I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

The NSA scandal grows & other matters

The story in yesterday's Washington Post suggesting that the White House is finding success in its scheme to shut down investigations into the NSA scandal caused great celebrations in some quarters and great despair in others, including here. All of that was quite impetuous and premature. I'm not sure what the source was for that Post article, but multiple events even over the last 24 hours make clear that this scandal is growing tentacles, and that there are numerous fronts on which intense battles are being waged over the Administration's lawlessness.

I don't have the time this morning to post extensively on the issues I want to post about -- I will post more later today -- but there are multiple items along this line, and others, worth noting for the moment:

(1) This article from today's The Washington Post demonstrates just how vibrant and growing this scandal is. The article reports that additional witnesses will be called by the Senate Judiciary Committee, including John Ashcroft, James Comey, and other high-level DoJ officials who alerted the Administration to the fact that their warrantless eavesdropping program was illegal. The Administration is, of course, attempting to block their testimony through the invocation of every "privilege" it can find, and they are also attempting to conceal relevant documents reflecting the fact that they were advised of the program's illegality by their own high-level lawyers.

There is certain to be a growing dispute between the Committee and the increasingly partisan DoJ over the Administration's ongoing attempts to conceal information which demonstrates that even conservative high-level DoJ lawyers advised that this program was illegal:

In addition, Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales signaled in an interview with The Washington Post yesterday that the administration will sharply limit the testimony of former attorney general John D. Ashcroft and former deputy attorney general James B. Comey, both of whom have been asked to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee regarding the program.

"Clearly, there are privilege issues that have to be considered," Gonzales said. "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."

"You have to wonder what could Messrs. Comey and Ashcroft add to the discussion," Gonzales added. In response to the comments last night, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) said he has asked Gonzales for permission to call Ashcroft and Comey to testify but has not received an answer.

"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 said.

But he said he would expect Ashcroft and Comey to talk about the legal issues at play in the case, including debates within the administration that included a visit by high-level officials to Ashcroft while he was in a hospital bed in 2004.

The remarks are among the latest developments in the debate over the National Security Agency program, which was first revealed in media reports in December. President Bush and his aides have strongly defended the program as both lawful and necessary to track suspected al Qaeda associates, but many legal scholars and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have raised doubts about the program's legality.

The more the Administration tries to cover-up what it did and block the various investigations, the longer this scandal will endure.

And shouldn't it be painfully obvious to all of those frightened Democrats that the chest-beating claim by Bush followers that this scandal benefits Republicans is a complete bluff and sham? If it were the case that this scandal helps Republicans, they would be doing everything they could to ensure that this scandal persists and that there were as many hearings held as possible. They are doing the opposite - they are doing everything they can to kill the scandal and make it go away. Isn't it obvious that they fear the scandal and realize it has the potential to do great harm? Why else would they be trying to suppress these investigations? Is Karl Rove's childish bravado really that blinding that it can erase basic logic?

(2) George Will became the latest in a long and growing line of conservatives to loudly trumpet the true threat to the core principles of our democracy posed by the Administration's law-breaking and its theories of an unchecked Executive. Anonymous Liberal has posted an excellent analysis of Will's column. Correctly pointing out that the Administration has embraced a "monarchical doctrine," Will explains:

Besides, terrorism is not the only new danger of this era. Another is the administration's argument that because the president is commander in chief, he is the "sole organ for the nation in foreign affairs." That non sequitur is refuted by the Constitution's plain language, which empowers Congress to ratify treaties, declare war, fund and regulate military forces, and make laws "necessary and proper" for the execution of all presidential powers . Those powers do not include deciding that a law -- FISA, for example -- is somehow exempted from the presidential duty to "take care that the laws be faithfully executed."

With as many conservatives as there are loudly protesting the Administration's attempt to claim the power of law-breaking, there is no way for this scandal to simply fade away. The protests from patriotic Americans across the ideological divide will simply not permit it.

(3) The vote of the House Judiciary Committee which I reported on yesterday to reject a proposal by Rep. Conyers to demand various documents from the DoJ was not, as I indicated, strictly on party lines. Every Democrat voted for it, but one Republican, Rep. John N. Hostettler of Indiana, also did.

(4) In yesterday's post, I commented upon the glaring disparity between: (a) the propagandistic myths which Bush followers have ingested that paint a picture of Republicans as being wildly popular among the "vast majority" of Americans (i.e., all normal Americans, excluding just a few radical, fringe freaks on the coast), and (b) the facts, reflected almost unanimously by polling data, showing that George Bush is an intensely unpopular President and that Americans actually reject his foreign policy overwhelmingly. It is truly amazing, and alarming, how Bush followers continue to maintain that myth even in the face of overwhelming evidence which negates it.

As he so often does, a commenter here, Gedalyia, wrote several comments in response to that post yesterday which hilariously and potently reflect exactly the syndrome which was being described. Here is what he said as part of one of those Comments:

Thank God the vast majority of Americans reject your suicidal impulses, and that we have a military capable of carrying out our will to defeat Islamic fascism.

