Richard Nixon got caught with his hand in the cookie jar during the Watergate Scandal. Après-Watergate, US lawmakers finally woke up to the out-of-control executive in their midst. Laws such as the National Emergencies Act (1976) were specifically intended to curb presidential power.
One Dick Cheney, Chief-of-Staff in the Ford Administration, was aghast. Cheney was convinced that the President had the prerogative to act as he saw fit to execute the laws of the US.
Cheney would develop the ‘unitary executive’ theory of Presidential power. In the late 80s, Cheney co-authored a dissenting opinion on the Iran-Contra scandal and insisted that only the President could correctly weigh the ‘threat’ from the Sandinistas in Nicaragua (some neo-cons claimed that Nicaragua could launch nuclear strikes) and formulate an appropriate response.
After 9/11 Cheney was able to realize his ideals. He did this by directing the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC). Previously, this was an independent body that advised the US President. Under Dick Cheney’s direction the body would sanction some of the most extreme measures ever taken by a US President. As confirmed by cases like Hamdi vs Rumsfeld the OLC justified illegal actions in the name of Presidential supremacy.