And a Merry Christmas
I should be back to regular posting come Monday. Probably nothing over the weekend. Spend some time with your family and step away from the computer.
As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."
If I can understand correctly, a major point by the Administration's apologists on the whole illegal spying issue is that the President was given the authority to do this in the Authorization to Use Military Force law of September 14, 2001. The law gave the President power to use force against Al Qaeda. He says it gave him the power to do anything he basically wants, so long as it has the fig leaf of defending America against terrorists.
As Senate majority leader at the time, I helped negotiate that law with the White House counsel's office over two harried days. I can state categorically that the subject of warrantless wiretaps of American citizens never came up. I did not and never would have supported giving authority to the president for such wiretaps. I am also confident that the 98 senators who voted in favor of authorization of force against al Qaeda did not believe that they were also voting for warrantless domestic surveillance.
On the evening of Sept. 12, 2001, the White House proposed that Congress authorize the use of military force to "deter and pre-empt any future acts of terrorism or aggression against the United States." Believing the scope of this language was too broad and ill defined, Congress chose instead, on Sept. 14, to authorize "all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations or persons [the president] determines planned, authorized, committed or aided" the attacks of Sept. 11. With this language, Congress denied the president the more expansive authority he sought and insisted that his authority be used specifically against Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda.
Just before the Senate acted on this compromise resolution, the White House sought one last change. Literally minutes before the Senate cast its vote, the administration sought to add the words "in the United States and" after "appropriate force" in the agreed-upon text. This last-minute change would have given the president broad authority to exercise expansive powers not just overseas -- where we all understood he wanted authority to act -- but right here in the United States, potentially against American citizens. I could see no justification for Congress to accede to this extraordinary request for additional authority. I refused.
There is not a single bit of authority in any of this for the absurd and dangerous proposition that the President has the right to violate a criminal law passed by Congress. Period. The Administration is trotting out lawyers to make legalistic arguments designed to cloud this extremely clear issue, but none of that can change the fact that Bush defenders are arguing that he has the right to enage in conduct which Congress made it a crime to engage in, and there is nothing in the law which gives a President that right. To the contrary, as one would expect, it has been repeatedly made clear that under our system of Government, the President does not possess the authoritarian right to engage in behavior which Congress expressly prohibits under the law.
So now we have an Orange Revolution-style street protest in the wake of that PERFECT election last week in Iraq:
BAGHDAD, Iraq - Large demonstrations broke out across the country Friday to denounce parliamentary elections that protesters say were rigged in favor of the main religious Shiite coalition...
Several hundred thousand people demonstrated after noon prayers in southern Baghdad Friday, many carrying banners decrying last week's elections. Many Iraqis outside the religious Shiite coalition allege that the elections were unfair to smaller Sunni Arab and secular Shiite groups.
"We refuse the cheating and forgery in the elections," one banner read.
Gunmen Friday attacked an Iraqi army checkpoint in the city of Adhaim, in religiously and ethnically mixed Diyala province, killing eight soldiers and wounding seventeen, an Iraqi army officer said on condition he not be identified for fear of reprisal.
"There were too many to count," said Akid, a 20-year-old soldier from Diwanayah being treated for gunshot wounds to both thighs. "They tried to kill everybody."
Akid, who would only give his first name for fear of reprisal, said his battalion of about 600 men had already suffered over 250 desertions after a Dec. 3 ambush in Adhaim killed 19 Iraqi soldiers.
"They gave up," he said. "They said, 'The hell with this.'"
I don't know if everyone is feeling the same as I do, but crowing about a "great couple weeks for Democrats" when all we did was forestall (in most cases temporarily) a bunch of far right programs doesn't add up to much. Sure, it's great to save ANWR, or stop the Patriot Act and the reverse-Robin hood budget for a few weeks, but this is playing defense. I understand that without power in Washington, this is what's going to have to stand in for victory, a fact that has seemed to escape Ron Brownstein in today's thumbsucker piece in the LA Times. However, leading into 2006, there's a tremendous opportunity for House Democrats to lead, force a real agenda, and raise awareness throughout the first month of the year.
Not much blogging to be had for moi.
You really need a criminal law degree to understand the modern Republican Party. First, Abramoff's flipping.
