White House Uses Its Own Illegal Conduct To Wage Political Offensive Over FISA Legislation

Earlier today, the White House rejected an agreement that had been struck between congressional leaders and the Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell to make changes to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), opting instead to launch a fresh political offensive over its spying activities. House Intelligence Chairman Silvestre Reyes (D-TX) explained to CQ (sub. req.) the administration pushed for more changes after Democrats reached an agreement with McConnell:

“DNI McConnell told us, ‘We need these three things.’ We gave them to him. Then he turned around and said, ‘Well, I have some other concerns.'”

Spencer Ackerman reports that the White House weighed in and overruled McConnell’s agreement with the congressional leaders. Bush declared today that he was “going to ask Congress to stay in session until they pass a bill” to his liking. The White House communications department then spammed reporters with “fact sheets” and emails about “why America needs FISA reform now.”

A central reason for the rush to push FISA legislation through Congress was revealed by House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) during an appearance on Fox News earlier this week when he made reference to a secret legal opinion declaring “a key element of the Bush administration’s wiretapping efforts illegal.” “There’s been a ruling, over the last four or five months, that prohibits the ability of our intelligence services and our counterintelligence people” Boehner told Fox News anchor Neil Cavuto. Watch it:

In the decision, a “judge, whose name could not be learned, concluded early this year that the government had overstepped its authority in attempting to broadly surveil communications between two locations overseas that are passed through routing stations in the United States.” The legislation hammered out with McConnell fixes the holes created by the ruling, but the congressional leadership rejects “the administration’s insistence that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales be given an expanded role to oversee the program.”

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), the Chairman of the Intelligence Committee, said “the administration proposal to grant Gonzales greater authority ‘is simply unacceptable’” in light of “allegations that the embattled attorney general has misled Congress about legal disputes over the surveillance program.”

After illegally conducting the spying program, the White House and surrogates like Boehner are using the FISA legislation to score political points. Tell Congress not to cave in to fear by rubber stamping a spying program without proper oversight HERE.

UPDATE: Marty Lederman and Jack Balkin explain the details of the legislation and the White House’s opposition. The AP reports the White House and congressional leaders have broken off talks.