Friday, February 17, 2006

NYT: The paper, like the Congress, can't wait to wear the "Kick Me!" sign

Leaders of the House Intelligence Committee said Thursday that they had agreed to open a Congressional inquiry prompted by the Bush administration's domestic surveillance program. But a dispute immediately broke out among committee Republicans over the scope of the inquiry.
Representative Heather A. Wilson, the New Mexico Republican and committee member who called last week for the investigation, said the review "will have multiple avenues, because we want to completely understand the program and move forward."
But an aide to Representative Peter Hoekstra, the Michigan Republican who leads the committee, said the inquiry would be much more limited in scope, focusing on whether federal surveillance laws needed to be changed and not on the eavesdropping program itself.
The agreement to conduct an inquiry came as the Senate Intelligence Committee put off a vote on conducting its own investigation after the White House, reversing course, agreed to open discussions about changing federal surveillance law. Senate Democrats accused Republicans of bowing to White House pressure.

The above is from Eric Lichtblau and Sheryl Gay Stolberg's "Accord in House to Hold Inquiry on Surveillance" in this morning's New York Times. And it's as though everyone in Congress has borrowed the "Kick Me!" sign that was thought to be permanently affixed to Joe Lieberman's back.

We've all seen this dance before. Bully Boy feigns interest in working together and then goes off and does what he wants. Congress is intent on stripping itself of power. Note this from the article:

Instead, the administration appears interested in a proposal by Senator Mike DeWine, Republican of Ohio, that would explicitly authorize the wiretapping, without court warrants, but create small Congressional subcommittees to oversee it.

Constitutional scholars agree Bully Boy's broken the law, the president at the time FISA was enacted, Jimmy Carter, calls Bully Boy's actions illegal. But instead of addressing that, the cowardly Congress is willing to once again give up their power to the Bully Boy ("Do whatever you want! Just like with Iraq!"). "You're breaking the law!" they seem to scream before adding, "So let us fix the law so you won't be breaking it!"

Going back to the article, note this paragraph:

Elsewhere on Thursday, a federal judge ordered the administration to begin turning over internal documents on the surveillance program, the Justice Department balked at having John Ashcroft, the former attorney general, and other former department officials testify about it before Congress, and lawyers for a Kentucky man prepared to bring a federal civil rights lawsuit on Friday against President Bush to have the surveillance declared illegal and unconstitutional.

That's a lot of information to pack into one sentence. But, like the priest asking Cher in Moonstruck to go back to one detail, what's that thing about John Ashcroft? Readers of the Times will have no idea if they understood that correctly or not because the paper's done with that bit of news after that paragraph.

So we turn to the Washington Post's Charles Babington and Carol D. Leonnig's "Senate Rejects Wiretapping Probe:"

The Bush administration helped derail a Senate bid to investigate a warrantless eavesdropping program yesterday after signaling it would reject Congress's request to have former attorney general John D. Ashcroft and other officials testify about the program's legality. The actions underscored a dramatic and possibly permanent drop in momentum for a congressional inquiry, which had seemed likely two months ago.
Senate Democrats said the Republican-led Congress was abdicating its obligations to oversee a controversial program in which the National Security Agency has monitored perhaps thousands of phone calls and e-mails involving U.S. residents and foreign parties without obtaining warrants from a secret court that handles such matters.

Those are the opening two paragraphs. What the Times wants to whisper as an aside and then drop is the opening in the Post. This is a major issue, though the Times isn't interested in covering it as such. (If they've written an editorial, visiters don't e-mail me and bore me with it. We focus on the reporting not the editorial posturing and it's harder and harder to see that as anything other than posturing when the reporters fail to note facts -- not opinions, facts -- that make it into the editorials but never make it into the reporting of the paper.) For anyone who's forgotten, this issue did come up at the hearings. At the hearings, Gonzales tried to weasel his way out but finally settled on that whether or not J-Ass was called before the Senate was the decision of "the chair" (Arlen Specter) and "the chair" was for calling Ashcroft at the time.

Long excerpt from Gonzales' testimony to the Senate:

