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Profile: Senate Judiciary Committee
a.k.a. United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary
Senate Judiciary Committee was a participant or observer in the following events:
President Nixon formally nominates acting FBI director L. Patrick Gray to permanently head the agency. His nomination is sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee for action. [O.T. Jacobson, 7/5/1974 ] Many political observers find the nomination inexplicable. It is virtually certain that Gray’s confirmation hearings (see February 28-29, 1973) will turn into a Congressional inquiry into the FBI’s reluctance to investigate the broader aspects of the Watergate conspiracy. Administration officials confirm that the decision to nominate Gray was the result of a contentious debate, with President Nixon personally overruling the strenuous objections of his top aide, John Ehrlichman. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 267-268]
Acting FBI director L. Patrick Gray, writhing under harsh questioning in his Senate confirmation hearings (see February 28-29, 1973), has displayed a candor and a willingness to reveal information that the White House has found disturbing. But that comes to an end; after Gray’s early offer to let senators examine the FBI’s files on the Watergate investigations, Attorney General Richard Kleindienst overrules that offer. Kleindienst insists that Gray has no authority to make such an offer, and instead proposes that only the chairman of the Judiciary Commiteee, James Eastland (D-MS), and its ranking member Roman Hruska (R-NE), be allowed to view the files. Gray is privately ordered by Kleindienst to stop talking about the FBI investigation. Gray reluctantly obeys, and begins responding to questions about the investigation by saying, “I respectfully decline to answer that question.” Towards the end of the hearings, Gray will inform the committee about Kleindienst’s “gag order.” Kleindienst may have issued the order because of Gray’s testimony that he was pressured by White House aides John Dean and John Ehrlichman to find and close media leaks they believed were coming from within the FBI, requests that Gray resented “because I don’t think there were those leaks within the FBI.” [Time, 4/2/1973; O.T. Jacobson, 7/5/1974 ]
Gray's Partisanship Questioned - Committee members also question Gray’s open advocacy of the Nixon administration, a position they find unbecoming in a supposedly nonpartisan FBI director. They want to know why in September 1972 he abandoned the agency’s nonpartisan tradition and ordered 21 field offices to file expert advice on how best Nixon and his aides could handle campaign issues related to criminal justice. And they are disturbed that during the 1972 campaign, Gray himself stumped for Nixon in three separate speeches, in what Time magazine calls “blatantly political activity his predecessor [J. Edgar Hoover] would never have undertaken.” Committee member Robert Byrd (D-WV) said before the hearings: “In the nine months that Mr. Gray has held the post of acting director, there has been increasing criticism of that bureau as becoming more and more a political arm of the administration. Under J. Edgar Hoover, the FBI had always been a nonpolitical bureau, and Mr. Hoover meticulously avoided partisanship in campaigns.” Confirmation of Gray, Byrd continued, “would be damaging to the proficiency and morale of the agency.” Many senators also question Gray’s lack of law enforcement experience. [Time, 3/5/1973]
'Twist[ing] in the Wind' - During the hearings, Nixon aide John Ehrlichman privately proposes that the White House not support Gray, and instead leave him to “twist slowly, slowly in the wind” until he resigns (see April 5, 1973). Shortly before his death in 2005, Gray will say, “I made the gravest mistake of my 88 years” in going to work for Nixon. “I put the rudder in the wrong direction.” [New York Times, 7/7/2005]
Entity Tags: Nixon administration, James O. Eastland, J. Edgar Hoover, Federal Bureau of Investigation, John Dean, L. Patrick Gray, Senate Judiciary Committee, John Ehrlichman, Roman Hruska, Robert C. Byrd, Richard Kleindienst
Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate
L. Patrick Gray, the acting director of the FBI, withdraws his name from consideration to become the full-fledged director after a bruising month of Senate hearings (see February 28-29, 1973). [Time, 4/16/1973] Gray resigns from the FBI shortly thereafter (see April 27-30, 1973). [New York Times, 7/7/2005] (Gray and the White House made some fruitless attempts to skew the hearings in Gray’s favor. According to the FBI’s 1974 internal Watergate report, “It is noted that in connection with his confirmation hearings, Mr. Gray on occasion instructed that proposed questions and answers about various matters be prepared which could be furnished to friendly Republican Senators.” One such set of “friendly” questions was indeed asked by Senator Edward Gurney (R-FL) about the ongoing FBI investigation of Donald Segretti—see June 27, 1971, and Beyond.) [O.T. Jacobson, 7/5/1974 ] The Senate Judiciary Committee was sharply divided over Gray’s nomination, with many senators viewing Gray as little more than a White House operative due to his admitted improper cooperation with White House aides in the FBI’s Watergate investigation, and his admitted destruction of potentially incriminating evidence. Many in the Nixon White House had privately withdrawn their support for Gray. Committee chairman James Eastland (D-MS) told Attorney General Richard Kleindienst that it was unlikely the committee will approve Gray’s ascension to the post. The committee’s ranking minority member, Roman Hruska (R-NE), a Nixon loyalist, proposed that the commitee delay any decision until after the Senate Watergate Committee completes its investigation, giving Gray time to quietly resign, but Gray’s most powerful opponent on the committee, Robert Byrd (D-WV) headed off that proposal. After the session, Gray asked President Nixon to withdraw his name from consideration. Nixon says that Gray is a victim of “totally unfair innuendo and suspicion,” and defends his administration’s access to the FBI files as “completely proper and necessary.” Byrd proposes that the FBI become an independent agency not answerable to the attorney general, as does another lawmaker, Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson (D-WA). The proposal will not gain much traction. [Time, 4/16/1973]
Entity Tags: Nixon administration, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Edward Gurney, Donald Segretti, Henry (“Scoop”) Jackson, L. Patrick Gray, Roman Hruska, Senate Judiciary Committee, James O. Eastland, Richard M. Nixon, Robert C. Byrd, Richard Kleindienst
Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate
Watergate special prosecutor Leon Jaworski receives a phone call from Senator James Eastland (D-MS), the chairman of the Judiciary Committee and a longtime friend of Richard Nixon. Eastland tells Jaworski that Nixon had called him from the Nixon compound in San Clemente, California. Nixon had cried during the conversation, says Eastland: “He said, ‘Jim, don’t let Jaworski put me in that trial with [former aides H. R.] Haldeman and [John] Ehrlichman. I can’t take any more.…’ He’s in bad shape, Leon.” Jaworski asks if Eastland has any plans for a Senate resolution opposing prosecution for Nixon; such a resolution would not be legally binding, but would provide cover for both Jaworski and President Ford if either decided to do something to keep Nixon out of court. “We’ll think on it,” Eastland says. Despite his mandate to pursue Nixon and bring him before a jury, Jaworski does not want Nixon in court. But he cannot find a legal justification for such an action. Prosecution counsel Philip Lacovara will recall: “The whole premise of this exercise called Watergate was to follow the facts wherever they lead, and if they led into the Oval Office, to apply the law to those facts in the same way that the law would apply to any other person. It would be fundamentally inconsistent with the idea of equal application of the law to prosecute people who had acted on President Nixon’s behalf, and indeed under President Nixon’s direction, and to give him a pass.” [Werth, 2006, pp. 74-75]
Campaigning on behalf of conservative Republican candidates in an attempt to have the GOP retain control of the Senate, Ronald Reagan goes on a campaign tour of the South, where he alludes to Republicans’ plans for exerting control of the nation’s court system. Typical of Reagan’s stump speech is the following one he delivers on behalf of embattled Republican incumbent James Broyhill: “Since I’ve been appointing federal judges to be approved by people like Jim Broyhill in the Republican Senate, the federal judiciary has become tougher, much tougher, on criminals. Criminals are going to jail more often and receiving longer sentences. Over and over the Democratic leadership has tried in the Senate to torpedo our choices for judges. And that’s where Jim Broyhill can make all the difference. Without him and the Republican majority in the Senate, we’ll find liberals like Joe Biden and a certain fellow from Massachusetts deciding who our judges are. And I’ll bet you’ll agree; I’d rather have a Judiciary Committee headed by Strom Thurmond than one run by Joe Biden or Ted Kennedy.” Broyhill will be defeated, and Democrats will regain control of the Senate in spite of Reagan’s efforts, in large part because of Southern blacks offended by such speeches. The new Democratic leadership, responding to the voters, will help block the racially questionable Robert Bork’s nomination to the Supreme Court (see July 1-October 23, 1987). [Dean, 2007, pp. 140]
Robert Bork. [Source: National Constitution Center]The controversial nomination of conservative judge Robert Bork to the Supreme Court is defeated in the US Senate. Bork is denied a seat on the Court in a 58-42 vote, because his views are thought to be extremist and even some Republicans vote against him.
'Right-Wing Zealot' - Bork, nominated by President Reagan as one of the sitting judges who most completely reflects Reagan’s judiciary philosophy (see 1985-1986), is characterized even by administration officials as a “right-wing zealot.” Reagan also wants a nominee to placate the hard right over their disaffection caused by the brewing Iran-Contra scandal. However, to make him more palatable for the majority of Americans, Reagan officials attempt to repackage Bork as a moderate conservative. Senate Judiciary Committee member Edward Kennedy (D-MA) attacks Bork’s political philosophy, saying before the committee hearings: “[In Bork’s America] women would be forced into back alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens’ doors in midnight raids, schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution, writers and artists could be censored at the whim of government, and the doors of the federal courts would be shut on the fingers of millions of citizens for whom the judiciary is the—and is often the only—protector of the individual rights that are the heart of our democracy.… No justice would be better than this injustice.” Kennedy’s words provoke complaint, but the characterization of Bork is based on his lengthy record of court verdicts and his large body of judicial writings.
Racial Equality Issues - Although there is no evidence to suggest that Bork is himself a racist, former Nixon White House counsel John Dean will write that “his positions on civil rights were an anathema to all who cared about equality in America.” Constitutional law professor Herman Schwartz will write in 2004, “Bork condemned the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause decisions outlawing the poll tax (to him it was just ‘a very small tax’), the decision establishing the one-person, one-vote principle, abolishing school segregation in the District of Columbia, barring courts from enforcing racially restrictive housing covenants, preventing a state from sterilizing certain criminals or interfering with the right to travel, and prohibiting discrimination against out-of-wedlock children…. Bork’s hostility to governmental action on behalf of minorities did not stop with his critique of court action. In 1963 he criticized a section of the proposed Civil Rights Act of 1964 that required white businesses to serve blacks as resting on a principle of ‘unsurpassed ugliness.’”
Ready to Fight - The Reagan administration understands that Bork’s nomination is opposed; on July 1, the day of his announced nomination, the media reports that Reagan will try to ensure Bork’s confirmation by waging an “active campaign.” Even Senate-savvy James Baker, Reagan’s chief of staff, is uncertain about Bork’s chances at being confirmed, and further worries that even if Bork wins the fight, the cost to Reagan’s political capital will be too high.
His Own Worst Enemy - Conservatives Justice Department official Terry Eastland will later say Senate Democrats sabotage Bork’s chances at faring well in the confirmation hearings, even positioning his table to ensure the least favorable angles for Bork on television. However, the public’s opinion of Bork is unfavorable, and Dean will write: “[I]t was not the position of his chair in the hearing room that made Bork look bad, but rather his arrogance, his hubris, and his occasional cold-bloodedness, not to mention his equivocations and occasional ‘confirmation conversions,’ where he did what no one else could do. He made himself a terrible witness who did not appear to be truthful.” The confirmation conversions even surprise some of his supporters, as Bork abandons his previous stances that the First Amendment only applies to political speech, and the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clause does not apply to women. The Senate Judiciary Committee passes Bork’s nomination along to the full Senate, where Bork is defeated 58-42.
The Verb 'To Bork' - In 2007, Dean will write, “Bork’s defeat made him both a martyr and a verb,” and quotes conservative pundit William Safire as writing that “to bork” someone means to viciously attack a political figure, particularly by misrepresenting that figure in the media. [Dean, 2007, pp. 137-143]
Entity Tags: Herman Schwartz, US Department of Justice, Gregory Peck, Edward M. (“Ted”) Kennedy, US Supreme Court, William Safire, Ronald Reagan, James A. Baker, Senate Judiciary Committee, Terry Eastland, Robert Bork, John Dean
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Clarence Thomas. [Source: AP / World Wide Photos]The Senate Judiciary Committee hearings for Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas begin (see July 2-August 28, 1991). Thomas is exhaustively coached by a team headed by former senator John Danforth (R-MO), whom Thomas had worked for when Danforth was attorney general of Missouri. As per his coaching, Thomas says as little as possible in response to senators’ questions, staying with generalities and being as congenial, diffident, and bland as the questions will allow. Still, some of his statements defy belief.
Abortion Rights - Thomas is well-known as an ardent opponent of abortion rights, but he claims in testimony that he has no position on the fundamental abortion case of Roe v. Wade (see January 22, 1973), even though he has disparaged the case in his own legal writings. He even claims not to have discussed the case with anyone. His sympathetic biographer Andrew Peyton Thomas (no relation) later admits that “these representations about Roe proved a laughingstock.” Even conservative stalwart Paul Weyrich, who is running a “war room” to counter any negative statements about Thomas in the press or in the hearings, says publicly that Thomas has spoken of the case in discussions between the two, and calls Thomas’s dissembling “disingenuous” and “nauseating.” Weyrich considers, and rejects, withdrawing his support for Thomas.
Comparison with Rehnquist Hearings - Author and former Nixon White House counsel John Dean will write, “[I]t was clear that Thomas was going the route that [Supreme Court Justice William] Rehnquist had traveled” (see September 26, 1986): “Say anything that was necessary to win confirmation, regardless of the conspicuousness of the lie. Regrettably, it would get worse.” The Senate Judiciary Committee splits on sending Thomas’s name to the full Senate, 7-7, therefore making no recommendation either way. But head counts show that Thomas has a narrow but solid majority of senators ready to vote him onto the bench. [Dean, 2007, pp. 146-153]
The conservative supporters of Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas (see October 13, 1991) ferociously respond to charges of sexual harassment against Thomas (see October 8, 1991 and October 11-12, 1991) by former employee Anita Hill. According to David Brock, a right-wing reporter who will write a scathing “biography” of Hill after the hearings, Thomas’s supporters quickly devise a strategy to counter the charges. They decide to portray the entire affair as a conspiracy by liberals to besmirch Thomas in order to keep a conservative off the Court. A team of Federalist Society lawyers works feverishly to find, or concoct, evidence to discredit Hill. One of the most effective counters comes from a story which Hill related to the committee, that Thomas had once turned to her and asked, “Who put this pubic hair on my Coke?” Federalist Society member Orrin Hatch (R-UT), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is told by a staff member that a similar scene involving pubic hair and a glass of gin appears in the novel The Exorcist, and accuses Hill of lifting the scene from the novel and retelling it for her story of harassment. [Dean, 2007, pp. 146-153] Hatch also accuses Hill of working with “slick lawyers” in a conspiracy to destroy Thomas’s nomination. Thomas supports that view; when asked if he believed Hill fabricated her story, Thomas replies, “Some interest groups came up with this story, and this story was developed specifically to destroy me.” [Time, 10/21/1991] Fellow committee member Arlen Specter (R-PA) excoriates Hill in a long and brutal round of questioning, at one point accusing her of perjury. He even submits a psuedo-psychological analysis of Hill to the committee that portrays her as imagining the events she is testifying towards. Committee member Alan Simpson (R-WY) suggests that he has damaging information about Hill’s own sexual proclivities, although he never provides that material for examination. Four witnesses testify to the accuracy of Hill’s charges; a string of character witnesses testify on behalf of Thomas. [Dean, 2007, pp. 146-153] One of them testifies that he believes Hill was “unstable” and indulged in romantic fantasies about him. [Time, 10/21/1991] Democratic chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and other committee Democrats do virtually nothing to defend Hill. Not only do they allow their Republican colleagues to “savage her,” in Dean’s words, but they refuse to release evidence they have compiled that supports Hill’s charges, including records of Thomas’s regular purchase of pornography and the statements of numerous other witnesses who have given statements in support of Hill, two even stating that they were also harassed by Thomas. They also fail to tell the committee that Hill has passed a polygraph test about her allegations. [Dean, 2007, pp. 146-153]
Clarence Thomas survives the Senate hearings to join the Supreme Court. [Source: PBS]The full Senate votes to confirm Clarence Thomas (see July 2-August 28, 1991, October 8, 1991, and October 11-12, 1991) on a 52-48 vote, the lowest margin of victory by any Supreme Court nominee in US history. It is possible that some senators’ votes are influenced by a wash of “fast-action” polls reported by the White House, purporting to show that African-Americans overwhelmingly support Thomas, and a majority of citizens support Thomas’s confirmation. A year later, analysis proves those polls to be completely wrong. [Thomas Hearings Website, 8/1997; Dean, 2007, pp. 146-153] In 1992, Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, will say: “That last hearing was not about Clarence Thomas. It was not about Anita Hill. It was about a massive power struggle going on in this country, a power struggle between women and men, and a power struggle between minoritites and the majority.” [Thomas Hearings Website, 8/1997]
In the weeks after the Oklahoma City bombing (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995), militia leaders and other anti-government leaders testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee. The Southern Poverty Law Center will observe, “Many experts see the hearings as something of a militia victory because of the uncritical nature of the questioning.” [Southern Poverty Law Center, 6/2001]
John Yoo, the general counsel for the Senate Judiciary Committee and a former clerk for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, writes a book-length article for the California Law Review. Yoo’s article argues that under the Constitution, the president has far greater powers during wartime than is generally recognized. Basically, Yoo writes, Congress can only do two things to restrain a wartime president: restrict spending and impeach the president. The federal courts have no power over the president whatsoever. [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. xx]
FBI Director Robert Mueller testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee, just hours before the testimony of FBI agent Coleen Rowley, whose accusations of FBI malfeasance before the 9/11 attacks have sparked Congressional interest (see June 6, 2002). Mueller promises the committee that Rowley will not be punished for speaking out, and admits that Rowley is correct in some of her assessments, including her insistence that the bureau change to meet the threats posed by loosely organized terrorist groups. “When we looked back, we saw things that we should have done better and things that we should have done differently, but we also saw things that were done well and things that we should do more,” Mueller tells the assembled lawmakers. [CNN, 6/6/2002] Some senators take Mueller’s assessments even farther. Herbert Kohl (D-WI) says, “Had the FBI been totally alert and had the FBI used its current capabilities to the best of its ability, there was at least a very good chance that the terrorist plot could have been uncovered.” [Los Angeles Times, 6/7/2002]
Refuses to Answer Questions about Presidential Discussions - Committee member Joe Biden (D-DE) repeatedly asks Mueller whether President Bush consulted with him before the 2001 reorganization of the nation’s domestic security apparatus under the Homeland Security rubric (see September 20, 2001). Mueller refuses to discuss his conversations with Bush. “There is no executive privilege here,” Biden says. “I’m asking you whether you were consulted. I think this is ridiculous.” Law enforcement officials later confirm that both Mueller and Attorney General John Ashcroft were consulted as part of planning for the reorganization.
'Antiquated' Computer System - Democratic senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) questions Mueller about the antiquated computer system used by the FBI (Rowley herself will testify that her agents could not search FBI files for information pertaining to their inquiry into so-called “20th hijacker” Zacarias Moussaoui—see August 21, 2001 and August 23-27, 2001). Mueller confirms that Rowley and agents working with her could not search for terms such as “flight school,” but instead were limited to single-word searches such as “flight” or “school,” which produced masses of irrelevant results. Schumer calls the FBI system “almost laughable,” and adds, “It just makes my jaw drop to think that on 9/11 or on 9/10 the kind of technology that is available to most school kids, and certainly every small business in this country, wasn’t available to the FBI.” Mueller says it will take two or three years to upgrade the FBI’s computers. “I think we are way behind the curve,” he says.
