The most obvious first question is why these far-reaching powers are kept secret, not only from Congress but also from the American people. The second question is why they are necessary at all. And ultimately, should not there be permanent congressional oversight of any suggestion for calling these powers into operation? Under what dire conditions should our system of checks and balances among the executive, legislative and judicial branches be abandoned in favor of a dictatorship? And once a dictatorship is declared, what would be required to return us to our historic democratic system of government?

Clearly, in either house of Congress, a standing committee could be authorized to conduct these hearings and investigations. But a select committee signals special attention, singular focus and a dedicated mission not distracted by other duties.

We are not living in ordinary political times. Great temptations are offered to a president faced with defeat to declare a national emergency, for dangers at home or abroad capable of manufacture, and thus have unchecked access to dozens of extreme powers unknown to our founders or our Constitution.