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Shortly after the 9/11 attacks, the NSA expands surveillance operations, relying on its own authorities; some sources indicate this includes a massive domestic data mining and call tracking program, and some contend that it is illegal. In a 2006 public briefing, NSA Director Michael Hayden will say, “In the days after 9/11, NSA was using its authorities and its judgment to appropriately respond to the most catastrophic attack on the homeland in the history of the nation.” Following an October 1 briefing by Hayden to the House Intelligence Committee, Representative Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) will write to Hayden on October 11, saying, “[Y]ou indicated that you had been operating since the September 11 attacks with an expansive view of your authorities with respect to the conduct of electronic surveillance” (see October 11, 2001). Some evidence indicates NSA domestic surveillance began even before 9/11 (see Late 1999, February 27, 2000, December 2000, February 2001, February 2001, Spring 2001, and July 2001). (Pelosi 1/6/2006; Michael Hayden 1/23/2006)
No Connection to Bush-Authorized Warrantless Domestic Call Monitoring - In his 2006 remarks, Hayden will clearly distinguish between the expansion he initiates under his own authorities, and the warrantless monitoring of calls with one end outside the US authorized later by President Bush (see October 4, 2001), saying, “[E]xcept that they involved NSA, these [Hayden-authorized] programs were not related… to the authorization that the president has recently spoken about.” (Michael Hayden 1/23/2006)
'Stellar Wind' Is Name of Hayden-Authorized Program - In 2012 interviews, former NSA official William Binney will indicate that “Stellar Wind” is the name of the surveillance program initiated by Hayden. (Bamford 2/15/2012; Binney 4/20/2012) Some sources will refer to the Bush-authorized eavesdropping as being part of the Stellar Wind program. (Isikoff 12/22/2008)
Differing Views on Authority for Surveillance - In his 2006 briefing, Hayden will say the Fourth Amendment only protects Americans against “unreasonable search and seizure,” and that 9/11 changed what was to be considered “reasonable.” Specifically, if communications are believed to have “[i]nherent foreign intelligence value,” interception of these communications is reasonable. In addition to referring to Hayden’s “view of [his] authorities” as “expansive,” Pelosi’s letter will give another indication that the NSA’s new standard is significantly broader than it was previously, stating, “You indicated that you were treating as a matter of first impression, [redacted] being of foreign intelligence interest.” Hayden will publicly clarify in 2006 that the authority for the NSA’s operational expansion exists under an Executive Order issued by President Reagan, saying, “These decisions were easily within my authorities as the director of NSA under and [sic] executive order; known as Executive Order 12333.” And, he will say, “I briefed the entire House Intelligence Committee on the 1st of October on what we had done under our previously existing authorities” (see October 1, 2001). In her October 11 letter, Pelosi will also write of having concerns about the program that haven’t been resolved due to restrictions on information-sharing with Congress imposed by Bush (see October 11, 2001). Binney, who pioneered the development of certain NSA data mining and surveillance technologies, will come to believe that what the NSA is doing is unconstitutional; he will first take his concerns to Congress (see Before October 31, 2001) and then resign on October 31 (see October 31, 2001). (Pelosi 1/6/2006; Michael Hayden 1/23/2006)
Surveillance Involves Domestic Communications - In his 2006 remarks, Hayden will not say the NSA is only targeting foreign communications under his post-9/11 authorization. Rather, the context of his remarks will indicate he is referring to domestic communications. More specifically, Hayden will state: “If the US person information isn’t relevant, the data is suppressed. It’s a technical term we use; we call it ‘minimized.’ The individual is not even mentioned. Or if he or she is, he or she is referred to as ‘US Person Number One’ or ‘US Person Number Two.’ Now, inherent intelligence value. If the US person is actually the named terrorist, well, that could be a different matter.” Hayden will also reveal that information is being passed to the FBI, an investigative agency with a primarily domestic jurisdiction, saying, “[A]s another part of our adjustment, we also turned on the spigot of NSA reporting to FBI in, frankly, an unprecedented way.” (Michael Hayden 1/23/2006) One of Pelosi’s statements in her letter to Hayden may indicate an aspect of the domestic component: “You indicated that you were treating as a matter of first impression, [redacted] being of foreign intelligence interest,” she will write. (Pelosi 1/6/2006) In a 2011 interview with Jane Mayer published in the New Yorker, Binney will say the NSA was obtaining “billing records on US citizens” and “putting pen registers [call logs] on everyone in the country.” (Mayer 5/23/2011) And in a 2012 Wired article, NSA expert James Bamford will write that Binney “explains that the agency could have installed its tapping gear at the nation’s cable landing stations—the more than two dozen sites on the periphery of the US where fiber-optic cables come ashore. If it had taken that route, the NSA would have been able to limit its eavesdropping to just international communications, which at the time was all that was allowed under US law. Instead it chose to put the wiretapping rooms at key junction points throughout the country—large, windowless buildings known as switches—thus gaining access to not just international communications but also to most of the domestic traffic flowing through the US.” Binney’s account is supported by other sources (see October 2001). (Bamford 2/15/2012)
Surveillance Program Is Massive - Bamford, citing Binney, will write: “Stellar Wind… included not just eavesdropping on domestic phone calls but the inspection of domestic email. At the outset the program recorded 320 million calls a day, he says, which represented about 73 to 80 percent of the total volume of the agency’s worldwide intercepts.” It is unclear exactly when this level of surveillance began. According to whistleblower AT&T employee Mark Klein, construction of secret rooms splitting communications traffic does not begin until Fall 2002 (see Fall 2002). Bamford will write that Binney says, “[T]he taps in the secret rooms dotting the country are actually powered by highly sophisticated software programs that conduct ‘deep packet inspection,’ examining Internet traffic as it passes through the 10-gigabit-per-second cables at the speed of light.” (Bamford 2/15/2012) Also, Binney’s remark to Jane Mayer that the NSA was “putting pen registers on everyone in the country” indicates the broad scope of the program. (Mayer 5/23/2011)
NSA Director Michael Hayden briefs the House Intelligence Committee on the NSA’s efforts to combat terrorism. Though the NSA is already working on a domestic wiretapping program to spy, without warrants, on US citizens (see Early 2002), Hayden does not mention the program to the committee members, but merely discusses the ramifications of President Reagan’s Executive Order 12333 (see December 4, 1981 and September 13, 2001) on NSA functions. He does not mention that Reagan’s executive order forbids warrantless surveillance of US citizens “unless the Attorney General has determined in each case that there is probable cause to believe that the technique is directed against a foreign power or an agent of a foreign power.” On October 11, committee member Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) will write to Hayden expressing her concerns about the warrantless nature of the NSA wiretaps (see October 11, 2001). (Linzer 1/4/2006)
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) writes to NSA Director Michael Hayden questioning the nature and extent of the apparently illegal warrantless wiretapping of US citizens by the agency. Pelosi and other members of the House Intelligence Committee were briefed on October 1, 2001, by Hayden, whose agency began conducting surveillance against US citizens after the 9/11 attacks (see After September 11, 2001). Pelosi will release the letter on January 6, 2006, three weeks after the New York Times revealed that the NSA had been conducting electronic surveillance of US citizens without warrants since at least 2002 (see December 15, 2005.) Pelosi’s office will also release Hayden’s response, but almost the entire letter from Hayden is redacted.
Letter to Hayden - Pelosi writes in part, “[Y]ou indicated [in the briefing] that you had been operating since the September 11 attacks with an expansive view of your authorities with respect to the conduct of electronic surveillance under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and related statutes, orders, regulations, and guidelines.… For several reasons, including what I consider to be an overly broad interpretation of President Bush’s directive of October 5 on sharing with Congress ‘classified or sensitive law enforcement information’ it has not been possible to get answers to my questions. Without those answers, the concerns I have about what you said on the First can not be resolved, and I wanted to bring them to your attention directly. You indicated that you were treating as a matter of first impression, [redacted ] being of foreign intelligence interest. As a result, you were forwarding the intercepts, and any information [redacted ] without first receiving a request for that identifying information to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Although I may be persuaded by the strength of your analysis [redacted ] I believe you have a much more difficult case to make [redacted ] Therefore, I am concerned whether, and to what extent, the National Security Agency has received specific presidential authorization for the operations you are conducting. Until I understand better the legal analysis regarding the sufficiency of the authority which underlies your decision on the appropriate way to proceed on this matter, I will continue to be concerned.” The only portion of Hayden’s October 18 reply regarding Pelosi’s concerns that has not been redacted reads, “In my briefing, I was attempting to emphasize that I used my authorities to adjust NSA’s collection and reporting.” In January 2006, an NSA official will say that Pelosi’s concerns were adequately addressed in Hayden’s reply, and in a private briefing shortly thereafter. (Linzer 1/4/2006; Pelosi 1/6/2006)
Pelosi Unaware of Pre-9/11 Surveillance - Though Bush officials eventually admit to beginning surveillance of US citizens only after the 9/11 attacks, that assertion is disputed by evidence suggesting that the domestic surveillance program began well before 9/11 (see Late 1999, February 27, 2000, December 2000, February 2001, February 2001, Spring 2001, and July 2001). Pelosi is apparently unaware of any of this.
NSA Director Michael Hayden responds to an October 11 letter from Representative Nancy Pelosi (see October 11, 2001), expressing concerns about the NSA’s post-9/11 surveillance expansion (see After September 11, 2001) that Hayden outlined for the House Intelligence Committee on October 1 (see October 1, 2001), and asking whether the president authorized it. The substance of Hayden’s October 18 reply will be redacted, except for this statement: “In my briefing, I was attempting to emphasize that I used my authorities to adjust NSA’s collection and reporting.” (Pelosi 1/6/2006) A January 4, 2006 report in the Washington Post will cite “intelligence official close to Hayden” as saying that “[Hayden’s] appearance on Oct. 1, 2001, before the House committee had been to discuss Executive Order 12333, and not the new NSA program,” and that “Pelosi’s concerns had been answered in writing and again several weeks later during a private briefing.” (Linzer 1/4/2006) In a January 23, 2006 public briefing, Hayden will say, “September 2001, I asked to update the Congress on what NSA had been doing, and I briefed the entire House Intelligence Committee on the 1st of October on what we had done under our previously existing authorities,” and, “These decisions were easily within my authorities as the director of NSA under and [sic] executive order; known as Executive Order 12333.” (Michael Hayden 1/23/2006)
Nature of Hayden's EO 12333 Surveillance Program - The full scope of Hayden’s surveillance program is unclear, but some sources indicate it includes the wholesale collection and data-mining of phone records provided by telecom companies and placement of pen registers (call trackers) on domestic phone numbers (see After September 11, 2001, October 11, 2001, After September 11, 2001, Late September, 2001, October 2001), and October 31, 2001). Some sources indicate the NSA began large-scale domestic surveillance activities prior to the 9/11 attacks (see Late 1999, February 27, 2000, December 2000, February 2001, February 2001, Spring 2001, and July 2001).
Vice President Dick Cheney summons the chairmen and ranking members of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees to the White House for a classified briefing on the secret NSA warrantless wiretapping program (see Early 2002). Cheney makes it clear to the lawmakers that he is merely informing them about the program, and not seeking their approval. (Gellman and Linzer 12/18/2005) Officials later say that under any of the previous presidents, such a meeting of this import would involve the president. But the four lawmakers are hustled away from the Oval Office. Instead, “[w]e met in the vice president’s office,” Bob Graham (D-FL), the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, later recalls. President Bush has already told Graham that “the vice president should be your point of contact in the White House.” Cheney, according to the president, “has the portfolio for intelligence activities.” (Gellman and Becker 6/24/2007) The leaders are briefed by Cheney, CIA Director George Tenet, and NSA Director Michael Hayden. The Congressional leaders will later mostly refuse to comment publicly about what they do and do not learn about the program, even after it is revealed to the public (see December 15, 2005). In 2003, when Senator John D. Rockefeller ascends to the Democratic leadership of the Senate committee, and is himself briefed on the program, he will write to Cheney expressing his concerns over it (see July 17, 2003). (Risen and Lichtblau 12/15/2005)
'No Discussion about Expanding' NSA Wiretapping - In December 2005, after the program is revealed to the public, one of the Congressmen present at the briefings, Graham, the then-chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, will discuss his knowledge of the program. In contradiction to the characterizations of Bush and other White House officials, Graham will say that he recalls “no discussion about expanding [NSA eavesdropping] to include conversations of US citizens or conversations that originated or ended in the United States,” and knew nothing of Bush’s intention to ignore the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (also known as the FISA court). “I came out of the room with the full sense that we were dealing with a change in technology but not policy,” Graham will recall, using new methodologies to intercept overseas calls that passed through US switches. He thought that NSA eavesdropping would continue to be limited to “calls that initiated outside the United States, had a destination outside the United States but that transferred through a US-based communications system.” Instead, Graham will say, it now seems that Bush decided to go “beyond foreign communications to using this as a pretext for listening to US citizens’ communications. There was no discussion of anything like that in the meeting with Cheney.” A senior intelligence official, who refuses to reveal his identity but says he is speaking with the permission of the White House, will accuse Graham of “misremembering the briefings,” which he will call “very, very comprehensive.” The official will refuse to discuss the briefings in any but the most general terms, but will say they were intended “to make sure the Hill knows this program in its entirety, in order to never, ever be faced with the circumstance that someone says, ‘I was briefed on this but I had no idea that—’ and you can fill in the rest.” Graham will characterize the official’s description as saying: “[W]e held a briefing to say that nothing is different.… Why would we have a meeting in the vice president’s office to talk about a change and then tell the members of Congress there is no change?” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who was also present at the meeting as the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, will say the briefing described “President Bush’s decision to provide authority to the National Security Agency to conduct unspecified activities.” She will note that she “expressed my strong concerns” but did not go into detail. (Gellman and Linzer 12/18/2005)
Lawmakers Unaware of Pre-9/11 Surveillance - Though Bush officials eventually admit to beginning surveillance of US citizens only after the 9/11 attacks, that assertion is disputed by evidence suggesting that the domestic surveillance program began well before 9/11 (see Late 1999, February 27, 2000, December 2000, February 2001, February 2001, Spring 2001, and July 2001). In the briefing, Cheney informs the lawmakers of none of this.
Vice President Dick Cheney phones Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Bob Graham (D-FL). Cheney’s call comes early in the morning, and Graham takes it while still shaving. Cheney is agitated; he has just read in the newspaper that telephone calls intercepted by the NSA on September 10, 2001 warned of an imminent al-Qaeda attack. But, the story continues, the intercepts were not translated until September 12, the day after the 9/11 attacks (see September 10, 2001). Cheney is enraged that someone leaked the classified information from the NSA intercepts to the press. As a result, Cheney says, the Bush administration is considering terminating all cooperation with the joint inquiry by the Senate and House Intelligence Committees on the government’s failure to predict and prevent the attacks (see September 18, 2002). (Graham co-chairs the inquiry.) Classified records would no longer be made available to the committees, and administration witnesses would not be available for interviews or testimony. Furthermore, Cheney says, unless the committee leaders take action to find out who leaked the information, and more importantly, take steps to ensure that such leaks never happen again, President Bush will tell the citizenry that Congress cannot be trusted with vital national security secrets. “Take control of the situation,” Cheney tells Graham. The senator responds that he, too, is frustrated with the leaks, but Cheney is unwilling to be mollified.
Quick Capitulation - At 7:30 a.m., Graham meets with the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Porter Goss (R-FL), and the ranking members of the committees, Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL, who will later be accused of leaking the information) and Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). They decide to request that the Justice Department conduct a criminal inquiry into whether anyone on either committee, member or staffer, leaked the information to the press. One participant in the meeting later says, “It was a hastily made decision, made out of a sense of panic… and by people with bleary eyes.” Another person involved in the decision later recalls: “There was a real concern that any meaningful oversight by Congress was very much at stake. The political dynamic back then—not that long after September 11—was completely different. They took Cheney’s threats very seriously.” In 2007, reporter Murray Waas will observe that Cheney and other administration officials saw the leak “as an opportunity to undercut Congressional oversight and possibly restrict the flow of classified information to Capitol Hill.”
