Wednesday, January 25, 2006
By Tom Ball
01/25/2006 11:57:45 AM EST
At approximately 7:10 EST, Wednesday, January 25, 2005, Senator John McCain (R-AZ), referring to President Bush's domestic spying program, told Matt Lauer in an interview on the Today Show that "It's important to note that members of Congress including Democrats were briefed on this program and there didn't seem to be at least any public outcry until recently."
This is patently FALSE and shamelessly misleading.
First, Democrats were briefed. But, the briefings have been limited to the Republican and Democratic leaders of the House and Senate and of the Intelligence Committees, the so-called 'Gang of Eight'.
These include, but are not necessarily limited to:
Senator Bob Graham (R-FL)
The Washington Post interviewed former Democratic Senator Bob Graham, who stated that he "[had] no discussion about expanding [NSA eavesdropping] to include conversations of U.S. citizens or conversations that originated or ended in the United States... I came out of the room with the full sense that we were dealing with a change in technology but not policy." The Post further reported "he believed eavesdropping would continue to be limited to 'calls that initiated outside the United States, had a destination outside the United States but that transferred through a U.S.-based communications system.'"
"I was advised of President Bush's decision to provide authority to the National Security Agency to conduct unspecified activities shortly after he made it and have been provided with updates on several occasions. The Bush Administration considered these briefings to be notification, not a request for approval. As is my practice whenever I am notified about such intelligence activities, I expressed my strong concerns during these briefings."
Democratic Senator Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, ranking member of the Intelligence also stated that he was briefed, and that he wrote to Vice President Dick Cheney expressing concern about the surveillance. The information he received was so confidential that Rockefeller actually handwrote a note to Cheney rather than have a staffer type one out. However, Republican Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas, the Intelligence Committee chairman, disputed this, saying that he did not recall Rockefeller expressing concerns during briefings, and also disputed whether he was effectively gagged from telling other senators about the surveillance. Roberts stated that "a United States Senator has significant tools with which to wield power and influence over the executive branch. Feigning helplessness is not one of those tools."
Second, the assertion that Democrats have only made their concerns public recently -- clearly implying that they're doing so because they see potential for political gain from such acts -- is also completely disingenuous. To Boot, Administration mouthpiece, Alberto Gonzales joined McCain in this deliberate deception.
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has asserted that...
...any member of Congress who thought the program was illegal "had an obligation" to say something publicly at the time they learned about it..
This assertion is preposterous since...
Some lawmakers have said they weren't informed of the program's scope during briefings -- nor were they allowed to go public with concerns because of the program's sensitive nature.
In fact, there have been multiple instances of Democrats questioning the validity of the program. These concerns were clearly communicated both in private when the existence of the program was still secret and also in public once the NY Times broke the story.
A letter that Pelosi wrote in October 2001 when she was Ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, was declassified at her request in January 2006, along with the response from Lieutenant General Michael Hayden, then the NSA Director (Pelosi release). The letter expressed concerns about "whether, and to what extent, the National Security Agency has received specific presidential authorization for the operations you are conducting." Hayden responded that he used authorities "to adjust NSA's collection and reporting." Judith A. Emmel, a spokeswoman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said, "He had authority under E.O. 12333 that had been given to him, and he briefed Congress on what he did under those authorities."
You can read the text of Pelosi's letter here.
Representative Jane Harman
On January 4, 2006, Harman wrote to the President that "In my view, failure to provide briefings to the full congressional intelligence committees is a continuing violation of the National Security Act." (Washington Post) Notification of Congress is not directly relevant to the legality of the wiretaps, but is important politically and for separation of powers. Suzanne Spaulding, who worked with the House and Senate Intelligence Committees as general counsel argues that the method of congressional notification Bush used "eliminates the possibility of any careful oversight" because only 8 legislators were notified, and it would have been illegal for them to discuss what they were told, even to other legislators or to their staff in order to determine the program's legality.
Senator Rockefeller released a copy of the memo that he wrote on July 17, 2003 to the Vice President expressing his concerns about the program. Read it here.
You should also read Rockefeller's "Statement on need for Congressional hearings on the NSA Program"
Other Congressional opposition to reported events according to Wikipedia:
Judiciary and Intelligence Committees
- Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA), the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said that "there is no doubt this is inappropriate" and referred to the White House program as "clearly and categorically wrong." Specter said that he would hold hearings into the matter early in 2006. His call for investigations was echoed by Congressman Rob Simmons (R-CT), the chairman of the House Homeland Security Intelligence Subcommittee. "Was the eavesdropping narrowly designed to go after possible terrorist threats in the United States or was it much, much more?" Simmons asked in a statement.
- In a telephone interview with the Associated Press, Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) called the president's remarks "breathtaking in how extreme they were." He added, "If that's true, he doesn't need the Patriot Act, because he can just make it up as he goes along. I tell you, he's President George Bush, not King George Bush. This is not the system of government we have and that we fought for." Feingold spoke just as harshly in an interview with CNN. "We have a president, not a king," he said. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, added later, "The Bush administration seems to believe it is above the law."
- On December 19, 2005, a bipartisan group of Senators--Democrats Dianne Feinstein of California, Carl Levin of Michigan, Ron Wyden of Oregon and Republicans Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Olympia Snowe of Maine, sent a letter to the Judiciary and Intelligence Committees calling for an investigation into the alleged domestic surveillance.
- On January 15, 2006, Republican Senate judiciary committee chairman Arlen Specter, who is launching an investigation of the warrantless spying program, mentioned impeachment and criminal prosecution as potential remedies if President Bush broke the law, though he downplayed the likelihood of such an outcome.
- On January 20, 2006, Patrick Leahy (D-VT) introduced a resolution "expressing the sense of the Senate that the Authorization for Use of Military Force, which Congress passed to authorize military action against those responsible for the attacks on September 11, 2001, did not authorize warrantless eavesdropping on American citizens." updated AUMF Resolution 201-19 He stated, "The resolution I introduce today is intended to help set the record straight. It is an important first step toward restoring checks and balances between the co-equal branches of Government."
House of Representatives
- On January 10, 2006, John Conyers (D-MI) announced in a press release on his official website that the Democratic members of the House Judiciary Committee would hold an informal hearing on the warrantless spying program.
- On January 20, 2006, the Democratic members of the House Judiciary Committee held an informal hearing on the warrantless spying program. They heard the testimony of Caroline Fredrickson of the ACLU, who told them, "The executive power of our country is not an imperial power... The president has demonstrated a dangerous disregard for our Constitution and our laws with his authorization for this illegal program".
- Only the Democrats on the House and Senate Intelligence Committees were briefed.
- Democrats (and all others) were disallowed from publicly discussing the issue due to its sensitive nature.
- Once the story was made public by the New York Times, Democrats presented evidence that they opposed the actions -- even showing skepticism regarding the program's legality.
McCain Lied (or was grossly negligent) and his assertions should be fought with the full force of the truth.