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, March 09, 2006

Sen. Rockefeller praises the GOP's actions on the Intelligence Committee

(updated below - updated again with response from Sen. Rockefeller's spokeswoman)

(updated again re: Portgate)

No matter how strong of an immunity one thinks one has constructed against being shocked and disgusted by the acts of national Democrats, it always turns out that it's never actually strong enough. On Tuesday, after the Intelligence Committee vote not to investigate the President's illegal eavesdropping on Americans, Sen. Rockefeller angrily said that the Committee was "under the control" of the White House.

What a difference a day makes. Here is the description from The New York Times of what Sen. Rockefeller did yesterday:

But on Wednesday, the Democratic vice chairman of the committee, Senator John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia, issued a conciliatory statement, saying that while he favored a full investigation, a committee decision on Tuesday to appoint a seven-member subcommittee to oversee the N.S.A. eavesdropping was "a step in the right direction."

It's difficult to add anything to that, except to note that Sen. Rockefeller did this because he apparently found out that he hurt the feelings of his Republican friends and colleagues on the Committee and decided that that wasn't a very nice or collegial thing to do, and he should therefore make them feel better by being conciliatory:

Pat Roberts said yesterday that he resented being portrayed as what he called a "lap dog of the administration" . . . .

The Republicans were miffed that Mr. Rockefeller, the committee's ranking Democrat, had portrayed them as caving in to White House pressure. On Tuesday, Senator Chuck Hagel, Republican of Nebraska and another author of the proposal, called that notion "laughable."

Mr. Hagel said he and Senators DeWine and Snowe were "three of the most independent Republicans" in the Senate and added, "I have never been accused of buckling to White House pressure."

I'm glad to see that Sen. Rockefeller feels bad about his impetuous remarks where he insinuated that Sens. Hagel, Snowe and DeWine -- "three of the most independent Republicans" in the Senate -- buckled under to White House pressure. That was a completely unfair accusation that had no basis to it at all. Why ever would he think that?

Of course, the reason Democrats have been doing poorly in elections is because they are way too mean and critical of Republicans and it's nice to see them finally looking for the good in their opponents' decisions and actions - just like Republicans always do for them. It is particularly heartening to see the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee praise the Committee's decision not to investigate allegations of the President's law-breaking and to eliminate judicial oversight for eavesdropping as a "step in the right direction."

To make full amends for his mean and inappropriate comments about his distinguished Republican colleagues, maybe Sen. Rockefeller -- after tearfully apologizing on the Senate floor -- can be the lead sponsor of the Terrorist Surveillance Act of 2006 which will make legal the President's lawless warrantless eavesdropping on Americans. If he wants to show David Broder, Chris Matthews and Fred Hiatt that he's a serious Democrat who feels genuine remorse for what he did and that he understands the need to defeat Al Qaeda, nothing short of that will suffice. And the most amazing aspect of this whole episode is that it would not be particularly surprising if he did do that.

UPDATE: The New York Times editorial page is one of the very few journalistic corners which understands the true magnitude of this scandal, and today published an excellent editorial which included this:

The Senate Judiciary Committee is still looking into the wiretapping. That committee should have plenty of incentive to go forward — its chairman, Senator Arlen Specter, was righteously angry when he received a letter in which Attorney General Alberto Gonzales implied that there was more warrantless spying we don't know about. Mr. Gonzales won't even say that Mr. Bush understands it is blatantly illegal to spy on communications within the United States without a warrant. Nevertheless, there's not much cause for hope: Mr. Specter has a sad habit of bowing to the right wing when the chips are down.

There are moments when leaders simply have to take a stand. It seems to us that one of them is when Americans are in danger of the kind of unchecked surveillance that they thought had died with J. Edgar Hoover, Watergate and spying on Vietnam protesters and civil rights leaders.

Save some anger in the tank. You'll need it for when Arlen Specter decides that he's not that angry after all and calls off the hearings in light of the newfound cooperation which has arisen between the distinguished friends on both sides of the aisle.

UPDATE II: I received the following e-mail just now from Wendy Morigi, spokewoman for Sen. Rockefeller:

"Your blog was forwarded to me. It's clear to me that you’re basing your statements on the New York Times story and that you don't have the Senator's full statement, which I'm including below. I would in no way agree with the NY Times characterization that the following statement is 'conciliatory'.

"Senator Rockefeller’s point was that since the Republican’s refuse to do an investigation, a subcommittee would at least provide more oversight than what we have now. If you would like to be added to our distribution list, I'm happy to do so to ensure that you have accurate information in the future."


Wendy Morigi


March 8, 2006 (202) 224-6101

Statement from Senator Rockefeller on the Creation of a Senate Intelligence subcommittee to provide Oversight of NSA program

"At the end of the day, our goal should be to have the most effective and legally sound counterterrorism programs possible.

"A thorough review by the full committee would have given the American people much more confidence in achieving that goal, and I will continue to fight for the full committee to have access to this program.

"In the meantime, the creation of a subcommittee to conduct greater oversight is a step in the right direction.

"I have appointed Senators Levin and Feinstein to serve with me on the panel. As the most senior Democratic members of the Committee, I am confident that they will bring enormous expertise in intelligence matters, as well as a commitment to thoroughly understanding the program and its implications.

"Senator Levin brings a depth of experience on national defense programs through the Armed Services and Intelligence Committees. As a member of the Judiciary Committee, Senator Feinstein brings a critical understanding of judicial review and constitutional protections.

"Now, the big test will be whether the seven member subcommittee will receive sufficient information to fully scrutinize the operations of the program and answer the critical legal and constitutional questions before them.

"In addition to White House led briefings, I strongly believe that the subcommittee immediately should have access to the answers of the 450 questions that I submitted to the NSA last week.

"This information will help to guide all members of the subcommittee about the extent of the program and the critical issues at stake. I also hope the subcommittee members can spend sufficient time at the NSA reviewing the operation of the program and getting their own questions answered.

"I continue to believe that legislating without knowing all the facts could do more harm than good. I’m hopeful that all members of this new panel will share the same goal of informing legislative debate before taking steps to strengthen the program for the future.”

To be honest, I really don't see how the Senator's full statement is any less conciliatory than The New York Times story suggested it was. It looks extremely conciliatory to me, to put it generously.

There's just a tone deafness in Washington. They don't recognize just how corrupt these actions are and how furious and disgusted so many Americans are as a result. But, like anything, that can be changed. At least they're hearing these things and are concerned enough to respond, for whatever that's worth. I described more of my views on the Rockefeller statement here in Comments.

UPDATE III: Author and military expert Lucian Truscott IV has posted a detailed and very interesting analysis as a guest post at Digby's which explores the financial motivations and cronyism aspects underlying Bush's conspicuous adamancy about proceeding with the UAE/Port deal.

Personally, I think that what motivates Bush's recalcitrance on this issue more than anything else is his belief that national security is his domain, where he exercises unchallenged reign and resents any questioning or interference with his decision. But Truscott makes a good case, with some original reporting and ample documentation, that classic Bush cronyism plays a significant role.

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