President Obama ended his press conference yesterday with these words of reassurance to CIA agents who were involved in interrogations of terrorist captives following 9/11:
For those who carried out some of these operations within the four corners of legal opinions or guidance that had been provided from the White House, I do not think it's appropriate for them to be prosecuted. . . .
So I wanted to communicate a message yesterday to all those who overwhelmingly do so in a lawful, dedicated fashion that I have their back.
If you are a CIA agent, in the future you would be best advised to seek a legal opinion before taking any action, since the President will have your back only if you do your job in a "lawful fashion." You're not a lawyer: don't be stupid and act without a legal opinion. And it better be one that has four corners: an oral opinion is not worth the paper it's written on.
If you've done nothing wrong, not to worry -- the President will have your back. If you've got a piece of paper and can show you're within the four corners of it, no problem -- the President will have your back.
If you're too rough getting information, do not tell the President you saved the largest city in California. It is no excuse. Maybe you could have saved the city using other means. You should have gotten a legal opinion and stayed within the four corners of it.
Do not tell the president that members of both parties visited your operation and questioned whether you were being rough enough. That is not a legal opinion. The President will not have your back under those circumstances.
Be particularly careful if you do something that might be controversial and plan in staying in your current job more than four or eight years. The President will not have your back after the expiration of that period, because he will no longer be president. Be sure the lawyer who gives you a legal opinion addresses whether the "good German" defense will be applicable, in case the new president decides he only has your back if the opinion was right (in his opinion).
If you are a CIA lawyer, or a DOJ lawyer, don't expect the President to have your back. He doesn't: you're a lawyer. That legal opinion better be damn good, or you're going to jail. Your conviction will be reversed on appeal, but you won't get your money or your reputation back. So you may want to think about getting a legal opinion before you issue a legal opinion. In my opinion.
Gregory V. Helvering is the pseudonym of a lawyer who has issued many opinions for the mythical law firm of Corner, Corner, Corner and Corner LLP.