Jack Abramoff, the Republican lobbyist under indictment for fraud in South Florida, is expected to complete a plea agreement in the Miami criminal case, setting the stage for him to become a crucial witness in a broad federal corruption investigation, people with direct knowledge of the case said.
But after a lengthy bargaining phase, Mr. Abramoff's lawyers and prosecutors in the Florida case appear closer to resolving several of the central issues in the plea deal, in which the defendant would receive a reduced prison sentence - most likely in the range of five to seven years, though that is fluid - in exchange for pleading guilty and agreeing to testify against his former associates [...]
Prosecutors in Washington have been sifting through evidence of what they believe is a corruption scheme involving at least a dozen lawmakers and their former staff members, many of whom worked closely on legislation with Mr. Abramoff and accepted gifts and favors from him. Although Mr. Abramoff is also in negotiations in that case, it is unclear whether a settlement can be reached in time for both agreements to be announced at once.
Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald is not expected to shut down his investigation into the leak of covert CIA officer Valerie Plame Wilson when he finishes his inquiry of White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove's role in the leak, lawyers close to the probe said.
These sources indicated that if a grand jury returns an indictment against Rove it will include -- at the very least -- a charge that he made false statements to Justice Department and FBI investigators when he was first interviewed about his role in the case in October 2003.
The investigation is expected to shift back to top officials in the Office of the Vice President, the State Department and the National Security Council, and may even shed some light on the genesis of the Niger forgeries, lawyers close to the case say. The forged documents, cited in President Bush's 2003 State of the Union address, claimed Iraq sought yellowcake uranium from the African country. It may also reveal how key players in the White House decided to expose Plame's undercover status and top secret front company, Brewster Jennings.
Separately, these people said, the FBI's renewed interest in probing the Niger forgeries grew out of Fitzgerald's probe.
Several members of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court said in interviews that they want to know why the administration believed secretly listening in on telephone calls and reading e-mails of U.S. citizens without court authorization was legal. Some of the judges said they are particularly concerned that information gleaned from the president's eavesdropping program may have been improperly used to gain authorized wiretaps from their court.
"The questions are obvious," said U.S. District Judge Dee Benson of Utah. "What have you been doing, and how might it affect the reliability and credibility of the information we're getting in our court?"
Such comments underscored the continuing questions among judges about the program, which most of them learned about when it was disclosed last week by the New York Times. On Monday, one of 10 FISA judges, federal Judge James Robertson, submitted his resignation -- in protest of the president's action, according to two sources familiar with his decision. He will maintain his position on the U.S. District Court here.
The judges could, depending on their level of satisfaction with the answers, demand that the Justice Department produce proof that previous wiretaps were not tainted, according to government officials knowledgeable about the FISA court. Warrants obtained through secret surveillance could be thrown into question. One judge, speaking on the condition of anonymity, also said members could suggest disbanding the court in light of the president's suggestion that he has the power to bypass the court.
My answer is pretty tentative, but here it goes: Although it hinges somewhat on technical details we don't know, it seems that the program was probably constitutional but probably violated the federal law known as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
And the trickle trickle of lies and coverups begins to flow:
A surveillance program approved by President Bush to conduct eavesdropping without warrants has captured what are purely domestic communications in some cases, despite a requirement by the White House that one end of the intercepted conversations take place on foreign soil, officials say.
The officials say the National Security Agency's interception of a small number of communications between people within the United States was apparently accidental, and was caused by technical glitches at the National Security Agency in determining whether a communication was in fact "international."
National security and telecommunications experts said that even if the N.S.A. seeks to adhere closely to the rules that Mr. Bush has set, the logistics of the program may make it difficult to ensure that the rules are being followed.
With roaming cellphones, internationally routed e-mail, and voice-over Internet technology, "it's often tough to find out where a call started and ended," said Robert Morris, a former senior scientist at the N.S.A. who is retired. "The N.S.A. is good at it, but it's difficult even for them. Where a call actually came from is often a mystery."
My friendly neighborhood troll has rebutted the unequivocal criminal conduct of warrantless spying in the White House by selectively mentioning a Washington Post poll that wasn't even in the field when the story broke. What that has to do with criminal conduct in the White House is beyond me, but I expect it was just a typical contrarian attempt to muddy the waters.
Which brings me to this point. Gallup does terrific work. But I found it odd that they had Bush at 41 immeidately after the Iraq elections--down insignificantly from 42 in their pre-election poll. Bush didn't benefit--even a little bit--from the success of those elections and the favorable media coverage that followed? Certainly possible, but I find it hard to believe.
