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Hillary Clinton Q&A

By Charlie Savage
Globe Staff / December 20, 2007
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1. Does the president have inherent powers under the Constitution to conduct surveillance for national security purposes without judicial warrants, regardless of federal statutes?

No. The President is not above the law.

2. In what circumstances, if any, would the president have constitutional authority to bomb Iran without seeking a use-of-force authorization from Congress? (Specifically, what about the strategic bombing of suspected nuclear sites -- a situation that does not involve stopping an IMMINENT threat?)

The President has the solemn duty to defend our Nation. If the country is under truly imminent threat of attack, of course the President must take appropriate action to defend us. At the same time, the Constitution requires Congress to authorize war. I do not believe that the President can take military action – including any kind of strategic bombing – against Iran without congressional authorization. That is why I have supported legislation to bar President Bush from doing so and that is also why I think it is irresponsible to suggest, as some have recently, that anything Congress already has enacted provides that authority.

3. Does the Constitution empower the president to disregard a congressional statute limiting the deployment of troops -- either by capping the number of troops that may be deployed to a particular country or by setting minimum home-stays between deployments? In other words, is that level of deployment management beyond the constitutional power of Congress to regulate?

No. Although Congress cannot change the President’s role as the Nation's Commander in Chief, the Constitution expressly gives Congress war powers, including the power to raise and support armies and to establish rules and regulations to govern them. These powers, among others, give Congress the authority to cap the number of troops deployed as well as set minimum home-stays. Similar limitations have been passed throughout our country's history and Presidents have adhered to them.

4. Under what circumstances, if any, would you sign a bill into law but also issue a signing statement reserving a constitutional right to bypass the law?

I have opposed the Bush Administration's abuse of signing statements, and as President, I would not use signing statements to disagree on policy grounds with legislation passed by Congress or as an end run around the veto. I would only use signing statements in very rare instances to note and clarify confusing or contradictory provisions, including provisions that contradict the Constitution. My approach would be to work with Congress to eliminate or correct unconstitutional provisions before legislation is sent to my desk.

5. Does the Constitution permit a president to detain US citizens without charges as unlawful enemy combatants?

No.

6. Does executive privilege cover testimony or documents about decision-making within the executive branch not involving confidential advice communicated to the president himself?

I fundamentally believe that our constitutional system depends upon each branch striving to accommodate the interests of the other, and the President should seek to accommodate legitimate congressional requests for information. I also believe in an open transparent government that fulfills its obligation to share as much information as possible with the public. But it is settled law that certain limited "communications made by presidential advisors in the course of preparing advice for the President, come under the presidential communications privilege, even when these communications are not made directly to the President."

7. If Congress defines a specific interrogation technique as prohibited under all circumstances, does the president's authority as commander in chief ever permit him to instruct his subordinates to employ that technique despite the statute?

No.

8. Under what circumstances, if any, is the president, when operating overseas as commander-in-chief, free to disregard international human rights treaties that the US Senate has ratified?

The international human rights treaties that the U.S. has joined represent an historic advance for the cause of human freedom. Under our Constitution, they also are the law of the land, and the President has the same duty to comply with them as with any other valid law.

9. Do you agree or disagree with the statement made by former Attorney General Gonzales in January 2007 that nothing in the Constitution confers an affirmative right to habeas corpus, separate from any statutory habeas rights Congress might grant or take away?

I disagree with Attorney General Gonzales. I have long believed that the right to habeas corpus offers fundamental protection against unchecked government power. It is a constitutionally guaranteed right. The Supreme Court should reaffirm this principle in the Boumediene case now pending and correct the mistake Congress made when it attempted to rescind habeas corpus through the Military Commissions Act.

10. Is there any executive power the Bush administration has claimed or exercised that you think is unconstitutional? Anything you think is simply a bad idea?

The Bush Administration has acted unconstitutionally in failing to comply with FISA, failing to adhere to Congress's prohibitions on torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, and attempting to hold enemy combatants indefinitely at Guantanamo without review, to name a few examples. More fundamentally, I reject the basic premise of the Bush Administration's view that Executive Power is not subject to the rule of law or to constitutional checks and balances.

11. Who are your campaign's advisers for legal issues?

I have a large and diverse group of advisers.

12. Do you think it is important for all would-be presidents to answer questions like these before voters decide which one to entrust with the powers of the presidency? What would you say about any rival candidate who refuses to answer such questions?

I am happy to tell voters when I stand on the issues. I have a long record in public life, and I leave it to the voters to judge.

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