It’s amazing to think that the White House has yet to come up with a coherent and factually-consistent response to the NSA wiretapping scandal despite a lead time on the story of more than a year. Imagine if the medicare bill took up that much of their attention and still came out as awful as it did.
How incoherent has the response been? For me the iconic illustration will always be the interview in which former NSA Director Hayden, trotted out in an early go at defending the program, instead showed a less-than-passing knowledge of the fourth amendment. It’s hard to argue that you know you’re conducting legal searches when you can’t correctly cite the amendment which establishes standards for getting a warrant. Glenn Greenwald has a comprehensive list of defenses that rightwingers have tossed out so far and their respective rebuttals. I strongly doubt that anybody here will come up with a defense that hasn’t been floated already, so Greenwald’s FAQ should be a useful reference for anybody composing a reply.
The latest wrinkle in the NSA story concerns the question of whether a balance of power currently exists in DC. The Executive branch has pretty clearly stated that it has the wartime powers to do pretty much anything it sees fit, so the next move is up to Congress. Does Congress exist for any reason other than dispensing federal cash to campaign donors? Some Republicans, notably Senate Intel Committee chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Mike DeWine (R-OH) clearly don’t mind declaring themselves superfluous. Other Republicans, notably Sen. Judicial Committee chair Arlen Specter (R-PA) seem to have a vestigal sense of self-worth:
[S]everal key Republicans, including House Intelligence Committee member Rep Heather Wilson of New Mexico and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, say the NSA program should fall under FISA guidelines.
Democrats mostly seem eager to treat this like an algebra class that they hope to get through without getting called on. My reaction? Gingrich might not make much of a role model in today’s civility-conscious DC (snerk) but sometimes feistiness makes it look like you care about what you believe in. Grow a spine, kids.
With the backstory out of the way, two recent headlines further underline the White House’s inability to forge a coherent response.
First from todays The New York Times:
Facing Pressure, White House Seeks Approval for Spying
After two months of insisting that President Bush did not need court approval to authorize the wiretapping of calls between the United States and suspected terrorists abroad, the administration is trying to resist pressure for judicial review while pushing for retroactive Congressional approval of the program.
…The White House is hoping that talks will lead to legislation to approve the program, much as Congress eventually approved Abraham Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus during the Civil War. Mr. Bush expanded on his defense of the program in Tampa, Fla., on Friday, saying he believed that he had to take extraordinary steps in a time of war.
I don’t see the habeas corpus analogy as helping the White House. For one thing historians generally recognize that action by Lincoln as a bad thing. For another, they don’t need to mix this scandal in people’s minds with the neverending embarrassment that our detainee treatment has become.
Second, from today’s Guardian (UK)
Frist: No New Spy Legislation Needed
WASHINGTON (AP) – Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, standing firmly with the White House on the administration’s eavesdropping program, said Sunday he doesn’t think new or updated legislation is needed to govern domestic surveillance to foil terrorists.
“I don’t think that it does need to be rewritten, but we are holding hearings in the Judiciary Committee right now,” Frist said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”
Frist also said he didn’t think a court order is needed before eavesdropping, under the program, occurs. “Does it have to be thrown over to the courts? I don’t think so. I personally don’t think so,” he said.
DeWine clearly thinks that he is doing the White House’s bidding by making himself superfluous as a conduit for government oversight. Now Frist has delcared that DeWine’s effort is itself superfluous, as the executive branch does not even need Congress to declare itself irrelevant before engaging in illegal activity. Unfortunately for Frist the legal theories of John Yoo may well render the Majority Leader’s statement superfluous by investing in the president the power to break the law whether or not Congress even thinks it has the power of oversight.
Frankly, I’m worried. If this gets any worse the vortex of minion superfluity could reach critical mass and collapse on itself, sucking every Bush-allied legislator and staffer into a physics-defying black hole from which nothing can escape except X-rays and campaign-related email.