Skip to comments.[Vice President] Cheney says top congressional Democrats complicit in spying
Posted on 12/22/2008 8:59:18 PM PST by 2ndDivisionVet
Dick Cheney's interview yesterday with Fox's Chris Wallace was filled with significant claims, but certainly among the most significant was his detailed narration of how the administration, and Cheney personally, told numerous Democratic Congressional leaders -- repeatedly and in detail -- about the NSA warrantless eavesdropping program. And, according to Cheney, every one of those Democrats -- every last one -- not only urged its continuation, but insisted that it be kept secret:
WALLACE: Let's drill down into some of the specific measures that you pushed first of all, the warrantless surveillance on a massive scale, without telling the appropriate court, without seeking legislation from Congress.
Why not, in the aftermath of 9/11 and the spirit of national unity, get approval, support, bring in the other branches of government?
CHENEY: Well, let me tell you a story about the terror surveillance program. We did brief the Congress. And we brought in...
WALLACE: Well, you briefed a few members.
CHENEY: We brought in the chairman and the ranking member, House and Senate, and briefed them a number of times up until this was be from late '01 up until '04 when there was additional controversy concerning the program.
At that point, we brought in what I describe as the big nine not only the intel people but also the speaker, the majority and minority leaders of the House and Senate, and brought them into the situation room in the basement of the White House.
I presided over the meeting. We briefed them on the program, and what we'd achieved, and how it worked, and asked them, "Should we continue the program?" They were unanimous, Republican and Democrat alike. All agreed absolutely essential to continue the program.
I then said, "Do we need to come to the Congress and get additional legislative authorization to continue what we're doing?" They said, "Absolutely not. Don't do it, because it will reveal to the enemy how it is we're reading their mail."
That happened. We did consult. We did keep them involved. We ultimately ended up having to go to the Congress after the New York Times decided they were going to make the judge to review all of or make all of this available, obviously, when they reacted to a specific leak.
But it was a program that we briefed on repeatedly. We did these briefings in my office. I presided over them. We went to the key people in the House and Senate intel committees and ultimately the entirely leadership and sought their advice and counsel, and they agreed we should not come back to the Congress.
Cheney's reference to the "additional controversy concerning the program" that arose after 2004 and that led to additional Congressional briefings is ambiguous and creates a somewhat unclear time line: is he referring to late 2004, when the White House learned that The New York Times knew about the NSA program and was considering writing about it (only to then obey the President's orders to keep it a secret), or is he referring to the time when, more than a full year later, in December 2005, the NYT finally got around to writing about it, once Bush was safely re-elected?
Either way, Cheney's general claim is as clear as it is incriminating. According to him, key Congressional Democrats were told about the illegal NSA spying program in detail, and they not only actively approved of it, but far beyond that, they insisted that no Congressional authorization should even be sought, based on what was always the patently inane claim that to discuss the fact that the administration was eavesdropping on our conversations without warrants (rather than with warrants, as the law required) would be to reveal our secrets -- "our playbook" -- to Al Qaeda.
It is certainly true that Dick Cheney is not exactly the most scrupulously honest public servant around. In fact, he's almost certainly the opposite. Still, what he said yesterday was merely an expanded and more detailed version of what has previously been publicly reported and, to some degree, confirmed about the knowledge and support of Democratic leaders for the NSA program. Cheney's claims encompasses the following key Democrats:
Nancy Pelosi (Ranking Member, House Intelligence Committee, House Minority Leader);
Jane Harman (Ranking Member, House Intelligence Committee);
Jay Rockefeller (Ranking Member, Senate Intelligence Committee);
Harry Reid Tom Daschle (Senate Minority Leader). Unsurprisingly, Pelosi, Harman and Rockefeller all voted last July to legalize warrantless eavesdropping and to immunize telecoms from liability, thereby ensuring an end to the ongoing investigations into these programs. And though he ultimately cast a meaningless vote against final passage, it was Reid's decisions as Majority Leader which played an instrumental role in ensuring passage of that bill.