Criticism of Civil Liberties Reductions - Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) criticizes Mueller for his decision, in conjunction with Attorney General John Ashcroft, to loosen restrictions on the FBI that limit the bureau’s ability to investigate and monitor citizen dissidents and organizations. “In particular, I’m troubled by the visa-holder-registration policy announced yesterday,” he says, referring to a Justice Department plan to require that about 100,000 foreigners in the United States be fingerprinted by the government. “Your agency is expending valuable time and resources to recruit these US citizens in our Arab and Muslim communities. And at the same time, the Justice Department is photographing, fingerprinting and registering their law-abiding siblings, cousins, visiting the United States.” [New York Times, 6/7/2002] “What impact do you think these policies will have on the Arab and Muslim communities in the US if you’re holding job fairs in the morning and fingerprinting them in the afternoon?” Kennedy asks. Mueller responds that the FBI will be careful not to step on anyone’s constitutional rights: “I still believe that we have to protect the freedoms that we have in this country that are guaranteed by the Constitution, or all the work we do to protect it will be at naught.” [Los Angeles Times, 6/7/2002]
Entity Tags: Charles Schumer, John Ashcroft, Coleen Rowley, Herbert Kohl, Edward M. (“Ted”) Kennedy, Federal Bureau of Investigation, US Department of Justice, Joseph Biden, Robert S. Mueller III, Senate Judiciary Committee, Zacarias Moussaoui
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
FBI agent Coleen Rowley, the whistleblower who wrote a stinging memo questioning the bureau’s handling of the Zacarias Moussaoui case (see May 21, 2002), testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Her memo, in which she accused FBI Director Robert Mueller of participating in what she called “a delicate and subtle shading/skewing of facts… at the highest levels of FBI management,” has become a focus of Congressional probes into what many lawmakers perceive as a systemic failure of intelligence gathering preceding the 9/11 attacks. Rowley calls the FBI a bureaucracy rife with “risk aversion,” “roadblocks” to investigations, and “endless, needless paperwork.” Rowley says she is concerned that the FBI has moved towards even more bureaucracy and micromanagement in the months following the attacks. [CNN, 6/6/2002; BBC, 6/6/2002; Senate Judiciary Committee, 6/6/2002] “Seven to nine layers” of management “is really ridiculous,” she says. “We need a way to get around the roadblocks.” But Rowley is more sympathetic to Mueller in her testimony than in her memo, and praises him for appearing willing to consider some of the new ideas and approaches that she says need to be implemented. [New York Times, 6/7/2002; Los Angeles Times, 6/7/2002] In his own testimony before the same committee just hours before Rowley speaks, Mueller promises that Rowley will not be punished for speaking out, and admits that some of Rowley’s assessments are correct (see June 6, 2002). [CNN, 6/6/2002] The questioning and commentary by the committee members varies somewhat by party affiliation, with Democrats such as Charles Schumer (D-NY) repeatedly praising Rowley “for performing a national service in coming forward,” but even committee Republicans such as Arlen Specter (R-PA) and Jeff Sessions (R-AL) engage in criticizing the FBI. [New York Times, 6/7/2002] Charles Grassley (R-IA) calls Rowley “a patriotic American who had the courage to put truth first and raise critical but important questions about how the FBI handled a terrorist case before the attacks, and about the FBI’s cultural problems.” [Los Angeles Times, 6/7/2002]
Several members of Congress submit a list of 50 questions to Attorney General Ashcroft, asking him how the Patriot Act is being implemented (see October 26, 2001). [New York Times, 7/14/2002] For instance, they ask, “How many times has the department requested records from libraries, bookstores and newspapers? How many roving wiretaps has the department requested?” Ashcroft refuses to answer many of the questions, even though he is legally required to do so. [San Francisco Chronicle, 9/8/2002] Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D-VT) fails to receive any response to dozens of letters he writes to Ashcroft, and other senators complain of a complete stonewall from Ashcroft. [Washington Post, 8/21/2002] In March 2003, senators continue to complain that Ashcroft still has not provided the oversight information about the Patriot Act that he is required to give by law. [ABC News, 3/12/2003]
In a lengthy unclassified hearing held by the Senate Judiciary Committee, FBI officials confirm translator Sibel Edmond’s allegations that co-worker Melek Can Dickerson had either mistranslated or incorrectly marked “not pertinent” hundreds of wiretapped telephone conversations involving certain surveillance targets with whom she had become friends (see (November 2001)). They also acknowledge that she had attempted to take control over all translation assignments involving those targets (see November 2001 or December 2001). The targets worked at the American-Turkish Council (ATC), where Dickerson was an intern before taking her job at the FBI. The FBI confirms also that Dickerson had failed to disclose this information on her application (see also (Late October 2001)), but nonetheless attributes her failure to translate these wiretaps to lack of training. [Leahy and Grassley, 6/19/2002; Washington Post, 6/19/2002; United Press International, 1/24/2005; Vanity Fair, 9/2005] One of the participants of the hearing will later tell the New York Observer that the session was tense. “None of the FBI officials’ answers washed, and they could tell we didn’t believe them.” He remembers that one of the Congressional investigators told the officials, “You basically admitted almost all that Sibel alleged, yet you say there’s no problem here. What’s wrong with this picture?” [New York Observer, 1/22/2004]
A curious Congressional briefing takes place on June 24, 2002. Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, a professor and biological arms control expert, has been publicly hinting that she knows who is behind the 2001 anthrax attacks. She has been describing a profile that perfectly matches Steven Hatfill without actually naming him or giving any other name (see February-June 2002). On this day, she takes part in a closed door meeting with congressional staffers from the Senate Judiciary Committee to discuss her theories. Van Harp, the head of the FBI’s anthrax investigation, Robert Roth, a top manager of the investigation, and other FBI officials also attend the meeting. Rosenberg lays out her theories but fails to name her sources or give any hard evidence. At one point, Harp asks her in frustration: “Do you know who did this? Do you know?” She say she does not. Harp has a private conversation with Rosenberg after the meeting. [Washington Post, 9/14/2003] It is unknown what is said, but the next day, the FBI searches Hatfill’s apartment and tips off the media to the search, beginning a public focus on Hatfill as the FBI’s main suspect (see June 25, 2002).
Jay Bybee, the head of the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) and the signatory on a number of memos authorizing torture and expanded presidential powers (see March 13, 2002 and August 1, 2002), is confirmed by the Senate to become a federal appeals court judge. The Senate Judiciary Committee scheduled Bybee’s confirmation hearing for the same day that Secretary of State Colin Powell was slated to give his presentation to the UN on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction (see February 5, 2003); most of the committee’s Democrats choose to watch Powell’s presentation, thus only friendly Republican Senators are in the hearing. Bybee is confirmed easily. [Savage, 2007, pp. 182]
The Senate Judiciary Committee issues an interim report titled “FISA Implementation Failures” that finds the FBI has mishandled and misused the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) in its anti-terrorism measures. The report is written by Arlen Specter (R-PA), Charles Grassley (R-IA), and Patrick Leahy (D-VT). [US Congress, 2/2003] Committee chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT) not only refused to take part in the report, he issues a letter protesting the report’s findings. Other committee members were invited to take part in drafting the report, but none did so. [Salon, 3/3/2003] Specter says just after the report is issued, “The lack of professionalism in applying the law has been scandalous. The real question is if the FBI is capable of carrying out a counterintelligence effort.” According to the report, both the FBI and the Justice Department routinely employ excessive secrecy, suffer from inadequate training, weak information analysis, and bureaucratic bottlenecks, and will stifle internal dissent to excess as part of their usage of the expanded powers provided under FISA. The report uses as a case study the instance of suspected terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui (see August 16, 2001), who stands accused of conspiring with the 9/11 hijackers. FBI officials in Washington impeded efforts by its agents in Minneapolis, most notably former FBI agent Coleen Rowley, to secure a FISA warrant that would have allowed those agents to search Moussaoui’s laptop computer and belongings before the attack. [US Congress, 2/2003; Associated Press, 2/25/2003] “September 11 might well have been prevented,” says Specter. “What are they doing now to prevent another 9/11?” Grassley adds that in closed Senate hearings, they learned that two supervisors who handled the case did not understand the basic elements of FISA, and a senior FBI attorney could not provide the legal definition of “probable cause,” a key element needed to obtain a FISA warrant. [Associated Press, 2/25/2003] “I hate to say this,” Leahy observes, “but we found that the FBI is ill-equipped” to conduct surveillance on those in the United States possibly plotting terrorist acts on behalf of foreign powers. [Salon, 3/3/2003]
Lack of Cooperation from FBI, Justice Department - The report says that neither the FBI nor the Justice Department were cooperative with the Judiciary Committee in the committee’s efforts to investigate either agency’s actions under FISA, routinely delaying their responses to Congressional inquiries and sometimes ignoring them altogether. The report says that perhaps the most troubling of its findings is “the lack of accountability that has permeated the entire application procedure.” The report notes that although Congressional oversight is critical to ensure a transparent, effective usage of FISA powers (augmented under the USA Patriot Act) that do not stray from legal boundaries, such oversight has been discouraged by both the FBI and the Justice Department. [US Congress, 2/2003] The Justice Department dismisses the report as “old news.” [Patrick Leahy, 2/27/2003] Grassley says, “I can’t think of a single person being held accountable anywhere in government for what went on and what went wrong prior to Sept. 11. It seems that nobody in government makes any mistakes anymore.” [Salon, 3/3/2003]
Spark for New Legislation - The three senators use the report as a springboard to introduce a bill, the “Domestic Surveillance Oversight Act,” which will allow Congress to more closely oversee oversee FBI surveillance of Americans and government surveillance of public libraries, would supervise FISA usage in criminal cases, and disclose the secret rules of the FISA court to Congress. [Associated Press, 2/25/2003] Even though all three senators support a lowering of the standards by which a FISA warrant can be issued, the American Civil Liberties Union says it supports the bill, with reservations. “There’s a lot of concern in this country that, especially with the USA PATRIOT Act, FISA has become a massive tool for secret surveillance,” says ACLU lawyer Timothy Edgar. “One way to assuage those concerns—or show that they’re true—is to have more reporting.” Edgar says that the ACLU worries about the lowering of the standards for such warrants, but as long as the bill implement. [Salon, 3/3/2003] The question of the bill becomes moot, however, as it will never make it out of committee. [US Congress - Senate Judiciary Committee, 3/2003]
Entity Tags: USA Patriot Act, Robert S. Mueller III, Tim Edgar, Patrick J. Leahy, Senate Judiciary Committee, Marion (“Spike”) Bowman, Federal Bureau of Investigation, US Department of Justice, American Civil Liberties Union, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Arlen Specter, Domestic Surveillance Oversight Act, Charles Grassley, Zacarias Moussaoui
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald testifies before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary about post-9/11 legislative changes, and says that the removal of the “wall” was a significant step forward for US counterintelligence. The wall was a set of procedures which regulated the passage of intelligence information within the FBI and from the FBI to prosecutors (see July 19, 1995). Fitzgerald says the removal of the wall represented “the single greatest change that could be made to protect our country.” He cites four cases that he says are examples of how the wall and other such obstacles have hampered counterterrorism efforts:
The arrest of Ali Mohamed. Fitzgerald claims it would have been “far less difficult” to arrest al-Qaeda operative Ali Mohamed for his involvement in the attacks on US embassies in East Africa (see September 10, 1998) had it not been for the wall. [US Congress, 10/21/2003] However, author Peter Lance will point out, “But Fitzgerald neglected to tell the senators that… prosecutors and FBI agents had been monitoring the bombing cell members for two years or that they’d had multiple face-to-face meetings with Mohamed himself.” Mohamed, who was called a “key figure” in the Day of Terror plot in the US press in early 1995 (see February 3, 1995), had actually met Fitzgerald a year before the arrest and told him that he had trained bin Laden’s bodyguards, lived in bin Laden’s house, loved and believed in bin Laden, and that he didn’t need a fatwa to attack the US, as it was obvious the US was the enemy (see After October 1997). [Lance, 2006, pp. 274-6, 299-300]
The Day of Terror conspiracy. After the partial success of the World Trade Center bombing (see February 26, 1993), the conspirators planned to attack other targets in New York, but were arrested by the FBI, which had penetrated their cell. All of the arrested plotters were successfully convicted. However, Fitzgerald tells the committee, “Prosecutors were in the dark about the details of the plot until very late in the day.” [US Congress, 10/21/2003; Lance, 2006, pp. 118-9]
The Millennium Alert. Fitzgerald says that in 1999, investigations into suspected millennium plots were hampered because “criminal prosecutors received information only in part and with lag time so as not to breach the wall.” All attacks planned for the millennium failed, including one plot to bomb the Los Angeles airport (see December 31, 1999-January 1, 2000).
Sharing Wadih El-Hage’s grand jury interview. In 1997, Al-Qaeda operative El-Hage provided information about bin Laden and his associates to a grand jury. Fitzgerald wanted to pass some of this information along to intelligence investigators (see September 24, 1997) but was unable to because grand jury information cannot be shared with intelligence investigators. To get around this restriction, an FBI agent had to get El-Hage to repeat the information outside the grand jury room. (Note: this example is not directly related to the “wall” under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, but rather to a similar obstacle governing the passage of information in the opposite direction—from criminal agents to intelligence agents). [US Congress, 10/21/2003]
Thomas Tamm. [Source: Newsweek]Thomas Tamm, a veteran Justice Department prosecutor with a high-level security clearance, is finishing up a yearlong post with the Office of Intelligence Policy and Review (OIPR), a Justice Department unit handling wiretaps of suspected terrorists and spies. As his stint is coming to a close, Tamm learns of the existence of a highly classified National Security Agency (NSA) program that is electronically eavesdropping on American citizens—domestic wiretapping. He later learns that “the program,” as it is referred to by those few who know of it at all, is called “Stellar Wind.”
Concealment from FISA Judges - Tamm learns that the NSA program is being hidden from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Court, a panel of federal judges who by law must approve and supervise such surveillance for intelligence purposes. OIPR lawyers ask the FISA Court for permission to implement national-security wiretaps. But, Tamm learns, some wiretaps—signed only by Attorney General John Ashcroft—are going to the chief FISA Court judge and not the other ten judges on the FISA panel. The “AG-only” requests are extraordinarily secretive, and involve information gleaned from what is only referred to as “the program”—Stellar Wind. Only a very few White House and US intelligence officials know the name and the nature of “the program.” Stellar Wind involves domestic wiretaps on telephones and computer e-mail accounts derived from, but not necessarily linked to, information secured from captured al-Qaeda computers and cell phones overseas. With the voluntary cooperation of American telecommunications companies (see 1997-August 2007 and After, February 2001, February 2001, and February 2001 and Beyond), the NSA program also collects vast amounts of personal data about US citizens’ phone and e-mail communications. The program also collects an enormous amount of financial information from the Treasury Department (see February 28, 2006), all collected as part of the NSA’s “data mining” efforts (see Late 1999 and After September 11, 2001).
Program Is 'Probably Illegal,' Says DOJ Official - Tamm, suspicious about the unusual requests, asks his supervisors about the program, and is told to drop the subject. “[N]o one wanted to talk about it,” he will recall. Tamm asks one of his supervisors, Lisa Farabee, “Do you know what the program is?” Farabee replies: “Don’t even go there.… I assume what they are doing is illegal.” Tamm is horrified. His first thought, he will later recall, is, “I’m a law enforcement officer and I’m participating in something that is illegal?” Tamm soon finds out from deputy OIPR counsel Mark Bradley that the chief FISA judge, Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, is raising unwanted questions about the warrant requests (see 2004 and 2005), and “the AG-only cases are being shut down.” Bradley adds, “This may be [a time] the attorney general gets indicted.”
Request for Guidance Turned Down - For weeks, Tamm agonizes over what to do. He seeks guidance from a former colleague, Sandra Wilkinson, who now works on the Senate Judiciary Committee. The two have coffee in the Senate cafeteria, and Tamm asks Wilkinson to ask if anyone on the committee knows anything about “the program.” Weeks go by without a response, and Tamm sends Wilkinson an e-mail from his OIPR computer—an e-mail that will later alert the FBI to Tamm’s interest in Stellar Wind. During a second conversation, Wilkinson refuses to give Tamm any information. “Well, you know, then,” he replies, “I think my only option is to go to the press.”
Contacting the New York Times - Tamm finally decides to contact the New York Times’s Eric Lichtblau, who has written several stories on the Justice Department that impressed Tamm. By this point he has transferred out of OIPR and back into a Justice Department office that would allow him to return to the courtroom. Tamm calls Lichtblau from a pay phone near the US District Courthouse in Washington. “My whole body was shaking,” he will recall. He identifies himself only as “Mark” (his middle name), and arranges to meet Lichtblau at a bookstore near the Justice Department. (In his 2008 book Bush’s Law: The Remaking of American Justice, Lichtblau describes Tamm as “a walk-in” source who was “agitated about something going on in the intelligence community.” Lichtblau will describe Tamm as wary and “maddeningly vague,” but as they continue to meet—usually in bookstores and coffee shops in the Capitol District—Tamm’s “credibility and his bona fides became clear and his angst appears sincere. Eighteen months later, after finally overriding a request and warning from President Bush not to print the story (see December 6, 2005), the Times reports on the existence of the NSA program (see December 15, 2005). [Ars Technica, 12/16/2008; Newsweek, 12/22/2008]
Entity Tags: Mark Bradley, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Eric Lichtblau, Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, Bush administration (43), ’Stellar Wind’, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, Lisa Farabee, Senate Judiciary Committee, Thomas Tamm, Sandra Wilkinson, Office of Intelligence Policy and Review, New York Times, US Department of the Treasury, National Security Agency, US Department of Justice, John Ashcroft
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
In an apparent act of political retaliation, Vice President Dick Cheney blocks the promotion of a Justice Department official who raised concerns about the legality of the Bush/NSA domestic wiretapping program (see Early 2002). Patrick Philbin, a senior Justice Department counsel, provided much of the research used by Deputy Attorney General James Comey in Comey’s own refusal to approve the wiretapping program (see March 9, 2004 and March 10-12, 2004). Former White House counsel Alberto Gonzales had replaced Ashcroft as attorney general when Philbin’s name came up for promotion. After Cheney warns Gonzales that he will oppose Philbin’s promotion, Gonzales decides not to promote Philbin to the position of deputy solicitor general. In May 2007, Comey will testify before Congress, “I understood that someone at the White House communicated to Attorney General Gonzales that the vice president would oppose the appointment if the attorney general pursued the matter. The attorney general chose not to pursue it.…It was my understanding that the vice president’s office blocked that appointment” (see May 15, 2007). Senate Judiciary Committee member Charles Schumer (D-NY) says in 2007 of Cheney’s opposition to Philbin’s promotion, and Cheney’s attempts to pressure Justice Department officials to back the wiretapping program, “…White House hands guided Justice Department business. The vice president’s fingerprints are all over the effort to strong-arm Justice on the NSA program.” [Associated Press, 6/7/2007] Comey will resign in 2005 and give a farewell speech in which he will say that some Justice Department officials paid a price for their commitment to doing what’s right. When asked in his 2007 testimony what he referred to, Comey will answer, “I had in mind one particular senior staffer of mine who had been in the hospital room with me and had been blocked from promotion, I believed as a result of this particular matter.” Comey is speaking of Philbin, who would have likely been promoted to solicitor general in Bush’s second term. Instead, Philbin resigns from the Justice Department and enters private practice. [National Public Radio, 5/15/2007]
Attorney General John Ashcroft is visited by a squad of top White House and Justice Department officials just hours after Ashcroft underwent emergency surgery for severe, acute pancreatis, and is still recuperating in intensive care. The White House officials attempt to persuade the barely lucid Ashcroft to give his formal approval for the secret National Security Agency warrantless wiretapping surveillance program (see Early 2002), which requires the Justice Department to periodically review and approve it. [National Public Radio, 5/15/2007; Washington Post, 5/16/2007; Washington Post, 6/7/2007; Associated Press, 6/7/2007]
Comey, Goldsmith Rush to Head Off Aides - Deputy Attorney General James Comey testifies to the incident before the Senate Judiciary Committee over three years later (see May 15, 2007). Comey will recall that he and Ashcroft had decided not to recertify the surveillance program due to their concerns over its legality and its lack of oversight. On March 9, Ashcroft was rushed to the hospital with severe pancreatis. As per Justice Department procedures, Comey became acting attorney general for the duration of Ashcroft’s incapacity. The next night, just hours after Ashcroft underwent emergency surgery for the removal of his gallbladder, Comey receives an urgent phone call from Ashcroft’s aide, David Ayres, who himself has just spoken with Ashcroft’s wife Janet. Ayres tells Comey that White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and White House chief of staff Andrew Card are en route to Ashcroft’s hospital room to pressure Ashcroft to sign off on the program recertification. A furious Comey telephones FBI director Robert Mueller, and the two, accompanied by aides, race separately through the Washington, DC streets with sirens wailing to reach Ashcroft’s hospital room; they beat Gonzales and Card to the room by a matter of minutes. “I was concerned that, given how ill I knew the attorney general was, that there might be an effort to ask him to overrule me when he was in no condition to do that,” Comey will testify, and will add that to him, Ashcroft appears “pretty bad off.” En route, Mueller instructs the security detail protecting Ashcroft not to allow Card or Gonzales to eject Comey from the hospital room. Card and Gonzales enter just minutes later. [Washington Post, 5/16/2007; PBS, 5/16/2007] “And it was only a matter of minutes that the door opened and in walked Mr. Gonzales, carrying an envelope, and Mr. Card,” Comey will testify. “They came over and stood by the bed, greeted the attorney general very briefly, and then Mr. Gonzales began to discuss why they were there—to seek his approval for a matter.” [National Public Radio, 5/15/2007] Gonzales is holding an envelope containing an executive order from Bush. He tells Ashcroft that he needs to sign off on the order, thereby giving the wiretapping program Justice Department authorization to continue unabated. Comey will testify that Ashcroft “lifted his head off the pillow and in very strong terms expressed his view of the matter, rich in both substance and fact, which stunned me. [Ashcroft then adds] ‘But that doesn’t matter, because I’m not the attorney general. There is the attorney general,’” pointing at Comey. Gonzales and Card leave the room without ever acknowledging Comey’s presence. “I was angry,” Comey will recall. “I thought I just witnessed an effort to take advantage of a very sick man, who did not have the powers of the attorney general because they had been transferred to me.” [Washington Post, 5/16/2007; Washington Post, 6/7/2007] “That night was probably the most difficult night of my professional life, so it’s not something I forget,” Comey will testify. [PBS, 5/16/2007] Goldsmith is also in the room; like Comey, Goldsmith receives a phone call alerting him to Gonzales’s and Card’s visit, and like Comey, Goldsmith races through the Washington streets to arrive at Ashcroft’s room minutes before Gonzales and Card arrive. He, too, is astonished at the brazen, callous approach taken by the two White House officials against Ashcroft, who he describes as laying in his darkened hospital room, with a bright light shining on him and tubes and wires protruding from his body. “Ashcroft, who looked like he was near death, sort of puffed up his chest,” Goldsmith later recalls. “All of a sudden, energy and color came into his face, and he said that he didn’t appreciate them coming to visit him under those circumstances, that he had concerns about the matter they were asking about and that, in any event, he wasn’t the attorney general at the moment; Jim Comey was. He actually gave a two-minute speech, and I was sure at the end of it he was going to die. It was the most amazing scene I’ve ever witnessed.” As Gonzales and Card leave the room, Goldsmith will recall, “Mrs. Ashcroft, who obviously couldn’t believe what she saw happening to her sick husband, looked at Gonzales and Card as they walked out of the room and stuck her tongue out at them. She had no idea what we were discussing, but this sweet-looking woman sticking out her tongue was the ultimate expression of disapproval. It captured the feeling in the room perfectly.” [New York Times Magazine, 9/9/2007] After Gonzales and Card leave the room, Comey asks Mueller to instruct the security detail not to let any more visitors into the room, except for family, without Mueller’s approval, apparently in order to keep Gonzales and Card from attempting to return. [US Department of Justice, 8/14/2007]
Cheney or Bush Behind Visit? - The hospital visit is sparked by at least two events: a meeting of White House officials a day earlier, where Vice President Dick Cheney attempted to push reluctant Justice Department officials to approve the surveillance program (see March 9, 2004), and Comey’s own refusal to certify the legality of the surveillance, as noted above. [Washington Post, 6/7/2007] Some believe that the timing of the incident shows that Cheney is the one who ordered Gonzales and Card to go to Ashcroft’s hospital room; Comey personally informed Cheney of his decision not to give his approval to the program. Speculation about Cheney’s ordering of the visit cannot be confirmed, [National Journal, 7/7/2007; National Journal, 8/16/2007] though the New York Times states flatly in an op-ed that “Vice President Dick Cheney sent Mr. Gonzales and [Card] to Mr. Ashcroft’s hospital room to get him to approve the wiretapping.” [New York Times, 7/29/2007] Three years later, Goldsmith will tell Congress that he believes Bush himself authorized the visit (see October 2, 2007).
