Friday, February 17, 2006

No Surprise

From the Washington Post:

The Bush administration helped derail a Senate bid to investigate a warrantless eavesdropping program yesterday after signaling it would reject Congress’s request to have former attorney general John D. Ashcroft and other officials testify about the program’s legality. The actions underscored a dramatic and possibly permanent drop in momentum for a congressional inquiry, which had seemed likely two months ago.

Senate Democrats said the Republican-led Congress was abdicating its obligations to oversee a controversial program in which the National Security Agency has monitored perhaps thousands of phone calls and e-mails involving U.S. residents and foreign parties without obtaining warrants from a secret court that handles such matters.


There was one setback, however, to the administration’s efforts to keep tight wraps on the NSA operation. Yesterday, a federal judge ordered the Justice Department to turn over its internal documents and legal opinions about the program within 20 days — or explain its reasons for refusing.

I don’t know why anyone should be surprised at this. The White House has treated Congress with thinly-veiled contempt whenever it has tried to do anything that doesn’t smack of pure toadyism. Oversight? Sure, as long as they do exactly what the White House tells them to oversee. (The New York Times has something to say about Sen. Pat Roberts, the White House’s chief toad.)

And not to carry the Cheney metaphors too far (okay, too late), the president seems to have shot himself in the foot.

In a victory for three privacy advocacy groups seeking Justice Department records about the program, U.S. District Judge Henry H. Kennedy Jr. ruled yesterday that the department cannot decide on its own what documents it will provide, because news reports in December revealing the program’s existence have created a substantial public dialogue about presidential powers and individual privacy rights. Kennedy rejected Justice’s argument that, because so much of the surveillance program involves classified information, the agency alone can determine when it is feasible to review and possibly release documents.

“President Bush has invited meaningful debate about the warrantless surveillance program,” Kennedy wrote, alluding to comments Bush has made at news conferences and speeches acknowledging public disagreement about domestic spying. “That can only occur if DOJ processes its requests in a timely fashion and releases the information sought.”

It would appear that if the president is so concerned about leaking this story, he only has himself to blame.

Oh, guess what? Judge Kennedy has just been invited to go hunting with Dick Cheney. [rim-shot.]