One would think that these Democratic leaders would, on their own, want to respond to Cheney's claims about them and deny the truth of those claims. After all, Cheney's statement is nothing less than an accusation that they not only enthusiastically approved, but actively insisted upon the continuation and ongoing secrecy, of a blatantly illegal domestic spying program (one that several of them would, once it was made public, pretend to protest). As Armando says, "The Democratic members who participated in this meeting have two choices in my mind - refute Cheney's statements or admit their complicity in the illegal activity perpetrated by the Bush Administration."
I'm going to spend the day calling these members and trying to get some response to Cheney's claim. If I'm unable to obtain any responses, I'll post their numbers and encourage everyone to make similar calls. As I wrote on Saturday -- and documented before: "As a practical reality, the largest barrier to any route to prosecution -- including this one -- is that the Congressional Democratic leadership was complicit, to varying degrees, in the illegal programs." That's true not only of the NSA program, but also the Bush/Cheney torture program.
One last point: there is much consternation over Dick Cheney's "Nixon/Frost moment" yesterday, where he expressly endorsed the idea that, as a "general proposition," a "wartime" President can do anything he wants -- even if it violates duly enacted statutes -- as long as it's justified in the name of national security. In one sense, Cheney was being so explicit yesterday about his belief in Bush's lawbreaking powers in part because he's taking pride in being so defiant on his way out the door -- daring a meek and impotent political class to do anything about his lawlessness -- and also because Chris Wallace conducted one of the best interviews (and, revealingly, one of the only interviews) about the Bush/Cheney view of executive power.
But that this was the Bush administration's central operating principle is something that -- as was true for Cheney's involvement in America's torture regime -- was long known. As I wrote all the way back in December, 2005, days after the NSA scandal was first revealed:
These are not academic questions. Quite the contrary, it is hard to imagine questions more pressing. We are at a moment in time when not just fringe ideologues, but core, mainstream supporters of the President -- not to mention senior officials in the Administration itself are openly embracing the theory that the President can use the power and military force of the United States to do whatever he wants, including to and against U.S. citizens, as long as he claims that it is connected to Americas "war" against terrorists a war which is undeclared, ever-expanding, and without any visible or definable end.
While Bush advocates have long been toying with this theory in the shadows, the disclosure that Bush ordered warrantless eavesdropping on American citizens in undeniable violation of a Congressional statute has finally forced them to articulate their lawless power theories out in the open. Bush got caught red-handed violating the law, and once it became apparent that no argument could be made that he complied with the law, the only way to defend him was to come right out and say that he has the right to break the law. So that debate -- over the claimed limitlessness of George Bush's power -- can't be put off any longer.
By itself, the long-disclosed September 25, 2001 Yoo Memorandum left no doubt that our Government had formally and explicitly adopted an ideology of lawlessness. As a country, we just chose to ignore all of that, chose to do nothing about it. The absues and extremism of the last eight years began as a Bush administration initiative, but it culminated as something for which both political parties, our leading political and media institutions, and our citizenry generally bear collective responsibility.
* * * * * On a somewhat related note, this creepy little post inserted onto Matt Yglesias' Center for American Progress blog by Jennifer Palmieri, the CEO of CAP's "Action Fund", is a vivid exhibit illustrating how Washington works, for reasons which Matt Stoller, Markos Moulitsas, and Brendan Nyhan all describe. Matt very well may not consider it to constitute interference with his editorial autonomy, but it nonetheless illustrates the potential constraints that can come from writing for an organization like that.
When I first joined Salon, the commitment they made, which for me was non-negotiatiable, was absolute editorial independence. Though that's an unusual commitment for a magazine to make, they did make it, and they never once -- in almost two years of my being here -- even came close to violating it. Even as I've waged quite acrimonious mini-wars with friends and former colleagues of top editors and officers here, and even as I've aggressively advocated views that were, at times, the opposite of the ones top editors here were advocating, there's never been a hint of interference or even pressure, and I couldn't even fathom their doing anything like sticking a note onto my blog of the type Palmieri just inserted onto Matt's blog.