Meeting in the White House - Minutes after the incident in Ashcroft’s hospital room, Card orders Comey to appear at a late-night meeting at the White House; Comey refuses to go alone, and pulls Solicitor General Theodore Olson from a dinner party to act as a witness to the meeting. “Mr. Card was very upset and demanded that I come to the White House immediately. After the conduct I had just witnessed, I would not meet with him without a witness present,” Comey will testify. “[Card] replied, ‘What conduct? We were just there to wish him well.’ And I said again, ‘After what I just witnessed, I will not meet with you without a witness. And I intend that witness to be the solicitor general of the United States.’” On March 11, after an al-Qaeda bombing in Madrid kills over 200 people (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004, Bush recertifies the program without the approval of the Justice Department. Comey responds by drafting a letter of resignation, effective March 12. “I couldn’t stay if the administration was going to engage in conduct that the Department of Justice had said had no legal basis,” he will testify. “I just simply couldn’t stay.” Comey is not the only one threatening to resign; he is joined by Ashcroft, Mueller, Ayres, Goldsmith, Justice Department official Patrick Philbin, and others, who all intend to resign en masse if Bush signs off on the surveillance program without Justice Department support. But Ayres persuades Comey to delay his resignation; in Comey’s words, Ayres “asked me something that meant a great deal to him, and that is that I not resign until Mr. Ashcroft was well enough to resign with me.” Instead of resigning on March 12, Bush meets separately with Comey and Mueller, and promises to make changes in the program (see March 12-Mid-2004). Those changes have never been disclosed, though some changes are later found to be the creation of a secret review court to oversee the surveillance court, and the clarification of what exactly constitutes “probable cause” for surveillance. Comey will testify,…“Director Mueller came to me and said that, ‘The president told me that the Department of Justice should get this where it wants to be—to do what the department thinks is right.’ And I took that mandate and set about to do that, and I accomplished that.” [Newsweek, 1/9/2006; National Public Radio, 5/15/2007; New York Times, 5/15/2007; Washington Post, 5/16/2007; PBS, 5/16/2007; Associated Press, 6/7/2007] Goldsmith recalls his surprise when Congress later approves the program and brings it somewhat under the supervision of the FISA court. “I was sure the government was going to melt down,” Goldsmith says in 2007. “No one anticipated they were going to reverse themselves.” [New York Times Magazine, 9/9/2007]
Did Gonzales Break the Law? - It is also possible that Gonzales and Card may have broken the law in discussing classified information in a public venue. “Executive branch rules require sensitive classified information to be discussed in specialized facilities that are designed to guard against the possibility that officials are being targeted for surveillance outside of the workplace,” says law professor Neal Katyal, a national security adviser under Bill Clinton. “The hospital room of a cabinet official is exactly the type of target ripe for surveillance by a foreign power. And the NSA program is particularly sensitive. One government official familiar with the program notes, “Since it’s that program, it may involve cryptographic information,” some of the most highly protected information in the intelligence community. The law governing disclosure of classified information is quite strict, and numerous government and military officials have been investigated for potential violations in the past. “It’s the one you worry about,” says the government official. Katyal says that if Gonzales did indeed break the law, the Justice Department cannot run any investigation into the matter: “The fact that you have a potential case against the Attorney General himself calls for the most scrupulous and independent of investigations.” Many others are dismayed and confused by the contradictions between the absolute secrecy surrounding the program, and Gonzales’s and Card’s willingness to openly discuss it in such an insecure location, and in front of witnesses not cleared to hear details about the program—including Ashcroft’s wife, who is present in the room while the officials seek her husband’s signature. Former NSA general counsel Elizabeth Parker says not enough is known about the meeting to be sure whether or not the law was broken. “Obviously things can be discussed in ways that don’t divulge highly classified information,” she says. “The real issue is what is it about this program that is so classified that can’t allow it to be discussed in a Congressional setting, even a closed Congressional hearing. In order to have confidence in what this program is all about, one needs to understand better what the approach is and how it affects the rights of American citizens.”
'Horrible' Judgment - John Martin, who oversaw Justice’s counterintelligence division for 26 years, calls Gonzales’s and Card’s attempt to override Comey’s authority as acting attorney general as more than just “bad judgment.” Martin calls their judgement “horrible…they both knew or should have known that the Attorney General while he was so incapacitated had delegated his power to his deputy Jim Comey. Comey’s actions were heroic under the circumstances.” [Time, 5/17/2007]
Snow Dismisses Concerns - In May 2007, after Comey’s testimony to the Senate hits the media, White House press secretary Tony Snow dismisses any concerns about the inappropriateness of Gonzales’s and Card’s pressuring of Ashcroft in his hospital room, and skips over the fact that Comey, not Ashcroft, had the final authority of the Attorney General at the time. “Because he had an appendectomy, his brain didn’t work?” Snow will say of Ashcroft. “Jim Comey can talk about whatever reservations he may have had. But the fact is that there were strong protections in there, this program has saved lives and it’s vital for national security and furthermore has been reformed in a bipartisan way.” Judiciary Committee member Charles Schumer (D-NY) has a different take on the incident: “What happened in that hospital room crystallized Mr. Gonzales’ view about the rule of law: that he holds it in minimum low regard.” [Associated Press, 6/7/2007] Senate Democrats are preparing to introduce a resolution of no-confidence against Gonzales. [Time, 5/17/2007]
Entity Tags: National Security Agency, George W. Bush, Jack Goldsmith, James B. Comey Jr., John Ashcroft, Elizabeth Parker, Janet Ashcroft, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, John Martin, David Ayres, Alberto R. Gonzales, Andrew Card, US Department of Justice, Charles Schumer, Theodore (“Ted”) Olson, Tony Snow, Robert S. Mueller III, Senate Judiciary Committee, Patrick F. Philbin, Neal Katyal
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
John E. Lewis of the FBI’s counterterrorism division tells the Senate Judiciary Committee of an “upswing in violent rhetoric and tactics” among ecoterrorists (see 1970s), and says that in recent years two specific organizations, the Animal Liberation Front (ALF—see 1976) and the Earth Liberation Front (ELF—see 1997), “have become the most active criminal extremist elements in the United States.” [Anti-Defamation League, 2005]
The Washington Post reveals the existence of a secret August 2002 memo from the Justice Department. This memo advised the White House that torturing al-Qaeda terrorists in captivity “may be justified,” and that international laws against torture “may be unconstitutional if applied to interrogations” conducted in the US war on terrorism (see August 1, 2002). The legal reasoning was later used in a March 2003 report by Pentagon lawyers assessing interrogation rules governing the military detention center at Guantanamo Bay (see March 6, 2003). Bush officials say that despite the memo, it has abided by the Geneva Conventions and other international treaties proscribing torture (see February 7, 2002). The incidents at Abu Ghraib, where numerous Iraqi prisoners were tortured, maimed, and sometimes murdered, were not policy, officials say. Human rights organizations and civil libertarians are appalled at the memo. “It is by leaps and bounds the worst thing I’ve seen since this whole Abu Ghraib scandal broke,” says Tom Malinowski of Human Rights Watch. “It appears that what they were contemplating was the commission of war crimes and looking for ways to avoid legal accountability. The effect is to throw out years of military doctrine and standards on interrogations.” A senior Pentagon official says that the Judge Advocate Generals (JAGs) were quick to challenge the Justice Department opinion when it was promoted by the Pentagon. “Every flag JAG lodged complaints,” the official says. A senior military attorney says of the memo: “It’s really unprecedented. For almost 30 years we’ve taught the Geneva Convention one way. Once you start telling people it’s okay to break the law, there’s no telling where they might stop.” [Washington Post, 6/8/2004] Attorney General John Ashcroft tells the Senate Judiciary Committee that he will not discuss the contents of the August 2002 memo, nor turn it over to the committee. “I believe it is essential to the operation of the executive branch that the president has the opportunity to get information from the attorney general that is confidential,” he says. [Washington Post, 6/8/2004]
The Senate Judiciary Committee brings in several experts to expand upon the testimony of attorney general nominee Alberto Gonzales (see January 6, 2005 and January 6, 2005). One of the most outspoken critics is Yale Law School dean Harold Koh. Koh had worked in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) under Ronald Reagan, and later served as assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights, and labor in the Clinton administration. He is a vocal critic of the Bush administration’s detention policies at Guantanamo and elsewhere. Koh had once worked closely with OLC lawyer John Yoo, the author of numerous torture memos (see October 4, 2001, November 6-10, 2001, November 20, 2001, December 21, 2001, December 28, 2001, January 9, 2002, January 11, 2002, January 14, 2002, January 22, 2002, January 24-26, 2002, March 13, 2002, July 22, 2002, August 1, 2002, August 1, 2002, and March 14, 2003) and opinions expanding the power of the president (see September 21, 2001, September 25, 2001, September 25, 2001, October 23, 2001, October 23, 2001, and June 27, 2002), but now, without explicitly mentioning Yoo by name, he repudiates his former student’s legal positions. Gonzales worked closely with Yoo to craft the administration’s positions on wiretapping, torture, the inherent power of the president, and other issues. “Having worked in both Democratic and Republican administrations, and for more than two years as an attorney in the Office of Legal Counsel, I am familiar with how legal opinions like this are sought and drafted,” Koh states. “I further sympathize with the tremendous pressures of time and crisis that government lawyers face while drafting such opinions. Nevertheless, in my professional opinion, the August 1, 2002 OLC memorandum [drafted by Yoo at Gonzales’s behest—see August 1, 2002] is perhaps the most clearly erroneous legal opinion I have ever read.” The August 1 memo, as well as other opinions by Yoo and Gonzales, “grossly overreads the inherent power of the president” as commander in chief, Koh testifies. The memos raise profound questions about the legal ethics of everyone involved—Gonzales, Yoo, and others in the Justice Department and White House. “If a client asks a lawyer how to break the law and escape liability, the lawyer’s ethical duty is to say no,” Koh testifies. “A lawyer has no obligation to aid, support, or justify the commission of an illegal act.” [Senate Judiciary Committee, 1/7/2005 ; Savage, 2007, pp. 211-212]
Attorney general nominee Alberto Gonzales turns in supplementary written answers to expand upon and clarify his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee (see January 6, 2005 and January 6, 2005). Buried in the documents is what reporter Charlie Savage will call “an explosive new disclosure.” Gonzales reveals that the Bush administration had secretly decided that the Convention against Torture, an international treaty, only has force on domestic soil, where the US Constitution applies. Noncitizens held overseas have no rights under the treaty, Bush lawyers concluded. Legal scholars from all sides of the political continuum denounce the administration’s position. Judge Abraham Sofaer, who negotiated the treaty for the Reagan administration, will write a letter to Congress informing it that President Reagan had never intended the treaty’s prohibition on torture and brutal treatment to apply only on US soil. However, the Bush administration stands by its position. [Savage, 2007, pp. 213]
George Christian. [Source: PBS]Librarian and data manager George Christian is served with a so-called “National Security Letter” (NSL) from the FBI demanding that his firm turn over private information on its patrons because of an apparent terrorist threat e-mailed from one of his libraries (see February 2005). Christian is the executive director of Library Connection, Inc., which manages catalog information, patron records, and circulation information for 27 libraries in and around Hartford, Connecticut, as well as providing telecommunications services to many of its member libraries. Christian is given the NSL, as well as a gag order preventing them from ever mentioning their receipt of the letter, or any details surrounding it. Christian is notified of the letter five days before actually receiving it; he spends those days frantically learning more about NSLs and the laws surrounding them (see October 25, 2005). He learns that a district court in New York had found the entire NSL statute unconstitutional because of what Christian calls “prima facie violations of the 1st, 4th and 5th amendments.” By the time they receive the letter, he has decided to oppose it. The letter, delivered by two FBI agents, orders Christian and Library Connection to turn over information about a specific IP address registered to the firm. One of the agents warns Christian that the gag order prohibits anyone in the firm from telling anyone that the FBI is attempting to secure information from its library business records. Christian, who will testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee about the NSL in April 2007 (see April 11, 2007), says neither he nor his colleagues could “fathom any ‘exigent’ nature for the FBI request.” The letter was dated May 19, nearly two months before its delivery, was not addressed to Christian, and requested information from the use of the IP address five months earlier, February 15. Christian later says that while he and his colleagues want to assist the FBI in any way they can, and have no desire to “impede the investigation of a perilous situation that endanger[s] my country or my fellow citizens,” because of the date of the letter and the IP usage, they conclude that the FBI has not been in any rush to get the information. Christian tells the FBI agents that he believes the use of NSLs is unconstitutional and that he will consult his attorney. Library Connection’s attorney says that the only way to contest compliance with an NSL is to take the Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales, to court. Christian is understandably reluctant to involve his firm in such a court challenge without authorization, and takes the case to the Executive Committee of the firm’s board of directors. The three members, Barbara Bailey, Peter Chase, and Janet Nocek (who will soon be dubbed the “Connecticut Four” by the media), after conferring with the attorney and reviewing the New York court’s decision against NSLs, decide to go forward with the complaint. They secure representation from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Together, they decide to ask for relief from the NSL, to seek a broader ruling that the use of NSLs is unconstitutional, and to have the gag order lifted so they can publicly discuss the incident as “part of the national debate over renewal of the Patriot Act” (see March 9, 2006). Christian will tell the Senate Judiciary Committee, “We… felt we were defending our democracy by insisting that the checks and balances established in the Constitution be observed. We had no court order, and there was no evidence that an independent judge had examined the FBI’s evidence and found there to be probable cause justifying their request for information.… [W]e did not want to aid terrorists or criminals.… But we did not feel we would be helping the country or making anyone safer by throwing out the Constitution either.” Because of the way the computer system is set up, to give the FBI the information about the specific IP address and usage it required, Christian would have to give the FBI information about everyone using every computer in the particular library on the day in question. He later says, “[S]ince there was no way of determining who was using the computers in the library five months after the fact, we felt that [the FBI wanted] information we had on all the patrons of that library. That seemed like a rather sweeping request. Some would call it a fishing expedition.” The case goes to trial in August 2005 (see August 2005-May 2006). [Senate Judiciary Committee, 4/11/2007] It is later learned that the original e-mailed threat is a hoax. [USA Today, 7/6/2006]
Entity Tags: Peter Chase, National Security Letters, Senate Judiciary Committee, Library Connection, Inc., Barbara Bailey, George Christian, American Civil Liberties Union, Janet Nocek, Alberto R. Gonzales, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Connecticut Four
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
The Connecticut Four, from left to right: Janet Nocek, Peter Chase, George Christian, and Barbara Bailey. [Source: Robert Deutsch/ USA Today]A case filed against Attorney General Alberto Gonzales by four plaintiffs from Connecticut’s Library Connection, Inc.—George Christian, Barbara Bailey, Peter Chase, and Janet Nocek—goes to trial in federal district court (see July 13, 2005). The trial is filed as Doe v. Gonzales because the government has filed a gag order against the plaintiffs forbidding them from identifying themselves or discussing the case publicly. The case involves a demand for information from the FBI for information concerning library usage by patrons of a Connecticut library; the four plaintiffs, on behalf of their data management firm Library Connection, have refused. The case revolves around the use of a National Security Letter (NSL) by the FBI; the plaintiffs, with support from the American Civil Liberties Union, want the NSL voided, the gag order lifted, and such use of NSLs found unconstitutional. Christian and his three colleagues are not allowed to attend the hearings in person because of the possibility that they might be identified as the plaintiffs; they are forced to watch the proceedings on a closed-circuit broadcast from a locked room in the Hartford courthouse. When the judge in the proceeding asks to review the government’s evidence for keeping the gag rule in place, Justice Department lawyers insist on submitting secret evidence directly to the judge, without providing that evidence to the plaintiff’s lawyers. The judge is not pleased, and rules, as did her predecessor in New York, that a perpetual gag order amounts to prior restraint, and thereby is unconstitutional. She adds that her review of the secret evidence gives no national security rationale for keeping the plaintiffs gagged. The Justice Department immediately appeals the ruling, and the plaintiffs stay silent and gagged. While the four plaintiffs remain silent about the NSL and the court case, the Justice Department’s primary lawyer, Kevin O’Conner, does not: O’Conner has frequently debated one of the plaintiffs, Chase, about the Patriot Act, and though Chase is now required to remain silent, O’Conner continues to make frequent public appearances touting the Patriot Act. Christian later says, in 2007 testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee (see April 11, 2007), that the continuing gag order causes the four “John Does” considerable professional and personal distress, especially after the national media begins reporting the story. The media eventually learns, through the careless redaction of information by government lawyers, of Chase’s identity as one of the four plaintiffs, and reveals that Library Connection is the firm involved in the lawsuit. Christian’s name comes to light shortly thereafter. The attorneys warn Christian and the others that even though their identities and their firm have been revealed, they still cannot comment at all on the case. Christian, for one, wants to testify before Congress in regards to the upcoming reauthorization of the Patriot Act (see March 9, 2006), but cannot. The four plaintiffs quickly become known in the media as the “Connecticut John Does” or the “Connecticut Four.”
Appeals Court - In November 2005, a New York court of appeals hears the case. Christian and his colleagues are allowed to be present at the case this time, but are required to conceal their identities by entering and leaving the court building separately, are not allowed to sit together, and are not allowed to confer with, or even make eye contact with, each other or their attorneys. The Justice Department lawyers argue that even revealing themselves as recipients of a NSL would violate national security, an argument refuted by submission of the raft of news articles identifying Christian, Chase, and Library Connection. The government argues that those news reports don’t matter because no one in Connecticut reads the primary newspaper carrying the story, the New York Times, and that surveys prove that most people don’t believe what they read in the news anyway. The Justice Department also tries to get the news articles to be kept under seal in court papers. Christian characterizes the entire proceeding as “absurd.” The court refuses to admit the plaintiff’s claim that 48 states, including Connecticut, have laws protecting the privacy of library patrons, but does admit into evidence the claims by Gonzales that there is no statutory justification for claims of privacy. In an attempt to get the gag order lifted before the Patriot Act reauthorization, the plaintiff’s attorneys make an emergency appeal directly to the Supreme Court, but are rebuffed. [Senate Judiciary Committee, 4/11/2007] In June 2006, Nocek tells a reporter, “Imagine the government came to you with an order demanding that you compromise your professional and personal principles. Imagine then being permanently gagged from speaking to your friends, your family or your colleagues about this wrenching experience.… Under the Patriot Act, the FBI demanded Internet and library records without showing any evidence or suspicion of wrongdoing to a court of law. We were barred from speaking to anyone about the matter and we were even taking a risk by consulting with lawyers.” [Interview: George Christian, 6/2/2006]
Gag Order Lifted, Case Dropped - Weeks after President Bush signs into law the Patriot Act reauthorization (see March 9, 2006), the FBI voluntarily lifts the gag order without waiting for a court order. The agency then tries to get the original ruling against the gag order vacated, an attempt that the appeals court refuses. The appellate judges are clearly disturbed by the breadth of the NSL gag provisions; one appellate judge writes, “A ban on speech and a shroud of secrecy in perpetuity are antithetical to democratic concepts and do not fit comfortably with the fundamental rights guaranteed American citizens… Unending secrecy of actions taken by government officials may also serve as a cover for possible official misconduct and/or incompetence.” The appeals court refers the case back to district court, allowing the original opinion to stand. Weeks later, the FBI withdraws its NSL, saying that it no longer needs the information it originally requested. Christian later testifies, “In doing so, they removed the Patriot Act from the danger of court review.” Christian later says that he believes the entire procedure was managed as an attempt to prevent the case from becoming public knowledge before Congress could vote on the reauthorization of the Patriot Act. [Senate Judiciary Committee, 4/11/2007]
Entity Tags: Peter Chase, Senate Judiciary Committee, National Security Letters, US Department of Justice, Library Connection, Inc., George Christian, George W. Bush, American Civil Liberties Union, Barbara Bailey, Connecticut Four, Alberto R. Gonzales, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Kevin O’Conner
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Sen. Arlen Specter.
