In an interview with Fox News’s Chris Wallace yesterday morning, Vice President Cheney defended the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program, and claimed that the congressional leaders briefed on the program wholeheartedly approved. In fact, Cheney claimed, when the White House asked if it needed congressional approval for the program, they unanimously agreed it did not:
CHENEY: We briefed them on the program and what we’d achieved and how it worked and asked them should we continue the program. They were unanimous, Republican and Democrat alike. All agreed: Absolutely essential to continue the program. I then said, Do we need to come to the Congress and get additional legislating authorization to continue what we’re doing? They said absolutely not. Don’t do it.
Cheney’s startling claims run directly counter to accounts by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV). Rather than asking for congressional input, Pelosi and Rockefeller said in 2005 that Cheney simply informed them of what was going on — and ignored their objections:
PELOSI: The Bush Administration considered these briefings to be notification, not a request for approval. As is my practice whenever I am notified about such intelligence activities, I expressed my strong concerns during these briefings.
ROCKEFELLER: 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.
Other congressional members who attended those briefings have said that they were told only the barest outlines of the program. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Jane Harman (D-CA) said that the White House never disclosed that it was skirting the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to eavesdrop on Americans without warrants. Former Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Sen. Bob Graham (D-FL) said the same thing:
The assumption was that if we did that, we would do it pursuant to the law, the law that regulates the surveillance of national security issues. And there was no suggestion that we were going to begin eavesdropping on United States citizens without following the full law. … There was no reference made to the fact that we were going to use that as the subterfuge to begin unwarranted, illegal — and I think unconstitutional — eavesdropping on American citizens.
What’s more, Rockefeller, then vice-chairman of the Intelligence Committee, wrote a hand-written letter to Cheney in 2003 to “reiterate [his] concerns” about the wiretapping program. “I feel unable to fully evaluate, much less endorse these activities,” he wrote.
Cheney claims to have suggested seeking congressional approval right away. However, the White House put up a stiff fight just a few years later, when Congress finally sought to impose oversight of the wiretapping program. The Vice President has already presented misleading information about the dates and frequency of these supposed briefings; now he appears to be offering misleading descriptions of them.