Graham: Congress Victimized by White House 'Set Up' - In 2007, after his retirement from politics, Graham will say: “Looking back at it, I think we were clearly set up by Dick Cheney and the White House. They wanted to shut us down. And they wanted to shut down a legitimate Congressional inquiry that might raise questions in part about whether their own people had aggressively pursued al-Qaeda in the days prior to the September 11 attacks. The vice president attempted to manipulate the situation, and he attempted to manipulate us.… But if his goal was to get us to back off, he was unsuccessful.” Graham will add that Goss shared his concerns, and say that in 2003, he speculates to Goss that the White House had set them up in order to sabotage the joint inquiry; according to Graham, Goss will respond, “I often wondered that myself.” Graham will go on to say that he believes the NSA leak was not only promulgated by a member of Congress, but by White House officials as well; he will base his belief on the fact that Washington Post and USA Today reports contain information not disclosed during the joint committee hearing. “That would lead a reasonable person to infer the administration leaked as well,” he will say, “or what they were doing was trying to set us up… to make this an issue which they could come after us with.”
White House Goes Public - The same day, White House press secretary Ari Fleischer tells reporters, “The president [has] very deep concerns about anything that would be inappropriately leaked that could… harm our ability to maintain sources and methods and anything else that could interfere with America’s ability to fight the war on terrorism.”
Investigation Will Point to Senate Republican - An investigation by the Justice Department will determine that the leak most likely came from Shelby, but Shelby will deny leaking the intercepts, and the Senate Ethics Committee will decline to pursue the matter (see August 5, 2004). (Waas 2/15/2007)
Some congressional leaders are reportedly briefed on the CIA’s detainee interrogation program, but what is actually said will later be disputed. The briefing is described as “a virtual tour of the CIA’s overseas detention sites and the harsh techniques interrogators had devised to try to make their prisoners talk,” and apparently mentions waterboarding and information gleaned from detainees, according to two unnamed officials who are present and will later talk to the Washington Post.
Few, if Any, Objections Raised - Due to the feeling of “panic” following 9/11, the legislators’ attitude is described as, “We don’t care what you do to those guys as long as you get the information you need to protect the American people,” and two even ask if the methods are “tough enough.” The briefing, apparently one of the first of a series of around 30 private briefings on the CIA’s interrogation program, is for the “Gang of Eight,” the four top congressional leaders and the senior member from each party on the House and Senate intelligence committees. However, the methods used are only described in some of the briefings, and some of the meetings are just for the “gang of four”—intelligence committee members only. The groups are said to be so small because they concern highly secret covert activities, although it will later be suggested that the administration’s motivation is “partly to hide from view an embarrassing practice that the CIA considered vital but outsiders would almost certainly condemn as abhorrent.” One of the committee members present is Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), and other officials that receive such briefings are reported to include Jane Harman (D-CA), Bob Graham (D-FL), Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), Porter Goss (R-FL) and Pat Roberts (R-KS). Harman is said to be the only one to object at any point. The attendees’ recollections of the meeting will later vary greatly. Goss will say, “Among those being briefed, there was a pretty full understanding of what the CIA was doing… And the reaction in the room was not just approval, but encouragement,” although this may not be a reference to this specific meeting. Graham, who will leave the Senate Intelligence Committee in January 2003, will later say he has no memory of being told about waterboarding, “Personally, I was unaware of it, so I couldn’t object.” A “source familiar with Pelosi’s position” will say that she participates in a discussion of enhanced interrogation techniques, but understands they are at the planning stage at this time and are not in use. (Warrick and Eggen 12/9/2007)
Restrictions on Information - Graham will later describe the limitations placed on legislators who receive such briefings: “In addition to the fact that the full members of the committee can’t hear what’s happening, those who are in the room are very restricted. You can’t take any notes. You can’t bring anyone with you and after the meeting, you cannot discuss what you’ve heard. So that if, for instance, there’s an issue about, is this legal under the Geneva Convention, you can’t go to someone who’s an expert on that subject and get their opinion. It’s a very limiting situation.” (CNN 12/13/2007)
Secret Interrogations Already Underway - The CIA has been conducting aggressive interrogations since at least May 2002 (see Mid-May 2002 and After), but is has no firm legal basis to perform them until the Justice Department gives approval in August 2002 (see August 1, 2002). CIA Director George Tenet will later comment in a 2007 book, “After we received the written Department of Justice guidance on the interrogation issue, we briefed the chairmen and ranking members of our oversight committees. While they were not asked to formally approve the program as it was done under the President’s unilateral authorities, I can recall no objections being raised.” (Windrem 9/13/2007)
Condoleezza Rice and George Tenet give a classified briefing to some members of Congress in an attempt to persuade them of the immediate need to invade Iraq (see September 19, 2002 and September 24, 2002). After the briefing, several Democrats say they are unconvinced that Saddam Hussein poses an imminent threat to the US; some intimate that the White House is trying to “politicize” the debate on the resolution in order to impact the elections. Minority Whip Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, says, “I know of no information that the threat is so imminent from Iraq” that Congress cannot wait until January to vote on a resolution. “I did not hear anything today that was different about [Saddam Hussein’s] capabilities,” save a few “embellishments.” She is joined by Tom Lantos (D-CA), a hawkish Democrat who supports the overthrow of the current Iraq regime, but who wants a special session of Congress after the November 5 elections to debate a war resolution. “I do not believe the decision should be made in the frenzy of an election year,” he says. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) agrees: “It would be a severe mistake for us to vote on Iraq with as little information as we have. This would be a rash and hasty decision” because the administration has provided “no groundbreaking news” on Iraq’s ability to strike the United States or other enemies with chemical, biological or nuclear weapons. Durbin’s fellow senator, Evan Bayh (D-IN) adds that while he agrees Iraq is a valid threat, the White House must do more to convince lawmakers and the American people of that threat before asking Congress to approve military action. “If the president wants to have a vote before the election, he needs to give the military threat, or he risks looking political. With that timing, he will run the risk of looking brazenly political,” Bayh says. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) agrees with Pelosi and Durbin, saying, “What was described as new is not new. It was not compelling enough” to justify war. “Did I see a clear and present danger to the United States? No.” Senate Majority Whip Harry Reid (D-NV) favors delaying the vote as well, but Daschle says he will likely allow the Senate to vote on the resolution if Bush meets several criteria, including obtaining more international support for a military campaign and providing senators a more detailed explanation of how the war would be conducted and how Iraq would be rebuilt. House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-TX) is one of the very few Republicans to oppose the resolution coming up for a vote before the elections. Most Republicans agree with Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS), who wants the White House to submit a specific war resolution by September 23 so it can be voted on before the October adjournment. But an unnamed House Republican leader also seems to believe the case Tenet and Rice presented is weak: he says, “Daschle will want to delay this and he can make a credible case for delay.” (VandeHei and Eilperin 9/10/2002; Snow and Barrett 9/10/2002; Bash 9/11/2002)
A group of 10 ex-CIA officials are working with members of Congress to push for a Congressional inquiry into the leak of CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson’s covert agency status. The former officials want to know if Plame Wilson’s exposure compromised US national security. Former CIA analyst Larry Johnson and nine other former CIA analysts and case officers send a letter to House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) and other senior Democrats and Republicans in the House of Representatives. The officers call on Congress to act “for the good of the country,” and say it is time to “send an unambiguous message that the intelligence officers tasked with collecting or analyzing intelligence must never be turned into political punching bags.” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) says she agrees with the thrust of the letter, and supports efforts by Representative Rush Holt (D-NJ) to force the House to open such a probe. Holt and other Democrats have introduced a resolution that, if approved, would request that the Bush administration forward all documents related to the Plame Wilson investigation to Congress. It is unlikely that House Republicans will allow the resolution to be brought to a vote. “The Department of Justice investigation has the full support of Congress and should be vigorously pursued, but it is not enough,” Holt says. (United Press International 1/22/2004; Anderson 1/23/2004; Chicago Sun-Times 1/23/2004)
Vice President Dick Cheney gives the Congressional leaders known as the “Gang of Eight”—the House speaker and House minority leader, the Senate majority and minority leaders, and the ranking members of the House and Senate intelligence committees—their first briefing on the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program (see Early 2002). The Democratic leaders at the meeting are House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD), House Intelligence Committee ranking member Jane Harman (D-CA), and Senate Intelligence Committee ranking member John D. Rockefeller (D-WV). Daschle (D-SD) later recalls the meeting as superficial. Cheney “talked like it was something routine,” Daschle will say. “We really had no idea what it was about.” Unbeknownst to many of the Congressional leaders, White House and Justice Department leaders are locked in a sharp dispute over whether or not the program is legal and should be continued; Cheney is preparing to send White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and chief of staff Andrew Card to Attorney General John Ashcroft’s hospital room to persuade the gravely ill, heavily sedated Ashcroft to overrule acting Attorney General James Comey and reauthorize the program (see March 10-12, 2004). The briefing is designed to give the appearance of Congressional approval for the program. While most Republicans in the briefing give at least tacit approval of the program, some Democrats, as Daschle will recall, expressed “a lot of concerns” over the program’s apparent violation of fundamental Congressional rights. Pelosi later recalls that she “made clear my disagreement with what the White House was asking.” But administration officials such as Gonzales will later say (see July 24, 2007) that the eight Congressional leaders are in “consensus” in supporting the program, a characterization that is patently false (see July 25, 2007). Gonzales will also later testify that today’s briefing does not cover the NSA wiretapping program, later dubbed the “Terrorist Surveillance Program” (TSP), another apparent falsehood contradicted by Democratic senators such as Rockefeller and Russ Feingold, as well as testimony and notes on the hospital room visit made by FBI Director Robert Mueller and a memo from John Negroponte, the director of national intelligence. Many feel that Gonzales is using the moniker “Terrorist Surveillance Program,” not in use until December 2005, to play what reporter Michael Isikoff calls “verbal parsing” and “a semantic game”—since the NSA wiretapping program is not known by this name at the time of the Congressional briefing, Gonzales will imply that the briefing wasn’t about that program. (Isikoff 8/6/2007; Klein 2009, pp. 88)
Cheney, Gonzales: Democrats on Board with Illegal Program - In Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency, a 2008 book by Washington Post reporter Barton Gellman, Gonzales will claim there is a “consensus in the room” among Democrats and Republicans alike, and according to Gellman’s reporting on Gonzales, “four Democrats and four Republicans, duly informed that the Justice Department had ruled something unlawful, said the White House should do it anyway.” Cheney will confirm this allegation during a December 2008 appearance on Fox News. (Klein 2009, pp. 88)
Domestic Surveillance Began before 9/11? - Cheney fails to inform the lawmakers that the wiretapping program may have begun well before the 9/11 attacks (see Late 1999, February 27, 2000, December 2000, February 2001, February 2001, Spring 2001, July 2001, and Early 2002).
The FBI and Justice Department quietly open an investigation into whether Representative Jane Harman (D-CA), the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, improperly colluded with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) to win reappointment as the committee’s ranking member. The investigation is not revealed to the public until October 2006 (see October 20, 2006). The investigation centers on allegations that Harman and AIPAC arranged for wealthy supporters to lobby House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) on Harman’s behalf. The case is an outgrowth of a probe that has already led to the felony conviction of former DIA official Larry Franklin, who pled guilty to giving classified information to two AIPAC lobbyists (see October 5, 2005), and the lobbyists, Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman, who still face charges of passing that information on to Israel (see April 13, 1999-2004). The investigation has now expanded to determine if Harman’s campaign to persuade Pelosi to reappoint her to the committee may have involved AIPAC, and whether Harman promised to return the favor by using her influence to persuade the Justice Department to ease up on the AIPAC lobbyists. Reporter Timothy Burger will write: “If that happened, it might be construed as an illegal quid pro quo, depending on the context of the situation. But the sources caution that there has been no decision to charge anyone and that it is unclear whether Harman and AIPAC acted on the idea.” Both Harman and Pelosi are outspoken supporters of Israel, and have praised AIPAC for its efforts to further cement ties between Israel and the US. However, Congressional sources will say that Pelosi is furious at attempts by major donors to lobby on behalf of Harman. The LA Weekly reported in May that Harman “had some major contributors call Pelosi to impress upon her the importance of keeping Jane in place. According to these members, this tactic, too, hasn’t endeared Harman to Pelosi.” Another powerful figure has lobbied for Harman: entertainment industry billionaire Haim Saban, who made his fortune through the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers children’s entertainment franchise. It is unclear whether Saban had any contact with AIPAC, and if his efforts to lobby on Harman’s behalf were part of a larger, more orchestrated plan. (Burger 10/20/2006) When the story becomes public in October 2006, Harman will deny any improper or illegal conduct (see October 20, 2006). The investigation will eventually be dropped, supposedly for “lack of evidence.” In April 2009, evidence will surface that the NSA wiretapped Harman discussing a quid pro quo with a suspected Israeli agent, and that the investigation was not dropped because of lack of evidence, but because of the intervention of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales (see October 2005, Late 2005, and April 19, 2009). (Stein 4/19/2009)
Representative John Conyers (D-MI), the ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, and 91 other House members send a letter to President Bush asking that White House political adviser Karl Rove either explain his role in outing CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson, or resign. Conyers and the co-signers write, “[W]e believe it is not tenable to maintain Mr. Rove as one of your most important advisers unless he is willing to explain his central role in using the power and authority of your administration to disseminate information regarding Ms. Plame [Wilson] and to undermine her husband, Ambassador Joseph Wilson.” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) do not sign the letter, but send their own letter to House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) asking that relevant House committees schedule hearings on the Plame Wilson matter. In their letter, Pelosi and Hoyer write: “We urge you to direct that committees with jurisdiction over the Plame matter schedule hearings immediately. In previous Republican Congresses the fact that a criminal investigation was underway did not prevent extensive hearings from being held on other, much less significant matters” (see July 29, 2005). (Raw Story 7/15/2005)
Conservative radio host and former Secretary of Education William Bennett is castigated by both liberals and conservatives for his statement that aborting all black children would lower the US crime rate (see September 28-October 1, 2005). President Bush’s press secretary, Scott McClellan, tells reporters that Bush “believes the comments were not appropriate,” though he does not actually condemn Bennett’s words, as requested by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). Pelosi says: “What could possibly have possessed Secretary Bennett to say those words, especially at this time? What could he possibly have been thinking? This is what is so alarming about his words.” Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) says he is “appalled” by Bennett’s remarks. “The Republican Party has recently taken great pains to reach out to the African-American community, and I hope that they will be swift in condemning Mr. Bennett’s comments as nothing short of callous and ignorant,” he adds. Representative Bobby Rush (D-IL), an African-American, says, “This is precisely the kind of insensitive, hurtful, and ignorant rhetoric that Americans have grown tired of.” Rush asks “my friends, the responsible Republicans” to pass a House resolution condemning Bennett’s remarks as “outrageous racism of the most bigoted and ignorant kind.” He asks: “Where is the indignation from the GOP, as one of their prominent members talk about aborting an entire race of Americans as a way of ridding this country of crime? How ridiculous! How asinine! How insane can one be?” Instead, Rush calls for the “aborting” of Republican policies, “which have hurt the disadvantaged, the poor average Americans for the benefit of large corporations.” Bruce Gordon, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), says Bennett and his employer, the Salem Radio Network, owe the nation an apology. “In 2005, there is no place for the kind of racist statement made by Bennett,” he says in a statement. “While the entire nation is trying to help survivors, black and white, to recover from the damage caused by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, it is unconscionable for Bennett to make such ignorant and insensitive comments.” (CNN 9/30/2005)
Ignorance, Stereotyping Blacks as Born Criminals - In a press release, Howard Dean, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), says: “Are these the values of the Republican Party and its conservative allies? If not, President Bush, Ken Mehlman [Dean’s Republican counterpart], and the Republican Leadership should denounce them immediately as hateful, divisive, and worthy only of scorn. This kind of statement is hardly compassionate conservatism; rather, Bennett’s comments demonstrate a reprehensible racial insensitivity and ignorance. Bill Bennett’s hateful, inflammatory remarks regarding African Americans are simply inexcusable. They are particularly unacceptable from a leader in the conservative movement and former secretary of education, once charged with the well-being of every American school child. He should apologize immediately. As Americans, we should focus on the virtues that bring us together, not hatred that tears us apart and unjustly scapegoats fellow Americans.” (Democratic National Committee 9/29/2005) Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), says: “I’m not even going to comment on something that disgusting. Really, I’m thinking of my black grandchild and I’m going to hold [off].” (Tapper 9/29/2005) The Reverend Jesse Jackson, a former Democratic presidential candidate and former associate of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, says: “Republicans, Democrats, and all Americans of goodwill should denounce this statement, should distance themselves from Mr. Bennett. And the private sector should not support Mr. Bennett’s radio show or his comments on the air.” (Glaister 10/1/2005)
Civil Rights Leader: Bennett's Show Should be Canceled - Wade Henderson, the executive director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, says an apology is insufficient; Bennett’s radio program should be canceled. Referring to inaccurate news reports that blacks were responsible for a “crime wave” in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Henderson says, “I think African-Americans are certainly tired of being stereotyped as being responsible for the majority of crime in American society when the facts simply don’t bear that assumption out.” (CBS News 9/30/2005)
Representative Jane Harman (D-CA) is recorded telling a suspected Israeli agent that she would intervene with the Justice Department to try to get charges against two Israeli lobbyists reduced. In return, the Israeli agent promises to help Harman secure the chairmanship of the House Intelligence Committee. The Israeli agent will remain unidentified; the two lobbyists, Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman, are charged with espionage after they allegedly passed along classified information to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC—see April 13, 1999-2004). The conversation between Harman and the Israeli agent is recorded on an wiretap, reportedly by the NSA, mounted as part of a federal investigation into AIPAC’s potential espionage operations against the US (see October 5, 2005). According to transcripts of the wiretapped conversation, Harman agrees to “waddle into” the AIPAC case “if you think it’ll make a difference.” The Israeli agent asks Harman if she could speak with Attorney General Alberto Gonzales on Rosen’s and Weissman’s behalf. Harman replies that Gonzales might not cooperate, because he “just follows White House orders,” but other officials might be more pliable. In return, the Israeli agent promises to contact House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and attempt to persuade her to name Harman as chairwoman of the Intelligence Committee if the Democrats win control of the House in the November 2006 elections. Harman tells the agent, “This conversation doesn’t exist,” and hangs up. The contents of the conversation will later be confirmed by three separate sources, including two former senior national security officials. (Stein 4/19/2009) Reporter Marc Ambinder will later write that Harman’s conversation may have been recorded by the FBI, and not the NSA, as part of the its investigation into Rosen and Weissman. (Ambinder 4/20/2009)
Representative John Murtha (D-PA), one of the most conservative and hawkish Democrats in the House of Representatives and a longtime supporter of the military, stuns opponents and fellow Democrats alike by calling for the immediate withdrawal of US troops from Iraq. Fighting back tears, Murtha, a former US Marine and a decorated Vietnam veteran, says the troops in Iraq suffer from poor equipment and low morale. Moreover, the troops’ presence there now serves as an impediment to Iraqi progress towards stability and self-governance. The war is “a flawed policy wrapped in illusion,” he says, and adds, “Our troops have become the primary target of the insurgency.” Islamic insurgents “are united against US forces, and we have become a catalyst for violence.… I resent the fact, on Veterans Day, [Bush] criticized Democrats for criticizing them. This is a flawed policy wrapped in illusion. The American public knows it. And lashing out at critics doesn’t help a bit. You’ve got to change the policy.… It’s time to bring [the soldiers] home.” Murtha submits a bill to compel the withdrawal of troops as soon as feasible (see November 17, 2005). Congressional Republicans counter with accusations of cowardice (see November 18-21, 2005) and even siding with terrorists over their country. Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert (R-IL) says: “Murtha and Democratic leaders have adopted a policy of cut and run. They would prefer that the United States surrender to the terrorists who would harm innocent Americans.”