[Source: C-SPAN]The Senate Judiciary Committee, led by Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA), holds a public hearing to investigate an intelligence program called Able Danger, to explore allegations that it identified Mohamed Atta and three other hijackers more than a year before 9/11, and to learn why the Pentagon disbanded it and destroyed the information it had gathered. [Government Computer News, 9/21/2005; New York Times, 9/21/2005; United Press International, 9/21/2005] The committee is seeking testimony from several former Able Danger members. Among these are Lieutenant Colonel Anthony Shaffer, Navy Captain Scott Phillpott, Dr. Eileen Preisser, and civilian analyst James D. Smith; all but Preisser have recently come forward with allegations about the unit (see August 17, 2005; August 22-September 1, 2005). However, the day before the hearing, Defense Department lawyers ordered them and other former Able Danger members not to testify. [Jerry Doyle Show, 9/20/2005; United Press International, 9/21/2005] Shaffer says in an interview, “I was told by two [Defense Department] officials today directly that it is their understanding that [Defense Secretary Rumsfeld] directed that we not testify…” [Jerry Doyle Show, 9/20/2005] The Defense Department’s only reason for doing so, offered by a spokesman, is that they have “expressed [their] security concerns and believe it is simply not possible to discuss Able Danger in any great detail in an open public forum open testimony of these witnesses.” [New York Times, 9/21/2005] Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter says, “That looks to me like it may be obstruction of the committee’s activities, something we will have to determine.” He complains that the Pentagon only delivered hundreds of pages of documents related to Able Danger late on the eve of the hearing, leaving no time for committee staff to review the material. [Reuters, 9/21/2005] Furthermore, the Pentagon’s representative at the hearing, William Dugan, admits that he has very limited knowledge of Able Danger. Specter tells him, “You were sent over—perhaps with the calculation you wouldn’t have the information.” [Associated Press, 9/21/2005; Government Computer News, 9/21/2005]
Entity Tags: Scott Phillpott, Mohamed Atta, US Department of Defense, William Dugan, James D. Smith, Eileen Preisser, Senate Judiciary Committee, Arlen Specter, Able Danger, Donald Rumsfeld, Anthony Shaffer
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
John Roberts. [Source: In These Times]John Roberts is approved by the Senate to become the new chief justice of the US Supreme Court, replacing the recently deceased William Rehnquist (see September 5, 2005). Roberts, who once clerked for Rehnquist while Rehnquist was an associate justice, also served in the Reagan Justice Department and as an associate counsel to then-President Reagan. He was deputy solicitor general in the first Bush administration. George W. Bush appointed him to the DC Circuit Court in 2001. [White House, 9/29/2005] Roberts was originally nominated to succeed the retiring Sandra Day O’Connor, but when Rehnquist died, Bush quickly withdrew the nomination for associate justice and refiled Roberts’s name for chief justice.
Characteristics and History - Roberts appeals to conservatives for a number of reasons; he has a powerful legal intellect, is soft-spoken, personable, and telegenic, and has not been outspoken about his views on issues like abortion and the right to privacy. Law professor Stephen Wermiel, who knows Roberts well, said in July that Roberts is not “somebody who… comes off as gruff or overbearing, which some people will recall was a factor in the [Robert] Bork hearings in 1987” (see July 1-October 23, 1987). Wermiel called Roberts’s nomination “a stroke of brilliance on the White House’s part.” One area of controversy surrounds Roberts’s work with Governor Jeb Bush of Florida during the bitterly contested 2000 presidential election, where Roberts helped construct the strategies used in the Bush v. Gore case that awarded George W. Bush the presidency. Another is Roberts’s membership in the Federalist Society, an organization of conservative activist judges, lawyers, and legal thinkers. A third is his advocacy, during his time with the first Bush administration, for scrapping decades of law providing for the separation of church and state in order to allow prayer in public schools. [National Public Radio, 7/20/2005] Four days before President Bush nominated him to the Court, Roberts voted in favor of upholding the Bush administration’s assertions about its wartime powers in the case of Hamdan v. Rumsfeld (see June 30, 2006), ruling that Bush need not consult Congress before setting up military commissions, and ruling that Bush is not bound by the strictures of the Geneva Convention. Liberals are unhappy with his stance against abortion, his representation as a private attorney of corporate mining interests seeking to dodge environmental regulations and of businesses trying to evade affirmative action requirements, as well as his attempts to curb environmentalists’ efforts to save endangered species. In 2007, reporter Charlie Savage will write that while progressives and liberals busily attacked Roberts for his positions on various “hot-button” issues, “[a]lmost lost amid the hubbub was” Roberts’s “unwavering commitment to the [expansion of] presidential power,” dating back to his 1980-81 clerkship under Rehnquist and his tenure as a White House lawyer under Ronald Reagan (see June-July 1983, October 1983, February 13, 1984, and May 16, 1984). [Savage, 2007, pp. 251-255]
Quick Confirmation - The Senate agreed to expedite Roberts’s confirmation process in order to allow him to preside over the next session of the Supreme Court in October, and so gave its members little time to peruse his record. Roberts sailed through the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings, and is confirmed by a 78-22 vote. Roberts hit a brief snag when he divulged that he had met with Attorney General Alberto Gonzales just six days before hearing oral arguments in the Hamdan case, had met with Vice President Cheney and a select coterie of top White House officials while considering his verdict, and had met with Bush for the president’s final approval on the Court nomination the same day that he handed down his favorable ruling. Though 22 Democrats vote against his confirmation, because Roberts’s ascension to the Court does not change the ideological balance among the nine justices (Roberts is replacing the equally conservative Rehnquist), Senate Democrats decided not to filibuster his nomination. [Dean, 2007, pp. 154-155; Savage, 2007, pp. 252]
Harriet Miers. [Source: Harpers.org]After President Bush successfully places conservative judge John Roberts as chief justice of the Supreme Court (see September 29, 2005), he names White House counsel and personal friend Harriet Miers to replace the retiring Sandra Day O’Connor on the Court.
Firestorm of Criticism - The media reacts adversely to this; Miers is said to be insufficiently qualified for the position and to have been chosen because of her loyalty to Bush. Her nomination is further derailed by opposition from hard-line conservatives, who do not believe she is conservative enough in her beliefs, particularly on abortion. Miers is certainly a weak choice from most viewpoints—she has no constitutional law experience and lacks a reputation as a strong legal thinker. She has never been a judge, nor even published an academic law journal article. Even conservative stalwart Robert Bork, who is still a center of controversy from his failed Court nomination (see July 1-October 23, 1987), calls Miers’s nomination “a disaster on every level.” When a letter Miers had written Bush for his birthday in 1997 is published in the media—in which Miers gushed over Bush in breathless, almost schoolgirlish prose, calling him “cool!” and “the best governor ever!”—the derision hits a fever pitch. When she submits a questionnaire to the Senate Judiciary Committee listing her background and qualifications for the job, a questionnaire almost devoid of pertinent and specific information, the ranking members of the committee threaten to have her do it over, a humiliation she avoids by withdrawing her name from consideration.
Trumped-Up Dispute over Executive Privilege - The Senate asks to see Miers’s White House memos to judge the quality of her legal work, and the White House refuses, citing executive privilege. Many view the dispute as a trumped-up conflict designed to allow the Bush administration to save what little face it can in the debacle; neoconservative columnist Charles Krauthammer had suggested engineering just such a “conflict” to stage “irreconcilable differences over documents” that would allow the Bush White House to withdraw Miers’s nomination over the issue.
Withdrawal - Miers indeed asks Bush to withdraw her nomination, and Bush cites the documents dispute in announcing the decision to pull Miers from consideration: “It is clear that senators would not be satisfied until they gained access to internal documents concerning advice provided during her tenure at the White House—disclosures that would undermine a president’s ability to receive candid counsel,” Bush says. “Harriet Miers’s decision demonstrates her deep respect for this essential aspect of the Constitutional separation of powers—and confirms my deep respect and admiration for her.” Bush settles on another nominee, Samuel Alito, to replace O’Connor (see October 31, 2005 - February 1, 2006). [Savage, 2007, pp. 262-266; Dean, 2007, pp. 155]
Staunch Advocate for Expanded Executive Power - In 2007, reporter and author Charlie Savage will write that, in his view, the Bush administration chose Miers for a simple reason: she is a staunch advocate for the continued expansion of presidential power. “Miers… could be counted on to embrace Bush’s expansive view of presidential powers,” he will write. Miers is quite loyal to Bush “and, through him, the institution he represented.” Miers’s adoration of Bush on a personal level would further guarantee her “solid support for any presidential claim of power that might come before the Court,” he will write. “Like Roberts before her, she was an executive branch lawyer who identified with the task of defending the prerogatives of the president.” On the questionnaire she submits to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Miers writes that as White House counsel, she has gained significant constitutional experience in “presidential prerogatives, the separation of powers, executive authority, and the constitutionality of proposed regulations and statutes.… My time serving in the White House, particularly as counsel to the president, has given me a fuller appreciation of the role of the separation of powers in maintaining our constitutional system. In that role, I have frequently dealt with matters concerning the nature and role of the executive power.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 265-267]
Entity Tags: US Supreme Court, John G. Roberts, Jr, Sandra Day O’Connor, Samuel Alito, Senate Judiciary Committee, Harriet E. Miers, Charlie Savage, George W. Bush, Bush administration (43), Charles Krauthammer, Robert Bork
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Assistant Attorney General William Moschella writes to Michael Battle, the director of the Justice Department’s Executive Office for US Attorneys, and others. In his letter, Moschella recommends that “we support eliminating the court’s role” in appointing interim US Attorneys, “and believe the AG [attorney general] should have that authority alone.” Essentially, Moschella is recommending that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales (see February 14, 2005) be the only person with the authority to appoint interim US Attorneys. Language will be inserted into the USA Patriot Act reauthorization (see July 2005 - March 2006 and March 9, 2006) giving Gonzales this power. Moschella also includes Senate Judiciary Committee official Brett Tolman, who will later become the US Attorney for Utah, in the email exchange, along with Justice Department aide Monica Goodling and Battle’s aide Natalie Voris. [US Department of Justice, 3/23/2007 ; Talking Points Memo, 2011] It is unclear if Moschella knows that the language inserted in the USA Patriot Act reauthorization was first drafted almost six months before his communication with Battle (see July 2005 - March 2006).
Brett Tolman. [Source: ABC4 (.com)]Brett Tolman, a Republican Senate Judiciary Committee official, tells Assistant Attorney General William Moschella that he will perform a “comprehensive fix” to the USA Patriot Act reauthorization coming up for approval in Congress (see March 9, 2006). Tolman and Moschella are referring to a provision in the reauthorization legislation that would allow the attorney general to appoint interim US Attorneys on an indefinite basis without having them go through Senate confirmation, and remove the ability of a federal court to appoint a US Attorney (see July 2005 - March 2006). Moschella suggests Tolman use the “comprehensive fix” of repealing Section 546 of Title 28 of the United States Code, subsections C and D, and replacing them with the following language: “A person appointed as United States Attorney under this section may serve until the qualification of a United States Attorney for such district appointed by the president under section 541 of this title.” Late the same evening, Tolman receives an email from Moschella instructing him to quietly insert the provision in the USA Patriot Act reauthorization bill that would eliminate a 120-day limit for “interim” US Attorneys to serve without Senate confirmation. In essence, the provision would allow such “interims” to serve indefinitely, cutting the Senate entirely out of the process of naming US Attorneys and allowing the attorney general to make political appointments without oversight. Tolman replies, “I will get the comprehensive fix done.” He slips the provision into a draft of the bill while it is in conference committee. None of the members notice the provision, and it is part of the bill as signed into law in March 2006 (see March 9, 2006). Tolman himself is one of the first beneficiaries of the new provision, becoming the US Attorney for Utah. When the new provision comes to light in early 2007, both chambers of Congress vote overwhelmingly to repeal it. This is one of numerous “stealth provisions” the White House will have inserted into legislation with the help of compliant Congressional Republicans and staffers. [Savage, 2007, pp. 316; US Department of Justice, 3/23/2007 ] Moschella will later take the credit for the provision, and will tell reporters that he made the change on behalf of the Justice Department “without the knowledge or coordination of his superiors at the Justice Department or anyone at the White House.” [Talking Points Memo, 2011]
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales sends a letter to a federal judge in Montana, assuring him that US Attorney William W. Mercer is not violating federal law by spending almost all of his time in Washington as a temporary Justice Department official. The same day, Mercer has a Republican Senate staffer insert language into the USA Patriot reauthorization bill (see March 9, 2006) that would retroactively change the rules and allow federal prosecutors such as himself to live outside their districts and serve in other positions. Congress will include the language in the bill when it passes the legislation. Mercer and a small number of other Justice Department employees are the only ones to benefit from the provision. In 2007, when the provision is revealed to the public, Justice Department officials will say the provision was necessary to ensure that prosecutors such as Mercer could fill temporary positions in Washington, Iraq, and elsewhere. Critics will accuse Gonzales of being, in the Washington Post’s words, “less than truthful” about the actions of himself, his staff, and the White House. The question surrounding Mercer involves residency. Mercer is the US Attorney for Montana, appointed in 2001. In June 2005, he was appointed to serve as principal associate deputy attorney general, at Gonzales’s request. US District Chief Judge Donald W. Molloy of Billings has become increasingly irked at Mercer’s absence from Montana for the last two years. In October, Molloy wrote Gonzales to say that Mercer was violating federal law because he “no longer resides in Montana” and was living with his family in the Washington area. Gonzales replies three weeks later to tell Molloy that Mercer “is in compliance with the residency requirement” under federal law because he “is domiciled there, returns there on a regular basis, and will live there full-time as soon as his temporary assignment is completed.” At the same time Gonzales writes Molloy, Mercer has a Senate staffer, Brett Tolman, insert the provision into the Patriot Act legislation. Tolman is the counsel for Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Tolman will later be named the US Attorney for Utah. Specter’s office will characterize the provision as “unremarkable” and aboveboard. Mercer currently serves as acting associate attorney general and has been nominated for the position on a permanent basis. He spends only about three days a month in Montana and delegates almost all of his duties as US Attorney to underlings. [ePluribus Media, 3/26/2007; Washington Post, 5/2/2007] Mercer will be nominated to serve as associate attorney general, the third-highest position in the Justice Department, in September 2006. He will not be confirmed for the position by the Senate, as confirmation would require his leaving the position of US Attorney. In June 2007, Mercer will resign from the associate attorney general position, retaining his position as US Attorney for Montana (see June 22, 2007). [ePluribus Media, 3/26/2007; Washington Post, 6/22/2007]
A number of senators from both political parties lash out at President Bush’s acknowledgment that he reauthorized the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program over thirty times since its inception in late 2001 (see December 17, 2005). Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) says that such warrantless wiretapping is outside of the law. “He’s trying to claim somehow that the authorization for the Afghanistan attack after 9/11 permitted this, and that’s just absurd,” Feingold says. “There’s not a single senator or member of Congress who thought we were authorizing wiretaps.… If he needs a wiretap, the authority is already there—the [Foreign] Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). They can ask for a warrant to do that, and even if there’s an emergency situation, they can go for 72 hours as long as they give notice at the end of 72 hours.” Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA) says the behavior of the White House and NSA “can’t be condoned.” Specter, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, says his committee will immediately begin investigating the matter. Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) says the report swayed his decision on the reauthorization of the USA Patriot Act. “Today’s revelation that the government listened in on thousands of phone conversations without getting a warrant is shocking and has greatly influenced my vote,” he says. [CNN, 12/16/2005]
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee that the new “reasonable belief” standard for wiretaps is just another term for “probable cause.” Gonzales’s claim is legally false. The difference between the two standards is significant: while administration officials must present relatively compelling evidence that a US citizen has ties to US-designated terrorist organizations or is involved in terror plots to meet the “probable cause” standard for authorizing electronic surveillance, the “reasonable belief” standard is far more lenient. Gonzales also repeats for the committee President Bush’s claims that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) isn’t “agile” or “nimble” enough to assist the Justice Department and the US intelligence community in finding and arresting terrorists, a claim that FISC judges find baffling. FISC routinely approves almost all warrant requests, and FISA allows the government to conduct surveillance for 72 hours before even applying for a warrant. Additionally, FISC has consistently worked with the government to expedite requests and streamline the warrant-issuance procedure. For example, in March 2002, when the FBI and Pakistani police arrested al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaida, agents found that almost all of Zubaida’s contacts were already being monitored under FISA warrants or through international surveillance efforts (see March 28, 2002). One government official says that the Zubaida discovery gave them “some comfort” that surveillance efforts were working as needed. [Washington Post, 2/9/2006]
The Justice Department (DOJ) issues a 42-page “white paper” detailing its arguments that the National Security Agency’s warrantless wiretapping program (see February 2001, Spring 2001, After September 11, 2001, After September 11, 2001, October 2001, Early 2002, September 2002, Late 2003-Early 2004, April 19-20, 2004, June 9, 2005, June 9, 2005, December 15, 2005, December 17, 2005, December 19, 2005, December 24, 2005, January 5, 2006, January 18, 2006, January 18, 2006, January 23, 2006, and January 30, 2006) is legal. The DOJ reiterates two previous arguments (see December 19, 2005 and December 21-22, 2005)—that Congress implicitly authorized the program in 2001 when it authorized the Bush administration to begin military actions against al-Qaeda (see September 14-18, 2001), and that the president has the authority as commander in chief to conduct such a program—even though these arguments have been thoroughly refuted (see January 9, 2006) and overridden by the Supreme Court’s recent Hamdan v. Rumsfeld ruling (see December 15, 2005 and July 8, 2006). In its paper, the DOJ declares that if necessary, it will attack the legality of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) in order to stop that law from “imped[ing]” the president’s power to order domestic surveillance. In essence, according to columnist and civil liberties lawyer Glenn Greenwald, the DOJ is asserting that the president’s powers are limitless as long as he or she declares a given action necessary to battle terrorism. “Because the president has determined that the NSA activities are necessary to the defense of the United States from a subsequent terrorist attack in the armed conflict with al-Qaeda, FISA would impermissibly interfere with the president’s most solemn constitutional obligation—to defend the United States against foreign attack,” the DOJ claims. Neither Congress nor the court system has the right to limit or even review the president’s powers, according to the DOJ. Greenwald calls the DOJ’s argument “a naked theory of limitless presidential power.” In fact, Greenwald argues, the DOJ is asserting that FISA itself is unconstitutional, because no law can in any way limit the president’s power to conduct foreign policy or protect the nation’s security. The document is part of a larger Bush administration defense of the USA Patriot Act, and part of the administration’s push to convince Congress to reauthorize that legislation. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales sends the document to Congress. Justice Department official Steven Bradbury says, “When it comes to responding to external threats to the country… the government would like to have a single executive who could act nimbly and agilely.” [US Department of Justice, 1/19/2006 ; Glenn Greenwald, 1/20/2006; Washington Post, 1/20/2006]
Dubious Legality - The program has already been found to be of questionable legality by two reports recently released by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service (see January 5, 2006 and January 18, 2006). And author James Bamford, a US intelligence expert who has written extensively about the NSA, says that the Justice Department’s arguments are specious in light of Congress’s clear intent in its 1978 passage of FISA to block warrantless wiretapping, and its demonstrated lack of intent to allow any such operations within US borders in the October 2001 legislation. “You could review the entire legislative history in the authorization to use military force and I guarantee you won’t find one word about electronic surveillance,” he says. “If you review the legislative history of FISA, you will find Attorney General Griffin Bell testifying before the intelligence committee saying this was specifically passed to prevent a president from claiming inherent presidential powers to do this again.” [Washington Post, 1/20/2006]
Self-Contradictory Justifications - In 2007, author and reporter Charlie Savage will write of the “shaky foundation” supporting the administration’s “two-pronged attacks on critics of the wiretapping program and the Patriot Act,” which some officials have claimed authorizes the program. “Beneath the simplistic rhetoric, the administration’s position was self-contradicting,” Savage will write. If Bush has the inherent presidential authority to order warrantless wiretapping, then he needs no authorization from the Patriot Act or any other legislation. But if Congress is endangering the nation by delaying in reauthorizing the Patriot Act and thusly not rendering the program legal, then the wiretapping program is illegal after all. The memo attempts to “paper… over” this problem by claiming that, while Bush has the inherent authority to do whatever he feels is necessary to protect the country, the Patriot Act’s extra police powers are still necessary in “contexts unrelated to terrorism.” Savage will write, “In other words, the administration’s own position, hidden in the fine print, was that the Patriot Act was superfluous and irrelevant to the war on terrorism—a somewhat absurd stance made necessary by their desire to say the wiretapping program was legal.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 315]
Failure to Address Probable Beginning of Program Before Attacks - The Justice Department says nothing about the program apparently beginning well before 9/11 (see Late 1999, February 27, 2000, December 2000, February 2001, February 2001, Spring 2001, July 2001, and Early 2002).
