Editor's Brief

The Underbelly of ‘Unified Executive Authority’

National Security Council aide Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, takes a break as he testifies before the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2019, during a public impeachment hearing of President Donald Trump’s efforts to tie U.S. aid for Ukraine to investigations of his political opponents. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, Pool)
WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 19: Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, National Security Council Director for European Affairs takes a break as he testifies during a hearing before the House Intelligence Committee in the Longwort... WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 19: Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, National Security Council Director for European Affairs takes a break as he testifies during a hearing before the House Intelligence Committee in the Longworth House Office Building on Capitol Hill November 19, 2019 in Washington, DC. The committee heard testimony from Jennifer Williams, adviser to Vice President Mike Pence for European and Russian affairs, and Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, during the third day of open hearings in the impeachment inquiry against U.S. President Donald Trump, who House Democrats say withheld U.S. military aid for Ukraine in exchange for Ukrainian investigations of his political rivals. (Photo by Jacquelyn Martin - Pool/Getty Images) MORE LESS
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November 19, 2019 3:22 p.m.

One of the interesting themes of these hearings is the question of who controls US foreign policy: the President or the sum of the “interagency” or bureaucratic policy making process. In a narrow sense it is absolutely right that if all the President’s advisors (in the sense of the sum of everyone at State, DOD, the NSC, Intelligence Community, etc) decide on one policy and the President disagrees, the President’s choice governs. This is elementary. And if you listen to the various testimonies no one who has spoken as a witness has said otherwise. But there’s a part of this that bears closer examination. Because it gets at the underbelly of so-called theories of “unitary executive” power.

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