Former Justice Department official John Yoo, best known for writing the memos authorizing the George W. Bush administration’s use of torture during interrogations, says even he thinks President Donald Trump is going too far with his executive orders.
In a New York Times op-ed titled “Executive Power Run Amok,” Yoo says while he supports a “robust vision” of the executive branch, he believes Trump fundamentally misunderstands the separation of powers laid out in the U.S. Constitution.
“Even I have grave concerns about Mr. Trump’s uses of presidential power,” he writes.
Yoo has long advocated for largely unchecked presidential power in times of crisis, such as the Bush administration’s war on terror. He wrote several legal opinions that were used to justify the CIA’s use of waterboarding and broad surveillance programs, and he even said presidential power protected the executive’s right to crush a child’s testicles if the president believed it would help him obtain information. He also defended former President Barack Obama’s use of armed drones. But in his op-ed, Yoo argues Trump lacks constitutional restraint.
He specifically questions Trump’s executive orders calling for the construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and renegotiating NAFTA, and his firing of acting Attorney General Sally Yates after she said she wouldn’t defend his executive order on immigration.
Yoo also criticizes Trump’s executive order banning travel from seven Muslim-majority countries, arguing the policy could have been constitutional if he had sought proper counsel on the matter.
“Had Mr. Trump taken advantage of the resources of the executive branch as a whole, not just a few White House advisers, he would not have rushed out an ill-conceived policy made vulnerable to judicial challenge,” Yoo writes.
“A successful president need not have a degree in constitutional law. But he should understand the Constitution’s grant of executive power,” he writes. “Otherwise, our new president will spend his days overreacting to the latest events, dissipating his political capital and haphazardly wasting the executive’s powers.”
Yoo previously criticized Trump’s remarks on torture, telling Fox News last year he believes Trump doesn’t understand what waterboarding is used for.
“I’m afraid Mr. Trump thinks of waterboarding, or worse, as a kind of punishment, like a sentence ― as you said, revenge or reprisals,” Yoo said. “That’s not what its purpose is. The purpose of it is not to take revenge for past acts. It’s to figure out what to do now to get intelligence to stop future attacks.”
Yoo also took issue with Obama’s 2016 executive orders on gun safety, calling them an effort to “extend the reach of the regulatory state.”
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