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Obama wants "limited flexibility" on Miranda

As you know, over the weekend Eric Holder made the surprise announcement that the administration is seeking ways to create a broad exception to the Miranda rule. Absent details, it was hard to evaluate the proposal or the administration's motives in announcing it.

But at the press briefing just now, Robert Gibbs shed a bit more light on what the administration wants. The phrase of choice: "Limited flexibility."

Asked whether the administration was looking for a "legislative vehicle" to expand interrogations without Miranda, Gibbs replied:

The president is interested in limited flexibility. The president believes that the law that we have in place is an important one. And obviously any change that takes place would have to be done legislatively.

This suggests that the administration is interested in tweaking the law, rather than dramatically changing it, in order to give interrogators more time to question suspects before Mirandizing them. At the same time, though, Gibbs confirmed that, yes, the administration is seeking a legislative change to existing law.

Until we know more it will remain tough to evaluate how big a deal this is or to take a stab at divining the motives for it. For now, though, it's hard to see how any push to change existing law squares with the administration's previous claims that Mirandizing the Christmas Day bomb plotter and the Times Square suspect had no impact on the interrogation of the two men.

By Greg Sargent  |  May 11, 2010; 3:55 PM ET
Categories:  Foreign policy and national security  
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Next: Happy Hour Roundup



Here is the problem. Yes, the Feds have used the public safety exception to Miranda. But that hasn't been challenged yet in court and it is conceivable that the courts may find the interrogations exceeded the scope of the public safety exception in which case the information gathered couldn't be used to prosecute. It appears the Administration has concluded that there is some risk and they want to address it through the legislative process. I haven't seen any particular proposal and I'm not sure why the existing public safety exception is inadequate. But that's why the Administration is acting (acting, in the proper manner, BTW, unlike Bush-Cheney who just did whatever they wanted and lied about it to anybody who inquired).

Posted by: wbgonne | May 11, 2010 4:02 PM | Report abuse

Alternate Headline

Spineless Dems, can't shake the soft on terror label, continue to dismantle civil rights for accused. Obama, former constitutional law professor, forces law into pretzel to fend of republican attacks on responses to terror.

Posted by: srw3 | May 11, 2010 4:04 PM | Report abuse

wbgonne, I think I tend towards srw3's view that this is largely about neutralizing political attacks.

Happy to be wrong about that though...

Posted by: Greg Sargent | May 11, 2010 4:32 PM | Report abuse

Greg, thanks for following up on this as I think the comments last Sunday (I believe?) were so hedged as to not really signal a real departure from current practices from what little I know.

Now, there are many many folks out there arguing that such statements are actually "test balloons" to see how far the WH or the DOJ can push executive power. That would imply to me that Holder has a larger political motive in his day to day operations of the DOJ, which I am not ready to believe at this time. This administration has not demonstrated that it wants a singular political wheelhouse driving the entire ship of state (whatever branch or department of gov't it might be).

Posted by: PaulW99 | May 11, 2010 4:35 PM | Report abuse

" this is largely about neutralizing political attacks"

Perhaps, Greg. No doubt the nonstop GOP attacks take their toll on the White House's deliberations. But I do think there are issues concerning the scope of the public safety exception as applied to terrorism suspects. We'll find out once the proposal is made and hearings are held. In all events, this is the correct process to follow. If the White House doesn't make its case the legislation should go down.

Posted by: wbgonne | May 11, 2010 4:38 PM | Report abuse

@Greg: "it's hard to see how... [this] squares with the administration's previous claims that Mirandizing the Christmas Day bomb plotter and the Times Square suspect had no impact on the interrogation of the two men."

Maybe this has more to do with mirandizing Nidal Hasan and the current Lieberman subpoena for more info about Ft. Hood?

Posted by: sbj3 | May 11, 2010 4:43 PM | Report abuse

Why the hell is Obama going down this road? It will earn him ZERO loyalty from anyone in the GOP. Has he learned nothing from dealing with the Republicans? They will STILL demonize him and accuse him of being soft on terrorists. It is also certainly unconstitutional.

Chief Justice John Marshall noted:
"The peculiar circumstances of the moment may render a measure more or less wise, but cannot render it more or less constitutional."

This proposal is neither wise nor constitutional.

Posted by: Gasman1 | May 11, 2010 4:44 PM | Report abuse


The overriding question is how do you neutralize a political attack while at the same time validating it?

And yes, that's a rhetorical question.

Posted by: sgwhiteinfla | May 11, 2010 5:19 PM | Report abuse

"For now, though, it's hard to see how any push to change existing law squares with the administration's previous claims that Mirandizing the Christmas Day bomb plotter and the Times Square suspect had no impact on the interrogation of the two men."

Obviously, it doesn't, if you take those claims seriously and afford them the broad meaning Holder and crew seemed to encourage.

But then some of us knew at the time that those claims were self-serving poppycock.

If you really believe Mirandizing never inhibits investigation, you actually believe there is no reason for the Miranda rule in the first place.

Posted by: quarterback1 | May 11, 2010 5:29 PM | Report abuse

All, Happy Hour roundup posted:

Posted by: Greg Sargent | May 11, 2010 5:56 PM | Report abuse

One must keep in mind that "investigation", "interrogation" and "prosecution" are separate entities. Some here appear to make no distinction.

Posted by: habari2 | May 11, 2010 6:56 PM | Report abuse

i believe obama is being a coward on this issue. the republican party is a marketing campaign that will say and do anything to get back into power and harping over miranda is another one of those instances. one, i do not trust giving law enforcement additional laws over citizens, because law enforcement will stretch this adding power into something it was not meant to be. two, why do citizens continue to have their rights altered because of the cowardiness of our law makers. i do not understand the added benefit of changing the miranda warning.

Posted by: damonherron | May 12, 2010 7:13 AM | Report abuse

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