WSJ Erroneously Claims Congress Could Have “Blown the Whistle” On Warrantless Spying

In an editorial defending President Bush’s use of warrantless wiretapping, the conservative Wall Street Journal argues that members of Congress should have blown the whistle on the program if they were concerned about the President overextending his executive power:

Key members of the relevant Congressional oversight committees were informed at least 12 times. “¦ In short, if there were any real abuses going on here, there were plenty of people in the loop and able to blow the whistle. [Wall Street Journal, 1/10/06]

The editorial ignores the fact that members of Congress were not allowed to discuss the program, either with their staff or other members, much less the public.

Senate Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Sen. John D. Rockefeller (D-WV) told Vice President Cheney that he was unable to discuss the program with his own legal counsel:

As you know, I am neither a technician nor 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. [Letter to the Vice President, 7/17/03]

Last month, Rockefeller pointed out that he also couldn’t tell other Intelligence Committee members:

The record needs to be set clear that the Administration never afforded members briefed on the program an opportunity to either approve or disapprove the NSA program. The limited members who were told of the program were prohibited by the Administration from sharing any information about it with our colleagues, including other members of the Intelligence Committees. [Press Release, 12/19/05]

And the President did not even inform former Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Bob Graham (D-FL) that the FISA courts would be circumvented:

I was not notified that they were going to abandon the FISA process and utilize warrantless intercepts of conversations. [Miami Herald, 12/21/05]

There was no opportunity for anyone “in the loop,” including Congress, to blow the whistle. That was a big part of the problem. The administration was violating the law without any oversight.