President Obama decided he had the legal authority to continue the U.S. military campaign in Libya without congressional approval over the objections of Justice Department and Pentagon lawyers.
Instead, the president sided with other senior administration lawyers who said that continuing U.S. participation in the air operations against the regime of Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi did not constitute "hostilities," triggering the need for Congressional permission under the War Powers Resolution, the New York Times reported in its online edition Friday night.
Among those reported to support the president's action were White House counsel Robert Bauer and State Department legal adviser Harold H. Koh, the paper said. Those opposed included Pentagon General Counsel Jeh C. Johnson and acting head of the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel Caroline D. Krass.
One issue was reported to be whether firing missiles from drones amounted to hostilities.
Presidents can ignore the advice of the Office of Legal Counsel, but rarely do so.
The 1973 law prohibits the military from being involved in actions for more than 60 days without congressional authorization, plus a 30-day extension. The 60-day deadline passed last month with the White House saying it is in compliance with the law. The 90-day mark is Sunday.
Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said that he found it "interesting that in early April the president touted the Office of Legal Counsel's legal opinion on actions in Libya, and now that the opinion doesn't fit his agenda, he chooses to ignore them."
"If dropping bombs and firing missiles on military installations are not hostilities, I don't know what is," he said. "The president's actions on Libya are nothing short of bizarre."
White House chief spokesman Jay Carney addressed the internal debate over the resolution at his briefing Thursday.
He said "there was a robust(I have said in another blog Obama needs to come up with a new word We are so tired of hearing robust) process through which the president received the advice he relied on in determining the application" of the War Powers Resolution.
He noted the resolution has been subject to intense debate since it was first enacted in 1973.
"We are not going to get into the internal process by which the president receives legal advice," Carney said. "It should come as no surprise that there would be some disagreements, even within an administration, regarding the application of a statute that is nearly 40 years old to a unique and evolving conflict. Those disagreements are ordinary and healthy."