On Fox News Sunday, Weekly Standard editor William Kristol distorted Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean's criticism of the Bush administration's warrantless domestic surveillance program, claiming that Dean had said that the program was "probably some kind of domestic spying on political enemies." In fact, Dean made no such allegation.
On the January 29 edition of Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday, Weekly Standard editor William Kristol distorted Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean's criticism of the Bush administration's warrantless domestic surveillance program. Kristol claimed that Dean, during an interview on the program, had asserted that the controversial program was "probably some kind of domestic spying on political enemies." But Dean made no such allegation. Rather, he expressed concern that the National Security Agency (NSA) -- having been authorized by President Bush to intercept the international communications of U.S. residents without a warrant -- was eavesdropping on innocent Americans. He further criticized the program's lack of legal oversight as infringing on "the rights of ordinary Americans not to be intruded on by their government."
During the panel segment of the show, Kristol referenced the interview host Chris Wallace had earlier conducted with Dean:
KRISTOL: We saw Howard Dean earlier in your interview say that the eavesdropping program conducted under the supervision of Lieutenant General [Michael V.] Hayden by the National Security Agency, entirely staffed by career employees -- that that somehow is pernicious and probably some kind of domestic spying on political enemies. The Democratic Party is at risk if the Republicans exploit this now. The Republican Party can make the case that the Democratic Party is the party that stands against men like [Supreme Court nominee Samuel A.] Alito [Jr.] being judges and the leadership of people like General Hayden in terms of national security. And I think that's very dangerous for the Democratic Party if Republicans highlight this to the voters.
But contrary to Kristol's claim, at no point in the interview did Dean allege "pernicious" intent on the part of the Bush administration, nor did he suggest that they had utilized the program to spy on "political enemies." In fact, Dean agreed that the communications of terrorists should be monitored, but expressed concern about news reports (see here, here and here) suggesting that the NSA may be sweeping up large volumes of telephone and Internet communications in order to identify evidence of terrorist activity.
WALLACE: You've also been very critical of the president's NSA surveillance program, and you talked about that this week. Let's take a look at that, if we can. "This is not simply listening in to Al Qaeda. It's poking around into people's private lives in order to see if they're doing anything wrong." Governor, what evidence do you have that the NSA is poking around into people's private lives?
DEAN: I think it's been widely reported that you can't -- you have to poke around if you're going to spy on Al Qaeda. When you dial up a number or tap into a number, you don't know that's an Al Qaeda number until you hear what's going on on the other end of the phone. Look, I support spying on Al Qaeda, and I think every Democrat in America thinks that we ought to attack Al Qaeda and spy on them and do whatever we have to do to beat them. The problem is we ought to do it within the law.
We need a country that will lead the nation, but we also need a president that will -- I mean, excuse me, we need a president that will lead the nation, but we also need a president that will follow the law. The law says that if the president thinks that Al Qaeda is an imminent threat and he wants to spy on them, he can do that immediately, but he's got to go get a warrant after the fact. In 2002, there was a memo from the Justice Department that suggested changing the law, and the White House said, "No, we didn't need to do it." We are not asking the president not to spy on Al Qaeda. We are asking the president to follow the law when he does so. No one should be above the law, not even the president of the United States.
WALLACE: But, Governor, I want to go back to this issue of the NSA poking around in people's lives. It's not like they're just, you know, picking up the phone and taking any phone call that's out there. I mean, they say that every phone call that they're intercepting they have reason to believe has an Al Qaeda connection. In fact, General Michael Hayden, who used to be head of the NSA and is now the deputy director of national intelligence, talked about that this week. Let's watch.
HAYDEN [video clip]: These are communications that we have reason to believe are Al Qaeda communications -- a judgment made by American intelligence professionals, not folks like me or political appointees.
WALLACE: Governor, do you have any reason to believe that General Hayden isn't telling the truth?
DEAN: I don't know General Hayden in any way. But I can tell you that it's been, again, widely reported that not only is the NSA, of course, listing to Al Qaeda, which is their job, but they also tap into the main trunk lines just to see what kind of patterns emerge and what chatter is going on. That sounds like pretty random exploration of what's going on. Look, this is easy. The current law has existed since 1967. And the law is very plain. You don't get to do whatever you want if you're the president. The courts -- the president -- 19,000 times in the past the president has used the law -- this president and previous presidents have used the law. Only five times have they been rejected. But that rejection is a safeguard against the rights of ordinary Americans not to be intruded on by their government. So look, again, we support the idea of supplying -- spying on Al Qaeda, but we want the president to follow the law.
WALLACE: Again -- and I don't want to argue the legal point -- but, again, you've got General Hayden here saying these are conversations that we have reason to believe involved Al Qaeda. Do you have any reason to disbelieve that?
DEAN: No, I think that's probably true. But I don't think all the conversations they have reason to believe, because why would they tap the conversations in the first place? I don't think they know in advance who the Al Qaeda people are and who the American citizens are. That's the only point I'm trying to make.