Former WA Attorney General: Trump claim of total authority as president is ‘false’

Aug 24, 2020, 4:30 PM | Updated: 4:33 pm
Trump, authority president...
President Trump. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
(AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

They’re being called a blueprint for dictatorship. Presidential emergency action documents are mysterious documents that are apparently sealed in a vault and give extraordinary powers to whoever the president happens to be, including suspending the Constitution. Former state Attorney General Rob McKenna joined Seattle’s Morning News to explain what exactly they are.

“I’m not that surprised to read that these documents exist because I think a lot of us have been aware that the executive branch — the White House in particular — does a lot of contingency planning … These PEADs, as they’re called, date back to the Eisenhower administration when they were trying to plan for a potential Soviet nuclear attack,” he said.

“So it’s contingency planning, and this idea of exercising presidential authority in extraordinary ways, like suspending habeas corpus, all of that flows from a presumption that you’re in a state of national emergency.”

FDA authorizes COVID-19 plasma treatment, but more testing needed

McKenna says that Trump’s recent comments regarding presidential authority has led some to worry, but there are proper check and balances to ensure the use of power is warranted.

“What’s made it I think even more alarming though for a lot of people — it would have been, anyway — is that you’ve got President Trump running around saying that ‘When somebody is the President of the United States, the authority is total, and that’s the way it’s got to be.’ Well, that’s false,” he said.

“What’s true is that in an emergency, the president does have more authority, just like Governor Inslee has more authority during the health emergency that we’re experiencing right now. But you have to keep in mind, it’s in that context of a declared emergency, and there are lots of checks and balances,” he said.

Such checks and balances require the use of power to be warranted under an emergency. McKenna detailed examples in which Trump could not get that authority.

“I’ll give you two examples: President Trump tried to declare an emergency and shift money that Congress had not appropriated from the defense budget to build his border wall right on. That was struck down in court. And Trump tried to ban Muslims from entering our country for a period of time. That initial order was struck down. It was heavily modified and subsequently upheld. But the judiciary weighted in, did its job, and that improper use of emergency authority was curtailed and reversed by the court.”

Pacific Lutheran University offering tuition-free year to offset COVID interruption

While McKenna understands the concerns, he says the documents have been around for awhile and we’ve successfully maintained our freedoms.

“I’m not saying there isn’t some cause for concern and there isn’t a need for additional transparency here. But we’ve had these presidential emergency action documents since the 1950s, and we haven’t lost our freedoms. Administrations from Eisenhower through Obama have not seemed to relish the idea of alarming people, because these action documents evidently are based on really scary scenarios like what would happen in case of a nuclear attack,” he said.

“The idea of giving the president more power during an actual emergency is really rooted in the Constitution and in the framers’ recognition that they designed the legislative process to be slow and cumbersome. It’s often said that the Constitution is not a suicide pact. And so, if in a true national emergency, it’s important to suspend certain basic rights to avoid national suicide, I think we would all agree that’s probably the right outcome.”

Listen to Seattle’s Morning News weekday mornings from 5 – 9 a.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

Dave Ross on KIRO Newsradio 97.3 FM
  • listen to dave rossTune in to KIRO Newsradio weekdays at 5am for Dave Ross on Seattle's Morning News.

Dave's Commentary

Dave Ross

Dave Ross

Ross: The key to wedding success? Eat lots of cake and make your dancing look spontaneous

Yesterday on Gee & Ursula’s “Scenarios” segment they took on a listener’s wedding dilemma. The listener is going to his brother’s wedding, and he’s bringing his girlfriend, who likes to do karaoke. Well, his brother needs a wedding singer, and the girlfriend convinced him … to let her do it. More from Dave Ross: Before fearing […]
2 days ago
Dave Ross

Ross: Before fearing what migrants destroy, try helping them build something first

The U.S. border is swamped with hundreds of thousands of migrants who want in – and border states are fed up.
3 days ago
Dave Ross

Ross: Those who don’t learn history are doomed to accept whatever they are told

Zinn’s book failed to shake my patriotism, any more than visiting Cuba or the Soviet Union. I still see America as a unique experiment worth protecting.
4 days ago
Dave Ross

Ross: Metaverse already has its problems, from monetization to groping

2D social media isn’t immersive enough, so now we’re going to strap a fat cell phone over our eyes to join a lawless 3D cartoon universe?
5 days ago
Dave Ross

Ross: Physicist says time travel is impossible … but can’t make an absolute promise

I wanted to highlight part of an interview with a physicist about time travel since it appears mainstream media didn't pick up on it.
6 days ago
Dave Ross

Ross: It’s either middle managers or robots looking over your shoulder

If you draw a paycheck, one way or another, your office is going to make sure you deserve it.
9 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Anacortes Christmas Tree...

Come one, come all! Food, Drink, and Coastal Christmas – Anacortes has it all!

Come celebrate Anacortes’ 11th annual Bier on the Pier! Bier on the Pier takes place on October 7th and 8th and features local ciders, food trucks and live music - not to mention the beautiful views of the Guemes Channel and backdrop of downtown Anacortes.
Swedish Cyberknife Treatment...

The revolutionary treatment of Swedish CyberKnife provides better quality of life for majority of patients

There are a wide variety of treatments options available for men with prostate cancer. One of the most technologically advanced treatment options in the Pacific Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform at Swedish Medical Center.
Work at Zum Services...

Seattle Public Schools announces three-year contract with Zum

Seattle Public Schools just announced a three-year contract with a brand-new company to the Pacific Northwest to assist with their student transportation: Zum.
Swedish Cyberknife 900x506...

June is Men’s Health Month: Here’s Why It’s Important To Speak About Your Health

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, men in the United States, on average, die five years earlier than women.

Anacortes – A Must Visit Summertime Destination

While Anacortes is certainly on the way to the San Juan Islands (SJI), it is not just a destination to get to the ferry… Anacortes is a destination in and of itself!

Ready for your 2022 Alaskan Adventure with Celebrity Cruises?

Celebrity Cruises SPONSORED — A round-trip Alaska cruise from Seattle is an amazing treat for you and a loved one. Not only are you able to see and explore some of the most incredible and visually appealing natural sights on the planet, but you’re also able to relax and re-energize while aboard a luxury cruise […]
Former WA Attorney General: Trump claim of total authority as president is ‘false’