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Only Problem with Spy Program Is Its 'Legal Basis'

Reported by Judy - March 15, 2006

Brit Hume and his All Star panel buddies on Wednesday (March 15, 2006) continued to play with words when discussing George Bush's secret program of illegally spying on American citizens at home by insisting attempts to censure him for it are silly because the dispute is only over the "legal basis" for the program.

On "Special Report with Brit Hume," Hume introduced a segment on the effort by Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wisconsin, to censure Bush for the spy program, which Hume referred to as "NSA phone intercepts without warrants." Then Hume went on to point out that Feingold had never been briefed on the program so he didn't know what a swell job it was doing, and that the two co-sponsors Feingold picked up Wednesday -- Democrats Tom Harkin of Iowa and Barbara Boxer of California -- had never been briefed on it either.

The bulk of the following report by Jim Angle was about senators who have been briefed on the domestic spying program and has impressed they are with what the program does and how hard it tries to avoid "intercepting" the calls of average Americans.

Later in the program, Hume asked his All Stars panel about the censure resolution, again stressing that Feingold didn't know what the program was all about because he was never been briefed on it, implying that if he did, he wouldn't want to censure Bush for it. Hume, apparently, has forgotten that the only reason that members of Congress are getting those briefings that he finds so valuable is that they raised holy hell about Bush authorizing the program without telling anybody about it except a very few members of the intelligence committees, and that continued briefings are part of a deal worked out with Republican members of Congress and the administration.

Fred Barnes, executive editor of the conservative Weekly Standard, dismissed the possiblity of censure over the warrantless spy program, saying, "It's preposterous that you would formally censure a president" over something that is "merely a disagreeement over the legal basis" for the warrantless spy program.

Translated into English, "a disagreement over the legal basis" means a disagreement over whether something was done legally or illegally. If Bush has done something illegally, hasn't he broken the law? What about the rule of law, the rule of law, that Republicans ranted about when impeaching Bill Clinton? Isn't the rule of law important? Not so much anymore, now that the president is a Republican.

The discussion over "a disagreement over the legal basis" for the warrantless spying program was part of a broader discussion on whether Democrats will try to impeach Bush if they gain control of the House in the November 2006 election. All Star panel member Mort Kondracke predicted, as he did on a previous show, they Democrats won't be able to restrain themselves from impeaching Bush because they hate him the way Republicans hated President Clinton.

"There were grounds for impeachment then," insisted Barnes.

Mara Liasson, National Public Radio correspondent, said the impeachment talk by conservatives was part of an effort to make it look like "the impeachment agenda is THE agenda of the Democratic Party, which is a stretch," noting it is far from a foregone conclusion that Democrats would pursue such a step. Her point was, conservatives hope to turn moderate voters against Democrats by making it look like all Democrats want to do once they control Congress would be to investigate Bush and impeach him. For that reason, she said, Feingold's censure resolution is not doing the party a favor.

Hume at one point asked Liasson an incredibly stupid question. If Feingold introduced the censure resolution as a way of helping his chances for the party's 2008 presidential nomination, isn't he helping the party? Liasson pointed out that Feingold's 2008 nomination chances and the fortunes of the party in the 2006 midterm elections are two different things. Not an impressive moment for Hume.

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