He made similar comments about how Democrats would be sure to suffer smashing electoral defeat if they criticized Bush on the NSA scandal or other Administration foreign policies -- exactly the factually false myths that I described yesterday.

The reason that you can't debate the specific strain of loyal Bush followers represented by Gedalyia is because they live in a dense, fact-free world where their hatred for Arabs ("There are over 3,000,000 Arabs in the United States. I'm surprised there aren't more names on the terrorist watch list") and creepy worship of George Bush's faux cowboy strutting outweighs, by far, any facts that you can show them. The manufactured and meticulously maintained Bush image of manly courage and masculine toughness -- an image contradicted by every fact of George Bush's actual life -- is particularly important here, as this well of masculine power is extremely potent for people like Gedalyia, who perceive that they lack those attributes themselves and thus worship others who project it. It's all emotional and psychological for guys like him and thus not susceptible to reasoned discourse.

Before he wrote the Comment which I just quoted, he presumably read the post I wrote which described the polling data showing that Americans overwhelmingly reject the war in Iraq and that a plurality are opposed to the NSA program. And yet, compare his claim that the "vast majority of Americans" support the agenda of the Administration to the facts I cited in the post, just to get an idea for how delusional and fact-resistant so many Bush followers are:

About 49 percent of respondents said the president had definitely or probably broken the law by authorizing the wiretaps and 47 percent said he probably or definitely had not.

Those numbers were similar to a question about whether the program is right or wrong -- 47 percent said it was right and 50 percent called it wrong.

Eichenberg says all that [perceptions that Iran is a growing danger] is eroding President Bush's standing, too. Among those polled, 55% say they lack confidence in the administration's ability to handle the situation in Iran. And Bush's approval rating has dipped to 39%, the first time below 40% since November, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

A 55% majority say the war in Iraq was a mistake. Just 31%, a record low since the question has been asked, say the United States and its allies are winning there.

"It [the poll] suggests that he's pretty much down to his core supporters out there ... and everyone else has left," says Richard Stoll, a political scientist at Rice University.

People like Gedalyia who see George Bush as a figure of phallic greatness live in a fantasy world where the "vast majority" of people support Bush's policies and actions, and criticizing the Leader's actions -- especially those designed to heroically protect us -- will therefore lead to certain electoral defeat, even though every available fact demonstrates that the opposite is true.

People like that are beyond the reach of reason, because the fulfillment which they derive from being a Bush follower and all of the ritualistic, risk-free chest-beating which that entails renders them indifferent to rational discourse. This genuinely brilliant analysis by Digby -- which dissects the grotesque episode in which the mushy Chris Matthews drooled with sad, needy homoerotic reverence over Bush's strutting around on that aircraft carrier in his little pilot outfit, while G. Gordon Liddy expressed overt admiration for Bush's masculine package -- remains the gold standard for understanding why and how meek male losers find such personal satisfaction and fulfillment by being a Bush follower. It is as physically unpleasant as it is important to understand.

(5) I was not all that enthusiastic about the Dick Cheney hunting story but I watched Cheney's loving sit-down with Brit Hume -- a visit which resembled a concerned, supportive son visiting his father during an emotional crisis far more than it did a journalist interviewing an elected official about a government scandal -- and it was amazingly apparent just how unforthcoming and self-protectively dishonest Cheney was being in describing what happened.

I'm far from convinced that there was any great cover-up here, but clearly Cheney waited to notify the press and then waited much longer to talk about what happened because he did not know what the outcome would be and wanted time to construct his story and defense. The interview was replete with the sort of obfuscating and evasion that one routinely finds in an overly prepared and defensive deposition witness who is doing everything except testifying truthfully and clearly. Two clear falsehoods stuck out for me.

The first was one initially detected by the always perceptive Emptywheel and thoroughly documented by Roy Temple -- that Cheney repeatedly claimed that Katherine Armstrong witnessed the shooting which is why he assigned her the task of reporting the incident to the media, even though her statements leave no doubt that she was not a witness at all. This post also does a great job in illustrating what is a pattern of clear and deliberate inconsistencies in the stories given by Cheney and his close friend, Ms. Armstrong.

The second falsehood is the fact that Cheney continuously referred to Harry Whittington as a "great friend" and "my friend Harry" even though he admitted that Whittington was just an "acquaintance" with whom he had never even hunted before. This is not notable because it's some grand deceit but it reflects the fact that Cheney's approach to the whole interview was to manipulate sympathy and secure political protection rather than candidly describe what happened.

All of that unctuous yammering about "my friend Harry" was designed to make it seem like Cheney was going through some sort of grand emotional crisis over the plight of his old, close friend and, therefore, we should let Cheney alone in his time of grief over this tragic accident. In fact, Whittington is nothing of the sort for Cheney, as he admitted in a moment of unguarded candor. The whole interview was play-acting from start to finish, which is why, of course, Cheney chose a "journalist" notable primarily for his unseemly eagerness to act out his assigned role in the White House's scripts.

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