On The Radio Factor and Hannity & Colmes, Dick Morris repeated the false claim that critics of the Bush administration's warrantless domestic wiretapping program, including many Democrats, oppose any wiretapping of suspected terrorists and question the legality of wiretapping in general.
On the August 21 broadcast of Westwood One's The Radio Factor with Bill O'Reilly and Fox News' Hannity & Colmes, Fox News political analyst Dick Morris repeated the false claim that critics of the Bush administration's warrantless domestic wiretapping program, including many Democrats, oppose any wiretapping of suspected terrorists and question the legality of wiretapping in general. In fact, critics of the program assert that the administration is acting in violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) by conducting surveillance of U.S. citizens and legal residents without obtaining a warrant from the FISA court; those critics have not called for an end to all surveillance of suspected terrorists. On The Radio Factor, Morris also repeated the discredited claim that the wiretapping program, conducted by the National Security Agency (NSA), was instrumental in the arrest of truck driver Iyman Faris, a naturalized U.S. citizen who pleaded guilty in 2003 to providing material support to Al Qaeda in a plot to destroy the Brooklyn Bridge.
Additionally, in an August 22 NewsMax.com column Morris co-wrote with his attorney wife, Eileen McGann, he lauded an attack ad against Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) by the campaign of her Republican opponent in the Senate race, former Yonkers Mayor John Spencer, as a "clean blow." Morris also described the ad as "very effective" on Hannity & Colmes. In fact, the claims featured in the ad about Clinton are misleading and false, as Media Matters for America has noted.
On the Factor, Morris argued that the administration's warrantless domestic wiretapping program, which U.S. District Court Judge Anna Diggs Taylor recently struck down, had provided the intelligence necessary to disrupt Faris's plan to destroy the Brooklyn Bridge. However, as Media Matters previously noted, a January 17 New York Times report indicated that information gleaned from the NSA program did not play "a significant role" in Faris's capture. That article cited "officials with direct knowledge of the Faris case" who disputed that "N.S.A. information played a significant role" in the Faris case:
By the administration's account, the N.S.A. eavesdropping helped lead investigators to Iyman Faris, an Ohio truck driver and friend of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who is believed to be the mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks. Mr. Faris spoke of toppling the Brooklyn Bridge by taking a torch to its suspension cables, but concluded that it would not work. He is now serving a 20-year sentence in a federal prison.
But as in the London fertilizer bomb case, some officials with direct knowledge of the Faris case dispute that the N.S.A. information played a significant role.
In a January 4 Web exclusive article, Newsweek investigative correspondent Mark Hosenball also questioned the administration's use of Faris to tout the effectiveness of its wiretapping program:
Did the National Security Agency's controversial eavesdropping program really help to detect terrorists or avert their plots? Administration officials have suggested to media outlets like The New York Times -- which broke the story -- that the spying played a role in at least two well-publicized investigations, one in the United Kingdom and one involving a plan to destroy the Brooklyn Bridge.
But before the NSA's warrantless spying program became public, government spokesmen had previously cited other intelligence and legal tactics as having led to major progress in the same investigations. In the Brooklyn Bridge case, officials indicated that the questioning of a captured Al Qaeda leader had led to investigative breakthroughs in Ohio.
And a CNN.com article on Faris's guilty plea reported that, in early 2003, Faris called off his plot to use gas cutters to destroy the Brooklyn Bridge because it was "unlikely to succeed."
Further, while discussing Democratic criticisms of President Bush's anti-terrorism policies, Morris baselessly asserted on both the Factor and Hannity & Colmes that Democrats would "repeal" the USA Patriot Act. In fact, Sen. Russell Feingold (D-WI) was the only Democrat to vote against the Patriot Act in 2001, and only nine Democrats (plus independent Sen. James Jeffords [VT]) voted against the USA Patriot Improvement and Reauthorization Act in March 2006. Morris further stated on the Factor that Democrats would "block the NSA intercepts" and similarly said on Hannity & Colmes that Democrats oppose "the wiretapping" and "the surveillance," without noting that it is only warrantless wiretapping in violation of FISA that critics -- including many Democrats -- oppose.
Similarly, in the August 22 NewsMax.com column, Morris and McGann claimed that the campaign ad put out by Spencer against Clinton was a "clean blow," adding: "If she [Sen. Clinton] doesn't like [the ad, which features a picture of her next to one of Osama bin Laden], perhaps she should think twice before voting to unilaterally disarm us in the War on Terror." Morris repeated the false claims from the Spencer ad -- that Clinton opposed the Patriot Act and the wiretapping of suspected terrorists, again misleadingly pointing to the Brooklyn Bridge plot as evidence of the necessity of the administration's warrantless eavesdropping.
