The New York Times has the story about Trump’s unknown powers. They are codified in secret document including draft proclamations, executive orders and proposals for legislation that can be quickly deployed to assert broad presidential authority in a range of worst-case scenarios.
They are one of the government’s best-kept secrets. No presidential emergency action document has ever been released or even leaked. And it appears that none has ever been invoked. Given the real possibility that these documents could make their first appearance in the coronavirus crisis, Congress should insist on having full access to them to ensure that they are consistent with the Constitution and basic principles of democracy.
These documents have been around for a long time.
For example, a Department of Justice memorandum from the Lyndon B. Johnson administration discusses a presidential emergency action document that would impose censorship on news sent abroad. The memo notes that while no “express statutory authority” exists for such a measure, “it can be argued that these actions would be legal in the aftermath of a devastating nuclear attack based on the president’s constitutional powers to preserve the national security.” It then recommends that the president seek ratifying legislation from Congress after issuing the orders.