Scott McClellan refuses to answer whether the White House instructed Reflections Photography to scrub its website of Bush-Abramoff photos.
Anyone who thinks that criticism of Bush’s warrantless surveillance program is a partisan issue should check out this exchange at the end of the hearing between Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) and Alberto Gonzales:
SPECTER: I don’t think you can use principle of avoiding a tough constitutional conflict by disagreeing with the plain words of the statute. Attorney General Gonzales, when members of Congress heard about your contention that the resolution authorizing the use of force amended the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act there was general shock.
GONZALES: We’ve never asserted that FISA has been amended. We’ve always asserted that our interpretation of FISA, which contemplates another statute and we have that here in the authorization to use force, those complement each other. this is not a situation where FISA has been overwritten or FISA has been amended. That’s never been our position.
SPECTER: That just defies logic and plain English.
Karl Rove wants to make warrantless domestic surveillance a partisan issue. But this isn’t about partisanship. It’s about respect for the Constitution and the rule of law.
This morning, ThinkProgress listed three questions that Alberto Gonzales needed to answer during today’s hearings. Question No. 3 read, “Can you guarantee this program has never “” either intentionally or unintentionally “” captured communications of political opponents or journalists?”
RawStory reports that Sen. Joseph Biden made a similar request today, asking Gonzales to guarantee the program had not been used to spy on innocent Americans with no connections to terrorism:
BIDEN: Can you assure us, General, you are fully, totally informed and confident that you know the absolute detail with which this program is being conducted? Can you assure us you personally can assure us no one is being eavesdropped upon in the United States other than — other than someone who has a communication that is emanating from foreign soil by a suspected terrorist, al Qaeda, or otherwise?
GONZALES: Sir, I can’t give you absolute assurance.
BIDEN: Who can?
GONZALES: Certainly General Hayden knows more about the operational details of this [program]. What I can give the American people assurance is that we have a number of safeguards in place so that we can say with a high degree of confidence or certainly certainty that what the president has authorized in connection with this program, that those procedures are being followed.
Gonzales tries to kick this question to former NSA Director Michael Hayden. But as ThinkProgress has noted, Hayden has been asked this question on at least three occassions and ducked it every time.
The White House released its 2007 budget today, and budget director Joshua Bolten unveiled a new website – ExpectMore.gov — that “allows taxpayers to review the [White House] assessments of nearly 800 federal programs.” “Here, you can see the exhaustive work that goes into each one of these assessments,” Bolten said at today’s press conference. “I expect that this website will be a useful tool for everyone who care about how tax dollars are spent.”
Their “exhaustive work” produced a delusion-riddled website that showcases the White House’s inability to assess its own problems and weaknesses. Katrina offers a real-world illustration of the new site’s inaccuracies:
The Department of Homeland Security’s Recovery program ensures that individuals and communities affected by disastes [SIC] of all sizes, including catastrophic and terrorist events, are able to return to normal function with minimal suffering and disruption of services. PERFORMING: Adequate (one star)
Reality — Reuters:
With no clear recovery plan in sight five months after Hurricane Katrina, many victims are simply hanging on, waiting anxiously for signs that their neighborhoods are either reviving or turning into permanent ghost towns.
Prepare Federal, state, and local responders to prevent, respond to, and recover from acts of terrorism by providing the tools to plan, conduct, and evaluate exercises. PERFORMING: Effective (three stars)
Reality — GAO:
Although the [National Response Plan] framework envisions a proactive national response in the event of a catastrophe, the nation does not yet have the types of detailed plans needed to better delineate capabilities that might be required and how such assistance will be provided and coordinated.
In his State of the Union address, President Bush claimed, “Previous Presidents have used the same constitutional authority I have, and federal courts have approved the use of that authority.”
Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) pressed Gonzales to determine whether there is any evidence to justify this claim:
FEINGOLD: Let me first ask, do you know of any other President who has authorized warrantless wiretaps outside of FISA, since 1978, when FISA was passed?
GONZALES: Um, none come to mind, Senator. But maybe — I would be happy to look to see whether or not that’s the case.
FEINGOLD: I can take it as a no unless you submit something?
GONZALES: I can’t give you an answer.
This is why we need congressional oversight so much — it forces the administration to face up to reality.
I forgot you can’t answer any questions that might be relevant…” – Sen. Pat Leahy, 2/6/06
Alberto Gonzales was asked today by Sen. Dianne Feinstein whether President Bush had the authority to engage in illegal covert propaganda within the United States. Gonzales stonewalled. Watch it:
FEINSTEIN: Can the president suspend, in secret or otherwise, the application of Section 503 of the National Security Act, which states that no covert action may be conducted which is intended to influence United States political processes, public opinion, policies or media? In other words, can he engage in otherwise illegal propaganda?
GONZALES: Senator, this will probably be my response to all of your questions of these kind of hypotheticals. Questions as to whether or not — can Congress pass a statute that is in tension with the President’s constitutional authority? Those are very, very difficult questions, and for me to answer those questions sort of off the cuff, I think would not be responsible.
Gonzales’ stonewalling is part of a trend. Top Bush officials have refused to publicly answer several critical questions about the warrantless domestic spying program, including whether the program has targeted journalists or political opponents.
Full transcript below: Read more
Lindsey Graham (R-SC) explains the danger of the administration’s legal position:
All I’m saying is the inherent authority argument in its application to me seems to have no boundaries when it comes to executive decisions in a time of war, it deals the Congress and courts out, Mr. Attorney General.
The problem isn’t that the administration is monitoring communications with al Qaeda. That is not only appropriate, it’s essential. The problem is that the legal underpinnings of this particular program, if accepted, would allow for unchecked executive authority.
No president should have unchecked authority, especially not this one.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) confronted Alberto Gonzales about Bush’s now-famous quote that “a wiretap requires a court order.” When confronted with the quote, Gonzales’ defense boiled down to “the President is not a lawyer.” Watch it:
Note to the Attorney General: The President took an oath to “faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States” and to the best of his ability, “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” No law degree is required.
Transcript below: Read more
No one disputes that the government needs to monitor all communications by Al Qaeda. During today’s hearing, Sen. Herb Kohl (D-WI) laid out the choices available to the administration to accomplish this –
Mr. Attorney General, if terrorists are operating in this country or people in this country are communicating with terrorists and of course we must collect whatever information we have, or that we can. To accomplish this, the administration had three options as you know:
First, it could have followed the current law which most experts believe gives you all the authority you need to listen to these calls.
Second, if you thought the law inadequate, you could have asked Congress to grant you additional authority.
Third — the course you followed — conduct warrantless spying outside current law and without new authorization.
Gonzales describes the situation as a choice between following the law (the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) and protecting America. Kohl helps demonstrate that is a false choice. We can do both.