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FOX News Sunday reveals new White House PR strategy

Reported by Chrish - January 23, 2006

As Deborah noted earlier, there seems to be a new frame for the warrant-less domestic surveillance emerging. On the Beltway Boys, "liberal" Mort Kondracke suggested that if it is determined that Bush has done something illegal in ordering some wiretaps, the remedy is for Congress to change the law so that it is no longer illegal.

On Fox News Sunday today 1/22/06 Chris Wallace exacted agreement from guests Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Richard Durbin (D-IL) and pursued the idea with panelist Bill Kristol, who said further legislation would be redundant.

In the interview with John McCain, Wallace repeated the distortion that the concern is over Bush/the NSA wiretapping communications between foreign agents and people in the USA. In reality, Constitutional and legal experts and patriots are concerned over his directives to conduct surveillance on Americans, at home, without a warrant.


WALLACE: Some Republicans say that the bin Laden tape reminds us or should remind us why (Bush) needs the power to authorize this NSA intercept of communications between the U.S. and foreign countries without court warrants, that he needs every weapon in his arsenal. Now, you have expressed some concerns about the NSA program. Does this change your mind?

MCCAIN: No. But my concerns are that we should have - (Bush) should come to Congress with a proposal as to how we can best meet these new challenges. Look, everybody's got a BlackBerry now, the e-mails, all of the new technologies for communications, as opposed to, say, 10 or 15 years ago where we all just had a hard line.

There are new challenges in the use of telecommunications that, in my view, indicate that we probably need some enhanced powers. But why not just come to Congress - now Senator Specter is going to have some hearings on it - come to Congress, tell us what we need, what (he) needs, and I am confident that he would get that authority.

WALLACE: But you do not believe that currently he has the legal authority to engage in these warrant-less wiretaps.

MCCAIN: You know, I don't think so, BUTwhy not come to Congress? We can sort this all out. I don't think - I know of no member of Congress, frankly, who if the administration came and said here's why we need this capability, that they wouldn't get it. And so let's have the hearings. Let's have the administration come to Congress. I think they will get that authority, whatever is reasonable and needed, and increased abilities to monitor communications are clearly in order.

For Senator McCain's edification:
FISA law 1801 subsection (l)
“Wire communication” means any communication while it is being carried by a wire, cable, or other LIKE connection furnished or operated by any person engaged as a common carrier in providing or operating such facilities for the transmission of interstate or foreign communications.

Comment: It seems that would cover fiber optics. It may need to be amended to include wireless satellite transmissions. This is all beside the point, however, and is being used as a distraction from the domestic spying issue.

Next up was Senator Durbin, who among other things was also asked about Congress giving Bush more authority to spy.

WALLACE: Senator, let's talk about the NSA wiretap program, though. We all saw that Usama bin Laden tape that came out late this week. If someone from Al Qaeda in Pakistan is calling someone here in the U.S., don't you want to know what they're talking about?

DURBIN: Absolutely. And that's why we created the FISA court. And basically, 20,000 times the president and other administrations have gone before this court and said we want to listen in on that conversation, and they've been given permission in all but about five instances. So they have a legal way to approach it.

Let me read to you what the president said on April 20, 2004 about wiretaps. He said "A wiretap requires a court order. Nothing has changed. When we're talking about chasing down terrorists, we're talking about getting a court order before we do so." President Bush, April 20, 2004.

This president, every president, has a mechanism, a procedure to follow, to wiretap terrorists and wannabe terrorists. I want them to follow that legal procedure, and when they do, they'll make America safer.

WALLACE: Let me ask you, because there are a lot of national security experts who believe that the FISA court and the law as it was passed, in fact, would not handle the kind of situation we're talking about here of mass surveillance. (Comment: Would these "national security experts" be cronies of the administration? Names please.)
And let me pick up on what Senator McCain said. If the president were to go in and say look, we need some adjustments, would you -- would the Democratic leadership in the Senate say look, this is too important, national security, we'll give you what you need to live within the law and protect America?

