Dover Bitch

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Bush: The enemy lurks

In ducking the question about James Comey's testimony, the president not only used the blanket of fear to shield himself, he also said things that appear to be outright falsehoods.

Q: There’s been some very dramatic testimony before the Senate this week from one of your former top Justice Department officials who describes a scene that some Senators called stunning, about a time when the warrantless wiretap program was being reviewed. Sir, did you send your then chief of staff and White House counsel to the bedside of John Ashcroft while he was ill to get him to approve that program, and do you believe that kind of conduct from White House officials is appropriate?

BUSH: Kelly, there’s a lot of speculation about what happened and what didn’t happen. I’m not going to talk about it. It’s a very sensitive program. I will tell you that one, the program was necessary to protect the American people and it’s still necessary, because there’s still an enemy that wants to do us harm, and therefore I have an obligation to put in place programs that honor the civil liberties of the American people — a program that was, in this case, constantly reviewed, and briefed to the United States Congress. And the program, as I say, is an essential part of protecting this country, and so there will be all kinds of talk about it. As i say, I’m not going to move the issue forward by talking about something as highly classified subject. I will tell you, however, that the program was necessary.

Q: Was it on your order, sir?

BUSH: As I said, the program is a necessary program that was constantly reviewed and constantly briefed to the Congress. It’s an important part of protecting the United States, and it’s still an important part of our protection, because there’s still an enemy that would like to attack us, no matter how calm it may seem in America, an enemy lurks and they would like to strike. They would like to do harm to the American people, because they have an agenda. They want to impose an ideology. They want us to retreat from the world. They want to find safe haven, and these just aren’t empty words. These are the words of al Qaeda themselves, and so we will put in place programs to protect the American people that honor the civil liberties of our people and programs that we constantly brief to Congress.

One thing we learned from the Comey testimony, was that John Ashcroft was signing off on this program regularly without having seriously reviewed it. Here's how a "TPM Reader" puts it:

What to make of this long narrative?

Simply this. The warantless wiretap surveillance program stank. For two and a half years, Ashcroft signed off on the program every forty-five days without any real knowledge of what it entailed. In his defense, the advisors who were supposed to review such things on his behalf were denied access; to his everlasting shame, he did not press hard enough to have that corrected.

When Comey came on board, he insisted on being granted access, and had Goldsmith review the program. What they found was so repugnant to any notion of constitutional liberties that even Ashcroft, once briefed, was willing to resign rather than sign off again.

As far as informing Congress, that's a joke. Sen. Rockefeller even wrote a letter to Vice President Cheney (PDF) complaining that he didn't have enough information to evaluate the program.

Yesterday, I posted some excerpts from the hearings on Sen. Feingold's censure motion. I posted a response by Bruce Fein, but I ended it after he talked about "bad faith." Here is his full response to Sen. Specter:

Mr. Fein. Let me make a couple of observations about bad faith or secrecy. One, we don't have the information, if it exists, indicating what advice President Bush received just before he commenced the warrantless surveillance program. You don't know, I don't know, and he is resisting giving that information to you that could dispel any uncertainty on such a critical matter. That still is secret.

Second, with regard to informing a handful of Members of Congress, that is not all Members of Congress. And, of course, as you pointed out, we don't want the President to do things that would risk the national security of the United States and to inform in such detail that intelligence sources and methods could be disclosed.

But if you are going to have accountability, you have to have accountability to the Congress of the United States, not just one or two Members, and accountability that at least indicates the nature of the program in sufficient detail to enable an assessment of its legality and wisdom. If you don't know how many people are being spied on in the United States, you don't know what the results of that are. How can you make an assessment as to its reasonableness?

The purpose of informing is not just to have informing for its own sake. It is to have the operation of checks and balances at work, and it has to be done in a framework then that enables a collective judgment of Congress to be brought on the legality, the success of the program. It is still so secret, in my judgment, that it is still impossible for Congress to make that assessment at present.

I think that Fein sums it up perfectly. President Bush (and Vice President Cheney) acted on bad faith and the president is still deceiving the American people. That he is doing it while simultaneously trying to scare us into succumbing to his will is spectacularly rotten.

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