POWELL SEEMS CONFUSED….One can criticize the Bush White House for circumventing the law and creating a warrantless-search program, or one can defend the administration and conclude that the president has the authority to engage in these kinds of activities. But leave it to Colin Powell to do both.

Former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said on Sunday that it would not have been “that hard” for President Bush to obtain warrants for eavesdropping on domestic telephone and Internet activity, but that he saw “nothing wrong” with the decision not to do so.

“My own judgment is that it didn’t seem to me, anyway, that it would have been that hard to go get the warrants,” Mr. Powell said. “And even in the case of an emergency, you go and do it. The law provides for that.”

But Mr. Powell added that “for reasons that the president has discussed and the attorney general has spoken to, they chose not to do it that way.”

“I see absolutely nothing wrong with the president authorizing these kinds of actions,” he said.

Powell at first seems comfortable joining the chorus of conservative critics who believe Bush exceeded his authority. The White House could have followed the law and asked for warrants, Powell noted, even in an emergency. As Powell told ABC, there was “another way to handle it.” These aren’t the comments of an enthusiastic supporter.

Second, Powell takes a position that, while not the polar opposite, is certainly at odds with the first point. Bush could have easily requested a warrant and followed the rule of law, but, Powell concludes, it’s just fine that he didn’t.

Maybe Powell is trying to make nice with his former administration colleagues after rejecting the White House line on torture, or maybe Powell is grudgingly taking on the role of good soldier (again). But this is one controversy where it’s awfully difficult for anyone, even Powell, to play both sides of the fence.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.