Democratic Leaders Cautious - Democratic leaders such as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and campaign chairman Rahm Emanuel (D-IL) react cautiously to Murtha’s call for withdrawal. Pelosi has privately said that she will call for a complete withdrawal of troops in 2006, but does not yet join Murtha in his call for withdrawal, merely saying that he deserves to have “his day.” Emanuel is even more cautious, saying, “Jack Murtha went out and spoke for Jack Murtha.” As for Iraq policy, Emanuel says, “At the right time, we will have a position.”
Mishandling of Intelligence - Murtha joins with other Democrats in accusing the administration of deliberately misrepresenting intelligence about Iraq’s WMD and its connections to al-Qaeda. Vice President Cheney has called such accusations “dishonest and reprehensible.” President Bush responds: “I expect there to be criticism. But when Democrats say that I deliberately misled the Congress and the people, that’s irresponsible. They looked at the same intelligence I did, and they voted—many of them voted—to support the decision I made.… So I agree with the vice president.” Asked about the comments, Murtha retorts, “I like guys who got five deferments and [have] never been there and send people to war, and then don’t like to hear suggestions about what needs to be done.” Cheney received five deferments during the Vietnam War which allowed him to sit out the war; Bush was a Texas Air National Guardsman who did not leave the country during that war. Other Democrats say that they were themselves misled about the intelligence on Iraq’s WMD.
Angry Rhetoric from Both Sides - The White House issues a statement in response to Murtha’s call for a pullout, declaring that Murtha is “endorsing the policy positions of [liberal filmmaker] Michael Moore and the extreme liberal wing of the Democratic Party.” Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) responds that Bush and Cheney “have begun a new campaign of distortion and manipulation. Because of the polls showing that Americans have lost trust in the president and believe he manipulated intelligence before the war, the president and vice president have abandoned any pretense of leading this country and have gone back on the campaign trail.” They could not find weapons of mass destruction, Kennedy says, and “they can’t find the truth, either.” Kennedy’s Senate colleague Ted Stevens (R-AK) responds by accusing Kennedy and other Democrats of attempting to “undermine the people standing abroad by repeatedly calling [Bush] a liar.” House Republican Geoff Davis says Murtha’s statements are “shameful.” House Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter (R-CA) says that if the US does not prevail in Iraq, it will invite another 9/11-type attack: “Four years have expired without a second attack on our homeland because we’ve aggressively projected America’s fighting forces in the theaters in Afghanistan and Iraq.” Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) counters that the White House has “shamelessly decided to play politics” over Iraq. “We need a commander in chief, not a campaigner in chief,” Reid says. “We need leadership from the White House, not more whitewashing of the very serious issues confronting us in Iraq.” (Babington 11/18/2005; Schmitt 11/18/2005; Gerstein 11/18/2005)
In response to a bill by Representative John Murtha (D-PA) calling for a measured troop withdrawal from Iraq (see November 17, 2005 and November 17, 2005), Duncan Hunter (R-CA), the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee and a staunch supporter of the war, submits a “stunt resolution” calling for the immediate, unconditional withdrawal of all US troops from Iraq. The resolution’s entire text reads, “It is the sense of the House of Representatives that the deployment of United States forces in Iraq be terminated immediately.” Hunter and his fellow Republicans never intend for the measure to be passed; Republicans say the resolution was merely intended to show how extreme Murtha’s bill is, while Democrats say it was offered to tie up debate on Murtha’s real legislative offering. Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert (R-IL) explains that his party offered the resolution because: “We want to make sure that we support our troops that are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. We will not retreat.” The resolution fails 403-3. No Republican, including Hunter, votes for it. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) instructs Democrats not to play into Republicans’ hands by voting for the bill. She later says, “Just when you thought you’d seen it all, the Republicans have stooped to new lows, even for them.” (Associated Press 11/18/2005; Schmitt 11/19/2005)
An FBI investigation into Jane Harman (D-CA), the ranking minority member of the House Intelligence Committee, is halted by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, according to three former top national security officials. The investigation was to determine whether she agreed to use her influence on behalf of accused Israeli spies in return for Israeli support in being named chairman of the committee (see Summer 2005, October 2005 and December 2, 2006). In contrast to the former officials’ claims, the media will report that the investigation is ended due to “lack of evidence” of impropriety or illegal behavior on Harman’s part. However, according to the former officials, Gonzales wants Harman to help defend the administration’s warrantless wiretapping program, which is about to be revealed by a long-simmering New York Times story (see December 15, 2005). The evidence against Harman includes NSA wiretaps of a conversation between her and an Israeli agent. Reporter Jeff Stein will write, “As for there being ‘no evidence’ to support the FBI probe, a source with first-hand knowledge of the wiretaps called that ‘bull****.’” Another former national security officer will confirm Harman’s presence on the wiretaps. “It’s true,” the official will say. “She was on there.” Justice Department attorneys in the intelligence and public corruption units have concluded that Harman had committed what they called a “completed crime,” meaning there was evidence to show that she had attempted to complete it; they were prepared to open a case on her that would include wiretaps approved by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC). CIA Director Porter Goss certified the FISA wiretapping request, and decided to inform House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) and ranking House Democrat Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) of the impending FBI investigation. At this point, say Stein’s sources, Gonzales intervenes to stop the investigation. Two officials with knowledge of the events will say that, in Gonzales’s words, he “needed Jane” to help support the warrantless wiretapping program once it became public knowledge. Gonzales tells Goss that Harman had helped persuade the Times to refrain from publishing the story in late 2004 (see Early November 2004, December 6, 2005, and Mid-2005), and although the Times would no longer wait on the story, Harman could be counted on to help defend the program. She will do just that (see December 21, 2005 and February 8-12, 2006). Hastert and Pelosi are never told of the FBI investigation. Stein will also learn that Goss’s successor, Michael Hayden, will later be informed of the potential investigation, but choose to take no action. Likewise, Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte will oppose any such investigation. Former officials who will pursue the Israeli espionage case for years will say, in Stein’s words, that “Harman dodged a bullet… [s]he was protected by an administration desperate for help.” A recently retired national security official closely involved in the investigation will add: “It’s the deepest kind of corruption. It’s a story about the corruption of government—not legal corruption necessarily, but ethical corruption.” (Stein 4/19/2009)
Senator Russell Feingold (D-WI) tells reporters that he intends to push through legislation that would censure President Bush because of his domestic surveillance program (see February 2001, Spring 2001, After September 11, 2001, After September 11, 2001, October 2001, Early 2002, September 2002, Late 2003-Early 2004, April 19-20, 2004, June 9, 2005, June 9, 2005, December 15, 2005, December 17, 2005, December 19, 2005, December 24, 2005, January 5, 2006, January 18, 2006, January 18, 2006, January 23, 2006, and January 30, 2006). “What the president did by consciously and intentionally violating the Constitution and laws of this country with this illegal wiretapping has to be answered,” Feingold tells an interviewer. “Proper accountability is a censuring of the president, saying, ‘Mr. President, acknowledge that you broke the law, return to the law, return to our system of government.‘… The president has broken the law and, in some way, he must be held accountable.… Congress has to reassert our system of government, and the cleanest and the most efficient way to do that is to censure the president. And, hopefully, he will acknowledge that he did something wrong.” Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) calls Feingold’s proposal “a crazy political move.” The Senate Intelligence Committee, following the Bush administration’s lead, has rejected some Democrats’ call for a full investigation of the surveillance program (see February 1-6, 2006). Instead, the committee has adopted a Republican plan for a seven-member subcommittee to conduct oversight. Feingold says his censure motion is not “a harsh approach, and it’s one that I think should lead to bipartisan support.” Frist, however, says: “I think it, in part, is a political move because here we are, the Republican Party, the leadership in the Congress, supporting the president of the United States as commander in chief who is out there fighting al-Qaeda and the Taliban and Osama bin Laden and the people who have sworn—have sworn—to destroy Western civilization and all the families listening to us.… The signal that it sends that there is in any way a lack of support for our commander in chief who is leading us with a bold vision in a way that we know is making our homeland safer is wrong. And it sends a perception around the world.” Only once in history has a president been censured by Congress: Andrew Jackson in 1834. In the House, Representative John Conyers (D-MI) is exploring the idea of introducing impeachment legislation against Bush. (Files 3/12/2006; Associated Press 3/12/2006) Feingold says on the Senate floor: “The president has violated the law and Congress must respond. A formal censure by Congress is an appropriate and responsible first step to assure the public that when the president thinks he can violate the law without consequences, Congress has the will to hold him accountable.” Most Congressional Democrats want nothing to do with either Feingold’s or Conyers’s legislative ideas, and some Republicans seem to be daring Democrats to vote for the proposal. Vice President Dick Cheney tells a Republican audience in Feingold’s home state of Wisconsin, “Some Democrats in Congress have decided the president is the enemy.” Democratic leaders in the Senate thwart an immediate vote as requested by Frist, and Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) says he is not sure the proposal will ever come to a vote. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) says he does not support it and has not read it. Senator Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) makes a similar assertion. In the House, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) refuses to support such a proposal, saying in a statement that she “understands Senator Feingold’s frustration that the facts about the NSA domestic surveillance program have not been disclosed appropriately to Congress. Both the House and the Senate must fully investigate the program and assign responsibility for any laws that may have been broken.” (Kellman 3/14/2006) Former Nixon aide John Dean testifies in support of Feingold’s censure motion (see March 31, 2006). However, the censure motion, lacking support from Democratic leaders and being used by Republicans as a means to attack Democrats’ patriotism, never comes to a vote. (Klein 2009, pp. 84)
After an investigation into whether an Israeli lobbying organization improperly tried to influence House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) into naming Jane Harman (D-CA) as the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee (see Summer 2005 and October 2005) becomes public knowledge, Harman calls the allegations “irresponsible, laughable, and scurrilous.” Former Solicitor General Theodore Olson, a Republican just hired by Harman to represent her in the matter, tells Time reporter Timothy Burger: “Congresswoman Harman has asked me to follow up on calls you’ve had. She is not aware of any such investigation, does not believe that it is occurring, and wanted to make sure that you and your editors knew that as far as she knows, that’s not true.… No one from the Justice Department has contacted her.” Burger notes that “[i]t is not, however, a given that Harman would know that she is under investigation.” Olson confirms that Harman hired him because even though she doesn’t believe the media reports of the investigation, she takes the possibility seriously. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), allegedly Harman’s partner in the scheme, also denies any wrongdoing, and says it takes no position on the question of who wins the committee assignment, which was perceived to be a contest between Harman and fellow committee member Alcee Hastings (D-FL). AIPAC spokesman Patrick Dorton says: “Both Congressman Hastings and Congresswoman Harman are strong leaders on issues of importance to the pro-Israel community and would be exemplary Democratic leaders for the House intelligence committee. AIPAC would never engage in a quid pro quo in relation to a federal investigation or any federal matter and the notion that it would do so is preposterous. AIPAC is not aware that the Justice Department is looking into issues involving the intelligence committee, and has not been asked any questions or contacted by the government on this matter, but certainly would cooperate with any inquiry.” Dorton adds that AIPAC has previously been assured that the organization and its current employees are not being investigated. (Burger 10/20/2006)
Representative Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), slated to become the new speaker of the House when the Democrats take over leadership of the House in January 2007, names Silvestre Reyes (D-TX) as the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. Reyes, a former soldier and Border Patrol chief before being elected to Congress, is named to the chairmanship over two other Intelligence Committee Democrats, Jane Harman (D-CA) and Alcee Hastings (D-FL), both of whom outrank him on the committee. Generally an advocate for the military, Reyes supports withdrawing from Iraq, and voted against the original war resolution. He has accused the Bush administration of using “cherry-picked” and “manipulated” intelligence to justify invading Iraq. He is also a strong critic of the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program (see December 15, 2005). (Gamboa 12/2/2006) Evidence will later show that Harman may have improperly accepted assistance from an Israeli agent, who promised to lobby Pelosi on Harman’s behalf for the chairmanship (see October 2005 and April 19, 2009).