SCHUMER: I understand. And you are doing your job.
And that's why I am requesting, as I have in the past, but renewing it here today, reaffirmed even more strongly by your testimony and everything else, that we invite these people, that we invite former Attorney General Ashcroft, Deputy Attorney General Comey, OLC Chair Goldsmith to this hearing and actually compel them to come if they won't on their own.
And as for privilege, I certainly...
SPECTER: If I may interrupt you for just one moment...
SCHUMER: Please.
SPECTER: ... you'll have extra time...
SCHUMER: Yes, thank you.
SPECTER: ... I think the record was in great shape where I left it at. If you bring in Attorney General Ashcroft, that's a critical step.
SPECTER: It wasn't that I hadn't thought of Mr. Comey and Mr. Goldsmith and other people, but I sought to leave the record with the agreement of the attorney general to bring in former Attorney General Ashcroft.
SCHUMER: Mr. Chairman, I respect that. I think others are important as well.
But I want to get to the issue of privilege here.
SPECTER: I'm not saying they aren't important. I'm just saying, what's the best way to get them here?
SCHUMER: OK. Well, whatever way we can, I'd be all for.
On privilege -- because that's going to be the issue, even if they come here, as I'm sure you will acknowledge, Mr. Chairman -- I take it you'd have no problem with them talking about their general views on the legality of this program, just as you are talking about those; not to go into the specific details of what happened back then, but their general views on the legality of these programs.
SCHUMER: Do you have any problem with that?
GONZALES: General views of the program that the president has confirmed, Senator, that's -- again, if we're talking about the general views of the...
SCHUMER: I just want them to be able to testify as freely as you've testified here, because it wouldn't be fair if you're an advocate of administration policies, you have one set of rules and if you're an opponent or a possible opponent of administration policies, you have another set of rules. That's not unfair, is it?
GONZALES: Sir, it's up to the chairman to...
SCHUMER: No, but would you or the administration -- you, as the chief legal officer -- have any problem with them testifying in the same way you did about general legal views of the program? GONZALES: I would defer to the chairman.
SCHUMER: I'm not asking you -- sir, in all due respect, I'm not asking you what the chairman thinks. He's doing a good job here, and I don't begrudge that one bit. GONZALES: Sir, my answer is...
SCHUMER: I'm asking you what the administration would think in terms of exercising any claim of privilege.
You're not going to have -- I'm sorry, here -- you're not going to have different rules for yourself, an administration advocate, then for these people who might be administration dissenters in one way or another, are you?
GONZALES: Sir, I don't know if you're asking what are they going to say...
SCHUMER: I'm not asking you that.
Would the rules be same? I think you answer that yes or no.
GONZALES: If they came to testify?
SCHUMER: Correct.
GONZALES: Well, sir, the client here is the president of the United States. I'm not sure it's in my place to offer...
SCHUMER: Or his chief...
GONZALES: ... up a position or my recommendation to you about what I might recommend to the president of the United States would not be appropriate here.
SCHUMER: What would be -- I just am asking you, as a very fine, well-educated lawyer, should or could the rules be any different for what you are allowed to say with privilege hovering over your head and what they are allowed to say with those same privileges hovering over their heads? Should the rules be any different?
If you can't say "yes" to that, then that's fundamentally unfair. It's saying that these hearings, or that -- it's saying really that the administration doesn't have the confidence to get out the whole truth.
GONZALES: Sir, my hesitation is, quite frankly, I haven't thought recently about the issue about former employees coming to testify about their legal analysis or their legal recommendations to their client, and that is the source of my hesitation.

For the record, the attorney general's "client" is not the Bully Boy. The attorney general's client is the United States of America. For those with short term memories or no memories at all, Janet Reno grasped the fact that not ready for the job now or ever Gonzales can't grasp: the "client" is the United States of America. That's whom the Justice Department and the Attorney General is supposed to serve. That's why Janet Reno didn't tell the idiotic Ken Starr, "Uh, sorry, my client is Bill Clinton! Go to hell you self-rightous prig!" (Though she may very well have wanted to tell him the latter statement.)

Also for the record, the chair, Arlen Specter (in his own troubles or mini-troubles, see next entry) agreed that J-Ass should be called. Back then Alberto Gonzales was trying his usual weasel manuever of not answering but did say it was the decision of the chair. These days? He's of the opinion that the Senate doesn't have the right or the power to call J-Ass. The Senate appears fine with that -- as a whole, some Democrats (such as Rockefeller) are objecting loudly and their objections are noted . . . just not in the New York Times that backed off this story a long time ago (and we pointed that out here). The Times, like the kick-me senators, thinks it can go light and easy and that some slack will be cut regarding the probe into how they came to break to the story (that they never wanted to break and that they were forced into breaking but a New Republican, who frequently writes for the Times as contract labor, has a fit if you bring that up and screams "tone!").

And for all the make nice efforts on the part of some senators, the White House reaction? From the Los Angeles Times, Greg Miller and "Spying Inquiry Blocked by GOP:"

"We maintain that the president does not need additional congressional authority," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said. But she said the administration was now willing to discuss a GOP proposal that contained "some good legislative concepts that would not undermine the president's ability to protect Americans."

Said as the "Kick Me!" sign is slapped on the back of the Congress. There was a time, believe or not, when regardless of who was in the oval office, Congress was determined not only to use their powers but to show that they had just as much say as any of the three branches. Those days are gone.

Rod gives us heads up to some scheduled topics for today's Democracy Now!:

* We will play an excerpt of the Australian news report that first broadcast
the new Abu Ghraib torture photos and video.
* We will also talk to journalist Mark Benjamin who obtained the new Abu
Ghraib torture photos for
* Alfred McCoy will discuss his new book, "A Question of Torture: CIA
Interrogation, from the Cold War to the War on Terror."

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