Editorial independence is quite rare and quite valuable. It's still one of the key distinguishing features between blogs/alternative media outlets and establishment media. As Atrios suggests: "contemplate the issue of editorial independence, and the various revenue models which make it possible or not." It's worth supporting the bloggers who practice it and the media venues that allow and encourage it.
UPDATE: As I said, Cheney's time line is unclear, and it's possible, when he references an "additional controversy," he's referring to the DOJ's objections to the NSA program in March, 2004 -- not anything having to do with the New York Times. That would mean the detailed, expanded briefings he's describing would have included then-Minority Leader Tom Daschle, but not Harry Reid (who only became Minority Leader in 2005, once Daschle lost). If Cheney is describing 2005 briefings, they would have included Reid. That's all the more reason why responses from leading Democrats here is required.
That key Democrats were briefed on the NSA program is anything but new. USA Today reported in 2006 that Democratic leaders including Pelosi were repeatedly briefed on the program. There is some marginal dispute about what they were and weren't told, but no dispute about the existence of the briefings and the complete lack of any real efforts by Democrats to stop it or even object.
UPDATE II: Via email, several very knowledgeable bloggers -- including Marcy Wheeler and Christy Hardin Smith -- are arguing, persuasively, that Cheney did not really disclose any specific new facts yesterday about Democratic complicity, that while he may have emphasized more clearly than ever before the approval he claims Democrats gave, all of the facts, in one venue or another, have been previously disclosed. Cheney yesterday was almost certainly talking about the March, 2004 White House briefing (that would have included Pelosi, Harman and Rockefeller -- but not Reid), which has been reported.
Re-examining what Cheney said, they're probably right. But none of that, as Spencer Ackerman points out, undermines at all the need for Congressional Democrats finally to give a full accounting of what they knew, what they were told, and what they said about these programs. Particularly given how publicly Cheney is taunting them for having approved of the NSA program, they should respond specifically to Cheney's claims -- confirm the parts that are true and deny the parts, if any, that aren't.
The reason the law requires that Congressional leaders be briefed on intelligence programs is not because it's nice in the abstract for someone to know. It's because Congressional leaders have the right and the obligation to take action to stop illegal intelligence programs -- something all briefed Democrats clearly failed to do. Cheney, on his way out the door, is answering questions about what he knew and approved. It's way past time for Pelosi, Harman and Rockefeller, at the very least, to do the same.
UPDATE III: Last week, I was interviewed by Fox News' Jim Angle regarding the John Brennan controversy. For those interested: his story will air tonight on Brit Hume's Fox News broadcast, at 6:00 p.m. EST.
As if they’ll ever be punished for anything.
So you feel that the Bush administration should be punished for wiretaps, waterboarding, coercive interrogations, sleep deprivation and the like against jihadists and other terrorists?
It’s been reported that something similar occured with the implementation of torture - Bush Administration officials developed the rationale and techniques and subsequently briefed key members of Congress, including high ranking Democrats. And either acquiescing or accepting, those Democrats chose to remain silent.
There’s plenty of reasons to doubt Mr. Cheney here. But those high ranking Congressional Democrats who were most likely briefed, including Speaker Pelosi, Rep. Harman, and Sen. Rockefeller, have a responsiblity to set the record straight. Were they complicit in the Bush Administration’s violation of the law?
Was I beamed to DU, Kos or HuffPo?
Bush defends NSA spying program (2006)
Senators back hearings as president explains campaign remarks
WASHINGTON (CNN) — President Bush on Sunday defended his administration’s use of wiretaps on U.S. citizens without a court order, saying comments he made in 2004 that “nothing has changed” in the use of wiretaps were not misleading.
He also said that the recent exposure of the clandestine wiretapping program — which set off a storm of criticism and controversy — harms the country.
Democratic and Republican senators on Sunday expressed support for congressional hearings to review the program, which President Bush secretly authorized shortly after the September 11 attacks.
