Like his Fox News colleague Steve Centanni, Mike Emanuel conflated the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act with the Protect America Act, asking President Bush at a recent news conference, "[D]o you worry that perhaps some House Democratic leaders are playing a high-stakes game of 'wait and see' in terms of if we get attacked, we all lose, if we don't get attacked, then maybe that makes the case that you don't need all the powers in FISA?"
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During President Bush's February 28 press conference, referring to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Fox News White House correspondent Mike Emanuel asked Bush: "[D]o you worry that perhaps some House Democratic leaders are playing a high-stakes game of 'wait and see' in terms of if we get attacked, we all lose; if we don't get attacked, then maybe that makes the case that you don't need all the powers in FISA?" But Emanuel conflated the 1978 FISA law -- which established the federal government's underlying statutory authority to eavesdrop on the communications of suspected terrorists -- with the recently expired revisions to FISA under the Protect America Act (PAA), which, among other things, expanded the government's authority to eavesdrop on Americans' domestic-to-foreign communications without a warrant. By conflating the two statutes, like his Fox News colleague Steve Centanni had done an hour and a half earlier, Emanuel advanced the false suggestion -- promoted by supporters of the Bush administration's warrantless domestic spying program and parroted by the media -- that with the expiration of the PAA, the government no longer has the authority to spy on suspected terrorists. In fact, under FISA, it still does.
Several House Democrats made this point. In a February 13 statement, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) wrote that, regardless of the PAA's expiration, "the underlying Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which provides for the surveillance of terrorists and provides that in emergencies surveillance can begin without warrant, remains intact and available to our intelligence agencies." Similarly, in a February 14 letter to Bush, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Silvestre Reyes (D-TX) noted that, "in the remote possibility that a new terrorist organization emerges that we have never previously identified," the National Security Agency "could use existing authority under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to monitor [their] communications."
From President Bush's February 28 press conference:
EMANUEL: Mr. President, on FISA, do you worry that perhaps some House Democratic leaders are playing a high-stakes game of "wait and see" in terms of if we get attacked, we all lose; if we don't get attacked, then maybe that makes the case that you don't need all the powers in FISA?
BUSH: No, I don't think so. I mean, I think that's -- that would be ascribing, you know, motives that are just -- I just don't think they're the motives of the House leaders to do that.
I think -- look, I think they're really wrestling with providing liability protection to phone companies. I don't think they're that cynical or devious, Michael. That's -- it's just too risky. A lot of these leaders understand that there's an enemy that wants to attack.
The caucus, evidently, in the House is -- the Democratic caucus is -- you know, is concerned about exactly [CBS White House correspondent Bill] Plante's question, you know. And I just can't tell you how important it is to not alienate or not discourage these phone companies.