Obama Gets a 'D' on State Secrets from Democratic Senator

Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold grades the president on the "rule of law."

April 27, 2009, 8:30 PM

April 28, 2009 -- President Obama is receiving a "D" for his handling of state secrets in a "rule of law" report card prepared by fellow Democrat Russ Feingold, a Wisconsin senator who heads a subcommittee on the Constitution.

"Restoring the rule of law is not a partisan issue," Feingold told ABC News. "One hundred days into this administration, it's appropriate to assess how well the president has done so far. I recognize that some of these issues will take time, but given how important these issues are to the country, Americans deserve a fair assessment of the administration's progress."

Obama's "D" on state secrets, which Feingold characterized as "troubling," is a timely reminder that this is one area where the new president has raised concern among some progressives.

In the first 100 days, the Obama administration has invoked the state secrets privilege in three cases: Al Haramain Islamic Foundation v. Obama, Mohammed v. Jeppesen Dataplan, and Jewel v. NSA.

Obama's record in this area has drawn fire from civil liberties groups, even though many of them cheered his election in November. The Justice Department has responded to the criticism by saying that Obama is only invoking the state secrets privilege in cases where it is necessary.

Low as Obama's grade is in this area, Feingold's report says that the president would have received an "F" had it not been for the fact that Attorney General Eric Holder has indicated that he hopes to make public the result of his review of all the cases in which the state secrets privilege was used by the Bush administration.

"Only the glimmer of hope offered by that ongoing review saves the Obama administration from a failing grade," reads the report card.

Feingold is hoping the attention that surrounds publication of his report will pressure Obama to get behind the State Secrets Protection Act, legislation co-sponsored by the Wisconsin senator that would provide guidance to federal courts considering cases in which the government has exercised the state secrets privilege.

Obama Gets "A" for Renouncing Torture

The Obama administration has yet to take a stance on the bill.

Beyond the "D" on the state secrets privilege, the president received an "A" from Feingold for renouncing torture via executive order, a "B" for beginning the process of closing Guantanamo Bay detention facility and a "C" for rejecting the "flawed" military commission trial system which has been used at Guantanamo Bay.

Other aspects of Obama's record are inconclusive, according to Feingold. The administration has not yet established a clear record on domestic surveillance and privacy and may not until Congress takes action on measures such as the Patriot Act and the FISA Amendments Act.

While it's unusual for members of Congress to speak out against popular presidents of their own party, going it alone is nothing new for Feingold, who was the lone senator to vote against the Patriot Act after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

"I am very happy that this administration is here and generally have very good feelings about what they're trying to do with regard to the rule of law," Feingold told reporters on Tuesday. "But if I had to pick one (area that I am most concerned about) it would be the repeated assertion of the state secrets privilege in litigation in a way that seems reminiscent of the Bush administration."

Read Feingold's full report card here.

ABC News' Ferdous Al-Faruque contributed to this report.

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