Fox News' John Gibson allowed Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-MI) to claim that Democrats originally supported President Bush's warrantless domestic spying program but now "they're starting to change their story," even though several Democratic members of Congress have said they expressed concerns about the program at the time and even though Hoekstra himself has agreed that the Bush administration's briefings on the program did not meet legal requirements.
On the January 20 edition of Fox News' The Big Story, host John Gibson allowed Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-MI) to claim that "Democrats were for" President Bush's warrantless domestic spying program "before they were against it. For the last four years, they raised no objections, and now that the information was leaked in a very damaging way, through The New York Times, all of a sudden they're starting to change their story." But as Media Matters for America previously noted, of the seven Democratic lawmakers known to have been briefed about the program prior to its December 16 disclosure by The New York Times, three have said they expressed concerns at the time and three more say they weren't given adequate information about the program. Moreover, Hoekstra himself has previously agreed that the administration's briefings on the program did not meet the requirements of the National Security Act of 1947. Yet, Gibson failed to press him on any of these points.
Seven Democratic members of Congress are known to have been briefed about the program since 2001: Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-WV), top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee; House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA); Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (D-NV); Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA), top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee; former Sen. Tom Daschle (D-SD), one-time Senate Democratic leader; former Rep. Richard A. Gephardt (D-MO), one-time House Democratic leader; and former Sen. Bob Graham (D-FL). Of these seven, Rockefeller, Pelosi, and Daschle said they expressed concerns about the program. On July 17, 2003, Rockefeller wrote to Vice President Dick Cheney "to reiterate my concerns about the sensitive intelligence issues we discussed" in a secret briefing on the spying program that he was not allowed to discuss with his staff or outside counsel. Rockefeller wrote that "the activities we discussed [in the briefing] raise profound oversight issues. ... Given the security restrictions associated with this information, and my inability to consult staff or counsel on my own, I feel unable to fully evaluate, much less endorse these activities."
Additionally, Harman, Graham, and Reid have indicated they did not receive adequate information about the program. On the December 16 edition of ABC's Nightline, Graham claimed he was not given any indication the program would target Americans: "[T]here was no suggestion that we were going to begin eavesdropping on United States citizens without following the full law. ... There was no reference made to the fact that we were going to use that as the subterfuge to begin unwarranted, illegal, and I think unconstitutional eavesdropping on American citizens." Given that these lawmakers were apparently not informed about the full scope of the domestic spying program prior to its disclosure by The New York Times, if any had approved of the program, they would have been endorsing a course of action that differed from what was actually going on.
Further, The Times reported on December 21 that Hoekstra stated that he did not receive written reports from the White House on the surveillance operation, as required by the National Security Act. As the Times reported, Bush and Congress amended the National Security Act in 2001, requiring the executive branch to provide written reports to Congress regarding ongoing intelligence activities and their significance. Hoekstra, Graham, Rockefeller, and Reid "all said they understood that while the briefings provided by Cheney might have been accompanied by charts, they did not constitute written reports," according to the Times.
From the January 20 edition of Fox News' The Big Story with John Gibson:
GIBSON: So, Congressman, this is going to be a squabble for a very long time. Is there a clear-cut answer as to whether the president was on firm or even tenable legal grounds with this wiretapping program?
HOEKSTRA: Well, I think that all the briefings that I've gone through that were attended by bipartisan leadership in the House and the Senate seem to indicate that we all felt that there was solid, legal ground for this. You know, Democrats were for this program before they were against it. For the last four years, they raised no objections, and now that the information was leaked in a very damaging way, through The New York Times, all of a sudden they're starting to change their story. But I think once the specifics of this program would get out into the courts or even into the public eye -- which I hope doesn't happen for a while, because it's critical to national security that we continue it -- I think the public and the courts would stand firmly behind where the president is.
GIBSON: I read in an interview with Michael Chertoff today, the head of Homeland Security, that the 1978 FISA law allows the president to ignore the 1978 FISA law and go ahead and conduct wiretapping without these FISA warrants. How -- is that your understanding of the law?