in State control, is dropped from this conference report in favor of provisions making it easier to usurp the Governors control and making it more likely that the President will take control of the Guard and the active military operating in the States….â€

  30. Mimikatz says:

    Jodi–In case you missed it, during the Vietnam War liberals were very critical of LBJ (a Dem) and even put him in the position where he decided not to run again. One thing that makes liberals (Dems) different from conservatives is that they are not authoritarian, they do not follow leaders blindly as do so many on the Right. Dems criticize each other, maybe to a fault. But blindly follow? Not really. That’s the other side.

    I’d go with Ockham and Kagro on Addington. He has that professorial full-of-himself personality, just keeps talking because he is soooooooo interesting. Of course he doesn’t have to watch what he says, because it is all true. And he isn’t really in the wringer. That’s Cheney.

  31. HappyDays says:

    Wonderful Work, MT (and Go, Blue!)

    If the Pres give Cheney declassification power by Executive Order in March, why was Libby asking Addington about the Pres’s authority to declassify in July?

    IMHO, The best news of the day is that no matter how the defense tried to Rattle Miller and Cooper, they both stood by their memories of events.

  32. LabDancer says:

    Contrary to emptywheel’s impression, government law offices are full of Addington-type robo-lawyers, most typically, as this one, emersed in legislative drafting (the better to withstand, by confounding, judicial interpretation. Have you forgotten Bjerk… er, Bjork …er, Bork?

    Otherwise I’m very much of the same views as William Ockham on this particular model. Although … I cannot keep from my mind the image of Peter Seller’s rendition of Henry Kissinger as ex-Nazi rocket scientist Dr. Strangelove.

    So do you think we have in David Addington – DOCTOR STRANGELAW?

  33. njr says:


    and he’s kind of big-shouldered.

    â€Some†had described him as lacking a neck.
    EW was being more tactful.

  34. Anonymous says:

    While you’re doing a great job with the blogging, it’s nice to have you back thinking. Your surprise at Addington’s persona came through in your trial narrative. It made me think of a book I read a long time ago [name blowing in the wind]. It was about the long interrogation of Adolf Eichmann. His interrogator was determined to get at the root of his hatefilled antisemitism. Instead, what he found was an emotionally blunted obsessive compulsive who was worried about meeting production deadlines – without much registering that what he was producing was murdered human beings. In Eichmann’s trial, his â€sole defense was claiming that he had been a petty government functionary, merely following the orders of superiors.†[Wikipedia] That’s probably a tragic truth.

    That’s how Addington sounded to me – caught up in the precise details and legalese but emotionally isolated from the impact of his pronouncements on the country. He seemed to light up slightly when he went on and on about procedures, or definitions. I suspect he reads the Dictionary in the shade when he goes to the beach.

    So I wasn’t so taken with his Narcissism as some of the other commentors. I thought he was more the obsessive sidekick of that Megalomaniac he works for whose emotional range only goes from â€none†to â€contempt†and back again [you know, the one on Blitzer’s Situation Room the other day]…

  35. Sally says:

    It’s obvious you ladies know the story inside and out and can point out in real time some points that are being made we might not otherwise know. The traditional media is quite impressed with your work as I’ve pointed out a few times at FDL.

    B&N notified me today the book is in the mail so I’m looking forward to that.

    You seem to be thoroughly enjoying your experience although I am well aware it is hard work. Good on you, and thanks.

  36. toniD says:

    emptywheel, I am glued to my computer reading along as you type. I am fascinated by this case and am awaiting the next day in anticipation of what will come out next about the VP office and the admin.

    Thank you for your effort of blogging the live trial.

    And Christie and Jaralyn are also great recapping.

    Thank you all!!

  37. katie Jensen says:

    No new posts up and I am jonesing for some analysis from my favorite crew. (but I do understand that people need to have a life). I am interested in the handwritten note by Cheney that says â€this pres.†(scratched and and replaced with) â€this guyâ€. I do believe there will be further evidence that supports a conspiracy…and we certainly have seen enough to know that Rove and Libby were spreading the info.

    Then how convenient that Bush declassifies. It’s all there, but it’s not as big as watergate????…when will the splash occur…will it ever in this new world of corporate owned media??? Holy cow…he stood up and denied having any knowledge…and what did he testify to when interviewed with fitz.

    The most ideal scenario is that the whole cabal goes down and no one gets pardoned. I get worried occasionally thinking that they will stick the full responsibility on Libby and get away with it. I don’t know that Rove was exonerated from anything but perjury…I mean we have no clue. I think the fact that Gregory and pres were walking along the road together when Gregory got the leak from Fleischer and then this note. (now what would be really gnarly is if Cheney is soooo evil that he will sink the pres.) I’ve often wondered in a highly theoretical model if Bush relapsed and Cheney was put in position (just in case) when it occurred he took over. Then Bush (like a good alcoholic) gets resentful cause somebody playing king. Then Cheney thinking he’s doing us all a favor to bring the pres down with him. (huh?? it could work??)It’s just impossible for me to imagine that everybody is getting along swimmingly. The only folks who would get along with this highly authoritative gang would be people pleasers and enablers.

    Okay…I’ve ranted. I think the note is one more little tiny peice of evidence…along with the Bush lawyering up…Rove’s clear involvement and closeness to pres…the trip to Africa, the leak to Gregory in near proximity to the pres. I want the whole gang to go…and I am just not in the mood to settle for less.

