ADA — To become a good adviser to the President of the United States, it may take a little bit of double talk.
While that may seem incredulous at face value, a visiting professor made the case for that Thursday at Ohio Northern University’s Pettit College of Law. Texas Tech law professor William Casto’s address, “Advising Presidents: Private Advice and Public Advocacy,” part of the Dean’s Lecture Series, drew from the relationship between President Franklin Roosevelt and Attorney General Robert Jackson in the years leading up to World War II. Casto noted that while Jackson often disagreed with or even chastised the president in private for decisions or actions he believed to be unlawful, he would defend the president in public legal opinions once Roosevelt made his decision.
“When you’re talking to someone in private if a person is contemplating taking action that might be unlawful, don’t you have some sort of obligation to tell the person, ‘Don’t you think what you’re doing might be unlawful?’” he said. “But if you’re an attorney, you have a super-obligation to serve your client.”
In having frank discussions with the president concerning the lawfulness of an action, an attorney general or other advisers may not prevent a president from taking action that may be outside the boundaries of the law, but they could help put limits on that action.
“There was an Islamic man in Yemen supporting Islamic terrorism,” he said. “He was an American citizen. The important issue was whether the United States should assassinate an American citizen overseas. The office of legal counsel looked into the matter very carefully and wrote a 50-page memorandum, most of which has not been revealed. President Obama was advised that he could assassinate an American citizen overseas. But the president knew there were problems with this, so he said he would allow it, but ‘no one can be assassinated unless I personally agree with it.’ So he put limits on it.”
Casto noted to students and faculty in attendance that while Jackson often disagreed with Roosevelt, he knew that “his job was to help the president get the job done.” When it comes to President-elect Donald Trump, Casto is hopeful that the new president will have his own Jackson-esque advisors who will have frank discussions with him before he would make a decision while still supporting whatever decision he would make.
“Seek advice before acting,” he said. “He might be tempted to just make a decision based on his impression of things, but he needs to ask other people who know what’s going on. The decision has to be his, but don’t jump the gun.”
Reach Craig Kelly at 567-242-0390 or on Twitter @Lima_CKelly.