"when the President does it," Richard Nixon infamously told a TV interviewer, "that means it is not illegal."
Thus did the president who was not a crook establish the guiding principle of the two worst presidents in this country's history. When it comes down to presidential prerogatives, both George W. Bush and Barack Obama hold that the law is a ass. International law especially is a ass.
And so it came to pass that the Obama administration bullied three of its European allies into acts of air piracy against the head of the sovereign nation of Bolivia because his airplane was wrongly thought to be spiriting Ed Snowden to safe harbor.
To their everlasting credit, President Evo Morales of Bolivia and the heads of two other Latin American countries, Venezuela and Nicaragua, told the U.S. and its pals, "we are not your colonies," threatened to close the American embassies in their countries, and offered asylum to Snowden.
Snowden, the former government contractor who made public secret documents disclosing massive American spying on its own and other citizens and governments, is in legal limbo in an area of a Moscow airport that is technically not "Russian ground." On that basis the Putin government won't extradite him, but it won't help him leave, either.
This raises questions as to whether Snowden can actually do anything with the new offers of amnesty. The Obamanations have canceled his U.S. passport. He needs some kind of legal document to get out of Russia. His would-be benefactors in Latin America so far are being careful to stay within the complex rules of international law for such stateless persons. Perhaps one of the Latin American countries will decide to show the same disdain for law that the U.S. regularly shows, and figure out a way to pluck Snowden out of Russia and deposit him safely onto their soil. But that's unlikely. They may be piqued but they're not crazy.
Obama, playing the laid-back moderate role, said he wasn't going to send up a fleet of jet fighters to gun down any plane that dared to try to fly Snowden to safe harbor. Given the episode of the Bolivian state plane, and Obama's record for truthful public statements, would you want to pilot a plane anywhere in the world with Snowden aboard?
I thought not.
Obama holds all the cards in his high-stakes game of Texas hold 'em against truth-tellers. Julian Assange languishes in Ecuador's London embassy; Bradley Manning has his neck in a noose in a military "court" in Maryland, and Snowden is holed up in a ratty old Moscow airport.
Once upon a time in this land of the free, a Daniel Ellsberg could turn over the secret documents that exposed the lies and deceit of the Vietnam war, and there was still enough justice in our system for him to go free.
Back then, It was the president who was not a crook, not Mr. Ellsberg, who was discredited under the law. These days, the president is above the law but truth-tellers are fugitives FROM the law.