President Clinton has all the authority he needs to place this
under a dictatorship with the stroke of the pen.
He could do it at any time. Congress has given him the power. The
laws are in the statute books. And the courts have already refused to
Those are the conclusions of Virginia attorneys William Olson and
Alan Woll, editor and assistant editor of Issues Bulletin, the
newsletter of the Abraham Lincoln Foundation, a non-profit, public
policy organization in Washington, D.C.
In the December issue, the two attorneys take a sharp look at the
unrestricted expansion of the executive branch by means of a little
understood procedure, and the feet-dragging reluctance of Congress and
the courts to do anything to stop it. Their eight-page legal study is
titled, “Executive Orders and National Emergencies: Presidential
Power Grab Nearly Unchecked.”
According to Olson and Woll, “A President may simply choose to
state of emergency, without any standards, any input from Congress or
much risk of judicial challenge.”
President Clinton has already declared and renewed 12 distinct
“national emergencies” — all currently in force.
“Once a national emergency is declared, presidents use executive
to exercise emergency powers. Some such powers come from Congress –
(but) presidents assert other emergency powers without any statutory or
Constitutional authority,” according to the report.
To make matters worse, “(T)he courts have deferred to presidential
declarations of national emergencies, refusing to examine the basis for
the emergency even years — or decades — after the emergency was
declared.” In fact, the United States has been in a
presidentially-declared state of emergency since March 1933.
Olson and Woll fear that Americans are especially “vulnerable” at
time, quite frankly because of the character of the president.
As they see it: “So long as the definition (and declaration) of a
national emergency remains at the unbridled discretion of a president –
with the Congress and the courts granting extensive, perhaps
comprehensive authority to presidents whenever a national emergency is
declared — Americans enjoy little protection from the prospect of
government. The risk is greatest when the character of the president is
not worthy of trust.”
Contacted for comment, Olson and Woll discussed their report with
WorldNetDaily in a telephone interview.
“I wish I had an infinite amount of time to become an expert in a
in which no one is an expert,” said Olson, who deplores the “dearth of
sound legal and policy research” regarding executive orders and the
powers the president can wield during a national emergency.
“There are some secondary sources out there, but most of those are
unreliable because it’s not clear how these things (executive orders)
really work. No one really understands them,” he said.
The problem is compounded by a lack of interest by persons they had
expected to be well informed. Early in their investigation they
discovered that no one at the Capitol, not even entrenched congressional
staffers, has a firm grasp of the subject.
National emergencies are declared, executive orders are issued, but
“there’s no real tracking.”
“Nobody is minding the store,” said Olson.
With almost nothing to go on, the two attorneys were forced to begin
their research virtually from scratch. “We had to go to the original
sources, do everything from the ground up,” Olson recalled.
A 1976 Senate report on presidential powers and national emergencies
proved to be the most valuable source. The report explained how
President Franklin Roosevelt declared a national emergency and bank
holiday immediately following his inauguration in March 1933 citing as
authority the 1917 Trading With the Enemy Act, a wartime measure that
was never repealed.
The state of national emergency continued until 1977, when Congress
in an attempt to impose some limits on presidential powers — amended
the Trading With the Enemy Act to prohibit its use to proclaim national
emergencies in peacetime.
In addition, Congress passed the National Emergencies Act in 1978,
which provided that all national emergencies would cease on September
14, 1978, and set up a mechanism for Congress to terminate or block a
It didn’t work.
Despite Congress’ effort, a dozen or so national emergencies have
declared and renewed annually, and are right now in effect. These are
premised upon problems with Iran (every year since 1979), Libya (since
1986), Iraq (since 1990), Yugoslavia (since 1992), proliferation of
weapons of mass destruction (since 1993), UNITA (Angolan
anti-communists, since 1993), Middle East terrorism (since 1995),
Colombian drug dealers (since 1995), Cuba (since 1996), Burma (since
1997), and Sudan (since 1997). Even the expiration of a statute, the
Export Administration Act of 1979, caused President Clinton to declare
and renew a state of national emergency (since 1994).
A 13th, inspired by conditions in Haiti, was in force from 1992 until
revoked in 1994.
Olson pointed out that although Clinton is responsible for eight of
dozen “national emergencies” in effect today, he didn’t invent the
tactic of expanding executive branch powers through such declarations.
“It’s been going on a long time,” Olson observed. “The country’s been
a near-permanent state of emergency since the beginning of the New
Deal. Before FDR came in a state of national emergency would only be
declared in wartime. The funny thing now is, it’s no longer a
requirement that there even be an real threat to this country. What is
unique about the recent declarations is that (Presidents) Bush and
Clinton have declared national emergencies in the event of not even
actual terrorism, but merely threatened terrorism with respect to
foreign targets or intangibles like the ‘peace process.’
“The Congress could not have intended for these extraordinary powers
be given to a president — it’s not possible. And now, one would hope,
legislative branch would have some belief in the Constitution and some
willingness to assert its prerogative against the president.
“But instead,” said Olson, “There is silence.”
