Hume falsely claimed Rockefeller "has never said that he wasn't fully briefed" on Bush wiretap program; offered other dubious statements

››› ››› JOE BROWN

On Fox News Sunday, Brit Hume falsely claimed that Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-WV) "has never said that he wasn't fully briefed" on President Bush's warrantless domestic spying program. In fact, in a July 2003 letter to Vice President Dick Cheney, Rockefeller stated that the briefing he received on the program left him "unable to fully evaluate, much less endorse" the wiretapping program, and that "[w]ithout 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" on the program. Hume acknowledged Rockefeller's letter but called it "one weak little, weird, sort-of-slightly-incomprehensible letter ... which was followed up by him in no way whatever."

On the March 19 edition of Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday, Fox News Washington managing editor Brit Hume falsely claimed that Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-WV) "has never said that he wasn't fully briefed" on President Bush's warrantless domestic spying program. In fact, in a July 17, 2003, letter to Vice President Dick Cheney, Rockefeller stated that the briefing he received on the program left him "unable to fully evaluate, much less endorse" the wiretapping program, and that "[w]ithout 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" on the program. Hume acknowledged the letter written by Rockefeller, but called it "one weak little, weird, sort-of-slightly-incomprehensible letter from Senator Rockefeller, which was followed up by him in no way whatever."

Additionally, Hume claimed that "the leaders of Congress were fully and completely and repeatedly briefed" on the wiretapping program and that "[n]o politician among those who has been thoroughly briefed on this claims that the briefings were insufficient and vague." In fact, as Media Matters for America has previously noted, several members of Congress have said that the briefings they received did not constitute written reports about the program, which are required by law. Moreover, 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.

Hume made his comments during an exchange with National Public Radio (NPR) senior correspondent and Fox News contributing political analyst Juan Williams, who argued that although "I don't think I've met any American who says we shouldn't be doing everything we can to prevent another terrorist attack against this country, including surveilling these conversations [with suspected terrorists] ... it's not the question -- people say, 'Oh, yeah, therefore, we don't need the judges, we don't need the Congress, we don't need anything but to put our trust in the president.' " Hume responded: "If I'm not mistaken, the leaders of Congress were fully and completely and repeatedly briefed on this. ... Any of them could very easily have objected in a letter to the president in strong terms." When Williams responded that "They did object," Hume replied: "No, excuse me. They did not. There was one weak little, weird, sort-of-slightly-incomprehensible letter from Senator Rockefeller, which was followed up by him in no way whatever."

Williams later stated that "Democratic politicians" say the briefings they received on the program were "inexact and vague," to which Hume responded: "Juan, that is absurd. No politician among those who has been thoroughly briefed on this claims that the briefings were insufficient and vague." When Williams cited Rockefeller as one politician who said the briefings were vague, Hume replied: "Rockefeller does not claim that. Rockefeller has said many things about this program, but he has never said that he wasn't fully briefed that I know of."

Hume's claim that Rockefeller "has never said that we wasn't fully briefed" is directly contradicted by the text of Rockefeller's July 17, 2003, letter to Cheney. Despite Hume's dubious characterization of this letter as "weak," "weird," and "sort-of-slightly-incomprehensible," Rockefeller clearly raised his objections to the limited extent of the briefings he received on the wiretapping program. Rockefeller stated:

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.

Additionally, Hume's claims that "the leaders of Congress were fully and completely and repeatedly briefed" on the wiretapping program and that "[n]o politician among those who has been thoroughly briefed on this claims that the briefings were insufficient and vague" are contradicted by the statements of several Democrats -- Rockefeller included -- who say they received briefings on the program, but that the briefings were inadequate. For example, Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA), the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said in a December 21, 2005, statement that she was "deeply concerned by reports that this [wiretapping] program in fact goes far beyond the measures to target Al Qaeda about which I was briefed." Also, 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." Further, 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."

Moreover, 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 March 19 edition of Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday:

WILLIAMS: I don't think I've met any American who says we shouldn't be doing everything we can to prevent another terrorist attack against this country, including surveilling these conversations. But it's not the question -- people say, "Oh, yeah, therefore, we don't need the judges, we don't need the Congress, we don't need anything but to put our trust in the president."

HUME: Excuse me, Juan. If I'm not mistaken, the leaders of Congress were fully and completely and repeatedly briefed on this. And for Senator [Richard J.] Durbin [D-IL] to say, as he did, that those leaders really were powerless to do anything about it because it's classified is utter nonsense. Any of them could very easily have objected in a letter to the president in strong terms.

WILLIAMS: They did object.

HUME: No, excuse me. They did not. There was one weak little, weird, sort-of-slightly-incomprehensible letter from Senator Rockefeller, which was followed up by him in no way whatever. They were in the room with the vice president. The vice president chaired the briefings. They could all have objected noisily to this if they suspected it was illegal. They also could have done a great deal of constitutional research into the hypothetical question of whether such a thing would be legal or not. There is not one scintilla of evidence that any of them did that. The idea that this is illegal springs from the fact that it got into The New York Times, and politicians within the Democratic Party decided it was a good idea to chase that idea around. It is by no means a settled matter that it was illegal. There's very good reason to believe that the inherent constitutional powers of the president and possibly even the grant of the use of force to repel Al Qaeda would have authorized him to do this. So it's no settled question, Juan.

WILLIAMS: The New York Times took one year, gave the president so much leeway. Democratic politicians --

HUME: To do what exactly?

WILLIAMS: They did not report the story for one year.

HUME: Why not?

WILLIAMS: Because out of respect for this president and our fight against terrorists. I mean, not everything is politics, Brit. Sometimes you are concerned about the welfare of our state, of our country, and The New York Times waited a year. Democratic politicians granted him sufficient leeway. They say the briefing was inexact and vague as to what was -- they didn't realize about the nature of the --

HUME: There is absolutely no reason to believe --

WILLIAMS: -- surveillance taking place here within --

HUME: Juan --

WILLIAMS: -- the United States on American citizens.

HUME: Juan, that is absurd. No politician among those who has been thoroughly briefed on this claims that the briefings were insufficient and vague.

WILLIAMS: Rockefeller.

HUME: Rockefeller does not claim that. Rockefeller has said many things about this program, but he has never said that he wasn't fully briefed that I know of.

Posted In
Justice & Civil Liberties, Domestic Spying
Network/Outlet
Fox News Channel, FOX Broadcasting Company
Person
Brit Hume
Show/Publication
FOX News Sunday
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