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Context of 'March 7, 2006: Senate Republicans Block Probe of Wiretapping Program'

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Senator John D. Rockefeller (D-WV), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, writes a letter to FBI Director Robert Mueller. Rockefeller asks for an FBI investigation of the forged Iraq-Niger documents (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001, Late September 2001-Early October 2001, October 15, 2001, December 2001, February 5, 2002, February 12, 2002, October 9, 2002, October 15, 2002, January 2003, February 17, 2003, March 7, 2003, March 8, 2003, and 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003), because “the fabrication of these documents may be part of a larger deception campaign aimed at manipulating public opinion and foreign policy regarding Iraq.” An FBI inquiry, Rockefeller writes, “should, at a minimum, help to allay any concerns” that the Bush administration itself created the documents to build support for the war. Committee chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) refuses to sign the letter [Washington Post, 3/22/2003; Unger, 2007, pp. 292] , saying he believes it would be inappropriate for the FBI to launch such an inquiry. Secretary of State Colin Powell denies any role by the US government in creating the documents. [Associated Press, 3/14/2003] The FBI will not respond to Rockefeller’s request. [Future of Freedom Foundation, 9/2003]

Entity Tags: Robert S. Mueller III, John D. Rockefeller, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Colin Powell, Senate Intelligence Committee, Pat Roberts

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

The White House twice convinces Congressional leaders to derail or water down upcoming Congressional hearings into its warrantless wiretapping program, dodging potentially embarrassing public revelations about its surveillance of US citizens. Some observers praise the Bush administration for accepting more Congressional oversight, but some lawmakers feel the concessions made by the White House in return for Congress’s back down from full hearings mean little. Privately, some Republicans say that the White House came far closer to suffering large public setbacks than is generally known, and that President Bush must be more forthcoming about the warrantless wiretapping program if he wants to retain the good will of Congress. On February 8, a day before the House Intelligence Committee is to begin its hearings on the program, some lawmakers are complaining that the administration is trying to dodge any real discussion of the program; two days before, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales had defended the program without providing any details, and the White House intended to send Gonzales and former NSA head Michael Hayden to the hearings to give the same limited briefing. Instead, the White House agrees to have Gonzales and Hayden provide more details about the program’s “procedural aspects,” the first time a full Congressional committee has received a briefing about the program (see January 4, 2006 and January 18, 2006). Many committee members are placated by the briefing. In return, committee leaders agree to stymie Democrats’ attempts to hold more expansive hearings into the program. On February 17, the Senate Intelligence Committee deals with a motion by ranking Democrat Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) to open a broad inquiry into the program. But White House chief of staff Andrew Card has, two days before, spoken with committee member Olympia Snowe (R-ME). Snowe had expressed her own concerns about the program’s legality, and its infringement on constitutional civil liberties, and she is, according to Senate sources briefed on the call, “taken aback” by Card’s intransigence about restricting Congressional oversight of the program. Snowe and fellow senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE), another Republican who has voiced his own doubts about the program, speak with committee chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS). Roberts thinks he has the votes to defeat Rockefeller’s motion, but he learns Snowe and Hagel will support it, thus ensuring its passage. Thus informed, Roberts blocks passage of the motion by arranging a party-line vote to adjourn the committee until March 9, a move that infuriates Rockefeller. “The White House has applied heavy pressure in recent weeks to prevent the committee from doing its job,” he says after the adjournment. Both Hagel and Snowe deny folding under administration pressure. The White House is supportive of a proposal by Senator Mike DeWine (R-OH) that would exempt the NSA program from FISA, while providing for limited congressional oversight. [Washington Post, 2/19/2006]

Entity Tags: Olympia Snowe, Senate Intelligence Committee, Pat Roberts, Mike DeWine, National Security Agency, John D. Rockefeller, Bush administration (43), Andrew Card, Alberto R. Gonzales, Michael Hayden, House Intelligence Committee, Chuck Hagel, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Republicans on the Senate Intelligence Committee refuse to allow an inquiry into the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program (see December 15, 2005 and December 18, 2005), with the committee voting 10-8 along party lines to reject such a probe. Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Arlen Specter (R-PA) had advocated such a probe, but White House officials refused to cooperate with his committee, saying they would only cooperate via classified briefings to the Intelligence Committee. However, committee Republicans, led by chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS), have no intention of allowing such an inquiry. Roberts and his fellows say they will push to impose limitations on the program. Committee Democrats accuse their Republican colleagues of colluding with the administration to block the inquiry. “The committee is, to put it bluntly, is basically under the control of the White House,” says ranking committee member John D. Rockefeller (D-WV). “You can’t legislate properly unless you know what’s going on.” The Republicans have left Congress to “legislate in darkness and ignorance,” he says. Republicans say that a new, select subcommittee will increase oversight of the administration’s wiretapping. “It provides for a case-by-case examination and oversight by the United States Congress,” says Mike DeWine (R-OH), who is helping draft the bill for the new oversight subcommittee. “It will be very consistent with what our constitutional obligations are.” DeWine’s bill would allow the administration to ignore restrictions on wiretapping merely by invoking national security, and would not allow the committee to intervene even in clearly unjustified cases of wiretapping. “The White House could just decide not to tell them everything, and there’s no sanction,” says Bruce Fein, a former Reagan administration lawyer. “And the president can still claim that he has inherent power to conduct surveillance.” The bill is “extremely generous to the president,” says conservative law professor Douglas Kmiec. “It is not significantly different from the status quo. And I think the president would be quite delighted by that.” [Boston Globe, 3/8/2006; Savage, 2007, pp. 204]

Entity Tags: Senate Judiciary Committee, Bruce Fein, Arlen Specter, Bush administration (43), Pat Roberts, Douglas Kmiec, Mike DeWine, John D. Rockefeller, Senate Intelligence Committee

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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