Wednesday, March 29, 2006

NYT: Eric Lichtblau covers the hearing on NSA spying by focusing on Robertson's letter

In a rare glimpse into the inner workings of the secretive court, known as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, several former judges who served on the panel also voiced skepticism at a Senate hearing about the president's constitutional authority to order wiretapping on Americans without a court order. They also suggested that the program could imperil criminal prosecutions that grew out of the wiretaps.
Judge Harold A. Baker, a sitting federal judge in Illinois who served on the intelligence court until last year, said the president was bound by the law "like everyone else." If a law like the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act is duly enacted by Congress and considered constitutional, Judge Baker said, "the president ignores it at the president's peril."

The above is from Eric Lichtblau's "Judges on Secretive Panel Speak Out on Spy Program" in this morning's New York Times. If you missed the Senate Judiciary Committee's hearing and want to listen, you can go to KPFA's archived broadcast of the coverage anchored by Larry Bensky yesterday (as always with Pacifica Radio, that broadcast is free, simply click on the link). That was the third hearing the Judiciary Committee has held and they are the only committee holding hearings.

What did you miss? If you read Lichtblau's article you're not aware that Specter whined a great deal. Including about Russ Feingold. Feingold, just back from Iraq, wants the vote on censure postponed, Specter's intent on holding it on Friday. You heard all of that and more from the mouth of Specter who whined and whined. He wanted to talk to Feingold after Feingold proposed the motion, he couldn't. The long whine.

You also heard a Democrat stab Feingold in the back over censure. Feingold, not present, was the topic more often than not. His proposal, which has strong support among non-elected Democrats, certainly has the attention of the committee, if not the support.

What was the purpose of the hearing? For Specter it appeared to be to rally support for his proposed legislation and to stroke his own ego. A point Lichtblau minimizes.

"Our hearing today will take up the legislation I have introduced," Specter declared in the opening remarks. That doesn't get quoted by Lichtblau. That was the purpose of the hearing.
Lichtblau does note a letter that is read in "parts." The letter was written by the judge who stepped down from the FISA court after the revelations (in the New York Times) about the warrantless, illegal spying on Americans. Lichtblau notes that the judge, James Robertson, has refused requests for interviews.

You also heard praise for Specter from the Democrats which sounded like a lot of little kids sucking up to a really flightly teacher in order to get out of doing their school work. "No, you are really cool! Tell us a story about . . ."

A lot went on, not a lot of it having to do with anything other than praise and self-praise. (Again, Feingold was absent from the hearing. A point Specter seemed obsessed with.)

Lichtblau writes that Robertson wrote: "Seeking judicial approval for government activities that implicate constitutional protections is, of course, the American way." Did he write that? That's not what Specter read (only the opening of the letter was read, the entire letter was placed in the record). Where Licthblau writes "constitutional protection," Specter read (from the letter) "constitution guaranetees."

Lichtblau also writes:

But Judge Robertson argued that the court should not conduct a "general review" of the surveillance operation, as Mr. Specter proposed. Instead, he said the court should rule on individual warrant applications for eavesdropping under the program lasting 45 or 90 days.

Specter didn't read that into the record. The entire letter was added to the record but whether or not that's in the letter, we'll have to take Lichtbau's word for it this morning.

The focus on a letter (of which only a few words were read in the hearing) probably has to do with the curiosity factor around Robertson -- why did he leave? But the article may imply to readers something other than what happened.

Why does it matter? It is the record (the letter). It matters because it's not really what happened. And that's an issue in the Washington Post today. Martha steers us to Dan Eggen's "Record Shows Senators' 'Debate' That Wasn't:"

According to the official Congressional Record of Dec. 21, 2005, Sens. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) and Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) held a long conversation on the Senate floor about an amendment bearing Graham's name that restricts the legal rights of detainees in the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
"I agree entirely," Graham responds to Kyl at one point. "I have just been handed a memorandum on this subject," Kyl says later. Another Republican senator, Sam Brownback of Kansas, interrupts the two with his own commentary.

But those exchanges never occurred. Instead, the debate -- which runs 15 pages and brims with conversational flourishes -- was inserted into the Congressional Record minutes before the Senate gave final approval to the legislation.

At any time, noting what actually happened, as opposed to what the record shows, is important; however, it's especially important at a time when things that did not happen are being added to the record.

Again, you can hear the hearing itself by accessing the KPFA archive of their broadcast. (We covered Miss Priss Instant Cuckoo yesterday, so if you missed Hatch's performance you go to this entry.)

Don't forget to listen, watch or read (transcripts) Democracy Now! today. Rod gives us a heads up to the scheduled topics:

* We look at the continuing demonstrations and student walkouts over immigration reform.
* We go to Israel to get the latest on the country's national elections.