In a major policy speech regarding Iraq, President Bush announces that he will order 21,500 more US combat troops to Iraq, in a troop escalation he calls a “surge.” The bulk of the troops will be deployed in and around Baghdad. In addition, 4,000 Marines will go to the violent al-Anbar province. In announcing the escalation, he concedes a point he has resisted for over three years, that there have not been enough US troops in Iraq to adequately provide security and create conditions favorable for an Iraqi democracy to take hold. He admits that his previous strategy was based on flawed assumptions about the unstable Iraqi government. “Where mistakes have been made, the responsibility lies with me,” he says. Bush says that to consider any withdrawals of American troops would be a grave mistake, and that by increasing the number of troops in Iraq now, conditions will improve to a point at which troops can be withdrawn. “To step back now would force a collapse of the Iraqi government,” he says. “Such a scenario would result in our troops being forced to stay in Iraq even longer, and confront an enemy that is even more lethal. If we increase our support at this crucial moment, and help the Iraqis break the current cycle of violence, we can hasten the day our troops begin coming home.” Bush also commits the Iraqi government to meeting a series of “benchmarks,” tangible indicators of progress being made, that include adding a further 8,000 Iraqi troops and police officers in Baghdad, passage of long-delayed legislation to share oil revenues among Iraq’s ethnic groups, and a $10 billion jobs and reconstruction program, to be financed by the Iraqis. Bush aides insist that the new strategy is largely the conception of the Iraqi government, with only limited input from US planners. If successful, he says, the results will be a “functioning democracy” that “fights terrorists instead of harboring them.” (Sanger 1/10/2007; Karl 1/10/2007; White House 1/10/2007) While no one is sure how much the new policies will cost, Bush is expected to demand “billions” from Congress to fund his new escalation in the weeks ahead. (Marketwatch 1/5/2005)
'New Way Forward' - The surge has a new marketing moniker, the “New Way Forward.” Some believe that the surge is more for political and public relations purposes than any real military effectiveness. “Clearly the deteriorating situation in Iraq is the overall background,” says political scientist Ole Holsti. The changes may indicate “they are looking for new bodies bringing fresh thinking…or you may have a kind of public-relations aspect,” to show Bush’s change in course is “more than just words.” (Wolfson 1/5/2007; USA Today 1/5/2007)
Surge Already Underway - Interestingly, while Bush announces the “new” strategy of escalating the US presence in Iraq tonight, the escalation is already well underway. 90 advance troops from the Army’s 82nd Airborne are already in Baghdad, and another 800 from the same division are en route. The escalation will necessitate additional call-ups from the National Guard as well as additional reactivation of troops who have already toured Iraq and Afghanistan. Additionally, the naval group spearheaded by the aircraft carrier USS Stennis will shortly be en route to the Persian Gulf. Whether the new plan will work is anyone’s guess, say military commanders in Iraq. The escalation will take several months to implement and longer to see tangible results. One military official says, “We don’t know if this will work, but we do know the old way was failing.”
Contradicting Previous Assertions - In announcing the surge, Bush contradicts the position he has asserted since the March 2003 invasion—that military commanders were determining the direction of the war effort. Bush has repeatedly spoken of his disdain for micromanaging the war effort, and has said that he won’t second-guess his commanders. “It’s important to trust the judgment of the military when they’re making military plans,” he said in December 2006. “I’m a strict adherer to the command structure.” However, Bush balked at following the advice of many top military officials and generals, who have recommended a gradual drawdown in troop strengths, and in recent weeks replaced several top military officials who expressed doubts about the need or efficacy of new troop deployments in Iraq (see January 5, 2007). Instead, Bush believes the escalation will alleviate the drastically deteriorating security situation in Iraq. According to Pentagon officials, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who oppose the surge, have agreed to support it only grudgingly, and only because Bush officials have promised a renewed diplomatic and political effort to go along with the escalation. Outgoing Central Command chief General John Abizaid said in November that further troop increases were not a viable answer to the Iraq situation, and in their November 30 meeting, Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki did not ask Bush for more troops, instead indicating that he wanted Iraqi troops to take a higher profile. Viewpoints differ on Bush’s interaction with his commanders up to this point—some have seen him as too passive with the generals and military advisers, allowing them almost free rein in Iraq, while others see him as asserting himself by forcing the retirements or reassignments of generals who disagree with his policies.
Rebuffing the ISG - Many observers believe the surge is a backhanded rebuff to the Iraq Study Group (see January 10, 2007).
Surge Plan Concocted at Right-Wing Think Tank - Interestingly, the surge plan itself comes largely from neoconservative planners at the American Enterprise Institute (see January 2007).
Long-Term Ramifications - The Joint Chiefs worry that a troop escalation will set up the US military for an even larger failure, without having any backup options. The Iraqis will not deliver the troops necessary for their own security efforts, they believe, and worry that US troops will end up fighting in what amounts to a political vacuum unless Bush comes up with a plan for dramatic political and economic changes to go along with the military effort. A surge could lead to increased attacks by Iraqi al-Qaeda fighters, open the troops up to more attacks by Sunni insurgents, and fuel the jihadist appeal for more foreign fighters to battle US forces in Iraq. And the escalation’s short-term conception—to last no more than six to eight months—might well play into the plans of Iraq’s armed factions by allowing them to “game out” the new strategy. The JCS also wonder just where Bush will find the troops for the surge. Frederick Kagan, one of the architects of the surge plan, and Republican presidential candidate John McCain want far more than 20,000 troops, but the Joint Chiefs say that they can muster 20,000 at best, and not all at once. Rumsfeld’s replacement, Robert Gates, played a key role in convincing the Joint Chiefs to support the escalation. The biggest selling point of the escalation is the White House’s belief that it will portray the administration as visibly and dramatically taking action in Iraq, and will help create conditions that will eventually allow for a gradual withdrawal of US troops: Bush says, “[W]e have to go up before we go down.” (Abramowitz, Wright, and Ricks 1/10/2007)
The Bush escalation plan will involve up to 50,000 troops being sent to Iraq, not the 21,500 as touted by Bush and his officials. The 21,500 are actual combat troops, but logistical and support troops will also need to accompany the combat troops into Iraq. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) says, “Over the past few years, [the Defense Department’s] practice has been to deploy a total of about 9,500 per combat brigade to the Iraq theater, including about 4,000 combat troops and about 5,500 supporting troops. [This] puts the cost of the president’s decision in even starker terms. If the president proceeds with his plan, thousands more US troops will be at risk, billions more dollars will be required, and there will be a much more severe impact on our military’s readiness.” House Budget Committee chairman John Spratt (D-SC) adds,“These additional troop deployments will cost between $7 billion and $10 billion this year alone—$4 billion to $7 billion more than the administration’s estimate.” Spratt says such an increase in troop levels will be difficult for the US military to maintain; the abnormally high deployment levels for the past four years have “taken a toll” on the military. House Armed Services committee chairman Ike Skelton (D-MO) says the report by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) “appears to conflict with the estimate given by the chief of staff of the Army in his testimony. We will want to carefully investigate just how big the president’s troop increase really is. Is it 21,500 troops, or is it really closer to 33,000 or 43,000?” Martin Meehan (D-MA), chairman of the House Armed Services subcommittee on oversight and investigations that has launched a review of Iraq-related costs, says he also is concerned: “I am disturbed that the administration’s figures may not be fully accounting for what a true force increase will entail; if combat troops are deployed, their support needs must not be shortchanged.” (Army Times 2/2/2007)
Vice President Dick Cheney says that Congressional Democrats’ efforts to bring the Iraqi war to a close do nothing except undermine the troops and "embolden" Islamic terrorists. He tells American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), "When members speak not of victory but of time limits, deadlines and other arbitrary measures, they are telling the enemy simply to watch the clock and wait us out. When members of Congress pursue an anti-war strategy that’s been called ‘slow bleed,’ they are not supporting the troops, they are undermining them." House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) responds that Cheney’s remarks prove "the administration’s answer to continuing violence in Iraq is more troops and more treasure from the American people." Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) adds that America is less safe today because of the war. Bush "must change course, and it’s time for the Senate to demand he do it," he says. Both Pelosi and Reid are crafting legislation that will continue to fund the troops in Iraq, but will set a deadline for those troops to begin withdrawing. Meanwhile, Cheney says he wants Congress to begin discussing how to win in Iraq. As he has done many times before, he predicts "disaster" and "chaos" in the Middle East, with either al-Qaeda or Iran emerging dominant from a bloody sectarian battle and compromising regional security, if US troops withdrew from Iraq. Former Democratic senator and Vietnam veteran Max Cleland responds tartly to Dick Cheney’s veiled accusations that Democrats who want a timetable for ending the Iraq occupation are traitors. Cleland rhetorically asks Cheney, "Where the hell were you in the Vietnam War? If you had gone to Vietnam like the rest of us, maybe you would have learned something about war. You can’t keep troops on the ground forever. You gotta have a mission. You gotta have a purpose. You can’t keep sending ‘em back and back and back with no mission and no purpose. As a matter of fact, the real enemy is al-Qaeda, it’s al-Qaeda, stupid, it’s not in Iraq." (Associated Press 3/12/2007)
Reactions to President Bush’s commutation of Lewis Libby’s prison sentence (see July 2, 2007) are mixed, and split largely along partisan divides.
Democrats: Commutation 'Disgraceful,' 'Tramples' on Principle of Equal Justice - Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) calls the decision “disgraceful” and says history will judge Bush “harshly” for it. Senator Barack Obama (D-IL), a 2008 presidential contender, says, “This is exactly the kind of politics we must change so we can begin restoring the American people’s faith in a government that puts the country’s progress ahead of the bitter partisanship of recent years.” Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY), another presidential candidate, says Bush’s decision shows that “cronyism and ideology trump competence and justice.” Former Senator John Edwards (D-NC), another presidential contender, says, “Only a president clinically incapable of understanding that mistakes have consequences could take the action he did today.” Senator Joe Biden (D-DE), another presidential hopeful, states, “I call for all Americans to flood the White House with phone calls tomorrow expressing their outrage over this blatant disregard for the rule of law.” Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) says: “As Independence Day nears, we’re reminded that one of the principles our forefathers fought for was equal justice under the law. This commutation completely tramples on that principle.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) says Bush has “abandoned all sense of fairness when it comes to justice.… The president’s commutation of Scooter Libby’s prison sentence does not serve justice, condones criminal conduct, and is a betrayal of trust of the American people.” House Judiciary Committee chairman John Conyers (D-MI) says that “until now, it appeared that the president merely turned a blind eye to a high ranking administration official leaking classified information. The president’s action today makes it clear that he condones such activity.”
Republicans: Commutation 'the Right Thing' but Political Damage May Be Severe - While most Republican lawmakers do not issue public comments, House Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-MO) says: “President Bush did the right thing today in commuting the prison term for Scooter Libby. The prison sentence was overly harsh, and the punishment did not fit the crime.” Former Senator Fred Thompson, also a 2008 presidential hopeful and a long-time supporter of Libby’s (see After October 28, 2005 and March 7, 2007), says Bush should issue a full pardon for Libby, adding, “This will allow a good American who has done a lot for his country to resume his life.” Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani calls the commutation a “reasonable” and “correct” decision. (Allen 7/2/2007; CNN 7/2/2007; Goldstein 7/3/2007) But other Republicans are not so sanguine. “The dirty little secret is that in his own way, Bush has shown as much contempt for the law as [former President Bill] Clinton did,” says Curt Smith, a speechwriter for President George H. W. Bush. An unidentified Washington Republican says, “We have now witnessed the evisceration of the Bush presidency by its own hand.” A senior Republican operative observes: “Thirty months in jail was absolutely excessive, but zero is offensive to the average American. Commuting to 60 days in jail would have made this a lot more palatable to the average person.” (DeFrank 7/8/2007)
Wilson: Libby a 'Traitor' Who 'Endangered ... Country's National Security' - Joseph Wilson, a former ambassador and vehement war critic whose wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, was exposed as a covert CIA agent by Libby, says both he and his wife are “deeply disappointed” by Bush’s decision. “The president’s actions send the message that leaking classified information for political purposes is acceptable,” Wilson says. “Mr. Libby not only endangered Valerie and our family, but also our country’s national security.” Asked if he has anything to say to Libby, Wilson says with apparent anger: “I have nothing to say to Scooter Libby. I don’t owe this administration. They owe my wife and my family an apology for having betrayed her. Scooter Libby is a traitor.”
Law Professor Calls Commutation 'Hypocritical and Appalling' - Law professor Douglas Berman says the commutation is “hypocritical and appalling from a president whose Justice Department is always fighting” attempts by judges and lawmakers to lower the punishment called for under federal sentencing guidelines. Berman says Bush’s message amounted to “My friend Scooter shouldn’t have to serve 30 months in prison because I don’t want him to.” Most polls show overwhelming public support for Libby’s jailing. (Allen 7/2/2007; CNN 7/2/2007; Goldstein 7/3/2007)
New documents contradict Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’s recent sworn testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, indicating that Gonzales may have committed perjury before the panel.
Lied About Congressional Briefing - In testimony before the committee (see July 24, 2007), Gonzales told senators that a March 10, 2004 emergency briefing with the so-called “Gang of Eight,” comprised of the Republican and Democratic leaders of the two houses of Congress and the ranking members of both houses’ intelligence committees (see March 10, 2004), did not concern the controversial NSA warrantless domestic surveillance program, but instead was about other surveillance programs which he was not at liberty to discuss. But according to a four-page memo from the national intelligence director’s office, that briefing was indeed about the so-called “Terrorist Surveillance Program,” or TSP, as it is now being called by White House officials and some lawmakers. The memo is dated May 17, 2006, and addressed to then-Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert. It details “the classification of the dates, locations, and names of members of Congress who attended briefings on the Terrorist Surveillance Program,” wrote then-Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte. The DNI memo provides further evidence that Gonzales has not been truthful in his dealings with Congress, and gives further impetus to a possible perjury investigation by the Senate. So far, both Gonzales and Justice Department spokesmen have stood by his testimony. The nature of the March 2004 briefing is important because on that date, Gonzales and then-White House chief of staff Andrew Card tried to pressure then-Attorney General John Ashcroft, while Ashcroft was recuperating from emergency surgery in the hospital, to reauthorize the domestic wiretapping program over the objections of acting Attorney General James Comey, who had refused to sign off on the program due to its apparent illegality (see March 10-12, 2004). Comey’s own testimony before the Senate has already strongly contradicted Gonzales’s earlier testimonies and statements (see May 15, 2007). The entire imbroglio illustrates just how far from legality the NSA wiretapping program may be, and the controversy within the Justice Department it has produced. Gonzales flatly denied that the March 2004 briefing was about the NSA program, telling the panel, “The dissent related to other intelligence activities. The dissent was not about the terrorist surveillance program.”
