Cheney says Top Congressional Democrats Complicit in Spying

Dick Cheney's interview yesterday with Fox's Chris Wallace
was filled with significant claims, but certainly among the most
significant was his detailed narration of how the administration,
and Cheney personally, told numerous Democratic Congressional leaders
-- repeatedly and in detail -- about the NSA warrantless eavesdropping
program. And, according to Cheney, every one of those Democrats --
every last one -- not only urged its continuation, but insisted that it
be kept secret:

Dick Cheney's interview yesterday with Fox's Chris Wallace
was filled with significant claims, but certainly among the most
significant was his detailed narration of how the administration,
and Cheney personally, told numerous Democratic Congressional leaders
-- repeatedly and in detail -- about the NSA warrantless eavesdropping
program. And, according to Cheney, every one of those Democrats --
every last one -- not only urged its continuation, but insisted that it
be kept secret:

drill down into some of the specific measures that you pushed - first
of all, the warrantless surveillance on a massive scale, without
telling the appropriate court, without seeking legislation from

Why not, in the aftermath of 9/11 and the spirit
of national unity, get approval, support, bring in the other branches
of government?

CHENEY: Well, let me tell you a story about the terror surveillance program. We did brief the Congress. And we brought in...

WALLACE: Well, you briefed a few members.

We brought in the chairman and the ranking member, House and Senate,
and briefed them a number of times up until - this was - be from late
'01 up until '04 when there was additional controversy concerning the

At that point, we brought in what I
describe as the big nine - not only the intel people but also the
speaker, the majority and minority leaders of the House and Senate
, and brought them into the situation room in the basement of the White House.

presided over the meeting. 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.

then said, "Do we need to come to the Congress and get additional
legislative authorization to continue what we're doing?" They said, "Absolutely not. Don't do it, because it will reveal to the enemy how it is we're reading their mail."

happened. We did consult. We did keep them involved. We ultimately
ended up having to go to the Congress after the New York Times decided
they were going to make the judge to review all of - or make all of
this available, obviously, when they reacted to a specific leak.

it was a program that we briefed on repeatedly. We did these briefings
in my office. I presided over them. We went to the key people in the
House and Senate intel committees and ultimately the entirely
leadership and sought their advice and counsel, and they agreed we should not come back to the Congress.

reference to the "additional controversy concerning the program" that
arose after 2004 and that led to additional Congressional briefings is
ambiguous and creates a somewhat unclear time line: is he referring to
late 2004, when the White House learned that The New York Times
knew about the NSA program and was considering writing about it (only
to then obey the President's orders to keep it a secret), or is he
referring to the time when, more than a full year later, in December 2005, the NYT finally got around to writing about it, once Bush was safely re-elected?

way, Cheney's general claim is as clear as it is incriminating.
According to him, key Congressional Democrats were told about the
illegal NSA spying program in detail, and they not only actively approved of it, but far beyond that, they insisted that no Congressional authorization should even be sought, based on what was always the patently inane claim
that to discuss the fact that the administration was eavesdropping on
our conversations without warrants (rather than with warrants, as the
law required) would be to reveal our secrets -- "our playbook" -- to Al

It is certainly true that Dick Cheney is not exactly the
most scrupulously honest public servant around. In fact, he's almost
certainly the opposite. Still, what he said yesterday was merely an
expanded and more detailed version of what has previously been publicly reported and, to some degree, confirmed
about the knowledge and support of Democratic leaders for the
NSA program. Cheney's claims encompasses the following key Democrats:

  • Nancy Pelosi (Ranking Member, House Intelligence Committee, House Minority Leader);
  • Jane Harman (Ranking Member, House Intelligence Committee);
  • Jay Rockefeller (Ranking Member, Senate Intelligence Committee);
  • Harry Reid (Senate Minority Leader).

Pelosi, Harman and Rockefeller all voted last July to legalize
warrantless eavesdropping and to immunize telecoms from liability,
thereby ensuring an end to the ongoing investigations into these
programs. And though he ultimately cast a meaningless vote against
final passage, it was Reid's decisions as Majority Leader which played an instrumental role in ensuring passage of that bill.

would think that these Democratic leaders would, on their own, want to
respond to Cheney's claims about them and deny the truth of those
claims. After all, Cheney's statement is nothing less than an
accusation that they not only enthusiastically approved, but actively
insisted upon the continuation and ongoing secrecy, of a blatantly
illegal domestic spying program (one that several of them would, once
it was made public, pretend to protest). As Armando says,
"The Democratic members who participated in this meeting have two
choices in my mind - refute Cheney's statements or admit their
complicity in the illegal activity perpetrated by the Bush

I'm going to spend the day calling these members
and trying to get some response to Cheney's claim. If I'm unable to
obtain any responses, I'll post their numbers and encourage everyone to
make similar calls. As I wrote on Saturday -- and documented before:
"As a practical reality, the largest barrier to any route to
prosecution -- including this one -- is that the Congressional
Democratic leadership was complicit, to varying degrees, in the illegal
programs." That's true not only of the NSA program, but also the Bush/Cheney torture program.

