If All Scandals Could Die Like This...
Despite the best efforts of Mr. "We will fuck him!" and The Shootist, the illegal NSA wiretapping story is not going anywhere. It certainly didn't look that way around the end of last week, when Pat "The Loyal Soldier" Roberts and Mike DeWine appeared all set to sweep the story under the rug. Strongarming from The Shootist and others even got Chuck Hagel and Olympia Snowe to change their vote in the Senate Intelligence Committee, allowing it to adjourn without considering an investigation. DeWine said "we don’t want to have any kind of debate about whether it’s constitutional or not constitutional." Probably because it isn't. But at any rate, it appeared that the Senate would abdicate, that the penalty for breaking a federal statute would be getting a new law passed saying you're allowed to do it.
And then Glenn Greenwald noticed a pattern over the weekend:
The supplemental claim we hear most from the Administration is that this scandal is dying. It will all fade away with some nice legislation designed to render legal the President's four years of deliberate law-breaking. But the NSA scandal continues to dominate the news. Every day brings more conflicts, more disputes, more internecine fighting among Republicans. Indeed, Republicans are all fighting with each other on virtually every aspect of this scandal - when have we ever seen that?
Just review media reports on this scandal over the last 24 hours alone. Does this sound like an Administration that welcomes this scandal as something that is politically beneficial?
Greenwald goes on to cite articles from The Washington Post and The New York Times which depict a frazzled White House offering deals and making concessions to legislators to make sure the program doesn't get a full investigation. As Greenwald notes, that doesn't exactly sound like a group that is thrilled to have this debate heading into the midterms. Indeed they sound scared and desperate to stop it in its tracks, using the rhetoric of "this scandal is going away" and the bravado of "we want to know if Osama is calling somebody and you don't" as a mask.
And apparently, Snowe and Hagel, the moderate turncoats on the Intelligence Committee, want everyone to know that they have done no such thing:
Snowe earlier had expressed concerns about the program's legality and civil liberties safeguards, but Card was adamant about restricting congressional oversight and control, said the sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, citing office policies. Snowe seemed taken aback by Card's intransigence, and the call amounted to "a net step backward" for the White House, said a source outside Snowe's office.
Snowe contacted fellow committee Republican Chuck Hagel (Neb.), who also had voiced concerns about the program. They arranged a three-way phone conversation with Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.).
Until then, Roberts apparently thought he had the votes to defeat Rockefeller's motion in the committee, which Republicans control nine to seven, the sources said. But Snowe and Hagel told the chairman that if he called up the motion, they would support it, assuring its passage, the sources said. . . . .
Hagel and Snowe declined interview requests after the meeting, but sources close to them say they bridle at suggestions that they buckled under administration heat. The White House must engage "in good-faith negotiations" with Congress, Snowe said in a statement.
Now that's quite a turnaround. And it's not limited to them. Lindsay Graham defied his own majority leader by saying "you need to get some judicial review." Arlen Specter wants FISA to rule on the legality of the program. Even Doormat Roberts appeared to announce tht he wasn't satisfied with simply exempting the program from FISA. If you've lost that many members of the Intelligence and Judiciary and Homeland Security Committes, you can only hold out for so long. This President is at 39%, and his Shootist Veep is well below that. They don't have the kind of pull in an election year to bend the Congress to their will. Especially because the whole point of the controversy is that they willfully and deliberately ignored Congressional statute.
Greenwald finally calls attention to this op-ed from deep in the heart of Kansas:
Many Kansans, including members of The Eagle editorial board, have long admired Sen. Pat Roberts for his plainspokenness and reputation for fair brokering of issues.
So it's troubling that Roberts, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, is fast gaining the reputation in Washington, D.C., as a reliable partisan apologist for the Bush administration on intelligence and security controversies.
We hope that's not true. But Roberts' credibility is on the line. . . .
This week, Roberts sidetracked a Senate Intelligence Committee inquiry into the possibly illegal National Security Agency wiretap program, saying the White House had agreed to brief lawmakers more regularly and to work with him on a behind-the-scenes "fix" of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
That prompted a scathing New York Times editorial Friday headlined "Doing the President's Dirty Work," which opined: "Is there any aspect of President Bush's miserable record on intelligence that Senator Pat Roberts, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, is not willing to excuse and help to cover up?" . . .
But whether the law needs a "fix" is far from certain. Roberts' deal could thwart Congress' duty to learn more about and evaluate this program, while securing from the White House only a vague pledge to talk about fixing the law down the road. . . .
What's bothering many, though, is that Roberts seems prepared to write the Bush team a series of blank checks to conduct the war on terror, even to the point of ignoring policy mistakes and possible violations of law.
That's not oversight -- it's looking the other way.
Democrats have not exactly been vocal on this issue, but behind the scenes they have uniformly voted for additional investigation and oversight, not to mention doing a good job in the Torquemada Gonzales hearings. They could do a lot more, because there is simply no downside. There is no reason to sit on the rhetorical sidelines the way they did with the torture issue, allowing McCain to be the hero (this time it would be Hagel). The Rovian talk of "this will make you look weak" is a paper tiger. The Republicans up for election this year know it.
It's time to stand up for checks and balances and against the Imperial Preisdency. If not now, when? I have little trust that anyone but Future President Feingold will rise to this occasion.