Grilled By Senators - Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) pressed Gonzales for clarification: “Not the TSP? Come on. If you say it’s about other, that implies not. Now say it or not.” Gonzales replied, “It was not. It was about other intelligence activities.” Today, with the DNI documents in hand, Schumer says, “It seemed clear to just about everyone on the committee that the attorney general was deceiving us when he said the dissent was about other intelligence activities and this memo is even more evidence that helps confirm our suspicions.” Other senators agree that Gonzales is not telling the truth. “There’s a discrepancy here in sworn testimony,” says committee chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT). “We’re going to have to ask who’s telling the truth, who’s not.” And committee Democrats are not the only ones who find Gonzales’s testimony hard to swallow. Arlen Specter (R-PA) told Gonzales yesterday, “I do not find your testimony credible, candidly.” The “Gang of Eight” members disagree about the content of the March briefing. Democrats Nancy Pelosi, Jay Rockefeller, and Tom Daschle all say Gonzales’s testimony is inaccurate, with Rockefeller calling Gonzales’s testimony “untruthful.” But former House Intelligence chairman Porter Goss and former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, both Republicans, refuse to directly dispute Gonzales’s claims. (Associated Press 7/25/2007)
Mueller Will Contradict Gonzales - Three weeks later, notes from FBI director Robert Mueller, also present at the Ashcroft meeting, further contradict Gonzales’s testimony (see August 16, 2007).
Conservative security consultant Alexis Debat, a former French military official often used by ABC News and other US media outlets, admits that he published an interview with Democratic senator and presidential candidate Barack Obama that he never conducted. In the interview, Obama supposedly said that Iraq was “already a defeat for America” and that the US has “wasted thousands of lives.” Debat claims that he signed off on the article, published in the Summer 2007 issue of the French magazine Politique Internationale, but did not write it, instead farming it out to a freelance journalist, Rob Sherman, and having it published under Debat’s name. Sherman concocted the interview, says Debat, who says both he and Obama are victims. (Kurtz 9/13/2007) “Rob Sherman asked me to remove his name from the interview, and my mistake was to put my name on it,” says Debat. (Ross and Rood 9/12/2007) “I was scammed. I was very, very stupid. I made a huge mistake in signing that article and not checking his credentials.” (Kurtz 9/13/2007)
Greenspan: No Such Interview - Former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan said on September 7 that an interview with him, conducted by Debat and published in the same magazine, also never happened. (Riche 9/7/2007)
Many US Officials Also Not Interviewed - Hours after Obama’s campaign disavowed the Debat interview, numerous other US politicians and business figures also say they were victimized by fake interviews supposedly conducted by Debat. Those figures include former President Bill Clinton, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, and former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Politique Internationale editor Patrick Wajsman says “This guy is just sick,” and says his magazine is removing all of Debat’s work from its Web site. Annan’s deputy communications director, Stephane Dujarric, says he warned the magazine that the Annan interview was a fabrication back in June 2005, and said that if the magazine published it—which it did—Annan’s office would “denouce the interview as a fake. This was not some obscure guy. This was the sitting secretary-general of the UN, and the magazine was told it was a fake.” Nevertheless, ABC News and Politique Internationale continued to rely on Debat as a source of information and a regular contributor of “interviews” with a variety of influential Americans. The magazine published a second interview with Annan earlier this year, but it, too, was a fabrication, apparently culled from a speech Annan gave at Princeton University. Wajsman calls the publications of the Annan interviews either a “technical” error or a misunderstanding. “I was a victim of this man. I had no reason to suspect someone like him could lie,” Wajsman says. So why did Wajsman continue to rely on Debat after the UN protests? “Everybody can be trusted once,” Wajsman says. “He seemed to be well-connected in Washington, working for ABC and the Nixon Center.” Debat admits he never interviewed any of the above-named figures, but explains: “The magazine asked me to send questions. They got the answers, and then I edited and translated them and put my name on it.” Wajsman retorts, “That is an outright lie.” (Ross 9/13/2007)
Debat Frequent Source of Unreliable Information on Iran - Debat has been a frequent source of incendiary information and commentary about the US’s need to invade Iran; on September 2, The Times of London published commentary from Debat in which he claimed the US is planning massive, systematic air strikes against Iran, and called it a “very legitimate strategic calculus” (see Late August, 2007). Recent reports have claimed that an organized campaign to insert reports and commentary in the US and European media drumming up support for a US attack against Iran is being orchestrated by the office of Vice President Dick Cheney. (Bunch 9/13/2007)
Debat Falsified University Record - Debat’s other reports are now being scrutinized for possible fabrications. ABC News fired Debat in June 2007 after finding that Debat lied about his background: Debat claimed he has a Ph.D from the Sorbonne, when in fact he does not. (Debat claims he earned his Ph.D, but the university hasn’t granted him the degree because of an “administrative issue.”) ABC’s chief investigative reporter Brian Ross, who has worked closely with Debat and has high praise for his work, now says: “I was angry with him because it called into question, of course, everything he had done. He could never satisfy us that he had the Ph.D.… I was very upset.” Debat has specialized in reports on terrorism and national security for the last six years. ABC spokesman Jeffrey Schnieder says that while it has so far verified all of Debat’s reporting: “There are some very serious questions about exactly who he is and how he works. We want nothing more than to get to the absolute bottom of that.” Debat directed the terrorism and national security program from Washington’s Nixon Center, a conservative think tank set up by former President Richard Nixon. He wrote for the conservative political journal National Interest, which is chaired by Henry Kissinger. Debat has now resigned both positions. His position as a regular contributor to Politique Internationale has also probably ended, Debat admits. (Kurtz 9/13/2007)
'Never Spoke with Your Alexis What's-His-Name' - The French magazine Rue 89 exposed Debat earlier this week, calling him a “strange character” and questioning his credibility. It interviewed the purported freelance journalist, Rob Sherman, who is not a journalist but a radio talk show host in Chicago; according to Sherman, he “never spoke with your Alexis what’s-his-name.” It also reports that Debat once claimed to have earned a Ph.D from Edenvale University, in Britain, an institution that does not exist. He has also claimed to be the director of the scientific committee for the Institut Montaigne in Paris, which denies Debat ever worked with it; he has appeared on French television news claiming to be a former social worker and to be a former French commando who fought against Serbian soldiers in Yugoslavia, claims which have not been confirmed. As for his service in the French military, the French government confirms that Debat indeed held a desk job in its Ministry of Defense for a few months. (Riche 9/7/2007)
'Lone Wolf' or Disinformation Source? - Philadelphia Daily News journalist Will Bunch observes: “[T]here are two radically different ways to look at this scandal. Either Debat is a lone wolf, a deluded self-aggrandizer whose main agenda is promoting himself. Or he is acting in his role at the Nixon Center as a conduit, spreading information and occasional disinformation at the behest of others.” (Bunch 9/13/2007)
ABC News Also to Blame - Reporter Laura Rozen, a regular contributor to numerous high-end US media outlets such as the Boston Globe and Mother Jones, is unforgiving of both Debat and ABC News: “My own feeling as primarily a print world reporter… is that it is deeply problematic for a news organization to have a paid source/consultant to sometimes put on the reporter hat and act as the reporter too.… Seriously, imagine if a New York Times reporter put an ex-NSC or CIA operative on the payroll for about $2,000 to $4,000 a month as a source, cited in articles as a source, and then sometimes let him or her report news stories with a byline, without glaringly indicating to readers what was going on. But this is what ABC was doing with Debat. ABC must have known they were stretching the rules on this one. For instance, their consultant Richard Clarke is never presented as the reporter. But ABC changed the rules in the Debat case, presumably because he was bringing them such sexy scoops, that they loved flacking at the time. Now they insist the scoops were solid, but Debat misrepresented his credentials. They’re blameless.… [D]id ABC bend the rules by paying a source who also served as their reporter while having a full time appointment elsewhere, smoothing over any complications by calling him an all purpose ‘consultant?’ How much did Brian Ross approve the unusual arrangement and independently verify the information Debat was bringing from the dark corners of Pakistan? [If] Debat faked interviews for a French journal, what was to keep him from faking interviews that informed multiple stories for ABC? I find it implausible that ABC has independently re-reported all that stuff so quickly and determined it’s kosher.” (Rozen 9/12/2007)
Several current and former members of Congress have varying recollections of being given a classified briefing in the months after the 9/11 attacks on the interrogation methods being used by the CIA on terror suspects, including waterboarding (see September 2002). Former House Intelligence Committee chairman Porter Goss recalls: “Among those being briefed, there was a pretty full understanding of what the CIA was doing. And the reaction in the room was not just approval, but encouragement.” Former Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Bob Graham (D-FL) says he does not recall ever being briefed about waterboarding or other extreme interrogation methods, “Personally, I was unaware of it, so I couldn’t object.” Graham says he believes waterboarding and many of the other interrogation techniques used by the CIA are illegal and constitute torture. Then-House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) refuses to comment on the briefings, but a source familiar with her position on the matter says she recalls some discussions of enhanced interrogation, and that she was told the techniques described to her were in the planning stages at the time of the briefings. The source acknowledges that Pelosi raised no objections at the time. Former ranking House Intelligence Committee member Jane Harman (D-CA) says that in the months after the briefing, she filed a classified letter with the CIA officially protesting the interrogation program. Harman says that she had been prevented from publicly revealing the letter, or the CIA interrogation program, because of strict rules of secrecy. “When you serve on intelligence committee you sign a second oath—one of secrecy,” she says. “I was briefed, but the information was closely held to just the Gang of Four. I was not free to disclose anything.” The “Gang of Four” consists of the ranking Republican and Democratic members of the House and Senate intelligence committees. Pat Roberts (R-KS), then the ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, refuses to discuss his participation in the briefings, as does the then-ranking Democrat on that committee, John D. Rockefeller (D-WV). Since 2005, Rockefeller has pushed for expanded Congressional oversight and an investigation of CIA practices. “I proposed without success, both in committee and on the Senate floor, that the committee undertake an investigation of the CIA’s detention and interrogation activities,” Rockefeller says. (Warrick and Eggen 12/9/2007)
The House of Representatives votes to hold White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten and former White House counsel Harriet Miers in contempt of Congress. Bolten and Miers have refused to testify to a House committee investigating the firing of several US attorneys. Many House Republicans walk off the House floor before the vote is cast, ostensibly because they want to work on reauthorizing the Protect America Act (see August 5, 2007) rather than deal with the contempt citation. Minority Leader John Boehner complains, “We have space on the calendar today for a politically charged fishing expedition, but no space for a bill that would protect the American people from terrorists who want to kill us.” (Riechmann 2/14/2008) “We will not stand for this, and we will not stay for this. And I would ask my House Republican colleagues and those who believe we should be protecting the American people, to not vote on this bill. Let’s just get up and leave.” (Think Progress 2/14/2008) (Before they walk out, Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R-FL) attempts to disrupt the memorial service for the recently deceased Tom Lantos (D-CA), taking place in Statuary Hall just a few steps from the House chambers, by calling for a procedural vote during the memorial service. An MSNBC reporter says Diaz-Balart’s action is apparently the result of “pique.”) (Viqueira 2/14/2008) The contempt citation will be forwarded to the US Attorney for the District of Columbia. The two resolutions passed hold Bolten and Miers in contempt, and allow for the House to file a civil suit against the Bush administration to compel the aides’ testimony. “I hope this administration will realize this Congress is serious about its constitutional role of oversight,” says House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). Pelosi says she “had hoped that this day would never have come,” and adds that if the White House instructs Justice Department attorneys not to prosecute the contempt citations, “we will have power to go to federal court and seek civil enforcement of our subpoenas.” (Bolton and Marre 2/14/2008; Riechmann 2/14/2008)
White House Conditions 'Beyond Arrogance' - The White House has already said it will not allow the Justice Department to pursue the contempt charges, claiming that the information is off-limits because of executive privilege, and that Bolten and Miers are immune from prosecution. House Democrats such as Judiciary Committee chairman John Conyers (D-MI) had tried for months to work with the White House to win its approval for the aides’ testimony, but were unwilling to accept the White House’s restrictive conditions—investigators would not have been allowed to make transcripts of the testimony, to copy documents presented in the testimony, or to seek any more information after the single session. Pelosi said of the White House’s conditions, “This is beyond arrogance. It’s hubris taken to the ultimate degree.”
Republicans Say Testimony Would 'Undermine' Power of Executive Branch - Republicans such as David Dreier (R-CA) warn that such a case might “undermine the power of the first [executive] branch of government.” (Bolton and Marre 2/14/2008; Riechmann 2/14/2008)
Miller: Bush Attempting to 'Decide by Decree' - Representative Brad Miller (D-NC) says during the deliberations, “The president cannot decide by decree. The president cannot announce with absolute unreviewable authority what information the administration will provide or withhold. The framers of our Constitution had just fought a war against an autocratic king. It is inconceivable that they intended to create an executive branch with the power the Bush administration now claims and that the minority now supports.” (Speaker of the House 2/14/2008)
The Protect America Act (PAA—see August 5, 2007) expires today. Congress has refused to pass a reauthorization of the legislation that contains a provision to grant retroactive immunity to US telecommunications firms to protect them from lawsuits arising from their previous cooperation with government eavesdroppers (see February 5, 2006). President Bush has warned for days that by refusing to reauthorize the bill, Congress is leaving the US “more in danger of attack.” The surveillance elements of the PAA will continue in force for another year after its passage even as the PAA itself expires, so the government’s capability to use electronic surveillance against suspected terrorists and citizens alike continues unabated through August 2008.
Republican Reaction - House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) warns, “This is a grave problem, and the Democrat leaders ought to be held accountable for their inaction.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) says, “The companies have been waiting for six months for retroactive liability” protection. “They are under pressure from their directors, pressure from their shareholders, and you’re jeopardizing the entire existence of the company by continuing to do this.”
Democratic Reaction - But House Democrats seem to be in no mood to give in to Bush’s rhetoric. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) says Bush is “misrepresenting the facts on our nation’s electronic-surveillance capabilities.” “There is no risk the program will go dark,” says Silvestre Reyes (D-TX), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. Many Democrats accuse the administration of putting the interests of telecom firms over national security—accusations that intensify after Bush’s Director of National Intelligence, Mike McConnell, admitted that the real issue behind the reauthorization is the immunity for telecoms (see February 15-17, 2008). Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) says that the entire argument is “nothing more than a scare tactic designed to avoid legal and political accountability and keep Americans in the dark about the administration’s massive lawbreaking.” House member Tim Walz (D-MN) says, “Coming from a military background, I sure don’t downplay that there are threats out there, but the president’s demagoguery on this is the equivalent of the boy crying wolf.” And Rahm Emanuel (D-IL), the head of the House Democratic Caucus, says bluntly: “This is not about protecting Americans. The president just wants to protect American telephone companies.”
Previous Depiction - When the law was signed into effect August 5, 2007, it was portrayed by the White House as “a temporary, narrowly focused statute to deal with the most immediate needs of the intelligence community to protect the country.” Now it is being portrayed by Bush officials as the cornerstone of the nation’s terrorist-surveillance program. The issue is sure to resurface when Congress returns from a week-long break in late February. (Associated Press 2/14/2008; Weisman and Eggen 2/16/2008)
Attorney General Michael Mukasey refuses to refer a House contempt citation against two of President Bush’s top officials to a federal grand jury. The House has found former White House counsel Harriet Miers and White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten in contempt of Congress for refusing to answer Congressional subpoenas (see February 14, 2008), but Mukasey says neither Bolten nor Miers have committed any crimes. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has, in return, given the House Judiciary Committee the authority to file a lawsuit against Miers and Bolten in federal court. Mukasey says Bolten and Miers were right to ignore the subpoenas because both were acting at President Bush’s behest. Pelosi retorts: “The American people demand that we uphold the law. As public officials, we take an oath to uphold the Constitution and protect our system of checks and balances and our civil lawsuit seeks to do just that.” Democrats want the filing to move swiftly so that a judge might rule before the November elections; a key tenet of Democratic political strategy is the accusation that the Bush administration has abused its executive powers and considers itself above the law. Bolten and Miers were subpoenaed to testify about the possible political motivations behind the 2006 firings of nine US attorneys. Mukasey agrees with the Bush administration in saying that neither Miers nor Bolten, as officials of the executive branch, are required to answer to Congress for their actions, “The contempt of Congress statute was not intended to apply and could not constitutionally be applied to an executive branch official who asserts the president’s claim of executive privilege,” he writes. “Accordingly, the department has determined that the noncompliance by Mr. Bolten and Ms. Miers with the Judiciary Committee subpoenas did not constitute a crime.” Judiciary Committee chairman John Conyers (D-MI) says of Mukasey’s decision: “Today’s decision to shelve the contempt process, in violation of a federal statute, shows that the White House will go to any lengths to keep its role in the US attorney firings hidden. In the face of such extraordinary actions, we have no choice but to proceed with a lawsuit to enforce the committee’s subpoenas.” (Kellman 2/29/2008)
A new investigation modeled on the Church Committee, which investigated government spying (see April, 1976) and led to the passage of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA - see 1978) in the 1970s, is proposed. The proposal follows an amendment to wiretapping laws that immunizes telecommunications companies from prosecution for illegally co-operating with the NSA. A detailed seven-page memo is drafted outlining the proposed inquiry by a former senior member of the original Church Committee.
