USA Today echoed Bush's refuted claim that congressional leaders were briefed on domestic spying

››› ››› JEREMY SCHULMAN

USA Today reported that the Bush administration "has briefed congressional leaders on the details" of its warrantless domestic surveillance program, but it did not report that many Democrats who said they had been informed about the program also say that they were not told about its actual nature or extent.

In a February 7 article, USA Today reported that "[t]he Bush administration has briefed congressional leaders on the details" of its warrantless domestic surveillance program, but the article failed to note that many of the Democrats who said they had been informed about the program contend that they were not told about its actual nature and extent.

The USA Today article, by staff reporter John Diamond, echoed Bush's own misleading assertion in his State of the Union address that "[a]ppropriate members of Congress have been kept informed" about the program as well as a misleading rhetorical question Bush asked in a January 23 speech: "[I]f I wanted to break the law, why was I briefing Congress?"

In fact, as Media Matters for America has noted, several Democratic leaders have challenged the claim that they were briefed "on the details of the surveillance program." For example, Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA), the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said in a December 21, 2005, statement: "I have been briefed since 2003 on a highly classified NSA foreign collection program that targeted Al Qaeda." She added: "Like many Americans, I am deeply concerned by reports that this program in fact goes far beyond the measures to target Al Qaeda about which I was briefed."

Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-WV), the ranking minority member on the Senate Intelligence Committee, wrote a letter to Vice President Dick Cheney on July 17, 2003, expressing his "lingering concerns" raised by a briefing on the program he had received that day. In the secret handwritten letter, Rockefeller cited a lack of information that left him "unable to fully evaluate, much less endorse these activities." From Rockefeller's letter:

Clearly, the activities we discussed raise profound oversight issues. As you know, I am neither a technician, nor an attorney. Given the security restrictions associated with this information, and my inability to consult staff or counsel on my own, I feel unable to fully evaluate, much less endorse these activities.

[...]

Without more information and the ability to draw on independent legal or technical expertise, I simply cannot satisfy lingering concerns raised by the briefing we received.

Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) has said there were "omissions of consequence" in the briefings he received in 2002 and 2004. And former Sen. Bob Graham (D-FL), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee at the time Bush first authorized the program, has claimed that he was never informed "that the program would involve eavesdropping on American citizens."

A December 23, 2005, New York Times article noted that Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) -- along with Harman and Graham -- "have all suggested in recent days that they were not provided with a complete accounting of the program, and that they might have raised objections if they had understood its scope."

In addition, Graham and Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-MI), the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee -- along with aides to Rockefeller and Reid -- have all said that the briefings did not constitute written reports about the program, which are required of the White House under the National Security Act of 1947 (as amended in 2001).

A January 18 report by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service concluded that the Bush administration's limited notification of Congress about the domestic surveillance program "appear[s] to be inconsistent with the law."

From the February 7 USA Today article, headlined "Lawmakers doubtful on surveillance defense":

The Bush administration has briefed congressional leaders on the details of the surveillance program, but [Attorney General Alberto R.] Gonzales said it did not seek an act of Congress because that would have risked exposure of the details of the program.

"Our enemy is listening, and I cannot help but wonder if they aren't shaking their heads in amazement" and "smiling at the prospect that we might now disclose even more," Gonzales said.

Posted In
Justice & Civil Liberties, Domestic Spying
Network/Outlet
USA Today
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