  38. RenB says:


    what you have just described is in Hannah Ahrendt’s ’The Banality of Evil’ and ’On Totalitarianism’.

    Check her out on Wiki, and then read them after.

    Gave me the creeps. I live in Austria, it had special relevance.

    You are amazing.

  39. John Casper says:

    RenB, do you know the history of Arendt’s relationship with Heidegger before and after WWII? The wiki post mentions it, but does not imho provide enough detail about the crucial financial support that Arendt provided to Heidegger and his wife. Most of my ancestors are from Austria, so I agree about â€the creeps,†but in the memory of Arendt’s actions, I also think there is also great hope.

  40. obsessed says:

    EW’s latest YouTube appearance:

    I love these! The more you relax the more your wicked understanted sense of humor starts to come through.

    Who’s the mystery witness? Jeff Gannon?

  41. vwcat says:

    Addington is a zealot who is totally convinced of his and his cause rightness. did you look, really look, at Addington’s eyes. Sometimes people seem so normal and all and then, you look at the eyes and you see it. A lack of humanity or compassion or soul. Like cheney

  42. Powerpuff says:

    Well that link was not perfect. Push the ’Previous’ button after the link and that is the picture I thought I was linking to of both Smith and emptywheel. Apologies.

  43. tnhblog says:

    Cooper’s testimony today did not support Waas’ account of it. The question I have now is, what on earth did Waas mean when he said that Libby intensely focused on Plame? The whole point of his last two articles on the case was that Libby misled investigators about the real reasons for his conversations with Miller and Cooper on July 12 and that he instead focused on Plame. This was not borne out by Cooper’s testimony today. If Waas’ sources misled him on this, he should publish a retraction.

  44. clueless says:

    Today in court:

    “Walton, we’d need VP testimony
    Wells, I think you’ll have to talk to President Bush bc he’s probably somewhere in that chain.â€

    Am I the only one who ’bout pissed in my pants when I read these two lines? That was the JUDGE saying that Cheney might have to tesity! Are the stars lining up for a Cheney &/or Bush testimony?

    Wouldn’t that be something to have the POTUS testify in a criminal case involving his own administration? Is that even possible?

  45. Dismayed says:

    Down boys. EW had a wedding ring on today during her web cast, so either she is in fact married OR she is much to cool to relish in your ravings and slipped on a ring to chill you boys out a bit. No doubt she’s nifty, but I think now is a good time to give a thought to boundries. Best not to test them.

  46. John Casper says:

    My guess is that comments from tnhblog, Harry, and Barry Quincy Tate all come from one author, Jason Leopold.

  47. katie Jensen says:

    Nope…it’s another hint at the larger conspiracy.

    The only problem I am having is understanding why Fitz couldn’t go forward with the leak conspiracy…I mean how does Libby really obstruct the picture?? It’s clear that Rove leaked. It’s clear that Libby leaked. I don’t understand why it would be relevant as to who leaked first?? It’s the behavior that violates the law, isn’t it…I guess this goes to the analogy about stripping the wheels on a car. It’s seems that the law has clearly been violated by both Scoots and the Rove and it’s looks like there is at least some info that suggests both Cheney and Bush were aware of the plan.

    Isn’t it easier to prove a conspiracy than to pin it on one person??

    I know Jeralynn post at fdl suggested some anxiety about â€doubtâ€. Are we certain that without a conviction, there’s nothing left and no charges will be filed?? It just seems that there is evidence of the conspiracy to leak, and that it began before the documents were declassified. Am I wrong here?

  48. John Casper says:

    â€The only problem I am having is understanding why Fitz couldn’t go forward with the leak conspiracy..â€

    I don’t know and it’s a good question. My guess is that Fitz is after DeadEye and his case against him will be stronger with Scooter. The evidence of leaking classified information that you raise is being brought out, but it’s not the focus of this indictment. That inoculates Fitz and his team from any charges of being â€out to get†DeadEye. IMHO, that’s very helpful to the learning curve of other Americans who don’t read FDL and tnh.

    You mentioned Rove leaked this. IIRC, Rove’s attorney, gold bars Luskin appeared to contaminate some constellation of evidence against Rover using a Time reporter Vivika Novak (no relation to Bob). There’s also the issue that Cheney thinks he can declassify whatever he wants.

    One other thing, as I understand it, Jeralyn is a defense attorney. I think her role on the team is to tell the narrative from Scooter’s perspective.

  49. greenhouse says:

    I think Fitz wanted to avoid conspiracy charges because it would’ve potentially turned into another iran/contra circus/fiasco not getting access to classified docs from the WH based on national security issues. With perjury/obstruction charges Fitz was able to narrowly avoid that trap.

  50. Anonymous says:

    when you have time, i hope you’ll go back to addington reading the note that apparently suggests that bush knew about this leak all along (despite his repeated denial of that fact to the american public). most of the media seem to have missed that bit of yesterday’s testimony, but that seems like a freakin’ blockbuster.

  51. Townncountry says:

    Good story — where is the press on this line of analysis? Addington and Cheney and Libby are apparently the masterminds behind the current power grab.

  52. Anonymous says:

    These comments have been invaluable to me as is this whole site. I thank you for your comment.

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