Besides congressional silence and indifference, Olson and Woll are
particularly concerned about the scope and number of special powers
which the president can invoke virtually at whim if there’s a “national
A state of emergency may be invoked against, say, Iraq. The president
announces he has the power to block assets of Iraqis in this country,
seize the holdings of the government, and impose various sanctions. This
would seem to limit the actual scope to people directly involved: either
Iraqi citizens, the Iraqi government, or American business people that
want to engage in commerce with that country.
But as Woll and Olson see it, the president can — if he chooses –
much further than the planned actions detailed in the declaration. Once
a state of emergency is declared on any issue, he automatically
has at his disposal a vast arsenal of powers to use against other
perceived threats totally unrelated to a particular emergency.
These powers have been granted in various statutes passed by the
Legislature over the years. It would seem that not only is Congress not
minding the store — they’re giving the store away.
According to the 1976 Senate Report, by 1973 Congress had passed some
470 statutes giving extraordinary powers to the president. Unfortunately
these were not listed, and Olson admitted he and Woll have not been able
to locate that many.
The task is made difficult because the statutes are not grouped
together, but are found scattered throughout the titles of the U.S.
Some are even hidden away in the appendices.
“It’s really bizarre,” said Woll.
Nonetheless, what they have found is impressive.
There’s the Merchant Marine Act of 1936, which authorizes the
requisition or purchase of any vessel or watercraft during a national
emergency — any emergency. Olson quoted the statute:
“Whenever the president shall proclaim that the security of the
national defense makes it advisable or during any national emergency
declared by proclamation of the president, it shall be lawful for the
Secretary of Transportation to requisition or purchase any vessel or
other water craft owned by citizens of the United States.
“The way I read that, it seems to me all he (the president) needs is
national emergency — any national emergency,” Olson said.
Alan Woll agreed.
“The statute giving the president certain powers in a national
does not limit his powers to that particular emergency,” Woll said. “You
do need a state of declared national emergency, but I think that’s a
fair reading of those statutes granting extraordinary powers.”
Woll pointed to Title 50, War and National Defense,
as the obvious place
to start looking for information about emergency powers and national
“That has the statutes for calling out the National Guard,” he said.
“That’s where you find the statutes that deal specifically with
national emergencies. It’s also where you find the statute for IEEPA –
that’s the successor to the Trading With the Enemy Act — it’s the
primary statute used to justify declaring national emergencies.”
But there are other statutes, too. Some examples:
- Title 10, U.S. Code, Section 2808: In the event of a declaration
war or the declaration by the President of a national emergency …
that requires use of the armed forces, the Secretary of Defense, without
regard to any other provision of law may undertake military construction
projects, and may authorize the Secretaries of the military departments
to undertake military construction projects, not otherwise authorized by
law that are necessary to support such use of the armed forces.
- Title 10, U.S. Code, Section 644: The President may suspend the
operation of [laws] relating to the promotion, involuntary retirement,
or separation of officers [from the military].
“That means Clinton can keep people from leaving the military,” Olson
observed. “So we have involuntary servitude.
“And — hey — under Section 603 Clinton can name anyone an officer.”
- Title 10, U.S. Code, Section 603: In Time of war or national
emergency, the President may appoint any qualified person whether or not
already a member of the armed forces to any officer grade in the Army,
Navy, Air Force or Marines.
Olson said that doesn’t mean Clinton can appoint one of his friends
the rank of five-star general. There is a limit. The top rank allowed
for appointees is rear admiral or major general.
- Title 33, U.S. Code, Section 855: Navigable Waters — The
is authorized, whenever in his judgment a sufficient national emergency
exists, to transfer to the service and jurisdiction of a military
department such vessels, equipment, stations, and commissioned officers
of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration as he may deem to
the best interest of the country.
“That doesn’t even require a declaration,” Olson remarked.
Under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, the president
order bank holidays.
- Title 12, U.S. Code, Section 95: … during such emergency as
President of the United States by proclamation may prescribe, no member
bank of the Federal Reserve System shall transact any banking business
except to such extent and subject to such regulations, limitations and
restrictions as may be prescribed by the Secretary of the Treasury, with
the approval of the President.
“The penalty for violation is a fine of up to $10,000 and/or 10 years
in prison,” said Olson. “That’s for any bank, officer or employee.”
Woll and Olson said they hadn’t found any statute authorizing the
formation of civilian work crews or the drafting of civilians — nor any
authorizing seizures of weapons from private homes.
“But we’re looking and those could very well be there,” they said.
“You know, the more you study this, the more frightening it becomes,”
said Olson. “I really think we have to use our free speech while we
still have it.”
To get a free print copy of Olson and Woll’s Issues Bulletin titled, “A
Legal Report: Executive Orders and National Emergencies: Presidential
Power Grab Nearly Unchecked,” contact the Abraham Lincoln Foundation at
10315 Georgetown Pike, Great Falls, VA 22066. Mention WorldNetDaily.com,
and provide name and postal mailing address.