Friday, January 06, 2006

Congresswoman Jane Harman Trying To Redeem Herself

On December 21, Congresswoman Jane Harman (CA-36) said the following:

As the Ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, I have been briefed since 2003 on a highly classified NSA foreign collection program that targeted Al Qaeda. I believe the program is essential to US national security and that its disclosure has damaged critical intelligence capabilities.

This was unfortunate since it was mere days after The New York Times originally broke the story that Bush had authorized the NSA to spy on US citizens and thus made Democratic attempts at framing the issue with a unified voice difficult. The message should have been that yes, certain members of Congress were briefed but there was absolutely no oversight and that this was just another example of executive overreach.

So, yesterday Representative Harman wrote a letter (oooh, a letter) to President Bush saying that the fact that only 8 members of Congress have been briefed on the NSA program violates the National Security Act of 1947, which allows such limited briefings only in the case of "covert action." Her problem seems to be that since the program is no longer covert, Bush is now required by law to have full Congressional briefings.

Does this strike anyone else as sort of nitpicky? Could a Democrat please approach this issue from a position of strength and not as an apparently impotent whiner? Even Senator Rockefeller's hand-written letter to Cheney putting his reservations about the program on the record (since legally he could share it with no one) was spun by the media as the actions of an eccentric.

Democrats should be spouting the results of a new report by the Congressional Research Service, an independent research arm of Congress, from every mountaintop. From The New York Times:

President Bush's rationale for authorizing eavesdropping on American citizens without warrants rests on questionable legal ground and "may represent an exercise of presidential power at its lowest ebb," according to a formal Congressional analysis released today.
Yes, that's right, it was released on a Friday afternoon -- classic. Further:

The the first formal assessment of a question that has gripped Washington for the last three weeks: Did President Bush act within the law when he ordered the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on Americans?

While the Congressional report reached no bottom-line conclusions on whether the program is legal or not, it concluded that the legal rationale appears somewhat dubious. The legal rationale "does not seem to be as well-grounded" as the Bush administration's lawyers have suggested, and Congress did not appear to have intended to authorize warrantless wiretaps when it gave President Bush the authority to wage war against Al Qaeda in the days after the Sept. 11 attacks, the report concluded.

Representative Harman will be on Fox News Sunday this weekend. Hopefully she will not let this report get buried as surely the administration hopes it will be.


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