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The Law: When Wars Begin: Misleading Statements by Presidents


Louis Fisher is a specialist in constitutional law at the Law Library of Congress. The views expressed here are personal, not institutional.


In 2009, a House subcommittee held a hearing on a bill to apply criminal penalties to presidents and executive officials who mislead Congress and the American people on the need for war. We are familiar with the false justifications made by President George W. Bush for initiating military action against Iraq, and also the false claim made by President Lyndon B. Johnson in August 1964 that there had been a “second attack” in the Gulf of Tonkin. But the record of presidential deception in matters of war runs much deeper and helps underscore why the framers feared executive wars and tried to check them.