Congressional Investigative Body Proposed - The idea is to have Congress appoint an investigative body to discover the full extent of what the Bush White House did in the war on terror that may have been illegal and then to implement reforms aimed at preventing future abuses—and perhaps to bring accountability for wrongdoing by Bush officials. Key issues to investigate include:
The NSA’s domestic surveillance activities;
The CIA’s use of rendition and torture against terrorist suspects;
The U.S. government’s use of military assets—including satellites, Pentagon intelligence agencies, and U2 surveillance planes—for a spying apparatus that could be used against people in the US; and
The NSA’s use of databases and how its databases, such as the Main Core list of enemies, mesh with other government lists, such as the no-fly list. A deeper investigation should focus on how these lists feed on each other, as well as the government’s “inexorable trend towards treating everyone as a suspect,” says Barry Steinhardt, the director of the Program on Technology and Liberty for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
Proposers - The proposal is a product of talks between civil liberties advocates and aides to Democratic leaders in Congress. People consulted about the committee include aides to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Judiciary Committee chairman John Conyers (D-MI). The civil liberties organizations include the ACLU, the Center for Democracy and Technology, and Common Cause. However, some Democrats, such as Pelosi, Senate Intelligence Committee chairman John D. Rockefeller (D-WV), and former House Intelligence chairwoman Jane Harman (D-CA), approved the Bush administration’s operations and would be made to look bad by such investigation.
Investigating Bush, Clinton Administrations - In order that the inquiry not be called partisan, it is to have a scope going back beyond the start of the Bush administration to include the administrations of Bill Clinton, George H. W. Bush, and Ronald Reagan. The memo states that “[t]he rise of the ‘surveillance state’ driven by new technologies and the demands of counter-terrorism did not begin with this administration.” However, the author later says in interviews that the scope of abuse under George W. Bush would likely be an order of magnitude greater than under preceding presidents.
'Imagine What We Don't Know' - Some of the people involved in the discussions comment on the rationale. “If we know this much about torture, rendition, secret prisons, and warrantless wiretapping despite the administration’s attempts to stonewall, then imagine what we don’t know,” says a senior Democratic congressional aide who is familiar with the proposal. Steinhardt says: “You have to go back to the McCarthy era to find this level of abuse. Because the Bush administration has been so opaque, we don’t know [the extent of] what laws have been violated.” “It’s not just the ‘Terrorist Surveillance Program,’” says Gregory Nojeim from the Center for Democracy and Technology. “We need a broad investigation on the way all the moving parts fit together. It seems like we’re always looking at little chunks and missing the big picture.”
Effect on Presidential Race Unknown - It is unknown how the 2008 presidential race may affect whether the investigation ever begins, although some think that Democratic candidate Barack Obama (D-IL), said to favor open government, might be more cooperative with Congress than his Republican opponent John McCain (R-AZ). However, a participant in the discussions casts doubt on this: “It may be the last thing a new president would want to do.” (Shorrock 7/23/2008)
President Bush vetoes legislation passed by Congress that would have banned the CIA from using waterboarding and other “extreme” interrogation techniques. The legislation is part of a larger bill authorizing US intelligence activities. The US Army prohibits the use of waterboarding and seven other interrogation techniques in the Army Field Manual; the legislation would have brought the CIA in line with US military practices. Waterboarding is banned by many countries and its use by the US and other regimes has been roundly condemned by US lawmakers and human rights organizations. The field manual also prohibits stripping prisoners naked; forcing them to perform or simulate sexual acts; beating, burning, or otherwise inflicting harm; subjecting prisoners to hypothermia; subjecting prisoners to mock executions; withholding food, water, or medical treatment; using dogs to frighten or attack prisoners; and hooding prisoners or strapping duct tape across their eyes.
Reasoning for Veto - “Because the danger remains, we need to ensure our intelligence officials have all the tools they need to stop the terrorists,” Bush explains. The vetoed legislation “would diminish these vital tools.” Bush goes on to say that the CIA’s interrogation program has helped stop terrorist attacks on a US Marine base in Djibouti and the US consulate in Pakistan, as well as stopped plans for terrorists to fly hijacked planes into a Los Angeles tower or perhaps London’s Heathrow Airport. He gives no specifics, but adds, “Were it not for this program, our intelligence community believes that al-Qaeda and its allies would have succeeded in launching another attack against the American homeland.” John D. Rockefeller (D-WV), the head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, disagrees, saying he knows of no instances where the CIA has used such methods of interrogation to obtain information that led to the prevention of a terrorist attack. “On the other hand, I do know that coercive interrogations can lead detainees to provide false information in order to make the interrogation stop,” he says. CIA Director Michael Hayden says that the CIA will continue to work within both national and international law, but its needs are different from those of the Army, and it will follow the procedures it thinks best. Bush complains that the legislation would eliminate not just waterboarding, but “all the alternative procedures we’ve developed to question the world’s most dangerous and violent terrorists.” (Cowan 3/8/2008; Riechmann 3/8/2008)
Criticism of Veto - Democrats, human rights leaders, and others denounce Bush’s veto. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) says, “This president had the chance to end the torture debate for good, yet he chose instead to leave the door open to use torture in the future.” Feinstein notes that Bush ignored the advice of 43 retired generals and admirals, and 18 national security experts, who all supported the bill. “Torture is a black mark against the United States,” she says. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) says she and fellow Democrats will try to override the veto and thus “reassert [the United States’s] moral authority.” Elisa Massimino of Human Rights First says, “The president’s refusal to sign this crucial legislation into law will undermine counterterrorism efforts globally and delay efforts to rebuild US credibility on human rights.” (Riechmann 3/8/2008) New York Times journalist Steven Lee Myers writes that Bush vetoes the bill not just to assert his support for extreme interrogation techniques or to provide the government everything it needs to combat terrorism, but as part of his ongoing battle to expand the power of the presidency. Myers writes, “At the core of the administration’s position is a conviction that the executive branch must have unfettered freedom when it comes to prosecuting war.” (Myers 3/9/2008)
President Bush, speaking to the Israeli Knesset in Jerusalem on the 60th anniversary of Israel’s founding, accuses Senator Barack Obama (D-IL), the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, and other Democrats of favoring “appeasement” of terrorists in the same way some Western leaders “appeased” Nazi Germany’s Adolf Hitler in the days before World War II. Bush does not name Obama or any other official specifically, but White House aides soon acknowledge Bush intended the remarks to apply to Obama. Bush tells the Knesset: “Some seem to believe we should negotiate with terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along. We have heard this foolish delusion before. As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared, ‘Lord, if only I could have talked to Hitler, all of this might have been avoided.’ We have an obligation to call this what it is—the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history.… There are good and decent people who cannot fathom the darkness in these men and try to explain their words away. This is natural. But it is deadly wrong. As witnesses to evil in the past, we carry a solemn responsibility to take these words seriously. Jews and Americans have seen the consequences of disregarding the words of leaders who espouse hatred. And that is a mistake the world must not repeat in the 21st century.” CNN calls the remarks “a not-so-subtle attempt to continue to raise doubts about Obama with Jewish Americans,” and a follow-up to similar remarks made by Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, who has charged that Obama enjoys the support of Islamic fundamentalist group Hamas. Obama called McCain’s Hamas allegation a “smear” and says of Bush’s remarks: “It is sad that President Bush would use a speech to the Knesset on the 60th anniversary of Israel’s independence to launch a false political attack. It is time to turn the page on eight years of policies that have strengthened Iran and failed to secure America or our ally Israel.… George Bush knows that I have never supported engagement with terrorists, and the president’s extraordinary politicization of foreign policy and the politics of fear do nothing to secure the American people or our stalwart ally Israel.” Obama’s campaign says Obama favors “tough, direct presidential diplomacy with Iran without preconditions, and is willing to meet with the leaders of all nations, friend and foe.” Obama has never said he favors talks with any radical group such as Hamas, which both he and the US State Department have labeled a terrorist organization. (CNN 5/15/2008)
Angry Responses from Democratic Lawmakers - The response from Democratic lawmakers, Bush administration critics, and Democratic supporters is quick and angered. One of the harshest responses is from Senator Joe Biden (D-DE), the head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a former presidential contender himself. Biden minces few words by saying: “This is bullsh_t, this is malarkey. This is outrageous, for the president of the United States to go to a foreign country, to sit in the Knesset… and make this kind of ridiculous statement.” Of Bush, Biden says: “He is the guy who has weakened us. He has increased the number of terrorists in the world. It is his policies that have produced this vulnerability that the US has. It’s his [own] intelligence community [that] has pointed this out, not me.” He also notes that Bush’s Defense Secretary, Robert Gates, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice have both suggested opening dialogues with their enemies. “If he thinks this is appeasement, is he going to come back and fire his own cabinet?” Biden asks. “Is he going to fire Condi Rice?” Biden later says he regrets the use of the profanity, but then says that Bush is engaging in “long-distance swiftboating” of Obama, referring to Bush’s 2004 campaign strategy of telling false stories about his Democratic challenger Senator John Kerry (D-MA) and Kerry’s Vietnam service. Kerry says that Bush “is still playing the disgusting and dangerous political game Karl Rove perfected, which is insulting to every American and disrespectful to our ally Israel. George Bush should be making Israel secure, not slandering Barack Obama from the Knesset.” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) says: “Not surprisingly, the engineer of the worst foreign policy in our nation’s history has fired yet another reckless and reprehensible round. For the president to make this statement before the government of our closest ally as it celebrates a remarkable milestone demeans this historic moment with partisan politics.” For a brief time, the White House attempts to deny that Bush was referring to Obama, a denial that Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) does not believe. “There is no escaping what the president is doing,” he says. “It is an attack on Senator Obama’s position that we should not be avoiding even those we disagree with when it comes to negotiations and diplomacy.” Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY), also a Democratic presidential contender, says: “President Bush’s comparison of any Democrat to Nazi appeasers is both offensive and outrageous on the face of it, especially in light of his failures in foreign policy. This is the kind of statement that has no place in any presidential address and certainly to use an important moment like the 60th anniversary celebration of Israel to make a political point seems terribly misplaced. Unfortunately, this is what we’ve come to expect from President Bush. There is a very clear difference between Democrats and Republicans on foreign policy and that difference will be evident once we take back the White House.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) says that Bush’s remarks are “beneath the dignity of the office of the president and unworthy of our representation” at the celebration of Israel’s 60th anniversary. Referring to McCain, Pelosi says, “I would hope that any serious person that aspires to lead the country, would disassociate themselves from those comments.” House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel (D-IL) says: “The tradition has always been that when a US president is overseas, partisan politics stops at the water’s edge. President Bush has now taken that principle and turned it on its head: for this White House, partisan politics now begins at the water’s edge, no matter the seriousness and gravity of the occasion. Does the president have no shame?” (Politico 5/15/2008; Politico 5/15/2008; Politico 5/15/2008)
Other Responses - Democratic columnist and political strategist Paul Begala writes: “George W. Bush is unworthy of the presidency. He is a disgrace to himself, our nation, and the high office he holds.” Bush “dishonor[ed] himself”, Begala continues, “by using one of the world’s most important pulpits to launch a false and vicious political attack against Barack Obama.” Begala notes that he is a staunch supporter of Israel, and writes: “It is especially appalling to supporters of Israel that Mr. Bush would stand on a hilltop in Jerusalem to invoke the Holocaust in order to make a cheap and deeply dishonest political point. I am a person of faith, so it is especially galling that a man who calls himself a brother in faith would stand in the Holy Land and violate one of the Commandments God gave to Moses: ‘Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.‘… As an American I am ashamed that such a man represents me.” (Begala 5/15/2008) The Boston Globe publishes an editorial accusing Bush of breaking “an unwritten rule against partisan politicking on foreign shores. He also displayed confusion about his own policies—and about the cause of his calamitous foreign policy failures.” Like others, the Globe notes that Bush officials have engaged in talks with Iran, and says that by overthrowing Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, the Bush administration has done a great deal “to enable Iran.” The Globe compares Obama’s foreign policy to the “tough and prudent statecraft in the mold of Bush’s father and his secretary of state, James Baker.” The Globe concludes: “Maybe the worst thing about Bush’s Knesset attack on Obama is that it shows how oblivious Bush still is to his own failings. His unilateral military ventures, his disdain for international treaties and organizations, his refusal to negotiate with Iran when the regime in Tehran was eager to cut a deal with the United States—these mistakes produced the disasters that Obama or another successor will have to overcome.” (Boston Globe 5/16/2008) Columnist Will Bunch of the Philadelphia Inquirer writes: “President Bush went on foreign soil today, and committed what I consider an act of political treason: Comparing the candidate of the US opposition party to appeasers of Nazi Germany—in the very nation that was carved out from the horrific calamity of the Holocaust. Bush’s bizarre and beyond-appropriate detour into American presidential politics took place in the middle of what should have been an occasion for joy.” As others observe, Bunch writes that Bush crossed a line that previous presidents have tried to avoid: criticizing members of the opposing party on foreign soil. He writes: “As a believer in free speech, I think Bush has a right to say what he wants, but as a president of the United States who swore to uphold the Constitution, his freedom also carries an awesome and solemn responsibility, and what this president said today is a serious breach of that high moral standard.… [W]hat Bush did in Israel this morning goes well beyond the accepted confines of American political debate. When the president speaks to a foreign parliament on behalf of our country, his message needs to be clear and unambiguous. Our democracy may look messy to outsiders, and we may have our disagreements with some sharp elbows thrown around, but at the end of the day we are not Republicans or Democrats or liberals or conservatives. We are Americans.” (Bunch 5/15/2008)
Republican Responses - Few Republicans speak publicly regarding Bush’s comments. One who is willing to do so is Ed Gillespie, an advisor to the White House. He attempts to deny that Bush meant the remarks to apply to Obama—a denial soon contradicted by other White House officials—then claims that Bush and the White House want to stay out of the presidential campaign. Instead, Gillespie says: “The president is stating American policy and his policy toward Iran and toward Hezbollah and toward al-Qaeda.… We are happy to allow for Senator Obama and others to express their own points of view on these things.” McCain refuses to distance himself from the remarks, and instead attacks Obama for expressing a willingness to open talks with Iran. McCain does not note that Bush administration diplomats have held three rounds of discussions with Iranian officials in the last year. (Henry 5/16/2008)
Thirty-one Iraqi legislators write a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and the entire US Congress emphasizing that their government has no intention of signing any security agreement with the US that does not include a specific timetable for the withdrawal of US troops. The US government is working to hammer out an agreement between itself and the Iraqi government that would provide for some temporary (see March 7, 2008) or permanent (see June 5, 2008) US presence in Iraq. On June 4, Representative William Delahunt (D-MA) will release the letter. The letter reads in part, “[T]he majority of Iraqi representatives strongly reject any military-security, economic, commercial, agricultural, investment or political agreement with the United States that is not linked to clear mechanisms that obligate the occupying American military forces to fully withdraw from Iraq, in accordance with a declared timetable and without leaving behind any military bases, soldiers or hired fighters.” (US House of Representatives 5/29/2008; Grim 6/4/2008)
Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Joseph N. Cappella, authors of the media study Echo Chamber: Rush Limbaugh and the Conservative Media Establishment, find that conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh excels at using what they call “insider language” for his listeners “that both embeds definitional assumptions hospitable to his conservative philosophy and makes it difficult for those who embrace the language to speak about Democrats and the presumed Democratic ideology without attacking them.” They cite three examples from Limbaugh’s June 2005 newsletter which contains the following statements:
“Democrats are the enemy.”
