Des Moines Register reported on Romney's "defen[se]" of wiretaps on "suspected terrorists" without mentioning central issue

››› ››› MATTHEW BIEDLINGMAIER

A Des Moines Register article reported that Mitt Romney "defended the Bush administration's use of wiretaps to spy on suspected terrorists," quoting Romney asserting that President Bush "has done what was necessary here with the Patriot Act, as well as by listening in when al-Qaida was calling." But the article simply ignored the central issue in the debate: whether the government should have to obtain warrants to eavesdrop on communications involving people in the United States.

A December 20 Des Moines Register article, headlined "Romney defends administration's use of wiretaps," reported that, while speaking at a campaign event in Davenport, Iowa, Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney "defended the Bush administration's use of wiretaps to spy on suspected terrorists." The article quoted Romney asserting that President Bush "has kept Americans safe" and that "[h]e has done what was necessary here with the Patriot Act, as well as by listening in when al-Qaida was calling." In doing so, however, the article fundamentally misrepresented the administration's position on wiretaps and the nature of the debate over the president's conduct of domestic surveillance.

By reporting that Romney "defended the Bush administration's use of wiretaps to spy on suspected terrorists," the article simply ignored the central issue in the debate: whether the government should have to obtain warrants to eavesdrop on communications involving people in the United States. Contrary to claims by President Bush and administration supporters, critics of the administration's eavesdropping program have not said that the government should refrain from spying on terrorists; rather, those critics, including numerous members of Congress, have said that the president should be required to obtain warrants before eavesdropping on conversations involving people in the U.S. But the word "warrant" or "warrantless" is nowhere to be found in the Register article, which purports to identify Romney's and Bush's position on the issue of wiretaps.

As Media Matters for America documented, ever since a December 16, 2005, New York Times article first revealed the existence of the Bush administration's domestic warrantless wiretapping program, critics of the program have consistently acknowledged the need for U.S. intelligence agencies to eavesdrop on the communications of suspected Al Qaeda operatives. At the same time, however, Democrats -- and numerous Republicans and conservatives -- raised serious questions about Bush's actions in apparent violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which, except as otherwise specifically provided (and as temporarily amended in August), requires the government to obtain a warrant to conduct domestic surveillance for foreign intelligence purposes.

Furthermore, Media Matters has also repeatedly noted (here, here, here, and here), that the administration's warrantless eavesdropping program was not limited to calls in which one party was a "suspected terrorist," but that thousands of Americans with no ties to any terrorist group were also reportedly ensnared by the program. For instance, on November 25, 2006, The New York Times reported that "government officials involved" in the wiretapping program "have said that it has often led to dead ends and to people with no clear links to terrorism."

From the December 20 Des Moines Register article:

Davenport, Ia. - Mitt Romney on Wednesday defended the Bush administration's use of wiretaps to spy on suspected terrorists.

Romney sought to contrast his support for the president with that of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, his leading opponent in the GOP presidential race.

Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, acknowledged that the United States "struggled through several years of mistakes" in Iraq, but repeatedly praised President Bush for his efforts to fight terrorism. He pounced on Huckabee's criticism of Bush in the January/February 2008 issue of the journal Foreign Affairs.

Bush "has kept Americans safe, and that hasn't been easy to do," Romney said against the backdrop of the Rock Island Arsenal. "He has done what was necessary here with the Patriot Act, as well as by listening in when al-Qaida was calling."

Romney's remarks along the Mississippi River coincided with recent criticism of Huckabee for denouncing the Bush administration's "arrogant bunker mentality" abroad.

Romney seized on the comments, looking to strike another contrast with Huckabee in the tight GOP race. Huckabee has recently overtaken Romney's lead, according to several key polls, leading to attacks from Romney on immigration and his tax record.

Huckabee "made a significant error in insulting the president as being subject to an arrogant, bunker mentality," Romney said. "That is not accurate."

Earlier this week, in an interview with CNN, Huckabee said he had no reason to apologize for his article and dismissed Romney's criticism. His Iowa campaign manager, Eric Woolson, said Wednesday that Huckabee supported President Bush on Iran and the troop surge in Iraq, and Romney didn't.

"Governor Huckabee is keeping the military option against Iran on the table, and has stood by the president on the global war of terror, including the surge in Iraq - something Governor Romney cannot say," Woolson said.

Bush's approval rating dwindled in the face of the unpopular war and he became what many Americans consider one of the most polarizing presidents in recent history. But among staunch Republicans - the group most likely to caucus on Jan. 3 - his popularity remains high.

Romney has voiced support for wiretapping before. As governor in 2005, he called on the federal government to devote more money to domestic intelligence gathering efforts and raised the prospect of wiretapping mosques - remarks that alarmed some civil libertarians.

The Romney-Huckabee clash has torn many Iowa Republicans. In interviews throughout the state in recent weeks, several have said they still can't decide whom to support as the caucuses near.

Richard Miller, a Bettendorf Republican, said he plans to caucus for Romney because of his past business experience. Miller said he disliked a recent Huckabee ad alluding to religion.

"I don't like him saying he's, quote, the Christian candidate," Miller said. "I don't think a person's religion should matter at all."

Romney later swept through West Des Moines, greeting a crowd of 1,000 at the Sheraton Hotel with his son, Josh, and Meg Whitman, the CEO of eBay and a longtime friend.

Posted In
Justice & Civil Liberties, Domestic Spying
Network/Outlet
Des Moines Register
Stories/Interests
Mitt Romney, 2008 Elections
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