DURBIN: Certainly. That's what happened with the Patriot Act. One of the elements of the Patriot Act...

WALLACE: I know, but now you're fighting the Patriot Act, Senator.

DURBIN: No, no, Chris, don't take this further than it goes. We overwhelmingly support the Patriot Act. There are three or four sections with modifications which passed the Senate, incidentally, on a bipartisan basis, unanimously - three or four sections that we're talking about, and they can be modified and it wouldn't compromise our security.

But we modified FISA under the Patriot Act. The administration came and said we need new tools - just as Senator McCain said earlier, with Blackberries and cell telephones. And we said we'll give you the tools. We want to keep America safe. But what we're saying here, on both sides of the aisle, with Senator Specter calling for hearings and the Democrats standing behind him, we want this president and every president to follow the law. No president is above the law.

WALLACE: But again, specifically, if he came in and asked for reforms, you're saying that the Democratic leadership would give him the power to do what he's doing now?

DURBIN: Well, I don't know what he's doing now because, frankly, it's been reported in many newspapers, but I've never been briefed on it. But if the president came to us and said there are changes in technology, changes in the threat to America, we need to change and modify the law, you bet he would have a Congress ready to work with him. That's exactly the way he should have done this and should have handled it long ago.

(Comment: We now bring you the "Everybody does it / He did it first argument found frequently on FOX. This has been rehashed endlessly the last two weeks.)

WALLACE: Senator, when the Clinton administration authorized the search of Aldrich Ames, the Soviet spy's home and office back in the 1990s, they said the president has the inherent constitutional authority to do so. No Democratic leaders that we could find squawked at that point about what President Clinton was doing.

DURBIN: Well, remember, at that moment in time, the FISA law did not cover physical searches. It only dealt with wiretaps. So what the president did was not violating the FISA law.

WALLACE: No, but he was violating other laws, wasn't he? I mean, here he was authorizing a search without -- a physical search of somebody's home without any court order.

DURBIN: Let me finish, if I might. President Clinton then came to Congress and asked to amend FISA to cover physical searches. In other words, the president was willing to step forward and say let's create a legal standard that will apply to me and every other president so that our administration will follow a law and have court approval even before physical searches.

So the intent and the actions of the Clinton administration are in sharp contrast to what we face with this administration. If the president came forward and said there's a real threat, we need to change the law so that I have the power to deal with it, you can bet Congress would work overtime to get that done.

Later in the show, with the panel consisting of Special Report anchor Brit Hume, Weekly Standard founder and editor Bill Kristol, and NPR personalities Mara Liasson and Juan Williams, Wallace addressed essentially the same question - Does the bin Laden tape change the politics of the debate over NSA surveillance? (Comment: that really fans the flames for those who have been suspicious of bin Laden's impeccable tiiming - again.) Hume was the only one to answer, and he said it would have a short-term effect on the news, reminding us that there is a threat. One side would say it's it's a reminder that he is still free, and the other would use that to declare that's why we still need Bush. Hume says it happens occassionally, he's made threats before, and it's not terribly frightening but it's a reminder.

Wallace then asked the panel what they made of Senators Durbin and McCain, who both said they don't think he (Bush) has the authority, but if he comes to Congress and directly asks for the authority, we'll give it to him

Liasson hit two points squarely. First she reiterated that Congress is willing to work to adjust the FISA laws if necessary and that Rove is wrong in trying to make out that Democrats will not work with Republicans for national security. She made the good point that even with all the tools at his disposal Bush has still not caught Bin Laden, and the expansions being talked about would not have an effect on that hunt.