It allows the National Security Agency to intercept domestic communications without a warrant, as long as one party is outside the United States.
The president has come under heated criticism from many lawmakers, particularly Democrats, who have questioned the legality of the program.
Critics say that judicial checks and balances are a critical part of government and that the courts have a record of supporting presidential requests for wiretaps important for U.S. security.
Bush on Sunday described his program as “necessary to win this war and to protect the American people,” and added that the program has been reviewed “constantly” by Justice Department officials.
He said Congress has been briefed about it, although some lawmakers have denied being informed of the program.
not only that but Democrats voted for the war in Iraq
I’ll take Dick Cheney’s word over anything I’ve ever seen in Salon. He has more honor and love of country in his lower left incisor than Obama has in his entire wretched body.
Coincidentally. I have been looking again at “The Winds of War.” which depicts FDR acting in plain violation of existing law. It would also not surprise me to learn that the FBI had a wiretap on every American with known connections with Germany. War aint beanbag.
My German-American Grandmother took in boarders during WWII for extra money. One was a young man in his late twenties. After a month or so living there, he came out and told them that he was an FBI agent and that they had passed with flying colors.
if this guy want to prosecute people for not following rules, how about start with Obama and the Democratic party for electing an illegal immigrant to the office of president?
Or is it we are to pick and choose which rules need to be followed and which are not important?
If so, seems a whole lot more important to eavesdrop and protect the US citizens, than it is to allow foreigners to infiltrate our country, to be elected to office, and to give amnesty to any foreigner person on the planet to vote against the US citizens interests, like the democratic party is doing right now!
A warrant is not required to tap the lines of an AQ operative in Afghanistan talking to another AQ operative in Saudi Arabia when the call happens to be switched through an American router.
That's not domestic spying. Neither of those dudes has rights under the constitution.
So you're tapping the phone of said AQ dude in Afghanistan, when suddently he calls his illegal immigrant buddy Achmed in Detroit. Is it legal to tap said phone call?
I sure hope so!
Says who? The writer of this column? He makes this statement without backing it up with any proof. It seems like more of the same from the libs, repeat a lie often enough and it becomes the truth.
a police don’t need a warrent to enter a house if he see someone breaking into a house. Its the same principle. The police can’t just lie and say he saw someone breaking into the house. In that case he is abusing his power thus illegal. Bush can’t just wiretap anyone he wants without cause related to Al Qaeda terrorism. An abused would be like Britian PM who used his country terrorism law by locking out an ireland bank on issues not related to terrorism
I noticed the Rat leaders were all for this illegal activity, so I can assume that they will continue this policy & perhaps expand it.
If I recall, the Rats don't regard Hamas or Hezbollah as terrorists, Mumia Abu Jamal does not deserve jail for killing a cop, & Code Pink & ACORN are patriotic organizations. Oh, & the gitmo slugs are not so much terrorists as just plain ol’ criminals who deserve all the benefits of our judicial system.
On the other hand, they believe US Marines are cold blooded murderers, as is the President, Christians are hatemongers, & Israel is a racist state, as are all white people. The heroes of the left - Castro, Chavez, Carter, Hollywood - have all identified GWB & the USA as being the real terrorists.
Seems to me that now that the Rats have the White House & Congress, the idea of who is or is not a terrorist might very well change. Those we consider patriots might be the next “terrorists”.
So, let us all hope the illegal surveillance continues! Right? The gov’t (especially the Rats) would never use this against political or ideological opponents! Right? It will ONLY be use to catch terrorists! Right?
But, just WHO is a terrorist in the eyes of Obama, Reid, & Pelosi? Hamas or Israel? Al Qaeda or the US Marines? A Christian or a queer?
Coming soon to a communication device near you!
To read the best post on FR of the day, please look above at Mister Da’s comment.
I just have to laugh, though it isnt funny at all. Just think boys and girls, the mighty zero and company, (corrupt Chicago style, knuckle dragging liberal politicians) now have the reigns of ALL the stuff Bush instituted to protect the US from terrorism....not a pretty picture.