“When she first ran for her Senate seat, Hillary Rodham Clinton told citizens of the Empire State [New York] that she had been endorsed by environmental wacko-groups because… in her words, ‘I’ve stood for clean air.’”
After Harvard president Lawrence Summers commented on the intrinsic differences between the sexes, Limbaugh wrote, “Led by foaming-at-the-mouth feminists, the liberal elite experienced a mass politically correct tantrum.”
Jamieson and Cappella write: “Identifying terms such as ‘foaming-at-the-mouth feminists,’ ‘liberal elite,’ ‘enemy,’ and ‘environmental wacko-groups’ both create an insider language and distance those who adopt the labels from those labeled. One of the ways Limbaugh’s supporters telegraph their identification with him is by adopting his language.”
Identifying Nicknames - They cite the 1995 statement of freshman House Representative Barbara Cubin (R-WY), who proudly proclaimed of her fellow female Republicans, “There’s not a femi-Nazi among us,” using one of Limbaugh’s favorite terms for feminists. “Listeners say ‘Ditto’ or ‘megadittoes’ to telegraph their enthusiasm for Limbaugh, his latest argument, or his show in general,” they write. Limbaugh refers to himself as “the MahaRushie” with “talent on loan from God.” Callers often refer to Limbaugh as “my hero.” Denigrating nicknames for Limbaugh’s targets of derision work to bring listeners into the fold: the new listener must labor to identify the people termed (and thusly become part of the Limbaugh community): “Clintonistas” (supporters of Bill and/or Hillary Clinton), “Sheets” (Senator Robert Byrd, D-WV), who in his youth wore ‘sheets’ as a Ku Klux Klan member), “the Swimmer” (Senator Edward Kennedy, D-MA, in reference to his involvement in the 1969 Chappaquiddick incident), “Puffster” (former Senator Tom Daschle, D-SD), “the Breck Girl” (former Senator John Edwards, D-NC), and “Ashley Wilkes” (retired General Wesley Clark, in a reference to what Limbaugh called “the wimpy, pathetic Gone with the Wind character”). Some of the nicknames are physically derogatory: Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) became “Senator Leaky, a.k.a. Senator Depends,” and former House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-MO) became “‘Little Dick’ Gephardt.” Such use of “insider” nicknames indicates an identification between the listener and Limbaugh, and an affiliation with the Limbaugh community of supporters.
Redefining and Relabeling - Limbaugh routinely redefines and relabels his political enemies in the most derogatory terms. Pro-choice supporters are termed “pro-aborts,” and Democrats are supported by “beggar-based constituencies.” As noted above, feminists are “femi-Nazis” (though Jamieson and Cappella note that Limbaugh has used the term less often since it became a topic of criticism in the mainstream media).
Gender Identification - One of Limbaugh’s strongest attacks is on gender roles. In Limbaugh’s continuum, Democratic women are, the authors write, “either sexualized manipulators or unattractive man haters.” A 1994 Clinton tribute to women’s accomplishments became, in Limbaugh’s words, “Biddies’ Night Out.” Other times, Democratic women become “babes,” as in “Congressbabe Jane Harman.” (On his Web site, Limbaugh often shows Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA)‘s head affixed to the body of a Miss America contender.) The authors note, “Neither label invites the audience to take these leaders seriously.” Women with whom he disagrees, such as liberal blogger Arianna Huffington, are “screeching,” and others are “broads,” “lesbians,” or “femi-Nazis.” The National Organization for Women (NOW) becomes, in Limbaugh’s vocabulary, the NAGS. Attacks and innuendo about women’s sexuality are frequently used by Limbaugh: during the Clinton administration, for example, Limbaugh often implied that Hillary Clinton and then-Attorney General Janet Reno were closeted lesbians. On the other hand, Democratic men are routinely portrayed as “two-inchers,” derogatory references to their physical attributes and sexual capabilities (as with the Gephardt nickname above). Jamieson and Cappella note that “Limbaugh’s attempts at gender-based humor are of the locker room variety,” noting several references to California Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante as a Democrat whose name translates into “large breasts,” and referring to pop singer Madonna’s 2004 endorsement of General Wesley Clark for president by saying she had “opened herself” to Clark. In 2004, he said that Democratic presidential contender John Kerry, married to wealthy heiress Teresa Heinz-Kerry, “does his fundraising every night when he goes to bed.” (The authors write, “Why the vulgarity in this message does not alienate the churchgoing conservatives in his audience is a question for which we have no ready answer.”)
Impact - Far from merely giving a laundry list of Limbaugh’s derogatory and offensive characterizations, Jamieson and Cappella note how Limbaugh and the conservative media “wrap their audiences in a conversation built on words and phrases that embody conservatism’s ideological assumptions,” using “naming and ridicule to marginalize those named as part of an out-group,” and using “coherent, emotion-evoking, dismissive language” to denigrate and dismiss the liberals he routinely attacks. “Because language does our thinking for us,” they write, “this process constructs not only a vocabulary but also a knowledge base for the audience. That language and the view of the world carried by it are presumed by loyal conservatives and alien to the nonconservative audience. These interpretations of people and events also reinforce Limbaugh’s defense of conservatism and its proponents.” (Merida 2/15/1995; Jamieson and Cappella 2008, pp. 184-190)
President Bush signs the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 (FAA), a revamping and expansion of the original Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (see 1978). The legislation passed the House by a sweeping 293 to 129 votes, with most Democratic Congressional leaders supporting it over the opposition of the more liberal and civil liberties-minded Democrats. Republicans were almost unanimously supportive of the bill. Though Democratic Senators Russell Feingold (D-WI) and Christopher Dodd (D-CT) managed to delay the bill’s passage through the Senate, their attempt to modify the bill was thwarted by a 66-32 margin. (Dodd credits AT&T whistleblower Mark Klein (see December 15-31, 2005 and July 7, 2009) as one of the very few people to make the public aware of the illegal NSA wiretapping program, which the FISA amendment would protect. Without Klein, Dodd states, “this story might have remained secret for years and years, causing further erosion of our rights.”) Senator Barack Obama (D-IL), the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, gave his qualified support to the bill, stating: “Given the legitimate threats we face, providing effective intelligence collection tools with appropriate safeguards is too important to delay. So I support the compromise, but do so with a firm pledge that as president, I will carefully monitor the program.” Obama had opposed an earlier Senate version that would have given “blanket immunity” to the telecommunications companies for their participation in the illegal NSA wiretapping program (see December 15, 2005). House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who organized Democratic support for the bill in the House, said that she supported the bill primarily because it rejects Bush’s argument that a wartime chief executive has the “inherent authority” to conduct some surveillance activity he considers necessary to fight terrorism. It restores the legal notion that the FISA law is the exclusive rule on government spying, she said, and added: “This is a democracy. It is not a monarchy.” Feingold, however, said that the bill granted “retroactive immunity to the telecommunications companies that may have engaged in President Bush’s illegal wiretapping program.” The amendments restore many of the provisions of the expired Protect America Act (PAA—see August 5, 2007) that drastically modify the original FISA legislation and grant the government broad new surveillance powers. Like the PAA, the FAA grants “third parties” such as telecommunications firms immunity from prosecution for engaging in illegal surveillance of American citizens if they did so in partnership with government agencies such as the National Security Agency (NSA). (Kane 6/20/2008; CNN 6/26/2008; US Senate 7/9/2008; White House 7/10/2008; Klein 2009, pp. 95-97) Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) actually refused to honor a “hold” placed on the bill by Dodd, a highly unusual move. Klein will later note that Reid has in the past always honored holds placed on legislation by Republicans, even if Democrats were strongly supportive of the legislation being “held.” Klein will write that Pelosi crafted a “showpiece” FISA bill without the immunity provisions, garnering much praise for her from civil liberties organizations; however, Pelosi’s colleague House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) had secretly worked with the White House to craft a bill that preserved immunity for telecoms, and on June 10, Pelosi “rammed” that bill through the House. The final bill actually requires the judiciary to dismiss lawsuits brought against telecom firms if those firms can produce evidence that they had worked in collusion with the NSA. Feingold later observes that the final bill is not a “compromise, it is a capitulation.” (Klein 2009, pp. 101-103) Klein will write that Democrats and Republicans have worked together to “unw[ind] one of the main reforms of the post-Watergate era and accepted the outrageous criminal rationalizations of [President] Nixon himself.” Klein will quote Nixon as saying, “If the president does it, that means it’s not illegal” (see April 6, 1977), and will say that is “the essence of the FISA ‘compromise’” and turned Congress into the White House’s “rubber stamp.… It is the twisted judicial logic of a dictatorship.” (Klein 2009, pp. 107)
US taxpayers express their lack of support of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP—see October 3, 2008) bailout bill to members of Congress, including Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Senate majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), and the Senate and House budget committee chairs—Chris Dodd (D-CT) and Barney Frank (D-NY), respectively—with phone calls, emails, and faxes, initially rallying the power and the numbers to defeat the bill that some call “a historic swindle.” (Grieder 9/19/2008) According to the Congressional Quarterly, “[Senator Lindsey] Graham (R-FL) said that the deluge of public e-mails and telephone calls was comparable to several of the most contentious issues of the last decade.” Graham adds: “It’s somewhere between impeachment and immigration.… This is intense, but I’ve seen worse.” (Schatz et al. 9/28/2008)
Conservatives and Congressional Republicans attack President Obama’s economic stimulus plan with a variety of claims centering on “earmarks” or “Democratic pork.” One claim is that the stimulus package wastes hundreds of millions of dollars on funding for contraceptives. “You know, I’m concerned about the size of the package.” says House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH). “And I’m concerned about some of the spending that’s in there, [about]… how you can spend hundreds of millions on contraceptives. How does that stimulate the economy?” (New York Post 1/26/2009)
Reduces Costs to State, Federal Budgets - House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) explains the rationale behind the funding: “Well, the family planning services reduce cost. They reduce cost. The states are in terrible fiscal budget crises now and part of what we do for children’s health, education, and some of those elements are to help the states meet their financial needs. One of those—one of the initiatives you mentioned, the contraception, will reduce costs to the states and to the federal government.” (Terkel 1/26/2009)
Limbaugh's Suggestion - Conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh retorts that if Pelosi “wants fewer births, I have the way to do this and it won’t require any contraception: You simply put pictures of Nancy Pelosi… in every cheap motel room.… That will keep birthrates down because that picture will keep a lot of things down.” (Media Matters 1/26/2009)
Savings of $700 Million - The language of the stimulus bill reads: “Under current law, the secretary [of health and human services] has the authority under section 1115 of the Social Security Act to grant waivers to states to allow them to cover family planning services and supplies to low-income women who are not otherwise eligible for Medicaid. The bill would give states the option to provide such coverage without obtaining a waiver. States could continue to use the existing waiver authority if they preferred.” The Center for American Progress (CAP), a progressive think tank, explains that this portion of the stimulus bill “would not only aid states, but also provide preventative, cost-saving health care to help low-income women support their families and keep working.” According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the measure would save the nation $200 million over five years and $700 million over 10 years. States that choose not to participate in the program are not required to do so. Representative James Clyburn (D-SC) notes, “I think that Mr. Boehner is looking for one little sound bite rather than looking at the total package here and seeing what it will do for the American people.” (Terkel 1/26/2009)
Media critic and columnist George Neumayr writes that the Democrats’ economic stimulus plan will include enforced abortions and euthanasia for less productive citizens. Neumayr calls this claim a once “astonishingly chilly and incomprehensible stretch [that] is now blandly stated liberal policy,” basing it on the Democrats’ plan to provide money to the states for “family planning.” Neumayr equates the funding, which would go for such initiatives as teaching teenagers about the use of condoms and measures to avoid sexually transmitted diseases, to the famous Jonathan Swift essay of 1729, “A Modest Proposal,” which satirically suggested that impoverished Irish families might sell their children to rich Englishmen for food. “Change a few of the words and it could be a Democratic Party policy paper,” Neumayr writes. “Swift suggested that 18th-century Ireland stimulate its economy by turning children into food for the wealthy. [House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi [D-CA] proposes stimulating the US economy by eliminating them. Other slumping countries, such as Russia and France, pay parents to have children; it looks like Obama’s America will pay parents to contracept or kill them. Perhaps the Freedom of Choice Act can also fall under the Pelosi ‘stimulus’ rationale. Why not? An America of shovels and scalpels will barrel into the future. Euthanasia is another shovel-ready job for Pelosi to assign to the states. Reducing health care costs under Obama’s plan, after all, counts as economic stimulus too. Controlling life, controlling death, controlling costs. It’s all stimulus in the Brave New World utopia to come.” Like a Washington Times editorial from months earlier (see November 23, 2008), Neumayr uses the term “final solution” for the Democrats’ economic proposal, the term for the Nazis’ World War II-era extermination of millions of Jews and other “undesirables.” He writes: “‘Unwanted’ children are immediately seen as an unspeakable burden. Pregnancy is a punishment, and fertility is little more than a disease. Pelosi’s gaffe illustrates the extent to which eugenics and economics merge in the liberal utilitarian mind.” “Malthus lives,” he says, referring to the 19th century scholar Thomas Robert Malthus, whose theories of ruthless natural selection predated Charles Darwin’s theories of evolution. Neumayr goes on to accuse “Hillary Clinton’s State Department” of preparing to set up programs of “people-elimination,” predicated on what he calls “UN-style population control ideology” and “third-world abortions.” (Neumayr 1/27/2009)
Representative Pete Sessions (R-TX), the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, says that House Republicans should become political “insurgents” to oppose and undermine the Obama administration, specifically its economic proposals, and says the GOP can learn from the example of the Taliban. “Insurgency, we understand perhaps a little bit more because of the Taliban,” he tells editors of the conservative National Journal. “And that is that they went about systematically understanding how to disrupt and change a person’s entire processes. And these Taliban—I’m not trying to say the Republican Party is the Taliban. No, that’s not what we’re saying. I’m saying an example of how you go about [sic] is to change a person from their messaging to their operations to their frontline message. And we need to understand that insurgency may be required when the other side, the House leadership, does not follow the same commands, which we entered the game with.” Sessions complains that neither President Obama nor House Democrats have attempted to work with Republicans in a truly bipartisan fashion. “If they do not give us those options or opportunities then we will then become insurgency of a nature to where we do those things that are necessary to making sure the American public knows what we think the correct answer is. So we either work together, or we’re going to find a way to get our message out.” Sessions says he is not comparing House Republicans to the Taliban: “I simply said one can see that there’s a model out there for insurgency.” Sessions is interrupted by an aide, who explains that Sessions is merely trying to express the need for Republicans to start thinking about how to act strategically as the minority party. Sessions blames House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) for the Republicans’ new approach: “I think insurgency is a mindset and an attitude that we’re going to have to search for and find ways to get our message out and to be prepared to see things for what they are, rather than trying to do something about them. I think what’s happened is that the line was drawn in the sand” by Pelosi. (Skalka 2/5/2009) At a House Republicans’ retreat the week before, Sessions told fellow Republicans that they “need to get over the idea that they’re participating in legislation and ought to start thinking of themselves as ‘an insurgency’ instead.” (Frick 2/5/2009)
