Thursday, January 18, 2007

Bush concedes on his warrantless wiretapping

Bush concedes. Isn't it great to be able to write such a sentence? Well, he thinks he did something wrong with his warrantless eavesdropping. Otherwise, why reverse his position?
The Bush administration, in a surprise reversal, said on Wednesday that it had agreed to give a secret court jurisdiction over the National Security Agency’s wiretapping program and would end its practice of eavesdropping without warrants on Americans suspected of ties to terrorists.

The Justice Department said it had worked out an “innovative” arrangement with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that provided the “necessary speed and agility” to provide court approval to monitor international communications of people inside the United States without jeopardizing national security.

The decision capped 13 months of bruising national debate over the reach of the president’s wartime authorities and his claims of executive power, and it came as the administration faced legal and political hurdles in its effort to continue the surveillance program. (emphasis added)
Surprise! In the face of imminent investigations of Bush's warrantless wiretapping, alleged by many to have been illegally committed, they say uncle! OK, despite our many protestations of presidential executive power and our demonizing of Democrats as wanting to let Al Qaeda listen in on telephone calls...well, sorry for all that. Now we're suddenly happy to let the FISA court scrutinize our program. W....T....F?

Not so fast, slick Alberto. Democrats are still intent on getting to the bottom of what happened, as well they should:
"The announcement today is welcome news,” said Senator John D. Rockefeller IV, the West Virginia Democrat who leads the Intelligence Committee. “But it is also confirmation that the administration’s go-it-alone approach, effectively excluding Congress and the courts and operating outside the law, was unnecessary.”

Mr. Rockefeller added, “I intend to move forward with the committee’s review of all aspects of this program’s legality and effectiveness.”
Next time W, you may not want to follow Karl Rove's advice and demonize Democrats as terrorist sympathizers. They may remember it at such moments.

Oh, and what's this tidbit from that suddenly most helpful of species, a congressional Republican?
The administration said it had briefed the full House and Senate Intelligence Committees in closed sessions on its decision.

But Representative Heather A. Wilson, Republican of New Mexico, who serves on the Intelligence committee, disputed that, and some Congressional aides said staff members were briefed Friday without lawmakers present.

Ms. Wilson, who has scrutinized the program for the last year, said she believed the new approach relied on a blanket, “programmatic” approval of the president’s surveillance program, rather than approval of individual warrants.

Administration officials “have convinced a single judge in a secret session, in a nonadversarial session, to issue a court order to cover the president’s terrorism surveillance program,” Ms. Wilson said in a telephone interview. She said Congress needed to investigate further to determine how the program is run. (emphasis added)
More spine from Republicans, thank you. And for an inkling of what's really behind this move by the administration:
Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the A.C.L.U., said the appellate court should still examine the legality of the program and whether the it had violated intelligence law for the last five years.

It’s not academic when the president violates the law,” Mr. Romero said. (emphasis added)
The administration was able to gets its torture immunity legislation passed prior to the election, but not congressional approval of the Presidents' warrantless wiretapping. These actions today suggest that the administration is concerned about this unresolved liability and for all the deft stage management of their announcement, it's likely to do them little good.

More analysis of the fallout in the WPost today...