April 27, 2006

Time To Ex-Specterate?

Hatched by Dafydd

According to the Associated Press, Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) has fired George W. Bush and declared himself the new President of the United States:

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter said Thursday he is considering legislation to cut off funding for the Bush administration's secret domestic wiretapping program until he gets satisfactory answers about it from the White House.

"Institutionally, the presidency is walking all over Congress at the moment," Specter, R-Pa., told the panel. "If we are to maintain our institutional prerogative, that may be the only way we can do it."

Specter said he had informed President Bush about his intention and that he has attracted several potential co-sponsors. He said he's become increasingly frustrated in trying to elicit information about the program from senior White House officials at several public hearings.

Ooh, I'll bet he has attracted some co-sponsors: I'm guessing he's got about 45 of them, including Sens. Ted Kennedy, Dick Durbin, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Harry Reid, and of course Russell Feingold.

Wait, let me check: no, I was right... Sen. Specter's name isn't listed here. And while I don't want to judge before all the facts are in, I would have to venture a guess that if his name isn't listed on the official list of members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, then he's probably not a member of that committee.

So if he's not on the Intelligence Committee, nor on Armed Services, nor on Homeland Security, then why the heck should he be briefed on that ultra-secret program?

Oh, wait, of course: he chairs the Judiciary Committee... which has oversight and responsibility over the judiciary, the courts, and especially over conducting hearings of and either recommending or rejecting federal judges nominated by the president before being sent to the full Senate.

(Which, by the way, Arlen Specter appears not to have done too good a job at, considering that some nominees have waited years for their hearings, such as Brett Kavanaugh and William James Haynes.)

Maybe it's just me, but I can't quite fathom why chairing the J-Com would qualify him to be briefed on intelligence-gathering programs. He's not a member of the federal judiciary, much as he may imagine it's his job to enforce the law.

Specter is also a member -- though not in a leadership position -- of the Appropriations Committee. But that can't be the basis of his authority for making this threat, since the chairman of that committee is Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS), who hasn't said a word about this.

So what is Specter really arguing? Since he demands to be briefed on the NSA al-Qaeda intercept program, even though he has no connection to Intelligence, Armed Services, or any other terrorism-related committee or subcommittee... then what Specter must actually be demanding is that the Bush White House fully brief each and every single senator on all classified aspects of the program.

Oh, and surely Specter can't be saying that the Senate should be briefed, but not the other side of Congress! So he likewise calls for a complete classified briefing about every last element of the program for all members of the House of Representatives, as well.

Sen. Arlen Specter threatens to cut off all funding for one of our most vital intelligence operations unless all 535 members of Congress are fully briefed on all operational details. Is he a fool? Or is he a madman?

The New York Times and several NSA officers revealed the existence of the program and briefly sketched the sort of people who would be monitored. But the vast majority of the program is still well concealed: the bad guys don't know the precise methodology, techology, and who exactly has been surveilled. Which is very good, because knowing that would allow them to skirt around the surveillance in the future and would tell them who has been compromised and must be cut off from important communications.

How long does Arlen Specter think those secrets would last if they were handed over to Cynthia McKinney, Dennis Kucinich, Barbara Lee, Ron Dellums, Bernie Sanders, and John Murtha -- or even on his own side of the Dome, to Patrick Leahy, Ted Kennedy, Dick Durbin, Mark Dayton, and John Kerry?

Wait a minute, ab Hugh; you're just jumping the gun. Sen. Specter is a reasonable man; he couldn't possibly mean what you're saying he means.

Fair enough. But then, what does this mean?

According to a copy of the amendment obtained by The Associated Press, it would enact a "prohibition on use of funds for domestic electronic surveillance for foreign intelligence purposes unless Congress is kept fully and currently informed."

"Congress" clearly means more than just the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence or the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, since both are already being fully briefed on the NSA al-Qaeda intercept program. I can only conclude that keeping "Congress" "fully and currently informed" must mean a complete briefing for all members of both houses of Congress:

  • A list of all past and current surveillance targets, so the Democrats can be reassured that Bush isn't spying on Russell Feingold, John Kerry, and Hillary Clinton, as Feingold's new campaign ad claims;
  • Plus a full and complete briefing on the methodology used at every stage, so opponents of the war on terror, such as Kucinich, Durbin, and Specter, can determine whether we're violating the sacred constitutional rights of al-Qaeda members here illegally.

It's very clear what is really going on here: Sen. Specter is simply trying to seize operational control of the program away from President Bush and put it instead where he imagines is belongs... in the hands of Congress. This is very similar to congressional actions during the Civil War, when Congress tried to seize operational control of the armed forces, ordering armies here and there and trying to run the war themselves.

It was a disaster then -- President Abraham Lincoln had to fight a two-front war, one against the Confederates, the other against egomanical Congressmen -- and it would be an unalloyed calamity now.

I've been on the fence about Specter for some time, owing to his antics on the J-Com. But now, with him trying to capture control of American intelligence policy (which has nothing whatsoever to do with any of Specter's four committee assignments, the other two being Veterans' Affairs and the Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education), I believe there is no option but for the party to vote to remove him from his chairmanship -- which appears to have addled a once-fine brain. Let him cool his fevered head on the back bench for a while.

Fortunately, the House will probably save us from this insanity:

Specter's announcement came a day after the House passed an bill 327- 96 to dramatically increase spending on intelligence programs. In the process, Republicans blocked an amendment to expand congressional oversight of the NSA's warrantless surveillance program.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Peter Hoekstra, R-Mich., said allegations that NSA domestic wiretapping operations are abusive or unconstitutional are outrageous and that Congress is committed to vigorous oversight of the program.

(The chair of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence? Piffle. Now if Rep. James Sensenbrenner, chairman of the mighty House Judiciary Committee, were to speak out, that might carry some weight!)

It's equally outrageous that we have to rely upon one chamber of Congress to protect us from the other... first the Senate Republicans give us the Gas Price Relief and Rebate Five Year Plan, and now this. If Specter gets any Republican co-sponsors other than Lincoln Chafee (RINO-RI), then we're doomed, doomed.

As President Bush said, you're either with us, or you're with the terrorists. Sen. Specter does not appear to be with us.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, April 27, 2006, at the time of 2:20 PM

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The following hissed in response by: solilsolate

I cannot for the life of me understand why President Bush, for all his vaunted insistence on loyalty, allows this slithering senator to get behind his back and strike and strike again. I wonder if Specter knows things only a legless scaly creature could know. Defang him now!

The above hissed in response by: solilsolate [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 27, 2006 3:13 PM

The following hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh


allows this slithering senator....



The above hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 27, 2006 3:42 PM

The following hissed in response by: Bill Faith

I linked without comment. Sorta makes me wonder what people like Specter and Fiengold are hiding to be so paranoid and all.

The above hissed in response by: Bill Faith [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 27, 2006 5:37 PM

The following hissed in response by: Bill Faith

I linked from Time To Ex-Specterate?  Captain Ed has an excellent related post here.

The above hissed in response by: Bill Faith [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 28, 2006 12:19 AM

The following hissed in response by: MTF

Debate on the constitutional merits or demerits of this issue has cooled to the point that only the true nuts are still going, witness Specter (and georgia10). I don't think he believes he'll succeed in getting any bill passed, so this has to go down under "grandstanding" to make a political point of difference with the administration. Take it for what it's worth, which is hardly anything, and move on. Nothing to see here, folks.

The above hissed in response by: MTF [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 28, 2006 10:08 AM

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