Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Bush Abuses His Powers, Then Asks for More Power

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"We look through the lens of the past to judge how much we can trust you."

That was Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse(D-R.I.), telling Bush intelligence officials and their lawyers why he and the rest of the Senate Intelligence Committee are not just going to rubberstamp the administration's request to expand their already extensive powers to conduct electronic surveillance on Americans:

Senate Intelligence Committee members said the Bush administration must provide more information about its earlier domestic spying before it can hope to gain additional powers for the future.

"Is the administration's proposal necessary, or does it take a step further down a path that we will regret as a nation?" asked Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-V.Wa., as he convened a rare public hearing of the Senate Intelligence Committee he chairs.

For two hours, National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell, National Security Agency Director Lt. Gen. Keith Alexander, Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Wainstein and their lawyers tried to parry increasingly dubious and hostile questions. They deferred many answers to a committee session closed to the public.

With little apparent success, they portrayed the administration bill as merely an adjustment to technological changes wrought by cell phones, e-mail and the Internet since the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act was enacted in the 1970s. Under current rules, McConnell said, "We're actually missing a significant portion of what we should be getting."

But Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (news, bio, voting record), D-R.I., responded, "We look through the lens of the past to judge how much we can trust you." Like other senators, he said that trust was undermined by recent disclosure that the FBI had abused so-called National Security Letters to obtain information about Americans.

Whitehouse added another factor. "The attorney general has thoroughly and utterly lost my confidence," he said in reference to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' shifting explanations for the dismissals of eight U.S. attorneys.

Rockefeller pressed a demand for documents in which he was joined by Republican vice chair Sen. Kit Bond of Missouri.

"There is simply no excuse for not providing to this committee all the legal opinions on the president's program," Rockefeller said.

Kevin Drum thinks the senators' "skepticism is well-founded":

... Remember Bush's promise last January to put the NSA's domestic wiretapping program under control of the FISA court? During the same hearing, they backed down from that too: "The president's authority under Article II is in the Constitution," Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell told Russ Feingold. "So if the president chose to exercise Article II authority, that would be the president's call."

Cross-posted at Shakesville.

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