On CNN's This Week in Politics, Cliff May falsely asserted, unchallenged, that Nancy Pelosi "is not letting a vote come on" a "bipartisan bill passed by the Senate that would restore to intelligence agencies the authority they used to have to ... surveil, to bug terrorists and terrorist suspects abroad." May further claimed, falsely, that Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama "have said they're against this bill that would restore intelligence authority." In fact, the U.S. government currently has the authority to eavesdrop on the communications of suspected terrorists through the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
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On the March 9 edition of CNN's This Week in Politics, correspondent Tom Foreman did not challenge Foundation for the Defense of Democracies president Cliff May's false assertion that "there's a bipartisan bill passed by the Senate that would restore to intelligence agencies the authority they used to have to ... surveil, to bug terrorists and terrorist suspects abroad," but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) "is not letting a vote come on it" and Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama "have said they're against this bill that would restore intelligence authority." May then suggested that Sen. John McCain should use this as a line of attack against his Democratic rivals: "What McCain needs to explain ... is, 'Hey, they're not serious about intelligence. We are safe because we're listening in on the phone calls of terrorists, and Obama and Hillary don't want us to do that.' " In fact, the U.S. government currently has the authority to eavesdrop on the communications of suspected terrorists primarily through the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (FISA), whereas the Protect America Act (PAA), which expired in mid-February, expanded the government's authority to spy on people in the United States without a warrant. As The Washington Post reported on February 13, the PAA "expanded the government's authority to intercept -- without a court order -- the phone calls and emails of people in the United States communicating with others overseas. U.S. intelligence agencies previously had broad leeway to monitor the communications of foreign terrorism suspects but needed warrants to monitor calls intercepted in the United States, regardless of where they originated."
Defense of Democracies, an advocacy organization affiliated with May's Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, has also recently been running an ad that falsely claims the government's authority to conduct surveillance of terrorist suspects expired when the PAA expired. The ad states:
Midnight, February 16th: The law that lets intelligence agencies intercept Al Qaeda communications expires. Senate Democrats and Republicans vote overwhelmingly to extend terrorist surveillance, but the House refuses to vote and instead goes on vacation. So, new surveillance against terrorists is crippled. Tell the House of Representatives to do its job and pass the Senate's Terror Surveillance Bill, to keep us all safe.
Defense of Democracies also pushes the false assertion in a similar ad that targets Pelosi. But contrary to the suggestion that Pelosi is seeking to obstruct efforts to allow the surveillance of suspected terrorists, in a February 13 statement, Pelosi specifically noted that "the underlying Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which provides for the surveillance of terrorists and provides that in emergencies surveillance can begin without warrant, remains intact and available to our intelligence agencies." As Media Matters for America has documented, House Republicans tried to get the House to approve a Senate-passed bill that would, for the most part, extend until the end of 2013 the PAA revisions to FISA that were enacted by Congress in August 2007. Further, regarding the PAA's expiration, a February 14 New York Times article reported:
The lapsing of the deadline would have little practical effect on intelligence gathering. Intelligence officials would be able to intercept communications from Qaeda members or other identified terrorist groups for a year after the initial eavesdropping authorization for that particular group.
If a new terrorist group is identified after Saturday [February 16], intelligence officials would not be able to use the broadened eavesdropping authority. They would be able to seek a warrant under the more restrictive standards in place for three decades through the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
Media Matters has documented numerous media outlets conflating the 1978 FISA law and the PAA, thereby advancing the falsehood -- promoted by supporters of the Bush administration's warrantless domestic spying program and parroted by the media -- that since the PAA expired, the government no longer has the authority to spy on suspected terrorists.
As Media Matters noted, in October 2007, during a conversation with MSNBC host Tucker Carlson about gender issues in the presidential campaign and Carlson's professed disapproval of supporting candidates on the basis of gender, May said of Clinton: "At least call her a Vaginal-American."
From the March 9 edition of CNN's This Week in Politics:
FOREMAN: Jonathan, what does McCain try to stick on the Democrats then?
JONATHAN MARTIN (Politico senior political writer): Well, that they are not ready for prime time, essentially, and in a dangerous world, you need a steady hand at the tiller. Neither Clinton or Obama have the experience that he does.
But let me just reiterate what Cliff is saying. I talked to McCain folks this week. They want to take that red-blue map and tear it up, and stomp all over it. They really want to campaign across the country, and that implicitly is a rebuke of the Bush model -- go to places that Republicans have not been to.
As part of that planning, in April, they're gonna do a tour. It's sort of a different kind of Republican tour. They're gonna go to ghettos, barrios, places that most candidates on the Republican side typically haven't ventured to, to really drive this theme that he's gonna really go different kind of places.
FOREMAN: Cliff, there's a sense also that they may go after states that the Democrats consider safe states for them.
MAY: They absolutely can, because, again, McCain has crossover potential. He appeals to independents and he appeals to conservative Democrats. So, he absolutely should do that, and he should focus in on issues as well.
For example, there's a bipartisan bill passed by the Senate that would restore to intelligence agencies the authority they used to have to surveil a -- surveil, to bug terrorists and terrorist suspects abroad. Passed in the Senate bipartisan, would pass in the House, but Nancy Pelosi is not letting a vote come on it. Both Obama and Hillary have said they're against this bill that would restore intelligence authority.
What McCain needs to explain, more simply than I just did, is, "Hey, they're not serious about intelligence. We are safe because we're listening in on the phone calls of terrorists, and Obama and Hillary don't want us to do that."
FOREMAN: Jonathan, what is the bigger challenge for him right now? There's a lot of talk about this electability issue. Would McCain rather run against Hillary or would he rather run against Barack?