When Congress needs advice from a legal expert, it goes to GW Law School professor Jonathan Turley – and the hearings on President Bush’s wiretapping program earlier this month were no exception.
GW’s Turley is a regular on Capitol Hill and has testified in front of the U.S House of Representatives and Senate more than a dozen times, he said. Most recently, he voiced his opinion of the legality of the president’s wiretapping before an unofficial hearing led by Democrats on the Hill. He argued that Bush clearly violated federal law by telling the National Security Agency to eavesdrop without a court warrant on international calls made to people in the United States.
“In my view, the NSA operation was based on a clear federal crime by the president,” Turley told The Hatchet. “Federal law is absolutely clear that he cannot order this type of wiretapping.” Bush argues that key congressional leaders were aware of the program and that federal courts have authorized it. The president has also argued that Congress implicitly authorized the wiretapping in post-Sept. 11 legislation.
Turley said that he hopes his testimony will help Congress put an end to what he termed the president’s abuse of executive powers.
“He has ordered federal crimes on the NSA on 30 occasions and plans on continuing this unchecked and unlimited authority until stopped in a system of shared and limited government,” he said.
Even though Turley may be a veteran congressional testifier, he said speaking in front of the House or the Senate is an extremely significant and difficult task.
“Testifying in front of Congress is one of the most important things you can do as an academic,” he said. “As an academic, there is an added degree of pressure to give a faithful account of the law.”
One of the hardest parts of testifying, Turley said, is being able to construct a concise argument.
“When testifying, you only have five minutes for the opening statement, which can take a lot of self-restraint for academics trained to normally speak for 50 minutes,” he said.
Turley has testified on a broad range of issues over the past 20 years, ranging from Congress’ ability to restrict state governmental powers to the post-Sept. 11 Patriot Act. Turley also testified in favor for grounds of impeachment in President Bill Clinton’s congressional hearing during the Monica Lewinsky scandal.
Turley is also a nationally recognized legal commentator; he ranked 38th in the top 100 most-cited public intellectuals in a recent study conducted by Judge Richard Posner and was found to be the second-most-cited law professor in the country.
Aside from being constantly quoted in the media – he said he receives about 30 to 40 media inquiries per week – Turley also has a strong journalism background. He is a member of USA Today’s board of contributors and has written more than 500 columns for the newspaper. He has also done work for both CBS and NBC.
“I was under contract with CBS during the 2000 presidential election,” he said. “I had to commute to New York every day for 30 days straight during the election to be with Dan Rather.”
Turley added, however, that in order to remain a committed law professor he must turn down more than half of the media inquiries he gets.
“I don’t do certain shows known for rancor or heated exchanges. These shows have lawyers fighting like legal versions of the WWF and I don’t want to be a part of cable news dog fights,” he said. “I often decline to appear on shows unless I know it will be a dignified and civil debate.”
One politically contentious cable program Turley has been on is Fox News’ “The O’Reilly Factor” because “(Host Bill O’Reilly) has always showed a great deal of civility and respect.” Despite Turley’s heavy involvement in politics, though, he isn’t registered with either political party.
“I’m an independent,” he said. “I don’t subscribe to either political party because the current political environment is particularly bad. I am happy to remain independent.”
Despite the jobs Turley may undertake outside of the classroom, he said his students and courses are still his first priorities. After teaching at Tulane Law School, Turley joined the GW Law School faculty in 1990. In 1998 he became the youngest chaired professor in the school’s history.
“In every contract with networks, my teaching responsibilities always come first,” he said. Referring to his work with Rather in the 2000 election, Turley added, “I never missed a class during that that 30-day period.”