I plagued my office mates yesterday with the wall-to-wall coverage of the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings.
Attorney General Gonzales cited a long history of warrantless wiretapping and eavesdropping by previous administrations, including Washington, Lincoln, Wilson, and Franklin Roosevelt. Although that’s a fascinating tidbit of a History Channel trivia (Washington listened in on phone calls?), it’s also irrelevant since the applicable law that the hearing was about was the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which was passed in 1978. Sen. Joe Biden got Gonzales to admit that terrorists knew that they would be subject to surveillance, but if they hadn’t read about it in the New York Times, they might have forgetten that they’re under surveillance. In other words, a major strategy in the war on terror is counting on terrorists being stupid. Sheesh. I was pleasantly surprised by the several Republicans who gave Mr. Gonzales no quarter. It is nice to see that for some members of the GOP (with the notable exceptions of Sessions and Cornyn), the Constitution and civil liberties are more important than sucking up to the administration. The most maddening point came when Mr. Gonzales could barely conceal his contempt for the role that Congress plays in the oversight of the Executive Branch. When several senators of both parties suggested rather pointedly that he has an obligation to do more than just cc them on memos, you could hear him drip a bit of sarcasm in his replies — “Sure, right, whatever” — and when Senator Specter suggested that the Senate might amend FISA to ensure that events like this didn’t happen in the future, Gonzales basically said, “Well, if you do, we’ll ignore that, too.”
I couldn’t help but wonder what this hearing would have been like if that had been Janet Reno sitting in the chair. (In the first place, I doubt Ms. Reno would have authorized such searches, but that’s a whole other story.) I don’t think her defense would have been that we should just trust the president to do what’s right, and I know the Republicans wouldn’t have let that one hang in the air. But Bush can do no wrong, right?