Entity Tags: National Security Agency, James Bamford, Steven Bradbury, US Department of Justice, Griffin Bell, Senate Judiciary Committee, Glenn Greenwald, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Alberto R. Gonzales, Arlen Specter, George W. Bush, Congressional Research Service, Charlie Savage
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales says he will sharply limit the testimony of former attorney general John Ashcroft and former deputy attorney general James Comey before the Senate Judiciary Committee. The committee is preparing for hearings on the warrantless wiretapping program authorized by President Bush several months after the 9/11 attacks (see Early 2002). Gonzales says that “privilege issues” will circumscribe both men’s testimony: “As a general matter, we would not be disclosing internal deliberations, internal recommendations. That’s not something we’d do as a general matter, whether or not you’re a current member of the administration or a former member of the administration.” He adds, “You have to wonder what could Messrs. Comey and Ashcroft add to the discussion.” Comey was an observer to the late-night visit by Gonzales and then-White House chief of staff Andrew Card to Ashcroft’s hospital room, where Gonzales and Card unsuccessfully attempted to persuade the heavily sedated Ashcroft to reauthorize the program after Comey, as acting attorney general, determined the program was likely illegal (see March 10-12, 2004). Committee chairman Arlen Specter (R-PA) says he has asked Gonzales for permission to call Comey and Ashcroft to testify, but has not yet received an answer. Specter says, “I’m not asking about internal memoranda or any internal discussions or any of those kind of documents which would have a chilling effect.” Specter will ask Ashcroft and Comey to talk about the legal issues at play in the case, including the events surrounding the hospital visit. In the House Judiciary Committee, Republicans block an attempt by Democrats to ask Gonzales to provide legal opinions and other documents related to the program. [Washington Post, 2/16/2006]
Bruce Fein, a former deputy attorney general in the Reagan administration, testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on the subject of the president’s wartime authority and the illegal wiretapping of American citizens (see December 15, 2005). “This is a defining moment in the constitutional history of the United States,” Fein tells the committee. “The theory invoked by the president to justify eavesdropping by the NSA in contradiction to FISA (see April 30, 1986 and October 23, 2001) would equally justify mail openings, burglaries, torture, or internment camps, all in the name of gathering foreign intelligence. Unless rebuked it will lie around like a loaded weapon, ready to be used by any incumbent who claims an urgent need.” In 2007, author and reporter Charlie Savage will write concerning Fein’s statement: “[A] president had secretly claimed the power to ignore a law, and then he had acted on that power. In so doing, the Bush-Cheney administration unleashed imperial power. Even if they had not personally abused their power, there was no guarantee that future presidents would show the same restraint. Moreover, there was no difference in principle between the warrant law [FISA] and any other law that regulates how the president can carry out his national security responsibilities. By demonstrating that a president can set aside a statute or treaty at will, the administration had set a precedent that future presidents, liberal and conservative alike, would be able to cite when they, too, wanted to violate a legal restriction on their power.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 133-134]
Republicans on the Senate Intelligence Committee refuse to allow an inquiry into the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program (see December 15, 2005 and December 18, 2005), with the committee voting 10-8 along party lines to reject such a probe. Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Arlen Specter (R-PA) had advocated such a probe, but White House officials refused to cooperate with his committee, saying they would only cooperate via classified briefings to the Intelligence Committee. However, committee Republicans, led by chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS), have no intention of allowing such an inquiry. Roberts and his fellows say they will push to impose limitations on the program. Committee Democrats accuse their Republican colleagues of colluding with the administration to block the inquiry. “The committee is, to put it bluntly, is basically under the control of the White House,” says ranking committee member John D. Rockefeller (D-WV). “You can’t legislate properly unless you know what’s going on.” The Republicans have left Congress to “legislate in darkness and ignorance,” he says. Republicans say that a new, select subcommittee will increase oversight of the administration’s wiretapping. “It provides for a case-by-case examination and oversight by the United States Congress,” says Mike DeWine (R-OH), who is helping draft the bill for the new oversight subcommittee. “It will be very consistent with what our constitutional obligations are.” DeWine’s bill would allow the administration to ignore restrictions on wiretapping merely by invoking national security, and would not allow the committee to intervene even in clearly unjustified cases of wiretapping. “The White House could just decide not to tell them everything, and there’s no sanction,” says Bruce Fein, a former Reagan administration lawyer. “And the president can still claim that he has inherent power to conduct surveillance.” The bill is “extremely generous to the president,” says conservative law professor Douglas Kmiec. “It is not significantly different from the status quo. And I think the president would be quite delighted by that.” [Boston Globe, 3/8/2006; Savage, 2007, pp. 204]
Judges Harold Baker, Allan Kornblum, and Stanley Brotman. [Source: New York Times]Five former judges on the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) speak out against the continued use of warrantless wiretaps against US citizens, and urge that Congress give the court a formal role in overseeing the program. The five judges include James Robertson, who resigned from the court in apparent protest over the domestic eavesdropping program (see December 21, 2005). Four of the five judges speak at hearings by the Senate Judiciary Committee; Robertson is absent, but parts of a letter by Robertson are entered into testimony. The judges tell the senators that they are skeptical at best about Bush administration claims of inherent presidential authority to order surveillance of US citizens without court approval, and suggest that any evidence obtained through the program might taint criminal prosecutions growing out of the wiretaps. Former FISC judge Harold Baker says Bush is bound by the law “like everybody else.” If a law such as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) is passed by Congress and considered constitutional by the courts, then, Baker says, “the president ignores it at the president’s peril.” The other judges, whose identities as FISC judges has until recently been kept from the public, include Stanley Brotman, John Keenan, and William Stafford. Magistrate judge Allan Kornblum, who supervised Justice Department wiretap applications for years, and who also testifies before the committee, calls the public discussion of the FISA court “unprecedented.” Robertson’s statements, from a March 23 letter to committee chairman Arlen Specter, are perhaps the most telling of anything disclosed in the hearings. Robertson agrees with Specter’s proposal “to give approval authority over the administration’s electronic surveillance program” to the court; that proposal is opposed by the Bush administration, and White House-favored legislation by Senator Mike DeWine (R-OH) would not only exempt the program from FISA, but would give President Bush the authority to order wiretaps for 45 days without any Congressional or judicial oversight or authorization. Robertson strongly disagrees with the Bush/DeWine position. “Seeking judicial approval for government activities that implicate constitutional protections is, of course, the American way,” he wrote. Robertson also wrote that the FISA court should not conduct a “general review” of the surveillance operation, as Specter has also proposed. Instead, he wrote that the court should rule on individual warrant applications for eavesdropping under the program lasting 45 or 90 days. FISC is “best situated” for such matters because of the secretive nature of the court. “Its judges are independent, appropriately cleared, experienced in intelligence matters, and have a perfect security record,” he notes. None of the judges directly answer questions about whether the program is legal or not. Baker’s response is emblematic of the judges’ reticence on that issue: he says he feels more comfortable talking about legislative changes to strengthen FISA. “Whether something’s legal or illegal goes beyond that,” he says, “and that’s why I’m shying away from answering that.” [New York Times, 3/29/2006]
Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Stanley Brotman, Senate Judiciary Committee, William Stafford, Mike DeWine, James Robertson, Bush administration (43), Arlen Specter, Allan Kornblum, John Keenan, George W. Bush, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, Harold Baker, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
John Dean. [Source: Truthdig.com]Nixon White House counsel and Watergate veteran John Dean says that President Bush’s domestic spying program is worse than anything his former boss, Richard Nixon, did while he occupied the Oval Office. Testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee during a hearing on Senator Russ Feingold’s (D-WI) motion to censure Bush over the program (see March 12, 2006 and After), Dean says Bush “needs to be told he cannot simply ignore a law with no consequences.” Republican committee leaders grudgingly agreed to hold the hearing over the censure motion, but dismiss the motion as little more than an election-year stunt designed by Democrats to, in committee member Orrin Hatch’s (R-UT) words, “weaken the commander in chief” in a time of war. Feingold’s measure, if passed, would condemn Bush’s “unlawful authorization of wiretaps of Americans within the United States without obtaining the court orders required” by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). The measure has little chance of passing, with even most Senate Democrats refusing to get behind the resolution. “To me, this is not really and should not be a partisan question,” Dean says. “I think it’s a question of institutional pride of this body, of the Congress of the United States.… [T]he president needs to be reminded that separation of powers does not mean an isolation of powers.” Dean has previously suggested, in his book Worse Than Watergate and in op-eds, that Bush may deserve impeachment over the surveillance program. [Associated Press, 3/31/2006]
President Bush personally intervenes in a Justice Department attempt to investigate the NSA’s domestic surveillance program (see May 9, 2006), refusing to grant the Justice Department’s investigators routine security clearances so they can proceed with the investigation. Bush’s intervention is later admitted by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on July 18, 2006. Bush’s action to block the granting of clearances to the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) is unprecedented, and astonishes many legal experts. As a result of his decision, the OPR has no choice but to drop the investigation (see May 9, 2006). The OPR investigation would not have determined whether the surveillance program was illegal or unconstitutional; rather, the office would have investigated “allegations of misconduct involving department attorneys that relate to the exercise of their authority to investigate, litigate, or provide legal advice,” according to the office’s policies and procedures. [Associated Press, 5/11/2006; USA Today, 7/18/2006; Washington Post, 7/19/2006; National Journal, 3/15/2007]
Stopping Gonzales from Being Investigated - The press later learns that had the probe gone forward, Gonzales himself would have been a prime target of inquiry. It is unclear if Bush knows the OPR investigation would have focused on Gonzales. The probe would have focused on Gonzales’s role in authorizing the eavesdropping program while he was White House counsel, as well as his subsequent oversight of the program as attorney general. Before Bush shuts down the probe, OPR investigators were preparing to question two crucial witnesses—Jack Goldsmith, the former chief of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, and James A. Baker, the counsel for the department’s Office of Intelligence Policy and Review. Both Goldsmith and Baker had raised questions about the propriety and legality of numerous aspects of the wiretapping program. The OPR would have also examined documents detailing Gonzales’s participation in the program. [National Journal, 3/15/2007]
OPR Chief Counsel Protests Decision - Upon Gonzales’s admission of Bush’s action, OPR chief counsel H. Marshall Jarrett responds: “Since its creation some 31 years ago, OPR has conducted many highly sensitive investigations involving executive branch programs and has obtained access to information classified at the highest levels. In all those years, OPR has never been prevented from initiating or pursuing an investigation.” Jarrett notes in other memos that clearances had previously been granted to lawyers and agents from the Justice Department and the FBI who were assigned to investigate the original leak of the NSA program’s existence to the media. He also writes that numerous other investigators and officials, including members of Congress and the members of a federal civil liberties board, had been granted access to or been briefed on the program. On March 21, he will write to Gonzales’s deputy, “In contrast, our repeated requests for access to classified information about the NSA program have not been granted.” Gonzales will defend the president’s decicion by saying, in a letter to Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-PA), that Bush “decided that protecting the secrecy and security of the program requires that a strict limit be placed on the number of persons granted access to information about the program for non-operational reasons. Every additional security clearance that is granted for the [program] increases the risk that national security might be compromised.” In other words, granting the OPR investigators routine security clearances, as has been done countless times in the last three decades as well as in the instances noted by Jarrett, would have jeopardized national security, according to Gonzales’s reasoning. [Associated Press, 5/11/2006; USA Today, 7/18/2006; Washington Post, 7/19/2006] “It is very difficult to understand why OPR was not given clearance so they could conduct their investigation,” Specter will say. “Many other lawyers in the Department of Justice had clearance.” [Boston Globe, 7/19/2006]
OPR Investigators Seeking Information Already in Justice Department's Possession - The questions surrounding the refusal to grant security clearances deepen when it is learned that the OPR investigators were only seeking information and documents relating to the NSA’s surveillance program that were already in the Justice Department’s possession, according to two senior government officials. The only classified information that OPR investigators were seeking was what had already been given to former Attorney General John Ashcroft, Gonzales, and other department attorneys in their original approval and advice on the program, the two senior government officials say. OPR’s request was limited to documents such as internal Justice Department communications and legal opinions, and didn’t extend to secrets that are the sole domain of other agencies. [National Journal, 5/29/2006]
OPR No; Private Citizens Yes - Jarrett will also note in his March 21 letter that, while Bush refused security clearances to OPR investigators, five “private individuals” who serve on Bush’s “Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board have been briefed on the NSA program and have been granted authorization to receive the clearances in question.” Private citizens, especially those who serve only part-time on governmental panels, have traditionally been considered higher security risks than full-time government employees, who can lose their jobs or even be prosecuted for leaking to the press. Jarrett says that in contrast to the private individuals on Bush’s advisory board, OPR’s “repeated requests for access to classified information about the NSA have not been granted. As a result, this office, which is charged with monitoring the integrity of the department’s attorneys and with ensuring that the highest standards of professional ethics are maintained, has been precluded from performing its duties.” Michael Shaheen, who headed the OPR from its inception until 1997, will say that his staff “never, ever was denied a clearance” and that OPR under his leadership had conducted numerous investigations involving the activities of various attorneys general. “No attorney general has ever said no to me,” Shaheen says. [National Journal, 7/18/2006]
Inquiry Opened - The Justice Department’s inspector general, Glenn Fine, will open a preliminary inquiry into how the FBI has used the NSA’s surveillance data, which has often been obtained without judicial warrants and is considered by many legal experts to be illegal. Representative Maurice Hinchey (D-NY), who led the Congressional calls for an investigation of the NSA, says Bush’s decision is an example of “an administration that thinks it doesn’t have to follow the law.” [Washington Post, 7/19/2006] “We can’t have a president acting in a dictatorial fashion,” he says. [USA Today, 7/18/2006]
'Abusing' Their Offices? - Bruce Fein, a Republican constitutional lawyer who served in Ronald Reagan’s Justice Department, compares Gonzales unfavorably to Elliot Richardson, who resigned in 1973 rather than obey then-President Nixon’s order to fire Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox. “If he was like Elliot Richardson, he’d say, ‘Mr. President, I quit,’” Fein observes. [Think Progress, 7/18/2006; Washington Post, 7/19/2006] In 2007, law professor and legal ethics expert Charles Wolfram will say that if Gonzales did not inform the president that he might be a target of the OPR investigation, then he ill-served Bush and abused “the discretion of his office” for his own benefit. However, Wolfram will continue, if Gonzales did inform Bush that the probe might harm Gonzales, then “both [men] are abusing the discretion of their offices.” [National Journal, 3/15/2007]
Defending Bush's Decision - Bush officials dismiss the attempted investigation, and the criticisms by Fein, Hinchey, and others, as politically motivated. White House press secretary Tony Snow says the NSA wiretapping program is adequately supervised by internal oversight procedures, including periodic reviews by Gonzales. [Think Progress, 7/18/2006; Washington Post, 7/19/2006] “The Office of Professional Responsibility was not the proper venue for conducting that,” Snow says. He adds that Bush’s denial of the security clearances is warranted because “in the case of a highly classified program, you need to keep the number of people to it tight for reasons of national security, and that was what he did.” [National Journal, 3/15/2007]
Entity Tags: Maurice Hinchey, John Ashcroft, James Baker, Michael Shaheen, US Department of Justice, Office of Professional Responsibility, National Security Agency, Ronald Reagan, Jack Goldsmith, H. Marshall Jarrett, Elliot Richardson, George W. Bush, Alberto R. Gonzales, Archibald Cox, Glenn Fine, Arlen Specter, Charles Wolfram, Bruce Fein, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Senate Judiciary Committee, Tony Snow
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Inspired in part by the American Bar Association’s upcoming task force report on President Bush’s use of signing statements to ignore the law (see July 23, 2006), Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Arlen Specter (R-PA) holds a hearing on signing statements. Specter asks the White House to send either Attorney General Alberto Gonzales or Steven Bradbury, the acting head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, to testify to the use of the statements. Instead, in what some observers feel is a calculated snub, the White House sends Michelle Boardman, a low-ranking Justice Department deputy. Boardman refuses to answer questions about the use of signing statements by Bush, and instead argues that Bush has shown respect to Congress by using signing statements to indicate his refusal to comply with legislation rather than vetoing entire bills. “Respect for the legislative branch is not shown through [making] a veto,” she tells the assembled committee members. “Respect for the legislative branch, when we have a well-crafted bill, the majority of which is constitutional, is shown when the president chooses to construe a particular statement in keeping with the Constitution, as opposed to defeating an entire bill that would serve the nation.” The president has the power and responsibility to ignore any portion of any law passed by Congress when he feels it conflicts with the Constitution, she says, even in cases “where the Supreme Court has yet to rule on an issue, but the president has determined that a statutory law violates the Constitution.” She notes that previous presidents also used signing statements to raise constitutional questions about specific portions of selected legislation. Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) is unconvinced by Boardman’s arguments. Bush is using signing statements, he says, “to advance a view of executive power that, as far as I can tell, has no bounds. [The White House has] assigned itself the sole responsibility for deciding which laws it will comply with, and in the process has taken upon itself the powers of all three branches of government.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 248-249]
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales stuns Senate Judiciary Committee questioners when he says that the fundamental right of habeas corpus, the right for an accused person to go to court and challenge his or her imprisonment, is not protected by the Constitution. Gonzales, in response to questions by Arlen Specter (R-PA), says: “The Constitution doesn’t say every individual in the United States or every citizen is hereby granted or assured the right of habeas.… There is no express grant of habeas in the Constitution. There’s a prohibition against taking it away.” Specter is incredulous, asking how the Constitution could bar the suspension of a right that didn’t exist—a right, he notes, that was first recognized in medieval England as protection against the king’s power to send subjects to royal dungeons. Gonzales does say that habeas corpus is “one of our most cherished rights,” and admits that Congress has protected that right. But Gonzales refuses to acknowledge that the Constitution itself protects the right. If the Constitution does not, then Congress would be able to limit or nullify habeas corpus rights if it so chooses. Congress has not passed such an all-encompassing law yet, but it has passed a law, the Military Commissions Act, that strips the courts of any authority to hear habeas corpus suits filed by “enemy combatants.”
