In yesterday's Pen and Sword post, we reported on the announcement that the Justice Department would conduct it's own investigation on the NSA spy scandal, and predicted that GOP congressional leaders would likely block outside investigations by the legislature.
Lo and behold.
Today, from NYT's editorial staff:
Is there any aspect of President Bush's miserable record on intelligence that Senator Pat Roberts, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, is not willing to excuse and help to cover up?
For more than a year, Mr. Roberts has been dragging out an investigation into why Mr. Bush presented old, dubious and just plain wrong intelligence on Iraq as solid new proof that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and was in league with Al Qaeda. It was supposed to start after the 2004 election, but Mr. Roberts was letting it die of neglect until the Democrats protested by forcing the Senate into an unusual closed session last November.
Now Mr. Roberts is trying to stop an investigation into Mr. Bush's decision to allow the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on Americans without getting the warrants required by a 27-year-old federal law enacted to stop that sort of abuse.
Roberts is not, apparently, using the Justice investigation to justify his actions yet (we don't need to investigate them because they're investigating themselves), but there's little question he's keeping that card tucked in his sleeve.
Roberts had promised to hold a vote of the Senate Intelligence Committee yesterday on whether or not the committee would hold its own investigation. But he cancelled the vote, and announced that he was working on a change to the FISA law that would eliminate the need for an investigation. How? By making warrantless NSA spying on Americans legal, and retroactively legitimizing the Bush administration's years of illegal wiretapping.
Roberts has yet to explain how making warrantless wiretaps on Americans legal will make them constitutional in accordance with the Fourth Amendment.
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
The administration's henchmen will argue that a warrantless search can be "reasonable," and hence adhere to the requirements of the Fourth Amendment. But will they be willing to provide hard evidence of the reasonable nature of the wiretaps?
One of the best examples of a "reasonable" warrantless search is the police officer at the front door who hears a child inside crying for help and enters the house to investigate. This is a relatively sane procedure, and most Americans will agree to the soundness of it.
Can the administration present this kind of case for "reasonable" warrantless wiretaps? So far, they've been unwilling to discuss any operational measures involved in the NSA domestic surveillance program, and it's doubtful that they'll change their tune now. So they'll ask us to take their word for it that they'll take proper steps to ensure all their warrantless wiretaps are reasonable.
Which means Robert's law would give them a blank check to do what they've been doing all along in total absence of oversight, thus supporting Mr. Bush's claim of absolute power and authority to sidestep the Constitution whenever he likes.
A Ray of Hope or Another Train Coming?
It seems that not all congressional Republicans have leashed themselves to the administration's heel. NYT's Eric Lichtblau and Sheryl Gay Stolberg report today that the leaders of the House Intelligence Committee have agreed to open an investigation on the NSA spying program.
Representative Heather A. Wilson, the New Mexico Republican and committee member who called last week for the investigation, said the review "will have multiple avenues, because we want to completely understand the program and move forward."
But there's a brown banana in the cereal bowl. An aide to House Intelligence Committee Chairman Peter Hoekstra (R-Michigan) told the Times that "the inquiry would be much more limited in scope, focusing on whether federal surveillance laws needed to be changed and not on the eavesdropping program itself."
Which means that the leaders of both intelligence committees--Roberts and Hoekstra--are in lockstep. They don't want to do any real investigating; they want to make sure that whatever the imperial executive department wants to do is "legal," even if they have to pass unconstitutional laws to make it so.
These events illustrate once again what has been obvious to many Americans for some time. As long as the GOP retains a death grip on Congress, we have no oversight, no checks, no balances, no separation of powers, and no republic.