Friday, June 8, 2007

Oversight Or Pretense? Democrats Threaten To Subpoena NSA Wiretap Documents From DoJ

What do you make of this? If I tell you what I make of it, will you promise to be surprised?

Democrats May Subpoena N.S.A. Documents

According to James Risen in the June 8, 2007 New York Times:
WASHINGTON, June 7 — Senior House Democrats threatened Thursday to issue subpoenas to obtain secret legal opinions and other documents from the Justice Department related to the National Security Agency’s domestic wiretapping program.

If the Democrats take that step, it would mark the most aggressive action yet by Congress in its oversight of the wiretapping program and could set the stage for a constitutional showdown over the separation of powers.
Well that appears to settle it, then. Democrats shy away from Constitutional showdowns. They prefer to cooperate with anti-constitutional legislation.
The subpoena threat came after a senior Justice Department official told a House judiciary subcommittee on Thursday that the department would not turn over the documents because of their confidential nature. But the official, Steven G. Bradbury, principal deputy assistant attorney general and head of the Justice Department’s office of legal counsel, did not assert executive privilege during the hearing.
The confidential nature of the documents is the very reason they were requested; is it ironic that this is the reason being given for not releasing them? Not in Bushzarro world, where irony -- like truth and justice -- is dead!
The potential confrontation over the documents comes in the wake of gripping Senate testimony last month by a former deputy attorney general, James B. Comey, who described a confrontation in March 2004 between Justice Department and White House officials over the wiretapping program that took place in the hospital room of John Ashcroft, then attorney general. Mr. Comey’s testimony, disclosing the sharp disagreements in the Bush administration over the legality of some N.S.A. activities, has increased Congressional interest in scrutinizing the program.

At the same time, the Bush administration is seeking new legislation to expand its wiretapping powers under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Democratic lawmakers in both the House and the Senate have argued that they do not want to vote on the issue without first seeing the administration’s legal opinions on the wiretapping program.
For more on this aspect of the story, see Chris Floyd's excellent post, "The Powerful Odor of Mendacity: From Wiretaps to War", from whence I have pinched the photo by James Bovard which you see above.

James Risen continues:
“How can we begin to consider FISA legislation when we don’t know what they are doing?” asked Representative Jerrold Nadler, Democrat of New York, who heads the subcommittee.
Well, you can't, and that's the way [uh huh, uh huh] Bush likes it [uh huh, uh huh]. What else is new?
On May 17, after Mr. Comey’s testimony, Mr. Nadler and Representative John Conyers Jr., Democrat of Michigan, who is the chairman of the full Judiciary Committee, wrote to Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales requesting copies of Justice Department legal opinions used to support the N.S.A. wiretapping program, as well as later documents written by top Justice Department officials that raised questions about the program’s legality in 2004. The letter also asked Mr. Gonzales to provide his own description of the 2004 confrontation.

Mr. Conyers said he had not received a response from the Justice Department. “We’re going to give him two more weeks, and then, as somebody said, it’s about time process kicks in somewhere around here,” Mr. Conyers said.
The time for "process" to "kick in" is long since past, is it not?
In an interview after the subcommittee hearing on Thursday, Mr. Bradbury said his refusal to provide the documents was not the final word from the Justice Department on the matter.

But Mr. Nadler made it clear that he did not expect the administration to comply and said he thought he would soon have to push for subpoenas.
I don't expect them to comply either, even if the documents are subpoenaed, but then again I don't expect the Democrats to support a push for subpoenas. Too dangerous! Bawk! Bawk! Bawk!
In January, the Bush administration announced that it was placing the program under FISA, meaning that it would no longer conduct domestic wiretapping operations without seeking court approval, and officials said they were ending eavesdropping without warrants.
But nobody believed them then.
Since then, the White House has said that the debate over the program is moot because it has been brought under court supervision, and the Democrats, focused on Iraq war policy, had done little to challenge such assertions. Mr. Bradbury even said Thursday that the N.S.A. program was “no longer operational.”
And nobody believes them now either, except for a few wingnuts.

Meanwhile, are the Democrats simply perfecting their faux-oversight routines, or are they actually going to pretend to do something this time?

You can call me jaded if you like, but if any good comes of any of this, I'll give you a nickel!