Experts Fear Government Encroachment on Civil Liberties - But constitutional experts on both the left and the right say that Gonzales’s position implies a far broader power. Erwin Chemerinsky, a law professor who has frequently criticized the Bush administration, says: “This is the key protection that people have if they’re held in violation of the law. If there’s no habeas corpus, and if the government wants to pick you or me off the street and hold us indefinitely, how do we get our release?” Former Reagan Justice Department official Douglas Kmiec agrees. If Gonzales’s view prevails, Kmiec says, “one of the basic protections of human liberty against the powers of the state would be embarrassingly absent from our constitutional system.” A Justice Department spokesman says that Gonzales is only noting the absence of a specific constitutional guarantee for habeas corpus, and acknowledges that the Supreme Court has declared “the Constitution protects [habeas corpus] as it existed at common law” in England. These rights, the spokesman says, do not apply to foreigners held as enemy combatants. [San Francisco Chronicle, 1/24/2007]
Habeas Protected in Constitution - The right of habeas corpus is clear in Article I, Section 9, Clause 2 of the Constitution: “The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.” [Think Progress, 1/19/2007]
Expansion of Presidential Powers - Former Reagan Justice Department attorney Bruce Fein says that Gonzales’s stance on habeas corpus is an underpinning of the Bush administration’s attempt to advocate the “unitary executive” theory of presidential power. Gonzales’s statements contain a message: “Congress doesn’t have to let [judges] decide national security matters. It’s part of an attempt to create the idea that during conflicts, the three branches of government collapse into one, and it is the president.” [San Francisco Chronicle, 1/24/2007]
Entity Tags: Senate Judiciary Committee, Military Commissions Act, George W. Bush, Patrick J. Leahy, Erwin Chemerinsky, Central Intelligence Agency, Alberto R. Gonzales, Arlen Specter, Douglas Kmiec, Bush administration (43), Bruce Fein
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales sends a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee informing it that the lawsuit against the administration’s warrantless wiretapping program (see August 17, 2006) is moot—the National Security Agency will now operate under the aegis of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) in its wiretaps. One of the FISC judges, Gonzales writes, has issued an “innovative” and “complex” order that allows the NSA to continue doing what it had been doing with the overall approval of the court, or at least the approval of the single FISC judge. Gonzales does not go into detail about the judge’s ruling, but the administration intensifies its attack on the lawsuit, asking an appeals court to set the previous ruling aside in light of the new FISC protocol, and even to erase the ruling from judicial history as a matter of “public interest.” The appeals court votes 2-1 to set aside the previous ruling; the majority opinion finds that the state secrets privilege prevents the courts from learning whether the plaintiffs in the case had the standing to sue. [Savage, 2007, pp. 207]
In a second day of testimony (see January 17, 2007), Attorney General Alberto Gonzales tells the Senate Judiciary Committee that the president has always had the inherent authority to bypass or ignore statutory law if he is acting in the interest of national security. Gonzales is referring to a recent Bush administration decision to use a sympathetic FISC judge to sign off on the warrantless wiretapping program (see January 17, 2007). “We commenced down this road five years ago because of a belief that we could not do what we felt was necessary to protect this country under FISA [the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act],” Gonzales testifies. “That is why the president relied upon his inherent authority under the Constitution. My own judgment is, the president has shown maturity and wisdom here in this particular decision. He recognizes that there is an inherent reservoir of inherent power that belongs to every president. You use it only when you have to. In this case, we don’t have to [anymore].” Yale law professor Jack Balkin strenuously disagrees. He points to a “remarkable similarity between the administration’s behavior in the Padilla case (see October 9, 2005 and December 21, 2005) and its behavior here.… Once again, the goal is to prevent a court from stating clearly that the president acted illegally and that his theories of executive power are self-serving hokum.” Instead of going to Congress for the authority to conduct a warrantless wiretapping program, Balkin writes that the administration used FISA’s supposed deficiencies “as an excuse to disregard the law, so that it could make claims of unbridled presidential authority to ignore FISA.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 207-208; Jack Balkin, 1/18/2007]
George Christian, a Connecticut librarian and data manager who fought a National Security Letter from the FBI demanding information about his library’s patrons (see July 13, 2005 and August 2005-May 2006), testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Christian, who along with his three fellow plaintiffs, has repeatedly spoken about what he considers the Justice Department’s egregrous abuse of power and its invasion of privacy, and his opposition to the USA Patriot Act, which has given the FBI the ability to not only demand private information from libraries about their patrons, but require those librarians to keep quiet about the request. Though the court battle restored Christian’s ability to speak publicly about his encounter with the FBI, he testifies, “We feel an obligation to the tens of thousands of others who received National Security Letters and now will live under a gag order for the rest of their lives.” He tells the committee, “Our saga should raise a big patriotic American flag of caution about how our civil liberties are being sorely tested by law enforcement abuses of national security letters. The questions raised vindicate the concerns that the library community and others have had for over five years about the broad powers expanded under the USA Patriot Act.… We believe changes can be made that conform to the rule of law, do not sacrifice law enforcement’s abilities to pursue terrorists ,yet maintain civil liberties guaranteed by the US Constitution.” Libraries “should remain pillars of democracy, institutions where citizens could come to explore their concerns, confident that they could find information on all sides of controversial issues and confident that their explorations would remain personal and private.” He quotes one of his fellow plaintiffs: “[S]pying on people in the library is like spying on them in the voting booth.” Christian also says that while many believe that library records are now protected by the revised Patriot Act, in fact, they are not. He says that “a loophole inserted into the wording allows the FBI to use a national security letter to obtain library records anyway.” He notes that FBI director Robert Mueller has admitted to the Senate Judiciary Committee that the new language “did not actually change the law.” Similarly, the revised Patriot Act still gives the government the power to impose near-unlimited gag orders on NSL recipients—though the new law seems to give recipients the ability to challenge such gag orders, the law says that if the government declares that lifting such a gag order would “harm national security,” the court must accept that assertion and refuse to lift the order. “Hence, there is no prior judicial review to approve an NSL and, with rare exception, no legal way to challenge an NSL after the fact,” Christian testifies. “It is the secrecy surrounding the issuance of NSLs that permits their misuse. Because of the fact that all recipients of NSLs are perpetually gagged, no one knew the FBI was issuing so many. No one knew there was no public examination of the practice. No one could ask if over 143,000 National Security Letters in two years are necessary.… Secrecy that prevents oversight and public debate is a danger to a free and open society.” [Senate Judiciary Committee, 4/11/2007]
Suzanne Spaulding. [Source: Bipartisan Security Group]Suzanne Spaulding, a national security expert with twenty years of experience in the CIA, on various Congressional oversight committees, and executive director of two separate commissions on terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee as part of that body’s hearings on the improper use of National Security Letters (NSLs) by the FBI (see October 25, 2005). Spaulding has spoken out before against the NSA’s wiretapping program (see December 25, 2005). She says that the nation’s law enforcement and intelligence agents need “the tools they need to do their job” and “clear guidance on just what it is that we want them to do on our behalf—and how we want them to do it. Clear rules and careful oversight provide essential protections for those on the front lines of our domestic counterterrorism efforts.” However, Spaulding testifies, “it appears both were lacking in the implementation of national security letter authorities.” Spaulding says that Congress should begin a much larger examination of domestic surveillance issues, saying, “The appropriateness of using FISA electronic surveillance to eavesdrop on Americans should be considered in light of other, less intrusive techniques that might be available to establish whether a phone number belongs to a suspected terrorist or the pizza delivery shop. It’s not the ‘all or nothing’ proposition often portrayed in some of the debates.” However, according to recent findings by the Justice Department’s Inspector General, Glenn A. Fine, “there is not sufficient guidance on how to apply that in the NSL context or in conjunction with other available collection techniques.” Therefore, there is a strong “need for a broader examination of domestic intelligence tools.”
Urges Congressional Review - Spaulding urges Congress “to undertake a comprehensive review of all domestic intelligence collection, not just by FBI but also by the other national security agencies engaged in domestic intelligence collection, including the Central Intelligence Agency, the Department of Defense, and the National Security Agency. A Joint Inquiry or Task Force could be established by the Senate leadership, with representation from the most relevant committees (Judiciary, Intelligence, Armed Services, and Homeland Security and Government Affairs), to carefully examine the nature of the threat inside the US and the most effective strategies for countering it. Then Congress, and the American public, can consider whether we have the appropriate institutional and legal framework for implementing those strategies with adequate safeguards and oversight.”
FBI's Expanded Powers Need Review - In addition, she testifies, the FBI’s expanded ability to use NSLs under the Patriot Act must be examined. Currently, the law seems to allow the FBI to use NSLs to obtain evidence pursuant to a FISA warrant, thus allowing “the government to get information about individuals who are not themselves the subject of an investigation”—“parties two or three steps removed from their subjects without determining if these contacts reveal suspicious connections,” Fine reported. Spaulding expands on Fine’s findings: “In fact, the most tenuous of connections would seem to suffice for this NSL standard. For example, it’s not clear why an ‘investigation to protect against international terrorism’ couldn’t justify demanding information about all residents of, say, Dearborn, Michigan [home to a large Arab-American community], so that you could run them through some logarithmic profile to identify ‘suspicious’ individuals. In fact, Congress should examine the facts surrounding the nine NSLs in one investigation that were, according to the IG Report, used to obtain information regarding over 11,000 different phone numbers.”
Data Mining Efforts Should Be Examined - Also, she says, data mining efforts by other law enforcement and intelligence agencies should be carefully examined and addressed: “NSLs should not become a mechanism for gathering vast amounts of information about individuals with no known connection to international terrorism for purposes of data mining.” Spaulding also notes that the Patriot Act allows FBI special agents in charge (SACs) to issue NSLs; instead, she says, only attorneys in the Justice Department’s National Security Division should be able to issue NSLs. Yet another problem Spaulding notes is the FBI’s policy of retention of data gathered on US citizens through NSLs, even when those citizens have no connection to terrorist activities. Spaulding expressed similar concerns in a previous op-ed for the Washington Post (see December 25, 2005). [Senate Judiciary Committee, 4/11/2007]
Former Deputy Attorney General James Comey delivers dramatic testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee about the March 2004 attempts by then-White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and then-White House chief of staff Andrew Card to pressure a seriously ill John Ashcroft, then the attorney general, to certify the legality of the Bush/NSA domestic wiretapping program (see March 10-12, 2004, Early 2002). Comey testifies that even though he, who at the time has the full authority of the attorney general during Ashcroft’s illness, and Ashcroft both refused to authorize the program due to their belief that the program is illegal, President Bush will certify the program anyway. Only a threatened mass resignation by Ashcroft, Comey, FBI director Robert Mueller, and other senior officials will persuade Bush, weeks later, to make changes in the program that bring it somewhat closer to operating within the law. [Think Progress, 5/15/2007; Washington Post, 5/16/2007]
Bush Sent Gonzales, Card to Ashcroft's Hospital Room, Comey Believes - Comey says that while he cannot be certain, he believes Gonzales and Card went to Ashcroft’s hospital room on orders from President Bush: “I have some recollection that the call was from the president himself, but I don’t know that for sure,” he tells the committee. His major concern in heading off Gonzales and Card at the hospital, Comey testifies, is that, “given how ill I knew the attorney general was, that there might be an effort to ask him to overrule me when he was in no condition to do that.” Comey says he was “stunned” by how forceful Ashcroft was in refusing to comply with Gonzales and Card’s directive to sign the reauthorization.
Gonzales a 'Loyal Bushie' - Committee members are openly contemptuous of Gonzales’s actions, and question his fitness to serve as attorney general. “He’s presided over a Justice Department where being a, quote, loyal Bushie seems to be more important than being a seasoned professional, where what the White House wants is more important than what the law requires or what prudence dictates,” says Charles Schumer (D-NY). Arlen Specter (R-PA) is hardly less critical. “It is the decision of Mr. Gonzales as to whether he stays or goes, but it is hard to see how the Department of Justice can function and perform its important duties with Mr. Gonzales remaining where he is,” Specter says. “And beyond Mr. Gonzales’s decision, it’s a matter for the president as to whether the president will retain the attorney general or not.” [New York Times, 5/15/2007]
Not a 'Team Player' - Interestingly, President Bush views Comey with disdain because Comey isn’t what Bush calls a “team player;” Bush earlier tagged Comey, who resigned his position in 2005 and who previously tangled with the White House over its embrace of torture for terrorist suspects, with the derisive nickname “Cuomo,” after the former Democratic governor of New York, Mario Cuomo, famous for vacillating over whether to run for the presidency in the 1980s. The White House denies the nickname. [Newsweek, 1/9/2006] Comey is not popular in the White House in part because of his 2003 appointment of special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald to investigate Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, for perjury connected to the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson (see Shortly after February 13, 2002). And after the 9/11 attacks, Comey challenged Cheney’s assertions that the use of torture and other “war on terror” policies were legal (see January 9, 2002). Comey says he has been prepared to testify about the Ashcroft hospital visit for three years, but never did until now, because “Nobody ever asked.…I’ve never been in a forum where I was obligated to answer the question. Short of that, it was not something I was going to volunteer.” Card says that his actions at the hospital earned him bureaucratic punishment from Card. After Gonzales became attorney general, Ashcroft’s then-chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, told Comey that Gonzales’s “vision” was to merge the deputy’s office with Gonzales’s own office, stripping Comey of much of his autonomy and reducing him, in essence, to a staff member. Comey refused to cooperate. “You may want to try that with the next deputy attorney general,” Comey told Sampson. “But it’s not going to work with me.” [US News and World Report, 5/20/2007]
Entity Tags: Robert S. Mueller III, Valerie Plame Wilson, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Senate Judiciary Committee, D. Kyle Sampson, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Alberto R. Gonzales, Andrew Card, John Ashcroft, James B. Comey Jr., George W. Bush
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales comes under fire from members of the Senate Judiciary Committee regarding the National Security Agency’s domestic warrantless wiretapping program (see December 15, 2005. Testimony from the day before by former deputy attorney general James Comey (see May 15, 2007) showed that White House and Justice Department officials were, and still are, deeply divided over the legality and efficacy of the program. But Gonzales has said repeatedly, both under oath before Congress and in other venues, that there is little debate over the NSA surveillance program, and almost all administration officials are unified in support of the program. In February 2006, he told the committee, “There has not been any serious disagreement about the program that the president has confirmed. There have been disagreements about other matters regarding operations, which I cannot get into.” Gonzales’s veracity has come under question before, and many senators are disinclined to believe his new testimony. Committee Democrats point out that Comey’s testimony flatly contradicts Gonzales’s statements from that February session. A letter from Senators Russ Feingold, Charles Schumer, Edward Kennedy, and Richard Durbin asks Gonzales, “In light of Mr. Comey’s testimony yesterday, do you stand by your 2006 Senate and House testimony, or do you wish to revise it?” And some Senate Republicans are now joining Democrats in calling for Gonzales’s removal. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) says, “The American people deserve an attorney general, the chief law enforcement officer of our country, whose honesty and capability are beyond question. Attorney General Gonzales can no longer meet this standard. He has failed this country. He has lost the moral authority to lead.” White House press secretary Tony Snow says of Hagel’s statement, “We disagree, and the president supports the attorney general.” Hagel joins three other Republican senators, John Sununu, Tom Coburn, and presidential candidate John McCain, and House GOP Conference Chairman Adam Putnam, in calling for Gonzales’s firing. Former Senate Intelligence Commitee chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) says that Gonzales should consider resigning, a stance echoed by fellow Republican senators Arlen Specter and Gordon Smith. [Associated Press, 5/17/2007] Gonzales’s defenders say that his testimony to the committee, while legalistic and narrowly focused, is technically accurate, because the NSA program also involves “data mining” of huge electronic databases containing personal information on millions of US citizens, and that program is not exactly the same as the so-called “Terrorist Surveillance Program,” as the NSA’s wiretapping program is now called by White House officials (see Early 2004). But Feingold disagrees. “I’ve had the opportunity to review the classified matters at issue here, and I believe that his testimony was misleading at best.” [New York Times, 7/29/2007]
Entity Tags: Charles Schumer, Arlen Specter, Terrorist Surveillance Program, Tom Coburn, Tony Snow, US Department of Justice, Adam Putnam, Senate Intelligence Committee, Russell D. Feingold, Senate Judiciary Committee, Pat Roberts, Richard (“Dick”) Durbin, Edward M. (“Ted”) Kennedy, Chuck Hagel, Gordon Smith, John Sununu, John McCain, National Security Agency, Alberto R. Gonzales, James B. Comey Jr.
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee concerning his 2004 visit to then-Attorney General John Ashcroft’s hospital room to pressure Ashcroft into signing a recertification of the NSA’s secret domestic wiretapping program (see March 10-12, 2004). Former Deputy Attorney General James Comey has already testified before the same committee (see May 15, 2007) that Gonzales, then White House counsel, and then-chief of staff Andrew Card tried to pressure Ashcroft, then just hours out of emergency surgery, to overrule Comey, who was acting attorney general during Ashcroft’s incapacitation. Gonzales and Card were unsuccessful, and Comey, along with Ashcroft, FBI director Robert Mueller, and others, threatened to resign if the program wasn’t brought into line with the Constitution. But today Gonzales tells a quite different story. Gonzales tells the committee that he and Card only went to Ashcroft because Congress itself wanted the program to continue (see March 10, 2004), and he and Card merely intended to “inform” Ashcroft about Comey’s decision, and not to try to get Ashcroft to overrule Comey. Many of the senators on the committee are amazed at Gonzales’s contention that Congress wanted Comey overruled. And they are equally appalled at Gonzales’s seemingly cavalier explanation that he and Card were not, as Comey has testified, trying to pressure a sick man who “wasn’t fully competent to make that decision” to overrule his deputy in such a critical matter: Gonzales’s contention that “there are no rules” governing such a matter does not carry much weight with the committee. Many senators, including Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), simply do not believe Gonzales’s explanations; she says that to secure Ashcroft’s reversal was “clearly the only reason why you would go see the attorney general in intensive care.” Gonzales replies that he and Card were operating under what he calls “extraordinary circumstances,” in which “we had just been advised by the Congressional leadership, go forward anyway, and we felt it important that the attorney general, general Ashcroft, be advised of those facts.” Only later in the hearing does Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) force Gonzales to admit that he was indeed carrying a reauthorization order from the White House, something that he likely would not have had if he were not there to secure Ashcroft’s signature. [TPM Muckraker, 7/24/2007] Committee chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) says in his opening statement that Gonzales has “a severe credibility problem,” and continues, “It is time for the attorney general to fully answer these questions and to acknowledge and begin taking responsibility for the acute crisis of leadership that has gripped the department under his watch.” He goes on to note that the Bush administration has squandered the committee’s trust “with a history of civil liberty abuses and cover-ups.” Gonzales garners little trust with his own opening, which states in part, “I will not tolerate any improper politicization of this department. I will continue to make efforts to ensure that my staff and others within the department have the appropriate experience and judgment so that previous mistakes will not be repeated. I have never been one to quit.” [USA Today, 7/24/2007]
'I Don't Trust You' - Arlen Specter (R-PA) is another senator who questions Gonzales’s veracity. “Assuming you’re leveling with us on this occasion,” he says, “…I want to move to the point about how can you get approval from Ashcroft for anything when he’s under sedation and incapacitated—for anything.” Gonzales replies, “Senator, obviously there was concern about General Ashcroft’s condition. And we would not have sought nor did we intend to get any approval from General Ashcroft if in fact he wasn’t fully competent to make that decision. But General—there are no rules governing whether or not General Ashcroft can decide, ‘I’m feeling well enough to make this decision.’” Gonzales adds that the fact that Comey was acting attorney general was essentially irrelevant, as Ashcroft “could always reclaim that. There are no rules.” “While he’s in the hospital under sedation?” Specter asks incredulously. [TPM Muckraker, 7/24/2007] “It seems to me that it is just decimating, Mr. Attorney General, as to both your judgment and your credibility. And the list goes on and on.” [USA Today, 7/24/2007] After Gonzales’s restatement of his version of events, Specter observes tartly, “Not making any progress here. Let me go to another topic.” Gonzales goes on to say that he and Card visited Ashcroft hours after they had informed the so-called “Gang of Eight,” the eight Congressional leaders who are sometimes briefed on the surveillance program, that Comey did not intend to recertify the program as legal, “despite the fact the department had repeatedly approved those activities over a period of over two years. We informed the leadership that Mr. Comey felt the president did not have the authority to authorize these activities, and we were there asking for help, to ask for emergency legislation.” Gonzales claims that the Congressional leaders felt that the program should be reauthorized with or without Comey’s approval, and that since it would be “very, very difficult to obtain legislation without compromising this program…we should look for a way ahead.” Gonzales confirms what Comey has already said, that Ashcroft refused to overrule Comey. “…I just wanted to put in context for this committee and the American people why Mr. Card and I went. It’s because we had an emergency meeting in the White House Situation Room, where the congressional leadership had told us, ‘Continue going forward with this very important intelligence activity.’” Feinstein is also obviously impatient with Gonzales’s testimony, saying, “And I listen to you. And nothing gets answered directly. Everything is obfuscated. You can’t tell me that you went up to see Mr. Comey for any other reason other than to reverse his decision about the terrorist surveillance program. That’s clearly the only reason you would go to see the attorney general in intensive care.” Gonzales says that he and Card were only interested in carrying out the will of the Congressional leadership: “Clearly, if we had been confident and understood the facts and was inclined to do so, yes, we would have asked him to reverse [Comey’s] position.” When Feinstein confronts Gonzales on the contradictions between his own testimony’s and Comey’s, Gonzales retreats, claiming that the events “happened some time ago and people’s recollections are going to differ,” but continues to claim that the prime purpose of the visit was merely to inform Ashcroft of Comey’s resistance to reauthorizing the program. Like some of his fellows, Leahy is reluctant to just come out and call Gonzales a liar, but he interrupts Gonzales’s tortured explanations to ask, “Why not just be fair to the truth? Just be fair to the truth and answer the question.” [TPM Muckraker, 7/24/2007] Leahy, out of patience with Gonzales’s evasions and misstatements, finally says flatly, “I don’t trust you.” [CNN, 7/24/2007]
Whitehouse Grills Gonzales - Whitehouse wants to know if the program “was run with or without the approval of the Department of Justice but without the knowledge and approval of the attorney general of the United States, if that was ever the case.” Gonzales says he believes the program ran with Ashcroft’s approval for two years before the hospital incident: “From the very—from the inception, we believed that we had the approval of the attorney general of the United States for these activities, these particular activities.” It is now that Gonzales admits, under Whitehouse’s questioning, that he indeed “had in my possession a document to reauthorize the program” when he entered Ashcroft’s hospital room. He denies knowing anything about Mueller directing Ashcroft’s security detail not to let him and Card throw Comey out of the hospital room, as Comey previously testified. Whitehouse says, “I mean, when the FBI director considers you so nefarious that FBI agents had to be ordered not to leave you alone with the stricken attorney general, that’s a fairly serious challenge.” Gonzales replies that Mueller may not have known that he was merely following the wishes of the Congressional leadership in going to Ashcroft for reauthorization: “The director, I’m quite confident, did not have that information when he made those statements, if he made those statements.” [TPM Muckraker, 7/24/2007; CNN, 7/24/2007]
'Deceiving This Committee' - Charles Schumer (D-NY), one of Gonzales’s harshest critics, perhaps comes closest to accusing Gonzales of out-and-out lying. Schumer doesn’t believe Gonzales’s repeated assertions that there was little or no dissent among White House and Justice Department officials about the anti-terrorism programs, and what little dissent there is has nothing to do with the domestic surveillance program. “How can you say you haven’t deceived the committee?” Schumer asks. Gonzales not only stands by his claims, but says that the visit to Ashcroft’s hospital bed was not directly related to the NSA program, but merely “about other intelligence activities.” He does not say what those other programs might be. An exasperated Schumer demands, “How can you say you should stay on as attorney general when we go through exercises like this? You want to be attorney general, you should be able to clarify it yourself.” [Associated Press, 7/24/2007] Specter does not believe Gonzales any more than Schumer does; he asks Gonzales tartly, “Mr. Attorney General, do you expect us to believe that?” [CNN, 7/24/2007] In his own questioning, Whitehouse says that he believes Gonzales is intentionally misleading the committee about which program caused dissent among administration officials. Gonzales retorts that he can’t go into detail in a public hearing, but offers to provide senators with more information in private meetings. [Associated Press, 7/24/2007] Gonzales’s supporters will later claim that Gonzales’s characterization of little or no dissent between the White House and the Justice Department is technically accurate, because of differences between the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program and that agency’s data mining program, but Senate Democrats do not accept that explanation (see Early 2004, May 16, 2007).