If Jack Abramoff flips it's going to make Plamegate look like a jaywalking ticket:
Jack Abramoff, the Republican lobbyist under criminal investigation, has been discussing with prosecutors a deal that would grant him a reduced sentence in exchange for testimony against former political and business associates, people with detailed knowledge of the case say.
Mr. Abramoff is believed to have extensive knowledge of what prosecutors suspect is a wider pattern of corruption among lawmakers and Congressional staff members. One participant in the case who insisted on anonymity because of the sensitivity of the negotiations described him as a "unique resource."
I'm with Ezra Klein and loads of others in thinking that this was a massive data mining operation, in which hosts of phone calls, emails, etc. were intercepted and randomly analyzed, perhaps through a computer program, for keywords, patterns, and particular phrases. This is why Sen. Rockefeller's letter refers to his not being "a technician" in being able to determine the legality. The technology already exists to do this quickly and quietly. Here's Ezra's reaction:
In that way, they are spying domestically, but the untargeted nature of the program makes the very concept of a warrant meaningless.
That doesn't mean they don't need a law. America is not ruled by executive whim, instinct, or fiat. If the post-9/11 moment compelled Bush to immediately authorize this program, the intervening four years offered him plenty of time to seek statutory authority for it. His lame protestations that codifying the operation would tip terrorists off to our fishing expeditions are irrelevant -- that same argument militates against reauthorization of the PATRIOT Act (why let them know the "wall" is down?) and passage of the intelligence bills. Terrorist elements already have a hunch we're monitoring them; shredding our government's checks and balances is too high a price for such a low reward.
Today John Cornyn said the most thuddingly stupid thing I've ever seen in print.
“None of your civil liberties matter much after you’re dead,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), a former judge and close ally of the president who sits on the Judiciary Committee.
Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), who has led a bipartisan filibuster against a reauthorization of the Patriot Act, quoted Patrick Henry, an icon of the American Revolution, in response: “Give me liberty or give me death.”
He called Cornyn’s comments “a retreat from who we are and who we should be.”
We have to stop this practice of stuffing unrelated items into appropriations bills. This epidemic has been poisoning the legislative branch for years, and it's gotten completely out of hand. Witness this week, where the House has run amok, forcing its members to vote on key bills without knowing what's in them:
The House Republican Leadership has announced its intention to have the House vote today on conference reports on a budget-cut “reconciliation” bill (S. 1932) and the defense appropriation bill (H.R. 2863) under a procedure known as “martial law.” The Leadership’s proposal to invoke martial law has already been debated on the House floor and will be voted on later today.
* Just before midnight on Sunday, December 18, the House adopted the “martial law rule” that allowed the leadership to bring up the conference report on the reconciliation bill shortly after the conference report was finalized, without waiting until the next legislative day as required by House rules.
* At 1:12 a.m. on Monday, December 19, the 774 page conference report on the reconciliation spending cut bill was filed in the House.
* At 5:43 a.m. Monday morning, after less than 40 minutes of debate on the measure, the House began the final vote on the reconciliation spending cut bill.
Under this procedure, longstanding House rules that require at least one day between the unveiling of significant legislation and the House floor vote on that legislation are swept away. Instead, under “martial law,” the Leadership can file legislation with hundreds of pages of fine print and move immediately to debate and votes on it, before Members of Congress, the media, or the public have an opportunity to understand fully what provisions have been altered or inserted in the legislation behind closed doors. This is the procedure the Leadership hopes to use today to muscle through these bills.
Senate Republicans prepared a targeted version of the so-called “nuclear option” yesterday as they tried to ensure adoption of a defense-spending conference report that includes a controversial provision opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to oil and gas drilling.
The tactic promises to make the consensus-based Senate temporarily resemble the majority-dominated House.
The ANWR provision leaves the measure open to a point of order because it runs afoul of Senate Rule 28, which requires that conference reports contain only provisions that were included in either the House- or Senate-passed versions of the bill.
The president of the Senate, who rules on parliamentary questions, would be expected to uphold the point of order. But Republican leaders plan to appeal that ruling, allowing 51 senators — rather than the 60-vote majority typically needed to waive points of order — to allow the ANWR provision to stand.
Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), the chairman of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee and the chief proponent of ANWR drilling, included a provision to ensure that the precedent set by the move would not become permanent. Under that language, the Senate would revert the precedent that existed at the start of the 109th Congress.
It is possible that Stevens, who is president pro tempore of the Senate, could preside over the proceedings on a point of order, according to Amy Call, spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist.
The case of intelligent design, which has already been subject in Dover, Pennsylvania, to electoral analysis (all 8 school members who argued for the taching of intelligent design were voted off the board in November), has now been struck down after judicial review:
"Intelligent design" is "a religious alternative masquerading as a scientific theory" and cannot be mentioned in biology classes in a Pennsylvania public school district, a federal judge said Tuesday, ruling in one of the biggest courtroom clashes on evolution since the 1925 Scopes trial.
Dover Area School Board members violated the Constitution when they ordered that its biology curriculum must include the notion that life on Earth was produced by an unidentified intelligent cause, U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III said.
“We find that the secular purposes claimed by the Board amount to a pretext for the Board’s real purpose, which was to promote religion in the public school classroom,” he wrote in his 139-page opinion.
April 20, 2004 (incidentally, the start date of this blog):
PRESIDENT BUSH: ...there are such things as roving wiretaps. Now, by the way, any time you hear the United States government talking about wiretap, it requires-a wiretap requires a court order. Nothing has changed, by the way. When we're talking about chasing down terrorists, we're talking about getting a court order before we do so. It's important for our fellow citizens to understand, when you think Patriot Act, constitutional guarantees are in place when it comes to doing what is necessary to protect our homeland, because we value the Constitution.
THE PRESIDENT: A couple of things that are very important for you to understand about the Patriot Act. First of all, any action that takes place by law enforcement requires a court order. In other words, the government can't move on wiretaps or roving wiretaps without getting a court order.
The New York Times first debated publishing a story about secret eavesdropping on Americans as early as last fall, before the 2004 presidential election.
But the newspaper held the story for more than a year and only revealed the secret wiretaps last Friday, when it became apparent a book by one of its reporters was about to break the news, according to journalists familiar with the paper's internal discussions.
That's what the President sent out to the New York Times: "Save My Skin." He even allowed them what he wouldn't for 5 years: a personal visit. Jonathan Alter reports:
No wonder Bush was so desperate that The New York Times not publish its story on the National Security Agency eavesdropping on American citizens without a warrant, in what lawyers outside the administration say is a clear violation of the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. I learned this week that on December 6, Bush summoned Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger and executive editor Bill Keller to the Oval Office in a futile attempt to talk them out of running the story. The Times will not comment on the meeting, but one can only imagine the president’s desperation.
The problem was not that the disclosures would compromise national security, as Bush claimed at his press conference. His comparison to the damaging pre-9/11 revelation of Osama bin Laden’s use of a satellite phone, which caused bin Laden to change tactics, is fallacious; any Americans with ties to Muslim extremists—in fact, all American Muslims, period—have long since suspected that the U.S. government might be listening in to their conversations. Bush claimed that “the fact that we are discussing this program is helping the enemy.” But there is simply no evidence, or even reasonable presumption, that this is so. And rather than the leaking being a “shameful act,” it was the work of a patriot inside the government who was trying to stop a presidential power grab.
No, Bush was desperate to keep the Times from running this important story—which the paper had already inexplicably held for a year—because he knew that it would reveal him as a law-breaker. He insists he had “legal authority derived from the Constitution and congressional resolution authorizing force.” But the Constitution explicitly requires the president to obey the law. And the post 9/11 congressional resolution authorizing “all necessary force” in fighting terrorism was made in clear reference to military intervention. It did not scrap the Constitution and allow the president to do whatever he pleased in any area in the name of fighting terrorism.
Several senior government officials say that when the special operation first began, there were few controls on it and little formal oversight outside the N.S.A. The agency can choose its eavesdropping targets and does not have to seek approval from Justice Department or other Bush administration officials. Some agency officials wanted nothing to do with the program, apparently fearful of participating in an illegal operation, a former senior Bush administration official said. Before the 2004 election, the official said, some N.S.A. personnel worried that the program might come under scrutiny by Congressional or criminal investigators if Senator John Kerry, the Democratic nominee, was elected president.
