Creative Destruction

September 24, 2006

Clinton May Have Incriminated Self In Wallace Interview

Filed under: Current Events,Politics — Robert @ 9:15 pm

In a recent interview with Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday, former President William Jefferson Clinton may have implicated himself in a violation of the law. (Transcript; video.)

In 1981, President Ronald Reagan signed Executive Order 12333, limiting the government’s ability to order assassinations. It’s a long executive order; the most relevant clauses are 2.11 and 2.12:

2.11 Prohibition on Assassination. No person employed by or acting on behalf of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, assassination.

2.12 Indirect Participation. No agency of the Intelligence Community shall participate in or request any person to undertake activities forbidden by this Order.

Clinton, in his interview with Wallace, emphatically stated (regarding Osama bin Laden):

What did I do? I worked hard to try and kill him. I authorized a finding for the CIA to kill him. We contracted with people to kill him. I got closer to killing him than anybody has gotten since.

EO 12333 was subsequently modified and relaxed in 2001, by the Bush administration, following the events of September 11, 2001. However, during Clinton’s presidency, the original order was in effect. It appears reasonably clear that former President Clinton has admitted openly to violating an Executive Order still in force. (Although the theory has been advanced that he was actually lying for political effect.)

As of press time it is not clear what penalties, if any, are prescribed for violation of EO 12333.

(H/T: Protein Wisdom.)

Update: Glenn Reynolds (you know, that lawyer fellow) says “nyet” in a private e-mail, saying that there are no penalties, and that the original EO allows assassination if the President makes a finding, which was what Clinton was referring to.

I don’t see that last part in there; my understanding was that the findings-make-it-OK rule was one of the changes Bush made in 2001. But I could be mistaken.


  1. So, the EO said that it was illegal to put out a sanction on OBL, unless the President said it was necessary?

    That’s eerily reminiscent of the current interrogation debate.

    Comment by The Sanity Inspector — September 24, 2006 @ 9:59 pm | Reply

  2. From the article that discussed Bush’s modification of EO 12333: “Generally speaking, lawyers for the White House and the CIA have said that the ban does not apply to wartime when the military is striking the enemy’s command and control or leadership targets.

    The United States also can legally invoke the right of self-defense as justification for striking terrorists or their leaders planning attacks on the United States. ”

    Comment by jb1125 — September 24, 2006 @ 11:32 pm | Reply

  3. JB, I aree with you – the president has the intrinsic power to wage war against our known enemies.

    My point – to the extent that I have one, other than tweaking Democrats – is along the lines of what the Sanity Inspector discussed.

    Comment by Robert — September 25, 2006 @ 1:51 am | Reply

  4. A President is incapable of violating an executive order. An executive order is just that, a standing instruction from the President. If a President orders some other act, with or without formalities, he has implicitly overridden a prior executive order.

    A junior person acting without executive authorization contrary to an unrevoked executive order could get in trouble. But, not a President.

    Unlike executive branch promulgated regulations, which go through an Administrative Procedure Act process, executive orders do not. Executive orders flow simply from the direction of the President.

    Now, none of this goes to answer the real question in the case, which is, on what authority did the President order someone killed? It isn’t at all clear that the President has that authority outside some very specific circumstances and we don’t know enough from the quoted material above to know if they were present or not. But, the Executive Order issue is a red herring.

    Comment by ohwilleke — September 25, 2006 @ 11:55 am | Reply

  5. Glenn Reynolds (you know, that lawyer fellow) says “nyet” in a private e-mail,

    Does that mean that Glenn has put us on his occasional reading list? Joy!

    Comment by Off Colfax — September 25, 2006 @ 11:01 pm | Reply

  6. Nah. (Well, maybe.) I blogwhored the post to him.

    Wait, what am I saying? Yes. He reads every day. He hits refresh so compulsively he is 10% of our daily traffic. We are the most influential blog in world history.

    Comment by Robert — September 25, 2006 @ 11:54 pm | Reply

  7. Blogwhoring?!? Dammit! That’s what I’ve been forgetting to do! All this time! Wasted! Oh woe!

    Comment by Off Colfax — September 26, 2006 @ 12:06 am | Reply

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