Executive Privilege Undermines Congressional Oversight? - Specter asks Gonzales how there can be a constitutional government if the president claims executive privilege when Congress exerts its constitutional authority for oversight. Gonzales refuses to answer directly. “Senator, both the Congress and the president have constitutional authorities,” Gonzales says. “Sometimes they clash. In most cases, accommodations are reached.” “Would you focus on my question for just a minute, please?” Specter retorts. Gonzales then replies, “Senator, I’m not going to answer this question, because it does relate to an ongoing controversy in which I am recused,” eliciting a round of boos from the gallery. [CNN, 7/24/2007]
Mueller Will Contradict Gonzales - Mueller will roundly contradict Gonzales’s testimony, and affirm the accuracy of Comey’s testimony, both in his own testimony before Congress (see July 26, 2007) and in notes the FBI releases to the media (see August 16, 2007).
Impeach Gonzales for Perjury? - The New York Times writes in an op-ed published five days after Gonzales’s testimony, “As far as we can tell, there are three possible explanations for Mr. Gonzales’s talk about a dispute over other—unspecified—intelligence activities. One, he lied to Congress. Two, he used a bureaucratic dodge to mislead lawmakers and the public: the spying program was modified after Mr. Ashcroft refused to endorse it, which made it ‘different’ from the one Mr. Bush has acknowledged. The third is that there was more wiretapping than has been disclosed, perhaps even purely domestic wiretapping, and Mr. Gonzales is helping Mr. Bush cover it up. Democratic lawmakers are asking for a special prosecutor to look into Mr. Gonzales’s words and deeds. Solicitor General Paul Clement has a last chance to show that the Justice Department is still minimally functional by fulfilling that request. If that does not happen, Congress should impeach Mr. Gonzales.” [New York Times, 7/29/2007] A Washington Post editorial from May 2007 was hardly more favorable to Gonzales: “The dramatic details should not obscure the bottom line: the administration’s alarming willingness, championed by, among others, Vice President Cheney and his counsel, David Addington, to ignore its own lawyers. Remember, this was a Justice Department that had embraced an expansive view of the president’s inherent constitutional powers, allowing the administration to dispense with following the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Justice’s conclusions are supposed to be the final word in the executive branch about what is lawful or not, and the administration has emphasized since the warrantless wiretapping story broke that it was being done under the department’s supervision. Now, it emerges, they were willing to override Justice if need be. That Mr. Gonzales is now in charge of the department he tried to steamroll may be most disturbing of all.” [Washington Post, 5/16/2007]
Entity Tags: Senate Judiciary Committee, Washington Post, Robert S. Mueller III, Arlen Specter, Alberto R. Gonzales, Andrew Card, “Gang of Eight”, Paul Clement, Sheldon Whitehouse, New York Times, Dianne Feinstein, Patrick J. Leahy, Charles Schumer, Federal Bureau of Investigation, David S. Addington, John Ashcroft, National Security Agency, James B. Comey Jr.
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Senator John D. Rockefeller (D-WV) disputes Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’s characterization of the March 10, 2004 Congressional briefing (see March 10, 2004) regarding the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program (see Early 2002) as about other surveillance programs, and not the NSA program now referred to as the Terrorist Surveillance Program (TSP). Gonzales testified earlier today (see July 24, 2007) that the briefing did not cover the NSA program, but Rockefeller says that it did. Rockefeller was at that meeting, then serving as the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee. Rockefeller confirms that the Congressional leaders at the briefing, known colloquially as the “Gang of Eight,” had no idea about the tremendous dispute over the legality of the wiretapping program. He also says, again in contradiction to Gonzales’s testimony, that they were never asked to draft legislation that would make the wiretapping program legal. As to the topic of discussion, Rockefeller says, “As far as I’m concerned, there’s only one” intelligence program. Rockefeller says at the end of the briefing, most of the lawmakers were still unclear about the nature and extent of the program, nor were they clear as to the White House’s plans for the program. “They were not telling us what was really going on,” Rockefeller says. Asked if he believed that Gonzales had purposely misled the Judiciary Committee today, Rockefeller replies, “I would have to say yes.” [Politico (.com}, 7/24/2007] He calls Gonzales’s testimony “untruthful.” [New York Times, 7/24/2007]
Other Democrats Bolster Rockefeller's Recollections - Other Democrats present at the briefing add their voices to Rockefeller’s. Jane Harman (D-CA), then the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, says Gonzales is inaccurate in his characterizations of the briefing, and that the program under discussion could have only been the NSA wiretapping operation. “That doesn’t make any sense to me,” Harman says. The NSA program was “the only program we were ever briefed about.” Harman and Rockefeller both say that this and later briefings about the program were quite limited in scope. “We were briefed on the operational details—period—not the legal underpinnings,” Harman says. [Roll Call, 7/25/2007] Harman adds that Gonzales was apparently being deliberately deceptive in trying to characterize the program as something other than the NSA operation. “The program had different parts, but there was only one program,” she says. Gonzales was, she says, “selectively declassifying information to defend his own conduct,” an action Harman calls improper. [New York Times, 7/24/2007] Harman says that Gonzales should not even have revealed that there had been such a classified briefing, especially revealing such a meeting in order to defend his own contradictory testimonies. “He doesn’t have the authority to do that,” she says. [Roll Call, 7/25/2007]
New documents contradict Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’s recent sworn testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, indicating that Gonzales may have committed perjury before the panel.
Lied About Congressional Briefing - In testimony before the committee (see July 24, 2007), Gonzales told senators that a March 10, 2004 emergency briefing with the so-called “Gang of Eight,” comprised of the Republican and Democratic leaders of the two houses of Congress and the ranking members of both houses’ intelligence committees (see March 10, 2004), did not concern the controversial NSA warrantless domestic surveillance program, but instead was about other surveillance programs which he was not at liberty to discuss. But according to a four-page memo from the national intelligence director’s office, that briefing was indeed about the so-called “Terrorist Surveillance Program,” or TSP, as it is now being called by White House officials and some lawmakers. The memo is dated May 17, 2006, and addressed to then-Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert. It details “the classification of the dates, locations, and names of members of Congress who attended briefings on the Terrorist Surveillance Program,” wrote then-Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte. The DNI memo provides further evidence that Gonzales has not been truthful in his dealings with Congress, and gives further impetus to a possible perjury investigation by the Senate. So far, both Gonzales and Justice Department spokesmen have stood by his testimony. The nature of the March 2004 briefing is important because on that date, Gonzales and then-White House chief of staff Andrew Card tried to pressure then-Attorney General John Ashcroft, while Ashcroft was recuperating from emergency surgery in the hospital, to reauthorize the domestic wiretapping program over the objections of acting Attorney General James Comey, who had refused to sign off on the program due to its apparent illegality (see March 10-12, 2004). Comey’s own testimony before the Senate has already strongly contradicted Gonzales’s earlier testimonies and statements (see May 15, 2007). The entire imbroglio illustrates just how far from legality the NSA wiretapping program may be, and the controversy within the Justice Department it has produced. Gonzales flatly denied that the March 2004 briefing was about the NSA program, telling the panel, “The dissent related to other intelligence activities. The dissent was not about the terrorist surveillance program.”
Grilled By Senators - Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) pressed Gonzales for clarification: “Not the TSP? Come on. If you say it’s about other, that implies not. Now say it or not.” Gonzales replied, “It was not. It was about other intelligence activities.” Today, with the DNI documents in hand, Schumer says, “It seemed clear to just about everyone on the committee that the attorney general was deceiving us when he said the dissent was about other intelligence activities and this memo is even more evidence that helps confirm our suspicions.” Other senators agree that Gonzales is not telling the truth. “There’s a discrepancy here in sworn testimony,” says committee chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT). “We’re going to have to ask who’s telling the truth, who’s not.” And committee Democrats are not the only ones who find Gonzales’s testimony hard to swallow. Arlen Specter (R-PA) told Gonzales yesterday, “I do not find your testimony credible, candidly.” The “Gang of Eight” members disagree about the content of the March briefing. Democrats Nancy Pelosi, Jay Rockefeller, and Tom Daschle all say Gonzales’s testimony is inaccurate, with Rockefeller calling Gonzales’s testimony “untruthful.” But former House Intelligence chairman Porter Goss and former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, both Republicans, refuse to directly dispute Gonzales’s claims. [Associated Press, 7/25/2007]
Mueller Will Contradict Gonzales - Three weeks later, notes from FBI director Robert Mueller, also present at the Ashcroft meeting, further contradict Gonzales’s testimony (see August 16, 2007).
Entity Tags: National Security Agency, Patrick J. Leahy, Tom Daschle, Senate Judiciary Committee, US Department of Justice, Porter J. Goss, Nancy Pelosi, John Ashcroft, John D. Rockefeller, John Negroponte, Andrew Card, Arlen Specter, Bill Frist, Charles Schumer, “Gang of Eight”, James B. Comey Jr., Dennis Hastert, Alberto R. Gonzales
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Four Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee request that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales be investigated for perjury in light of his contradictory testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee regarding the NSA warrantless wiretapping program (see July 24, 2007). “It has become apparent that the attorney general has provided at a minimum half-truths and misleading statements,” the four senators—Charles Schumer (D-NY), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Russ Feingold (D-WI), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)—write in a letter to Solicitor General Paul Clement calling for a special counsel to investigate. “We ask that you immediately appoint an independent special counsel from outside the Department of Justice to determine whether Attorney General Gonzales may have misled Congress or perjured himself in testimony before Congress.” [Senate Judiciary Committee, 7/26/2007] (The letter is sent to Clement because he would be the one to decide whether to appoint a special counsel. Gonzales and outgoing Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty have recused themselves from any such investigation due to their own involvement in the incidents. The next person in line at the Justice Department, acting Associate Attorney General William Mercer, lacks the authority to make such a decision.) [CBS News, 7/26/2007] Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), who did not sign the letter but supports the request for a special counsel, says, “I’m convinced that he’s not telling the truth.” The call for a special counsel follows earlier testimony by FBI director Robert Mueller that flatly contradicted Gonzales’s testimony (see July 26, 2007), though White House spokespersons denied that Mueller contradicted Gonzales.
White House Denies Perjury Allegation - White House press secretary Tony Snow says the apparent contradictions stem from Gonzales’s and Mueller’s restrictions in testifying in public about the classified program. “The FBI director didn’t contradict the testimony,” Snow says. “It is inappropriate and unfair to ask people to testify in public settings about highly classified programs. The president, meanwhile, maintains full confidence in the attorney general.” And Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse insists that Gonzales was referring during his testimony to a separate intelligence operation that has not yet been revealed, though numerous other sources have contradicted that position (see July 25, 2007). “The disagreement that occurred in March 2004 concerned the legal basis for intelligence activities that have not been publicly disclosed and that remain highly classified,” Roehrkasse says.
Further Instances of Misleading Testimony - Senate Democrats also assert that Gonzales has repeatedly given false and misleading testimony about the US attorney firings, has been part of a White House program to encourage White House aides to ignore Congressional subpoenas, has falsely claimed that he has never discussed the firings with other witnesses (including White House aide Monica Goodling, who recently testified that she discussed the firings with Gonzales), and other instances of deception. Schumer says, “There’s no wiggle room. Those are not misleading [statements]. Those are deceiving. Those are lying.” [Associated Press, 7/26/2007] Schumer says at a press conference later in the day, “The attorney general took an oath to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Instead, he tells the half-truth, the partial truth and everything but the truth. And he does it not once, and not twice, but over and over and over again. His instinct is not to tell the truth but to dissemble and deceive.…I have not seen anything like it from a witness in the 27 years that I have been in Congress.” Feingold adds, “Based on what we know and the evidence about what happened in terms of the gang of eight and what he said in that sworn testimony in the committee, I believe it’s perjury.…Not just misleading—perjury.” [US Senate, 7/26/2007] Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) does not sign the letter asking for the investigation, and has instead sent his own letter to Gonzales giving him a week to resolve the inconsistencies in his testimony. “The burden is on him to clear up the contradictions,” Leahy says. Leahy is joined by ranking Republican committee member Arlen Specter (R-PA), who says the call for a special counsel is premature. Specter accuses Schumer of “throwing down the gauntlet and making a story in tomorrow’s newspapers.” [Associated Press, 7/26/2007] Specter has suggested that Gonzales resign instead of continuing as attorney general. [USA Today, 7/26/2007]
'Linguistic Parsing' - Justice Department aides acknowledge that Gonzales’s self-contradictory testimonies have caused confusion because of his “linguistic parsing.” [New York Times, 7/26/2007]
Entity Tags: Paul J. McNulty, Robert S. Mueller III, Senate Judiciary Committee, US Department of Justice, Tony Snow, Sheldon Whitehouse, William W. Mercer, Paul Clement, Patrick J. Leahy, Russell D. Feingold, Monica M. Goodling, Alberto R. Gonzales, Arlen Specter, Charles Schumer, Brian Roehrkasse, Harry Reid, National Security Agency, Dianne Feinstein
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Notes made by FBI Director Robert Mueller about the 2004 attempt by then-White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and then-chief of staff Andrew Card to pressure ailing Attorney General John Ashcroft to reauthorize the secret NSA warrantless wiretapping program contradict Gonzales’s July testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee about the events of that evening (see March 10-12, 2004 and July 24, 2007). Gonzales’s testimony was already at odds with previous testimony by former deputy attorney general James Comey (see May 15, 2007). Gonzales testified that Ashcroft was lucid and articulate, even though Ashcroft had had emergency surgery just hours before (see March 10-12, 2004), and he and Card had merely gone to Ashcroft’s hospital room to inform Ashcroft of Comey’s refusal to authorize the program (see May 15, 2007). But Mueller’s notes of the impromptu hospital room meeting, turned over to the House Judiciary Committee today, portray Ashcroft as “feeble,” “barely articulate,” and “stressed” during and after the confrontation with Gonzales and Card. [US Department of Justice, 8/16/2007; Washington Post, 8/17/2007; Associated Press, 8/17/2007] Mueller wrote that Ashcroft was “in no condition to see them, much less make decision [sic] to authorize continuation of the program.” Mueller’s notes confirm Comey’s testimony that Comey requested Mueller’s presence at the hospital to “witness” Ashcroft’s condition. [National Journal, 8/16/2007]
Mueller Directed FBI Agents to Protect Comey - The notes, five pages from Mueller’s daily log, also confirm Comey’s contention that Mueller had directed FBI agents providing security for Ashcroft at the hospital to ensure that Card and Gonzales not be allowed to throw Comey out of the meeting. Gonzales testified that he had no knowledge of such a directive. Mueller’s notes also confirm Comey’s testimony, which held that Ashcroft had refused to overrule Comey’s decision because he was too sick to resume his authority as Attorney General; Ashcroft had delegated that authority to Comey for the duration of his hospital stay. Gonzales replaced Ashcroft as attorney general for President Bush’s second term. Representative John Conyers (D-MI), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, says that Mueller’s notes “confirm an attempt to goad a sick and heavily medicated Ashcroft to approve the warrantless surveillance program. Particularly disconcerting is the new revelation that the White House sought Mr. Ashcroft’s authorization for the surveillance program, yet refused to let him seek the advice he needed on the program.” (Ashcroft had previously complained that the White House’s insistence on absolute secrecy for the program had precluded him from receiving legal advice from his senior staffers, who were not allowed to know about the program.)
Notes Contradict Other Testimony - Mueller’s notes also contradict later Senate testimony by Gonzales, which he later “clarified,” that held that there was no specific dispute among White House officials about the domestic surveillance program, but that there was merely a difference of opinion about “other intelligence activities.” [New York Times, 8/16/2007; Washington Post, 8/17/2007] In his earlier Congressional testimony (see July 26, 2007), which came the day after Gonzales’s testimony, Mueller said he spoke with Ashcroft shortly after Gonzales left the hospital, and Ashcroft told him the meeting dealt with “an NSA program that has been much discussed….” [CNN, 7/25/2007] Mueller did not go into nearly as much detail during that session, declining to give particulars of the meeting in Ashcroft’s hospital room and merely describing the visit as “out of the ordinary.” [House Judiciary Committee, 7/26/2007; New York Times, 8/16/2007] Mueller’s notes show that White House and Justice Department officials were often at odds over the NSA program, which Bush has lately taken to call the “Terrorist Surveillance Program.” Other information in the notes, including details of several high-level meetings concerning the NSA program before and after the hospital meeting, are redacted.
