Sunday, February 05, 2006

Arlen Specter and NSA spying

The A.P. put together this story (and fast):
WASHINGTON Feb 5, 2006 (AP)— Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' explanations so far for the Bush administration's failure to obtain warrants for its domestic surveillance program are "strained" and "unrealistic," the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman said Sunday.

Sen. Arlen Specter, whose committee has scheduled hearings Monday on the National Security Agency program, said he believes the administration violated a 1978 law specifically calling for a secretive court to consider and approve such monitoring.

Specter, R-Pa., said he might consider subpoenas for administration documents that would detail its legal justification for the program.

"The president could've taken this there and lay it on the line," Specter said, citing the special court set up under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978.

"That court has an outstanding record of not leaking. They would be pre-eminently well-qualified to evaluate this program and say it's OK or not OK," Specter told NBC's "Meet the Press."
The transcript is available on
MR. RUSSERT: The administration says that they didn’t need to, that they already had authority from Congress when, back in October 2002, Congress voted an authorization to go to war against Iraq, and this is part of that war.

SEN. SPECTER: I believe that contention is very strained and unrealistic. The authorization for the use of force doesn’t say anything about electronic surveillance, issue was never raised with the Congress. And there is a specific statute on the books, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which says flatly that you can’t undertake that kind of surveillance without a court order.

MR. RUSSERT: The White House also says that they didn’t go to Congress because people in Congress told them that they would compromise this surveillance plan if they requested permission to conduct it.

SEN. SPECTER: Well, the administration also has said, Attorney General Gonzalez has been questioned, reported, and I asked this in a letter I sent to him, saying that if the administration went to Congress, they were likely to be denied the authority. So, it’s very hard in that kind of a context to claim that Congress intended to give the authority if the administration thought that Congress would turn it down.

Now, on the issue as to whether the program would be compromised, you don’t know that until the administration goes to the Intelligence Committees, or the chairmen and the ranking, and lays the program on the line with sufficient detail so that there can be some Congressional oversight. And I think up until this time, Tim, that’s never been done.

MR. RUSSERT: The President has said that there have been at least 12 briefings of senior members of Congress.

SEN. SPECTER: Well, the statute requires that the committee be informed. And the committee constitutes 15 members. And they have the so-called “gang of eight”: the chairman and ranking member of the Intelligence Committees of each House, and the majority leader and the Democratic leader in each House. That really is not—is not what the statute requires. And if the administration thinks that’s too broad because the Congress leaks, and regrettably that’s a fact of life, we ought to change the law. They’ve never asked us to do that. And I think we would do that if they could have a showing that a more restrictive approach is warranted.

MR. RUSSERT: As you well know, this program began shortly after September 11, 2001. The President, when he ran for re-election in 2004 was up in the great city of Buffalo, New York, on April 20. And this is exactly what he said. Let’s watch.

(Videotape, April 20, 2004)

President GEORGE W. BUSH: Now, by the way, anytime you hear the United States government talking about wire tap, it requires—a wire tap requires a court order. Nothing has changed, by the way. When we’re talking about chasing down terrorists, we’re talking about getting a court order before we do so.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT: Was that misleading?

SEN. SPECTER: Well, it depends on what the President had in mind. I think it’s a fair question for the President. If the President was talking about what goes on domestically in the United States, I think it is accurate. If he had in mind the entire program, including what goes on when one of the callers or recipients is overseas, it’s incorrect.

MR. RUSSERT: He said, “A wiretap requires a court order. Nothing has changed, by the way. We’re talking about getting a court order before we do so.”

SEN. SPECTER: Well, it depends, as I’ve just said, on what he had in mind. If you’re talking about a wiretap in the United States, he’s accurate; if you’re talking about the broader program, he’s inaccurate. That’d be a good question to pose to the President, Tim, at his next news conference. Can’t ask me, because I’m not the President.

MR. RUSSERT: Well, tomorrow you will see the attorney general, Mr. Gonzales. At his confirmation hearing in 2005 Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin asked him about doing eavesdropping, surveillance, without a search warrant, and Gonzales said, “That’s a hypothetical question,” while the program was in place and ongoing.

SEN. SPECTER: Well, I have reviewed that transcript, and I think the attorney general is under an obligation to face that question. They had an extended discussion about torture and about electronic surveillance, and the attorney general did talk about a hypothetical question, and I think that’s fair game. And I’m sure—I’m going to defer to Senator Feingold on that, that’s his issue, but let’s see what the attorney general has to say. I think—I think that’s a fair question.


Post a Comment

<< Home