As Media Matters documented, Spencer's ad claims that Clinton "opposes the Patriot Act and the NSA program that helped stop another 9-11" -- referring to the alleged terrorist plot to blow up multiple airliners traveling from the United Kingdom to the United States. In fact, Clinton voted for the Patriot Act in 2001, for the USA Patriot Improvement and Reauthorization Act in March 2006, and against a filibuster of that bill, although she supported a filibuster of an earlier version of the bill. There are also two inaccuracies in the claim that Clinton "opposes ... the NSA program that helped stop [the alleged British plot]." First, the media have not reported -- nor has the Bush administration asserted -- that warrantless surveillance of the communications of U.S. persons played a role in foiling the alleged British plot. News reports and statements by the administration have asserted that no person within the United States was directly connected to the purported plot; it is therefore highly speculative to assert that warrantless surveillance of U.S. persons' conversations with terrorist suspects abroad revealed information that "helped stop" the alleged attack. Second, although Clinton has stated her opposition to the NSA warrantless wiretapping program because it apparently violates the provisions of FISA, she has expressed support for wiretapping that complies with the law.
From the August 21 edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes:
HANNITY: The Democratic Party and what they have done to politicize this war and undermine this cause and this president, frankly, has weakened us. Your party is weak on national security, on defense issues. We will be more vulnerable and more susceptible. You guys may win, but the country will lose. You agree with that?
MORRIS: I think that it is significantly more likely that a terrorist attack would succeed if the Patriot Act were repealed, and the wiretapping program was killed.
MORRIS: And I think the Democrats would do both.
HANNITY: But one of the problems is -- but his party has so hated Bush that that's -- it seems like that's all they're fixated on.
BECKEL: You know -- you know -- wait a minute, Sean. First of all, the point about hating Bush, you couldn't have two back-to-back presidents more polarizing than Bill Clinton and George Bush. You'd have to order them up from central casting. But, having said that, if the Democrats can learn to separate the war in Iraq -- in Iraq, and make the war on terror a centerpiece and not be fighting over things like NSA and filing financial disclosure. Let's get back to law enforcement and get out of the war.
MORRIS: What he just said is absolutely right. The Democrats assume that the majorities that are with them on Iraq are also with them on homeland security, and they're not. Most Americans support the wiretapping, support the surveillance, support the Patriot Act. That's why that John Spencer ad against Hillary, that she voted against that stuff, is very effective.
From the August 21 broadcast of Westwood One's The Radio Factor with Bill O'Reilly:
O'REILLY: OK. Let's bring in Dick Morris, author of many books, all of which you should buy. And the latest one is Condi vs. Hillary, and Hillary's on the cover of Time magazine this week. Time -- you know, it's late summer, they got nothing else to do and they're trying to jazz her up. Now, Morris, we talked last week. You thought Bush was gonna get a little bump in the polls. So far, it hasn't come true. Why?
MORRIS: Well, I'm still hoping, but sometimes, I get my role of analyst and advocate mixed up, and I engage in wishful thinking, and I guess that was what I was doing last week.
O'REILLY: Why did you want him -- why did you want his poll numbers to go up? You're kind of a non-partisan guy.
MORRIS: Because I so believe in what he's doing in the war on terror. And I'm very concerned that Americans just do not understand that this is still a threat and still an ongoing issue. And that if we did what the Democrats would likely do -- repealing the Patriot Act and blocking the NSA intercepts -- we would be disarmed in that war. And I was hoping that the -- that stopping this terrorist attack over the ocean would've demonstrated that to people and would've moved those numbers.
O'REILLY: But, you know, people are confused and you and I know that. Why do you think with all the 24-hour cables and all the information on the Internet available to people, they are so confused about --
MORRIS: Well, I'll give you a very good example, Bill.
O'REILLY: Go ahead.
MORRIS: I was on your show last week and I was in the green room -- you know, where people wait to go on your show -- with [Rep.] Nita Lowey [D-NY], the congresswoman who you had on, who is a very bright, very well-informed congresswoman representing Westchester, just north of New York City, and she had said on your program that there was no reason not to go through the F.I.S.A. warrants to get these wiretaps, because 20,000 were asked for and only 10 were denied. And I talked to her in the green room and I said, "Nita, don't you understand that that's not the problem. The problem is that when you're doing a generic wiretap where you don't know what you're looking for, you don't know who you're looking at, you just feed in millions of phone calls into the computer and see if it can find a pattern." And once it did, it found the words "Brooklyn Bridge, Brooklyn Bridge, Brooklyn Bridge," and then we realized that maybe there was a threat involving the bridge, flooded it with cops, interrogated terrorists about it, busted the plot and saved the bridge. We never would've been able to do that had we had -- we couldn't go to the FISA board and say, "We want a warrant for every mention of Brooklyn Bridge." We didn't know it was the bridge they were after.
From Morris' August 22 NewsMax.com column:
With Sen. Hillary Clinton's 10-to-1 edge in campaign funding, her complaints about an ad from opponent John Spencer reminds one of an elephant howling in pain after having his toe stepped on by a flea. In fact, the Spencer ad, which castigated her record on terrorism, was a clean blow.
In the ad, Spencer criticizes Hillary for voting against the Patriot Act and opposing the National Security Agency policy of wiretapping conversations between Americans and foreigners without first getting a warrant from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. That characterization is fair and accurate on both issues.
So what's wrong with Spencer's ad? Hillary does oppose the NSA's "warrantless wiretaps." She did vote against the Patriot Act in December of 2005. And but for the Patriot Act and wiretaps, the Brooklyn Bridge would have been blown up.
Clinton criticizes Spencer for showing Osama bin Laden's picture in the ad next to hers. If she doesn't like that, perhaps she should think twice before voting to unilaterally disarm us in the War on Terror.