I don't favor impeachment in the domestic spying case at this time. There, I've said it. I respect the opinion of Barbara Boxer, and particularly John Dean, on this matter:
On Sunday, December 18, former White House Counsel John Dean and I participated in a public discussion that covered many issues, including this surveillance. Mr. Dean, who was President Nixon’s counsel at the time of Watergate, said that President Bush is “the first President to admit to an impeachable offense.” Today, Mr. Dean confirmed his statement.
July 17, 2003
Dear Mr. Vice President,
I am writing to reiterate my concern regarding the sensitive intelligence issues we discussed today with the DCI, DIRNSA, and Chairman Roberts and our House Intelligence Committee counterparts.
Clearly the activities we discussed raise profound oversight issues. As you know, I am neither a technician or an attorney. Given the security restrictions associated with this information, and my inability to consult staff or counsel on my own, I feel unable to fully evaluate, much less endorse these activities.
As I reflected on the meeting today, and the future we face, John Poindexter's TIA project sprung to mind, exacerbating my concern regarding the direction the Administration is moving with regard to security, technology, and surveiliance.
Without more information and the ability to draw on any independent legal or techical expertise, I simply cannot satisfy lingering concerns raised by the briefing we received.
I am retaining a copy of this letter in a sealed envelope in the secure spaces of the Senate Intelligence Committee to ensure that I have a record of this communication.
I appreciate your consideration of my views.
I had to break the law because Al Qaeda has CSPAN!
Responding to Gonzales' claim, Wisconsin Sen. Russell Feingold (D) said on NBC's Today Show: "Nobody, nobody, thought when we passed a resolution to invade Afghanistan and to fight the war on terror, including myself who voted for it, thought that this was an authorization to allow a wiretapping against the law of the United States."
"There's two ways you can do this kind of wiretapping under our law. One is through the criminal code, Title III; the other is through the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. That's it. That's the only way you can do it. You can't make up a law and deriving it from the Afghanistan resolution.
Here's some of the delightful shit the government has concerned itself with in the name of fighting terrorism over the past few months. In light of the fact that we are now being told to calm down, that this domestic spying thing was just about Al Qaeda, let's go through these and see what kind of credibility such a claim raises, shall we?
There can be no doubt about where this is going. This administration has asserted a doctrine of unfettered executive power in "wartime" that will not confine itself to "suspected terrorists" as we understand them. Everything we know about human nature --- and particularly about the nature of this modern Republican party --- says that these powers will be used for domestic political purposes. That they felt they had to do this (even though they can monitor anyone they choose immediately as long as they make an application for a FISA review within 72 hours) can only raise suspicions that this is what they were doing. Coming on the heels of the pentagon spying story, you have to have overdosed on kool-aid not to wonder why they refuse to show the secret FISA court who they are monitoring.
Read this. The guy has thousands of notebooks filled with every single thing he's done for the last 28 years. I don't think he'd "misremember" anything about any meeting with Dick Cheney on domestic spying, as a senior official claimed in today's WaPo story.
Tonight's words by the President played like a greatest hits reel of his new approach honed over the last several weeks: a tone of conciliation and acknowledgement, a vow that other voices will be listened to, and then a forging ahead of the exact same policy that got us into this mess in the first place. It's so easy to placate the Beltway media establishment: just throw a few rhetorical nods at bipartisanship their way and they salivate. In truth, the sum total of the speech was "We're doing what we've been doing, what we've been doing is working, so shut up and trust me.
Suspected polling violations on voting day last week far exceeded the number in Iraq's first election in January, local and international monitors said yesterday.
On the deadline for filing complaints, the number of alleged violations which could swing results in the 275-seat parliament was "well into double figures", an accredited international election observer, who wished to remain anonymous, said.
Secular Arab parties have accused the Shia religious bloc, which dominates the current government, of intimidating voters in Baghdad and many southern cities.
At the Sharqia high school in central Baghdad, which was used as a polling station, a senior election official was said to have asked voters if they were going to vote for 555. Unless they said yes, they were not given ballot papers.
A source close to Mr Allawi's campaign said that in one Baghdad polling station "around 600 men, some with walkie-talkies and purple ink on their fingers showing they had already voted, forced their way in. When the manager tried to stop them asking for ballot papers, they threatened to put him in a car boot and drive him away ... He let them in."