Wallace then addressed Kristol, asking if a.) he thought Congress would give Bush the authority, and b.) if so, why doesn't he go ask for it? Kristol was doubtful they'd give him expanded powers, but claims he doesn't ned them . He said "What would it mean, to give him this authority? What would the legislation look like? The NSA has the right to sift through millions of communications from abroad, and then take a look at some people who have contact with terrorists. It's very hard to know how you'd even write this legislation. This is part of my view of what it means to be a president at war...if Congress wants to pass a law that sort of redundantly gives the president this authority, they can do so. If Senator Durbin cares so much about this why doesn't he introduce legislation giving the president this authority?"

Juan Williams answered that the administration hasn't gone to Congress for two reasons; a. they already have a similar expansive view of Bush's powers and b. they fear if they go to Congress, they'll be told "no, this is unnecessary. Go to the FISA court and get the warrant and do it legally." he said the administration is acting with a sort of imperial arrogance, and Hume was condescending to him again, saying "that's absurd."

Hume did a monologue of obfuscation, hitting the talking points that Democrats look soft on national defense because of opposition to the Patriot Act and although they jumped on the bandwagon when the NSA spying story broke, now that polls show most Americans want Bush to have the authority he needs to fight the war on terror, Democrats are trying to cozy up and be accommodating. He went so far as to say that they (Dems) are now saying the practice itself is desireable, the president should have this authority (his emphasis, but my entire point; see below) That the president and the administration might lose (in court? he didn't say lose what) seems odd in light of public opinion.

Liasson said that polls show people are willing to give Bush very wide latitude (Hume interrupts "the polls show he already has it!") and she disagrees with Kristol that the law would be difficult to construct. Let Bush tell them what he wants/needs, and let's change the law, she says. Does he need a week rather than 72 hours? Congress can write that.

Comment: The whole gist of this program was to instill the idea that the problem is the existing laws, which need to be changed. The underlying theme is that Bush only did what was necessary and was only illegal because the laws need to be changed to accommodate his behavior. Bush's "authority" was mentioned numerous times, but since it wasn't specified as his "authority to listen to Americans at home" we are left to think it is "authority to listen to Al Queda" and other surveillance for national defense.

This meme is contradicted by Fox's own Senior Judicial Analyst, Judge Andrew Napolitano, who said:

"...just as I did when I became a judge, he did when he became Vice-president, we took oaths to uphold the Constitution and uphold the laws whether we find them convenient or not. Now I disagree with Victoria Toensing on the FISA court. It's very easy to get a warrant from FISA. You can impose the wiretap today and wait to get the warrant for 72 hours. There's no demonstrable evidence that we need to cut holes in the Constitution in order to beat these guys. They're not here; they're over there. <...>
"...that's what the law allows, listening and then going to the judge! What the president is not doing, what the NSA is not doing, is not going to the judge afterwards. The FISA law , as long as the person on the phone is a foreigner, alows the tap to be imposed first and the warrrant to be gotten later as long as it's within 72 hours. <.... " the Constitution gives the government the tools it needs."

This is more of the same that we've seen for several weeks: distorting the problem (the warrant-less domestic spying); portraying Democrats as soft on terrorism; and a sly but steady assumption of superior Executive power, unhampered by checks and balances from Congress and the judiciary. But no less a conservative icon than Grover Norquist said "Public hearings on this issue are essential to addressing the serious concerns raised by alarming revelations of NSA electronic eavesdropping." He is part of Patriots to Restore Checks and Balances. (I'd post a link to a major media outlet but NONE have reported on this confluence of concern - NOT ONE.)

What we'll see this week is an emphasis on the necessity of NSA wire tapping, without reference to the domestic warrant-less spying that is the crux of the legality issue, the leadership Bush is showing in the war on terror , and the need for Congress to get on board and expand his powers.

Bush's "authority" was mentioned numerous times, but since it wasn't specified as his "authority to listen to Americans at home" we are left to think it is "authority to listen to Al Queda" and other surveillance for national defense. Or are they seriously suggesting that Congress should give Bush the authority to wiretap Americans at home without judicial oversight, all in the name of the war on terror? If so I'd say game over, and the terrorists win.

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