One last point: there is much consternation over Dick Cheney's "Nixon/Frost moment"
yesterday, where he expressly endorsed the idea that, as a "general
proposition," a "wartime" President can do anything he wants -- even if
it violates duly enacted statutes -- as long as it's justified in the
name of national security. In one sense, Cheney was being so explicit
yesterday about his belief in Bush's lawbreaking powers in part because
he's taking pride in being so defiant on his way out the door -- daring
a meek and impotent political class to do anything about his
lawlessness -- and also because Chris Wallace conducted one of the best
interviews (and, revealingly, one of the only interviews) about
the Bush/Cheney view of executive power.

But that this was the
Bush administration's central operating principle is something that --
as was true for Cheney's involvement in America's torture regime -- was
long known. As I wrote all the way back in December, 2005, days after the NSA scandal was first revealed:

are not academic questions. Quite the contrary, it is hard to imagine
questions more pressing. We are at a moment in time when not just
fringe ideologues, but core, mainstream supporters of the President --
not to mention senior officials in the Administration itself - are
openly embracing the theory that the President can use the power and
military force of the United States to do whatever he wants, including
to and against U.S. citizens, as long as he claims that it is connected
to America's "war" against terrorists - a war which is undeclared,
ever-expanding, and without any visible or definable end.

Bush advocates have long been toying with this theory in the shadows,
the disclosure that Bush ordered warrantless eavesdropping on American
citizens in undeniable violation of a Congressional statute has finally
forced them to articulate their lawless power theories out in the open.
Bush got caught red-handed violating the law, and once it became
apparent that no argument could be made that he complied with the law, the only way to defend him was to come right out and say that he has the right to break the law. So that debate -- over the claimed limitlessness of George Bush's power -- can't be put off any longer.

By itself, the long-disclosed September 25, 2001 Yoo Memorandum left no doubt
that our Government had formally and explicitly adopted an ideology of
lawlessness. As a country, we just chose to ignore all of that, chose
to do nothing about it. The absues and extremism of the last eight
years began as a Bush administration initiative, but it culminated as
something for which both political parties, our leading political and
media institutions, and our citizenry generally bear collective

* * * * *
On a somewhat related note, this creepy little post
inserted onto Matt Yglesias' Center for American Progress blog by
Jennifer Palmieri, the CEO of CAP's "Action Fund", is a vivid exhibit
illustrating how Washington works, for reasons which Matt Stoller, Markos Moulitsas, and Brendan Nyhan
all describe. Matt very well may not consider it to constitute
interference with his editorial autonomy, but it nonetheless
illustrates the potential constraints that can come from writing for an
organization like that.

When I first joined Salon, the
commitment they made, which for me was non-negotiatiable, was absolute
editorial independence. Though that's an unusual commitment for a
magazine to make, they did make it, and they never once -- in almost
two years of my being here -- even came close to violating it. Even as
I've waged quite acrimonious mini-wars with friends and former
colleagues of top editors and officers here, and even as I've
aggressively advocated views that were, at times, the opposite of the
ones top editors here were advocating, there's never been a hint of
interference or even pressure, and I couldn't even fathom their doing
anything like sticking a note onto my blog of the type Palmieri just
inserted onto Matt's blog.

Editorial independence is quite rare
and quite valuable. It's still one of the key distinguishing features
between blogs/alternative media outlets and establishment media. As Atrios suggests:
"contemplate the issue of editorial independence, and the various
revenue models which make it possible or not." It's worth supporting
the bloggers who practice it and the media venues that allow and
encourage it.

UPDATE: As I said,
Cheney's time line is unclear, and it's possible, when he references an
"additional controversy," he's referring to the DOJ's objections to the
NSA program in March, 2004 -- not anything having to do with the New York Times.
That would mean the detailed, expanded briefings he's describing would
have included then-Minority Leader Tom Daschle, but not Harry Reid (who
only became Minority Leader in 2005, once Daschle lost). If Cheney is
describing 2005 briefings, they would have included Reid. That's all
the more reason why responses from leading Democrats here is required.

That key Democrats were briefed on the NSA program is anything but new. USA Today
reported in 2006 that Democratic leaders including Pelosi were
repeatedly briefed on the program. There is some marginal dispute
about what they were and weren't told, but no dispute about the
existence of the briefings and the complete lack of any real efforts by
Democrats to stop it or even object.

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