After the President, who a day earlier said he wouldn't discuss an ongoing investigative operation, came out yesterday and said "Yeah, we're spying on Americans without a warrant, and what are you going to do about it," the conservative noise machine leapt to his defense. Dana Rohrabacher, proving he's not just a terrible screenwriter but a terrible Congressman too, claimed that "We should be grateful" that the President is doing this because otherwise we'd all be dead, I guess. He specifically cited this Iyman Farris plot to "blow up" the Brooklyn Bridge, which was actually a plot to dismantle the Brooklyn bridge with blow torches. I guess the NYPD wouldn't have noticed that seven-year project. Bob Barr debated Rohrabacher on CNN and tossed out some gems:
BARR: Here again, this is absolutely a bizarre conversation where you have a member of Congress saying that it's okay for the president of the United States to ignore U.S. law, to ignore the Constitution, simply because we are in an undeclared war.
The fact of the matter is the law prohibits -- specifically prohibits -- what apparently was done in this case, and for a member of Congress to say, oh, that doesn't matter, I'm proud that the president violated the law is absolutely astounding, Wolf.
BARR: Well, gee, I guess then the president should be able to ignore whatever provision in the Constitution as long as there's something after the fact that justifies it.
Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wisc., believes President Bush is acting more like a sovereign monarch than an elected leader by authorizing the National Security Agency to listen in on Americans' phone calls.
"We have a system of law," Feingold said. "He just can't make up the law … It would turn George Bush not into President George Bush, but King George Bush." [...]
Feingold, the only senator who initially opposed the Patriot Act, which was designed to protect Americans from terrorism, said that the spying is indicative of a "pattern of abuse" including torture and secret prisons. The president, Feingold said is "grabbing too much power."
A high-ranking intelligence official with firsthand knowledge said in an interview yesterday that Vice President Cheney, then-Director of Central Intelligence George J. Tenet and Michael V. Hayden, then a lieutenant general and director of the National Security Agency, briefed four key members of Congress about the NSA's new domestic surveillance on Oct. 25, 2001, and Nov. 14, 2001, shortly after Bush signed a highly classified directive that eliminated some restrictions on eavesdropping against U.S. citizens and permanent residents.
In describing the briefings, administration officials made clear that Cheney was announcing a decision, not asking permission from Congress. How much the legislators learned is in dispute.
Former senator Bob Graham (D-Fla.), who chaired the Senate intelligence committee and is the only participant thus far to describe the meetings extensively and on the record, said in interviews Friday night and yesterday that he remembers "no discussion about expanding [NSA eavesdropping] to include conversations of U.S. citizens or conversations that originated or ended in the United States" -- and no mention of the president's intent to bypass the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
"I came out of the room with the full sense that we were dealing with a change in technology but not policy," Graham said, with new opportunities to intercept overseas calls that passed through U.S. switches. He believed eavesdropping would continue to be limited to "calls that initiated outside the United States, had a destination outside the United States but that transferred through a U.S.-based communications system."
Graham said the latest disclosures suggest that the president decided to go "beyond foreign communications to using this as a pretext for listening to U.S. citizens' communications. There was no discussion of anything like that in the meeting with Cheney."
The high-ranking intelligence official, who spoke with White House permission but said he was not authorized to be identified by name, said Graham is "misremembering the briefings," which in fact were "very, very comprehensive." The official declined to describe any of the substance of the meetings, but said they were intended "to make sure the Hill knows this program in its entirety, in order to never, ever be faced with the circumstance that someone says, 'I was briefed on this but I had no idea that -- ' and you can fill in the rest."
By Graham's account, the official said, "it appears that we held a briefing to say that nothing is different . . . . Why would we have a meeting in the vice president's office to talk about a change and then tell the members of Congress there is no change?"
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), who was also present as then ranking Democrat of the House intelligence panel, said in a statement yesterday evening that the briefing described "President Bush's decision to provide authority to the National Security Agency to conduct unspecified activities." She said she "expressed my strong concerns" but did not elaborate.
No president before Bush mounted a frontal challenge to Congress's authority to limit espionage against Americans. In a Sept. 25, 2002, brief signed by then-Attorney General John D. Ashcroft, the Justice Department asserted "the Constitution vests in the President inherent authority to conduct warrantless intelligence surveillance (electronic or otherwise) of foreign powers or their agents, and Congress cannot by statute extinguish that constitutional authority."