Call for Inquiry - In light of Mueller’s notes, Patrick Leahy (D-VT), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has asked the Justice Department’s inspector general, Glenn Fine, to investigate whether Gonzales has misled lawmakers—in essence, committed perjury—in his testimony about the NSA program as well as in other testimony, particularly statements related to last year’s controversial firings of nine US attorneys. Other Democrats have asked for a full perjury investigation (see July 26, 2007). [Washington Post, 8/17/2007] Leahy writes to Fine, “Consistent with your jurisdiction, please do not limit your inquiry to whether or not the attorney general has committed any criminal violations. Rather, I ask that you look into whether the attorney general, in the course of his testimony, engaged in any misconduct, engaged in conduct inappropriate for a Cabinet officer and the nation’s chief law enforcement officer, or violated any duty.” [Associated Press, 8/17/2007]
Entity Tags: John Conyers, John Ashcroft, Robert S. Mueller III, James B. Comey Jr., US Department of Justice, Patrick J. Leahy, House Judiciary Committee, Senate Judiciary Committee, George W. Bush, Glenn Fine, Alberto R. Gonzales, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Andrew Card
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
In his testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Jack Goldsmith, the former head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (see October 6, 2003), says that he believes President Bush sent White House aides Alberto Gonzales and Andrew Card to pressure then-Attorney General John Ashcroft to reauthorize the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program while Ashcroft was recuperating from surgery (see March 10-12, 2004). When asked whom he believed had sent Gonzales and Card to the hospital, Goldsmith says he “recall[s] it was the President.” [ABC News, 10/2/2007]
Three top Senate Democrats on the Judiciary Committee, Edward Kennedy (D-MA), Richard Durbin (D-IL), and Russell Feingold (D-WI) send a letter to President Bush urging him to withdraw acting Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) head Steven Bradbury from consideration for the position. Since Bradbury’s ascension to the post on an acting basis over two years ago (see June 23, 2005), Democrats have blocked him from being given confirmation hearings and formally becoming the head of the office. The senators write that they are troubled by Bradbury’s support for the administration’s position on aggressive interrogation of terror suspects and the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program. They note that Bradbury was involved in the denial of security clearances to members from the Office of Professional Responsibility who attempted to investigate the program (see Late April 2006). “With Alberto Gonzales’s resignation,” the letter reads, “there may be an opportunity to undo some of the damage done during his tenure. It is doubtful that progress will be possible without new leadership at OLC.” Durbin says in a press conference, “I think we need new leadership at the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel.… OLC is a small office, but it really has a lot of power, especially in this administration.” [Senate Judiciary Committee, 10/16/2007 ; Think Progress, 10/16/2007]
Senator Russell Feingold (D-WI), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, breaches the rule of secrecy in revealing information about classified briefings to object to what he says are mischaracterizations of his and other Congressional lawmakers’ support for the administration’s use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” against terror suspects. In a statement on the floor of the Senate opposing the nomination of Judge Michael Mukasey to become Attorney General (see November 8, 2007), Feingold says, “Last week the White House press secretary again implied the members of Congress who have been briefed in the CIA’s interrogation program have approved it or consented to it. That is not the case. I have vigorously opposed the program and continue to do so. The program is of highly questionable legality, it is inconsistent with our values as a nation, and it does not make our nation any safer. In fact, I believe it may have the effect of exposing Americans, including other US personnel, to greater risk.” Feingold and other lawmakers are bound not to reveal the nature of such classified briefings, or even that they participated in them. Feingold reveals his own participation in some of the briefings because he believes that the administration is taking advantage of that secrecy restriction to “spin” the issue as regards the members’ reactions and levels of support. Feingold continues, “I have detailed the reasons for my strong objections to the CIA’s program in classified correspondence sent very shortly after I was first briefed on it (see May 1-10, 2007). More recently I’ve stated my opposition publicly, although I am prohibited by classification rules from providing further details about my concerns in a public setting.” Feingold calls one of the most notorious techniques employed by the CIA, waterboarding, “barbaric,” notes that it “has been used by some of the most evil regimes in history” and “has been considered torture in this country for over a century,” and asks, “If Judge Mukasey won’t say the simple truth—that this barbaric practice is torture—how can we count on him to stand up to the White House on other issues?” [US Senate, 11/7/2007; Washington Post, 12/9/2007]
Room 641A, the NSA’s secret room at AT&T’s Folsom Street facility. [Source: Wired]Former AT&T network technician Mark Klein (see December 15-31, 2005 and July 7, 2009) gives a press conference with the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) in Washington, DC, in an effort to lobby Congress and prevent an immunity bill for the telecoms from passing. The next day, Klein appears in the audience during a Senate Judiciary Committee meeting as part of his lobbying effort in Washington to reveal his knowledge of a secret NSA electronic surveillance operation at AT&T’s San Francisco operations center (see January 2003). The NSA has monitored an enormous volume of telephone and Internet traffic through this secret operation. “I have first-hand knowledge of the clandestine collaboration between one giant telecommunications company, AT&T, and the National Security Agency to facilitate the most comprehensive illegal domestic spying program in history,” Klein tells reporters. “I think they committed a massive violation not only of the law but of the Constitution. That’s not the way the Fourth Amendment is supposed to work.” [New York Times, 11/6/2007; BetaNews, 11/8/2007; Democracy Now!, 7/7/2008] Klein states his four main points of information: that AT&T provided the NSA with all varieties of electronic communications, from telephone conversations to emails, text messages, Web browsing activities, and more; AT&T provided the NSA with billions of purely domestic communications; the program involved everyone using the Internet and not just AT&T customers, because of the interconnected nature of the Internet; and AT&T had 15 to 20 NSA “spy rooms” in facilities across the nation. Brian Reid, a telecommunications and data networking expert who served as one of the New York Times’s experts on the NSA allegations (see April 12, 2006), appears with Klein at the press conference. Reid told Klein in the days before the conference, “My job is to make people believe you.” Reid tells reporters, “The most likely use of this [AT&T/NSA] infrastructure is wholesale, untargeted surveillance of ordinary Americans at the behest of the NSA.” Hours after the press conference, Klein appears as a guest on MSNBC’s political talk show Countdown, where host Keith Olbermann asks him if his experience “felt like finding yourself in a scene from the sci-fi flick Invasion of the Body Snatchers—did it have that sort of horror quality to it?” Klein replies, “My thought was George Orwell’s 1984 and here I am being forced to connect the Big Brother machine.” [Klein, 2009, pp. 93-100]
Key Witness - Klein is a key witness in the lawsuit against AT&T by the EFF (see January 31, 2006 and Early January 2006). He is offering to testify against efforts by the Bush administration and its Congressional Republican allies to amend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to grant immunity to telecom companies like AT&T from prosecution for surveillance acts. Such an immunity grant would likely result in the dismissal of such lawsuits. But no committee of Congress invites him to testify. [New York Times, 11/6/2007; BetaNews, 11/8/2007; Democracy Now!, 7/7/2008]
NSA Secure Room - Part of Klein’s information is from a deposition that was entered into evidence in the lawsuit, and is now made available to individual members of Congress (see February 23-28, 2006, June 26, 2006, and June 13, 2007). Klein relates that during a tour of the AT&T-controlled floors of the Folsom Street facility of what was then SBC Communications, he saw Room 641A, categorized as the “SG3Secure Room” (see October 2003 and Late 2003). That fall, when he was hired to work at the facility, he saw an NSA agent who came to interview a field support specialist for clearance to be able to work in the Secure Room. “To my knowledge, only employees cleared by the NSA were permitted to enter the SG3 Secure Room,” Klein says. “To gain entry to the SG3 Secure Room required both a physical key for the cylinder lock and a combination code number to be entered into an electronic keypad on the door. To my knowledge, only [two field support specialists] had both the key and the combination code.” Klein installed new circuits to a fiber-optic “splitter cabinet” that had only one purpose: to duplicate Internet traffic from WorldNet’s service into SG3, thereby allowing the NSA access to all traffic on that circuit. “What I saw is that everything’s flowing across the Internet to this government-controlled room,” he now says. [New York Times, 11/6/2007; BetaNews, 11/8/2007]
EFF Lobbyists - The EFF secures the services of two professional lobbyists, Adam Eisgrau and former Congressman Thomas Downey (D-NY), who escort Klein and EFF officials Cindy Cohn and Kevin Bankston around Capitol Hill during the two-day period. EFF also works with a professional media company to prepare the media for the November 7 press conference. After the conference, Klein is introduced to a number of Democratic lawmakers, though he says only a few are truly interested in his evidence; he names Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Representative Rush Holt (D-NJ), a former physicist who had actually worked with some of the technology Klein cites in his statements, as two of those willing to give him more than a handshake and a quick photo opportunity. Klein later regrets being unable to meet with Senator Christopher Dodd (D-CT), whom he considers to be one of the few real champions of civil liberties in Congress. Dodd cited Klein’s evidence, and Klein by name, in his unsuccessful filibuster of the FISA amendment bill (see July 10, 2008). [Klein, 2009, pp. 91-95] The lobbyists are able to gain access for Klein to the Congressional hearings. Some media outlets later report, mistakenly, that Klein actually testifies before the panel. [Klein, 2009, pp. 100-101]
Michael Mukasey. [Source: US Department of Justice]After two months of controversy, and a round of sporadically contentious Senate confirmation hearings, former judge Michael Mukasey narrowly wins the Senate’s approval to become the next attorney general, by an almost-party line 53-40 vote. Musakey replaces Alberto Gonzales, who resigned under fire in September 2007. Many Democrats vote against Mukasey because of his refusal to categorize the interrogation technique of waterboarding as torture, and his refusal to say that he would oppose President Bush’s insistence on eavesdropping on US citizens. Some Democrats took comfort in Mukasey’s characterization of waterboarding as “repugnant,” but others were not pleased by his refusal to say that the practice constitutes torture. Two key Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) refused to block Mukasey from going to the Senate for a confirmation vote. Both indicated that they reluctantly supported Mukasey’s nomination because the Justice Department needs an immediate infusion of leadership—Schumer called the department “adrift and rudderless” and in need of “a strong and independent leader”—and they feared if Mukasey was not confirmed, President Bush would put someone worse in the position as an interim appointment. [CNN, 11/8/2007] Schumer says he eventually decided to vote for Mukasey after the judge said “if Congress passed further legislation in this area, the president would have no legal authority to ignore it and Judge Mukasey would enforce it.” But Schumer’s colleague, Ted Kennedy (D-MA), is unimpressed. “Enforcing the law is the job of the attorney general,” Kennedy says. “It’s a prerequisite—not a virtue that enhances a nominee’s qualifications.” Ben Cardin (D-MD) wonders just how far, and how specifically, Congress will have to go to outlaw torture. He asks, “Are we going to have to outlaw the rack because there’s a question whether the rack is torture in this country?” [National Public Radio, 11/7/2007] Arlen Specter (R-PA), the committee’s ranking Republican, calls Mukasey “ethical, honest [and] not an intimate of the president.” [CNN, 11/8/2007] Mukasey is quietly sworn in only hours after winning the Senate vote. [National Public Radio, 11/9/2007] All four Democratic senators running for president—Hillary Clinton (D-NY), Barack Obama (D-IL), Joseph Biden (D-DE), and Christopher Dodd (D-CT)—have said they oppose Mukasey’s nomination. Obama calls Mukasey’s refusal to label waterboarding as torture “appalling,” and notes that Mukasey’s belief that the president “enjoys an unwritten right to secretly ignore any law or abridge our constitutional freedoms simply by invoking national security” disqualify him for the position. The other candidates make similar statements. [Fox News, 10/30/2007] However, none of them actually show up to cast their vote for or against Mukasey. John McCain (R-AZ), another senator running for president, also does not vote. [Associated Press, 11/8/2007] Three days after Mukasey’s confirmation, the New York Times writes a blistering editorial excoriating both the Bush administration and the compliant Senate Democrats for allowing Mukasey to become attorney general (see November 11, 2007).
Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Senate Judiciary Committee, Michael Mukasey, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, George W. Bush, Dianne Feinstein, Edward M. (“Ted”) Kennedy, Alberto R. Gonzales, Geneva Conventions, Arlen Specter, Charles Schumer, Ben Cardin, New York Times
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties
The House Judiciary Committee releases a May 5 letter written to Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) by the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR—see May 5, 2008). The letter advises Conyers that OPR is investigating “allegations of selective prosecution relating to the prosecutions of Don Siegelman, Georgia Thompson, and Oliver Diaz and Paul Minor.” The House and Senate Judiciary Committees are investigating widespread allegations of politically-driven prosecutions by the Justice Department under the Bush administration. Former Governor Don Siegelman (D-AL) is facing bribery charges. Georgia Thompson is a former Wisconsin state employee convicted of corruption by US Attorney Steven Biskupic (see April 14, 2007), but who was set free after an appeals court found the case against her irreparably flawed. Diaz, a former Mississippi State Supreme Court justice, and Minor, a Mississippi lawyer, were both prosecuted by US Attorney Dunn Lampton, and the cases for both are being investigated by the House Judiciary Committee as being possibly driven by partisan political interests. [TPM Muckraker, 2/25/2008; TPM Muckraker, 5/22/2008; Talking Points Memo, 2011]
David Rivkin, a lawyer in the Justice Department during the Reagan and George H. W. Bush administrations, testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Rivkin is testifying in regards to committee chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT)‘s proposal to form a Congressional “Truth Commission” to investigate the Bush administration’s conduct of its “war on terror.” Rivkin, like many other Bush supporters, is opposed to such a commission. He tells the committee: “Yes, mistakes were made. Yes, some bad things happened. But compared with the historical baseline of past wars, the conduct of the United States in the past eight years… has been exemplary.” Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) disagrees. He responds, “I would suggest, Mr. Rivkin, that until you know, and we all know, what was done under the Bush administration, you not be so quick to throw other generations of Americans under the bus, and assume that they did worse.” [TPM Muckraker, 3/4/2009]
The Obama administration’s choice to head the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), Indiana University law professor Dawn Johnsen, is endorsed by the Senate Judiciary Committee. All the committee Democrats vote to endorse her, and all but one Republican committee member vote against her; Arlen Specter (R-PA) abstains. After the endorsement, Senate Republicans use a variety of parliamentary procedures to delay or block her appointment. Legal expert and columnist Scott Horton writes, “The real reason for their vehement opposition is that Johnsen is committed to overturning the Bush administration’s policies on torture and warrantless surveillance that would clip the wings of the imperial presidency.” Johnsen formerly worked for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League (NARAL), earning her the enmity of social conservatives who have made her the target of a massive opposition campaign. Anti-abortion groups call her a “radical, pro-abortion activist.” However, Horton notes, observations from Republican officials and opinion leaders show that the GOP’s real concern is not over Johnsen’s support for abortion, but for her apparent intent to roll back Bush-era policies on torture and warrantless surveillance. Even worse, Horton writes, is her intention to reveal secret information from the Bush years about those subjects. But it is politically difficult to attack Johnsen on these issues, Republicans say, so instead she is being targeted for her views on abortion. President Obama’s choice of Johnsen’s two deputies—Harvard law professor David Barron and Georgetown law professor Marty Lederman (see January 20, 2009)—are, like Johnsen, experienced in both academia and politics, and have been vehement critics of the OLC during the Bush years. [Daily Beast, 3/26/2009]
Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX) attacks Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor (see May 26, 2009) for what he calls “personal bias based on ethnicity and gender.” Smith says, “Judge Sotomayor will need to reassure the country that she will set aside her biases, uphold the rule of law, and interpret the Constitution as written, not as she believes it should have been written.” Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL), who will vote to confirm or deny Sotomayor’s nomination as a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, says Sotomayor has shown disrespect for the law in her time on the bench. Eleven years ago, Sessions voted against allowing her to become an appeals court judge. Sotomayor was confirmed despite Sessions’s vote. Now, Sessions says she will get a “fair and respectful hearing” before the committee, but says he and other conservatives worry about her “history of activism.” Legal analysts say Sotomayor has a history of complying with the law, and far from being a judicial activist, has usually shown judicial restraint and a deference to existing case law and judicial precedent. [Fox News, 5/26/2009] In a statement, Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) questions “her ability to rule fairly without undue influence from her own personal race, gender, or political preferences.” [Senator James Inhofe, 5/26/2009] Liberal columnist Dana Goldstein retorts that the same question could be asked of the seven white males already on the bench, and asks sardonically, “White men are raceless and genderless, haven’t you heard?” [American Prospect, 5/26/2009]
Salon columnist Glenn Greenwald notes that in 2006, conservative Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito (see October 31, 2005 - February 1, 2006) made remarks about his ethnic identity influencing his decisions from the bench that are strikingly similar to those made in 2001 by Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor (see October 26, 2001 and May 26, 2009). Sotomayor is being called a “racist” by conservatives based on her remarks (see May 26, 2009, May 26, 2009, May 27, 2009, and May 28, 2009). In 2006, as Greenwald notes, Alito told the Senate Judiciary Committee: “[W]hen a case comes before me involving, let’s say, someone who is an immigrant—and we get an awful lot of immigration cases and naturalization cases—I can’t help but think of my own ancestors, because it wasn’t that long ago when they were in that position. And so it’s my job to apply the law. It’s not my job to change the law or to bend the law to achieve any result. But when I look at those cases, I have to say to myself, and I do say to myself, ‘You know, this could be your grandfather, this could be your grandmother. They were not citizens at one time, and they were people who came to this country.‘… When I get a case about discrimination, I have to think about people in my own family who suffered discrimination because of their ethnic background or because of religion or because of gender. And I do take that into account.” Greenwald writes, “Anyone who is objecting now to Sotomayor’s alleged ‘empathy’ problem but who supported Sam Alito and never objected to this sort of thing ought to have their motives questioned (and the same is true for someone who claims that a person who overcame great odds to graduate at the top of their class at Princeton, graduate Yale Law School, and then spent time as a prosecutor, corporate lawyer, district court judge, and appellate court judge must have been chosen due to ‘identity politics’).” [Washington Post, 1/11/2006; Salon, 5/27/2009]
John Cornyn (R-TX), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, says he is “troubled” by Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor (see May 26, 2009) in light of her supposed “judicial activism” (see May 26, 2009) and supposed willingness to put her personal background above her dedication to the rule of law (see October 26, 2001). However, Cornyn repudiates some of the more vicious attacks on Sotomayor from former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former House Republican Tom Tancredo, radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh, and others who have termed her “racist” (see May 26, 2009, May 26, 2009, May 27-29, 2009, May 27, 2009, May 28, 2009, May 28, 2009, and May 28, 2009). “I think it’s terrible. This is not the kind of tone that any of us want to set when it comes to performing our constitutional responsibilities of advice and consent,” Cornyn says. Of Gingrich and Limbaugh, Cornyn adds: “Neither one of these men are elected Republican officials. I just don’t think it’s appropriate and I certainly don’t endorse it. I think it’s wrong.” [National Public Radio, 5/28/2009; Politico, 5/28/2009] The next day, Jeff Sessions (R-AL), the ranking Republican on the committee, says the inflammatory rhetoric from right-wingers such as Limbaugh, Tancredo, and Gingrich makes him “uneasy,” and he advises Republicans to limit their criticisms of Sotomayor to her judicial record. “I don’t think that’s good rhetoric,” says Sessions. “The question is, has the judge gone too far or not, given the established law of the land?” The Washington Post notes that in 1986, Sessions was denied a federal judgeship because of his record of racial insensitivity (see June 5, 2009). Neither Sessions nor the Post mentions Sessions’s recent attack on Sotomayor (see May 26, 2009). [Washington Post, 5/29/2009] On May 31, Sessions tells an NBC audience that his Republican colleagues should refrain from calling Sotomayor a racist, and he would prefer that they not continue to attack her over her 2001 remarks. [Associated Press, 5/31/2009]
Jeff Sessions (R-AL), the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, says he intends to be fair to Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor (see May 26, 2009) when she appears before the committee for confirmation to the bench. Sessions says he knows how it feels to be accused of racism (see May 26, 2009, May 26, 2009, May 27-29, 2009, May 27, 2009, May 28, 2009, May 28, 2009, May 28, 2009, May 29, 2009, June 2, 2009, June 3, 2009, and June 5, 2009) because he weathered such accusations when he was turned down for a federal judgeship in 1986. As a US attorney in Alabama, Sessions had demonstrably shown bias during his prosecution of civil rights activists for voting fraud, called the NAACP an “un-American” and “Communist” organization, called a black attorney “boy” and warned him to “be careful what you say to white folks,” and expressed his admiration for the Ku Klux Klan. None of those assertions were true, Sessions now says, claiming he was “caricatured,” even though at the time, multiple witnesses made the claims. Then, Sessions says, he couldn’t counter “the message” that he was a racist. While he does not directly repudiate the accusations of racism leveled against Sotomayor, he recently told her, “You will get a fair hearing before this committee.” [New Republic, 12/30/2002; CNN, 6/5/2009]
The non-partisan PolitiFact, an organization sponsored by the St. Petersburg Times, finds that claims of a bill pending in Congress is intended to “cloak” “proof” about President Obama’s supposed foreign birth are entirely specious. The 2009 Free Flow of Information Act, passed by the House of Representatives in March, is, according to some in the “birther” movement, actually intended to protect Obama from having to produce his long-form birth certificate (see June 13, 2008). Some conservative bloggers are calling it the “Obama Birth Certificate Protection Act.” An email making the rounds of the Internet claims the bill “would guarantee Barack Obama will never be held accountable for producing forged birth documents,” and asks recipients to protest its passage in the Senate. PolitiFact finds that the Free Flow of Information Act is designed to prevent a citizen from providing “testimony or produce any document related to information obtained or created by such covered person as part of engaging in journalism, unless a court determines by a preponderance of the evidence” due to compulsion by federal authorities. It is primarily designed to protect journalists who fear retaliation if they print sensitive or embarrassing information in their publications. However, the “birthers” say the bill would protect federal employees from being compelled to release documents. The bill is clear in stating that “covered persons” are journalists, bloggers, and anybody else “who regularly gathers, prepares, collects, photographs, records, writes, edits, reports, or publishes news or information that concerns local, national, or international events or other matters of public interest for dissemination to the public for a substantial portion of the person’s livelihood or for substantial financial gain and includes a supervisor, employer, parent, subsidiary, or affiliate of such covered person.” Sophia Cope of the Newspaper Association of America says: “[A] covered person is simply a journalist. The White House would not fall under that.… The bill’s intent is to protect reporters and their confidential sources from being subpoenaed to testify, or from having to disclose the identity of those sources. I don’t see how it would relate to Obama’s birth certificate.” The bill was introduced in 2006, well before Obama announced his candidacy for president; PolitiFact writes, “The idea that it is a covert attempt to block Obama from producing his birth certificate is absurd.” It is also anything but a partisan bill; it passed the House on a simple voice vote, and passed earlier on a vote of 398-21. It is expected to pass the Senate with little difficulty. PolitiFact concludes: “One could argue that this law has simply been misread by some well-intentioned government watchdogs. But this is just the latest conspiracy theory from the fringe of a conservative group convinced that Obama hasn’t provided sufficient documentation to prove he was born in the United States, and therefore cannot serve as president. Even among these folks, the claim about the Free Flow of Information Act is more than a stretch.” [St. Petersburg Times, 7/1/2009] The bill will bog down in the Senate Judiciary Committee in December 2009. [Review, 2011]
US Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) posts a video on his YouTube channel in which he declares federal child labor laws “unconstitutional.” Lee says: “Congress decided it wanted to prohibit [child labor], so it passed a law—no more child labor. The Supreme Court heard a challenge to that and the Supreme Court decided a case in 1918 called Hammer v. Dagenhardt. In that case, the Supreme Court acknowledged something very interesting—that, as reprehensible as child labor is, and as much as it ought to be abandoned—that’s something that has to be done by state legislators, not by members of Congress.… This may sound harsh, but it was designed to be that way. It was designed to be a little bit harsh. Not because we like harshness for the sake of harshness, but because we like a clean division of power, so that everybody understands whose job it is to regulate what. Now, we got rid of child labor, notwithstanding this case. So the entire world did not implode as a result of that ruling.” Think Progress reporter Ian Millhiser calls Lee’s interpretation flawed. The Constitution gives Congress the power “[t]o regulate commerce… among the several states [and to] make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution” this power to regulate commerce. This provision has been upheld in many Court cases. Lee failed to note that in 1941, the Court unanimously overruled Hammer v. Daggenhardt in United States v. Darby. Moreover, Millhiser notes, child labor exploitation did not stop until Congress placed strict limits on it in the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, a law upheld by United States v. Darby. [Think Progress, 1/31/2011] Senate Republicans will give Lee a seat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which works with constitutional interpretation. Lee has also declared Social Security, Medicare, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), food stamps, and income assistance to the poor all unconstitutional. [Think Progress, 1/27/2011]
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