Conservative opponents of the new stimulus package claim that the legislation allocates $30 million for saving the endangered salt marsh mouse, and would be spent entirely in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-CA) district. The claim is part of a larger set of claims that the bill is “stuffed with Democratic pork” or “earmarks” (see January 23, 2009 and January 25-26, 2009). The claim is false, with Pelosi’s office calling it a “total fabrication” and examination of the bill finding no mention of any such funding allocation. The claim begins with an e-mail from an unidentified House Republican staff member, who claims that he was told by an unidentified federal agency source that if that agency were to receive stimulus money, it would spend “thirty million dollars for wetland restoration in the San Francisco Bay Area—including work to protect the salt marsh harvest mouse.” The e-mail identifies neither the agency nor the source, nor does it claim that the money is actually in the package. However, the story is quickly picked up and echoed by Republicans such as former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee and Representative Mike Pence (R-IN), both of whom appear on Fox News stating the claim as unvarnished fact. Representative Dan Lundgren (R-CA) calls the supposed spending “absurd.” And House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) asks how $30 million “for some salt marsh mouse in San Francisco is going to help a struggling auto worker in Ohio?” The Drudge Report makes the same claim. And the Washington Times runs an article entitled “Pelosi’s mouse slated for $30m slice of cheese.” The House staffer who circulates the e-mail later acknowledges that the claim, as stated by Huckabee, Lundgren, and others, is erroneous. “There is not specific language in the legislation for this project,” he admits. However, the staffer claims: “If the bill passes, the project will be funded according to what the relevant agency told our staff. The bottom line is, if this bill becomes law, taxpayers will spend 30 million on the mouse.” Pelosi’s staff says that the $30 million is for federal wetland restoration projects such as the California State Coastal Conservancy, none of which will be spent on the salt marsh mouse or even in Pelosi’s district. Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill says: “There are no federal wetland restoration projects in line to get funded in San Francisco. Neither the Speaker nor her staff have had any involvement in this initiative. The idea that $30 million will be spent to save mice is a total fabrication.… This is yet another contrived partisan attack. Restoration is key to economic activity, including farming, fisheries, recreation, and clean water.” (Miller 2/12/2009; Sargent 2/12/2009; Thompson 2/14/2009)
Nationally prominent conservative blogger Michelle Malkin promotes an anti-economic stimulus rally in Seattle being organized by an area math teacher, Keli Carender (see February 10, 2009 and February 12, 2009), writing: “There should be one of these in every town in America. What are you doing?” Malkin also posts a response from Carender expressing her gratitude at the mention, and adding: “I wanted to give the Coloradans some advice for gathering folks there, and believe me, you have the time. I got the permit for the park here on Tuesday, and now look, by Sunday, it is ALL OVER THE PLACE. I emailed everyone I knew. I emailed friend’s parents who I knew were Conservative, I emailed my parents’ friends, bloggers, etc. I called everyone I could think of, policy think tanks, ‘movers and shakers’ in the Seattle Republican Party, Conservative organizations, college professors, etc. (From this I have forged a relationship with the chairwoman of the National Black Republican Association who is going to write a statement for me to read, as she cannot get to Seattle on Monday.) I called local Conservative talk radio stations and they have been running it all week. I lived and breathed this thing for four days, which did cause me to miss a couple of things here and there, but it is totally worth it. Basically everyone, you just have to do it. Call up your police station or parks department and ask how you can obtain a permit, and then just start advertising. The word will spread. I am only one person, but with a little hard work this protest has become the efforts of A LOT of people. To the people who think this won’t help I say this: this protest will not stop the bill. I have no illusions that it could. I’m hoping for a few things though. One, that the Conservatives and Libertarians and Republicans in Seattle can finally meet each other and see they are not alone. There are actually quite a lot of us here, but we are very quiet, and that MUST STOP. We need to show that we exist. Second, we need to show support for the Republicans and Democrats that voted against the porkulus. If they think, for one second, that they made a bad choice, we have no chance to fight. Third, it sends a message to [President] Obama and [House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi [D-CA] that we are awake and we know what’s happening, and we are not going to take it lying down. It is a message saying, expect more opposition because we’re out here. That’s it! I hope everyone across the country can get something going too!!!” (Michelle Malkin 2/15/2009; Hamsher 4/15/2009) Carender’s rally is later considered one of the seminal events in the nascent “tea party” movement (see February 16-17, 2009). Liberal blogger Jane Hamsher will note, “First [tea party] rally organized on a three week-old blog with help from folks from Fox News Radio, the Young Republicans, the Young America’s Foundation (CPAC—see (February 11, 2009)), and a GOP House candidate who works for an Internet marketing firm.” (Hamsher 4/15/2009)
Republican House member Patrick McHenry (R-NC) admits that his party’s resistance to Democratic initiatives are designed to bring down the approval numbers for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and the Congressional Democratic leadership. Speaking of Republican resistance to the Democrats’ recent budget proposal and other economic initiatives from the Obama administration and House Democrats, McHenry says: “We will lose on legislation. But we will win the message war every day, and every week, until November 2010. Our goal is to bring down approval numbers for Pelosi and for House Democrats. That will take repetition. This is a marathon, not a sprint.” McHenry belongs to a group of Congressional Republicans helping to shape the party’s message in opposition to Obama and Congressional Democrats. Washington Post pundit Greg Sargent writes, “It’s likely that Dems will grab on to [McHenry’s] quote today to bolster their charge that Congressional Republicans aren’t interested in playing a constructive role in governing and see their hope for political revival in the eventual failure of the Democratic majority’s policies.” The article also cites a recent statement by House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH), who told a group of reporters that House Republicans would not bother crafting bills to provide alternatives to Democratic economic legislation: “I have been trying to get my Republican colleagues to understand that we are not in the legislative business. We will spend more time communicating [with the American people], because that is what we can do.” (Cohen 3/7/2009; Sargent 3/9/2009)
Minority Leader: Comments 'Largely Correct, but Incomplete' - Through a spokesman, Boehner says of McHenry’s statement: “I think that’s largely correct, but incomplete. Obviously, as Leader Boehner has said repeatedly, we stand ready to work with the Speaker and the president when it is in the best interest of the American people. When we cannot work together, Republicans will offer better solutions—rooted in our principles—to the problems facing our country. If House Democrats push for the same tired liberal agenda of higher taxes to pay for more ineffective government spending, I imagine that their standing in the polls will suffer, but our first priority is doing the right thing for the American people, and we hope it is theirs as well.” Sargent notes: “My parsing of this is that Boehner believes that McHenry’s description of the party’s strategic goal as winning the message war and dragging down Dem poll numbers is ‘largely correct,’ but that McHenry left out the GOP’s willingness on principle to work with Dems and that the GOP’s ‘first priority is doing the right thing for the American people.’ That would appear to stop short of disagreeing with or criticizing McHenry.” (Sargent 3/10/2009)
McHenry's Previous Utterances - In April 2008, McHenry was reprimanded by the Pentagon for breaching operational security and and giving terrorists potentially useful information (see April 4-7, 2008). In February 2009, McHenry joined in falsely accusing the Obama administration of funding a “levitating train from Disneyland to Las Vegas” (see February 13, 2009 and After).
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA), widely considered a likely candidate for the presidency in 2012, lambasts current Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) for her recent complaints about the CIA never briefing her about the Bush administration’s use of torture. “I think she has lied to the House, and I think that the House has an absolute obligation to open an inquiry, and I hope there will be a resolution to investigate her. And I think this is a big deal. I don’t think the speaker of the House can lie to the country on national security matters,” Gingrich says. Gingrich then launches a personal attack (see September 20, 1990) on Pelosi, saying: “I think this is the most despicable, dishonest, and vicious political effort I’ve seen in my lifetime. She is a trivial politician, viciously using partisanship for the narrowist of purposes, and she dishonors the Congress by her behavior.… Speaker Pelosi’s the big loser, because she either comes across as incompetent or dishonest. Those are the only two defenses. The fact is she either didn’t do her job, or she did do her job and she’s now afraid to tell the truth.” (ABC News 5/15/2009) Former Senator Bob Graham (D-FL), who chaired the Senate Intelligence Committee, also says the CIA lied to him about the Bush administration’s use of torture. He says that the CIA’s records about its briefings of Graham and Pelosi conflict with his own records of his briefings by intelligence officials, and he has no recollection of ever being briefed about “any of the sensitive programs such as the waterboarding or other forms of excessive interrogation.” (Stein 5/14/2009)
The corporate lobbying firm FreedomWorks (see April 14, 2009) sends out a detailed memo, written in part by founder Dick Armey (R-TX), laying out strategies for protesting the Obama administration’s health care reform proposals. The memo claims that the White House intends to supplant the current privately owned and operated health care system with a “government-run” system “that would cost taxpayers trillions of dollars in new taxes” and feature “government bureaucrats,” not doctors and patients, deciding who received what health care. “This takeover of the health care system would be costly in terms of our money, our freedom, and even our lives,” the memo states. Members and sympathizers should descend on the “town hall” meetings and other venues hosted by their Congressional representatives and demand that they oppose the proposals. The memo states that its “action kit” should be used at the “tea parties” being sponsored by FreedomWorks and other right-wing organizations (see April 14, 2009, April 15, 2009, and May 29, 2009). The memo contains talking points, slogans, sample questions, a “sample” letter to the editor that members can copy and sign, a petition, and a satirical “Obamacare Card” issued to “Nancy P. Pelosi,” the Democratic Speaker of the House, saying that the bearer is entitled to “rationed health care, long waits, less choice and control, poorer care, fewer doctors and drugs, massive government, higher taxes, growing debt, zero innovation, rising costs, waste, fraud, and abuse, [and] anxiety, pain, [and] fear of death.” (Dick Armey 6/26/2009 )
Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele gives a very direct answer when asked if President Obama’s health care proposal constitutes socialism. During a presentation at the National Press Club, Steele is asked, “Does President Obama’s health care plan represent socialism?” He replies: “Yes. Next question.” MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow notes that Steele is “very sure that reforming health care is socialism even if he’s not actually all that sure what health care policy is,” and plays a video clip of Steele saying at a recent press conference: “I don’t do policy. I’m not—I’m not a legislator.” Steele acknowledges that Republicans made similar assessments of Medicare when it was proposed in 1965, and says: “I think that there’s a legitimate debate there about the impact that Medicare and Medicaid are having on the overall fabric of our economy. I think, though, in this case, unlike 1965, the level of spending, the level of government control and intrusion is far greater and much more expansive than anything we’ve ever seen.… So I think that what we’re talking about here is something far beyond anything we’ve seen in 1965 or since 1965. This is unprecedented government intrusion into the private sector, period. And you can sweeten that any way you want, but it still tastes bitter. And I think the American people know that.” According to Steele, Obama, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), and other Democrats are part of a “cabal” that wants to implement government-run health care. “Obama-Pelosi want to start building a colossal, closed health care system where Washington decides. Republicans want and support an open health care system where patients and doctors make the decisions,” he says. Adding Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) into his statement, Steele continues: “Many Democrats outside of the Obama-Pelosi-Reid-Waxman cabal know that voters won’t stand for these kinds of foolish prescriptions for our health care. We do too. That’s why Republicans will stop at nothing to remind voters about the risky experimentation going on in Washington.” Obama and Congressional Democrats are moving too fast to try to enact health care reform, Steele says. “So slow down, Mr. President. We can’t afford to get health care wrong. Your experiment proposes too much, too soon, too fast. Your experiment with our health care could change everything we like about our health care, and our economy as well.” When asked why Republicans are not advancing their own health care proposals, Steele responds: “Now, you know, the Republicans can get up tomorrow and introduce its own bill, but you and I know how Washington works. The bill that matters is the one that the leadership puts in place. The Democrats have the leadership.” (Davis 7/20/2009; Alonso-Zaldivar 7/20/2009; MSNBC 7/27/2009)
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) says of the corporate-led resistance to health care reform (see April 14, 2009, April 15, 2009, May 29, 2009, July 27, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 5, 2009, Before August 6, 2009, and August 6-7, 2009): “Insurance companies are out there in full force, carpet bombing, shock and awe against the public option. These are initiatives that are very important in this legislation, and they are to correct what the insurance companies have done to America and to the health of our people over the years.” Afterwards, Pelosi is equally blunt, telling reporters: “It is somewhat immoral what they are doing. Of course, they have been immoral all along how they have treated the people they insure. They are the villains in this. They have been part of the problem in a major way. The public has to know that.” (MSNBC 7/31/2009)
Fox News host Sean Hannity tells the conservative protesters engaging in orchestrated protests of health care reform (see June 30, 2009, July 6, 2009, July 25, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 31, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 2, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 4, 2009, and August 4, 2009), “Now, so far at these town hall meetings, you’re doing terrific.” He adds: “This is what’s going to stop this. You are. You’re gonna make it happen.… You’re standing up to these bureaucrats. You’re standing up to their phony platitudes, talking points, and bumper stickers. The polls are now turning against [President] Obama, [House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi, and [Senate Majority Leader Harry] Reid, so now they’re bringing out their own pollster to lie to you and find out a way how they can win the PR battle, and they’re telling them that they’ve got to attack the insurance companies.” (Media Matters 8/6/2009)
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) tells a San Francisco reporter that she does not believe the recent spate of conservative anti-health care reform protests at local “town hall” meetings between Congress members and constituents (see June 30, 2009, July 6, 2009, July 25, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 31, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 2, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 4, 2009, and August 4, 2009) are spontaneous. They are, she says, organized by “Astroturf” groups purporting to be founded and run by ordinary citizens, but in fact are organized by corporate lobbying firms to serve industry interests (see April 14, 2009, April 15, 2009, May 29, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 5, 2009, and Before August 6, 2009). “I think they’re Astroturf,” she says. “You be the judge. There is no question that people want to know what’s in the legislation, want to know how it is paid for, and know what it means to them. And that is why we have town meetings, either electronically or personally. Just because someone opposes their understanding of what this health care is, that’s not a bad thing. But some of what is orchestrated to prevent the opportunity of presenting the plan, that’s a different story.” (Garofoli 8/4/2009) In the same interview, Pelosi says that she has seen some protesters “carrying swastikas and symbols like that” to the meetings. Pelosi has distributed a memo to her fellow House Democrats that provides them talking points to rebut some of the harsher anti-reform claims, short, finely crafted answers informing citizens what health care reform will provide for them, and accusing health insurance companies of leading a “carpet bombing, slash-and-burn, shock and awe” effort to defeat the “public option” plan. (NewsMax 8/6/2009)
After denouncing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for claiming that anti-health care protesters had used Nazi symbols and rhetoric in their protests (see August 6, 2009), conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh also makes a comparison between the Obama administration and Nazis. “Adolf Hitler, like Barack Obama, also ruled by dictate,” he says. Like Obama, Limbaugh asserts, Hitler “was called the Messiah” and did not need the advice of a cabinet or other advisers to make decisions. “The people spoke through” Hitler, as Limbaugh says Obama believes is the case for himself. Hitler’s decisions “sound like the things liberals are doing all over this country.” To Pelosi, he says, “You look much more like [a swastika] than any of us [conservatives] ever will.” (Media Matters 8/6/2009; Rhee 8/6/2009) Limbaugh also says that the Obama administration’s health care logo looks very much like the “Nazi swastika logo.” He adds: “It reminded me of Germany. Something about it reminded me of Germany, 1942. The shape of the logo, the people.… The Obama health care logo is damn close to a Nazi swastika logo.… Ms. Pelosi has some major apologizing to do.” He says perhaps Pelosi’s supposed “repeated botox injections” have caused her to have “blurry vision” that may have prevented her from seeing the similarities he noticed. (Media Matters 8/6/2009; Rhee 8/6/2009) Limbaugh apparently gets much of his information, including the Botox joke, from a right-wing blog, “Sweetness and Light,” which he credits in his statement. (Sweetness and Light 8/6/2009) The next day, Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal Center says, “It is preposterous to try and make a connection between the president’s health care logo and the Nazi Party symbol, the Reichsadler.” (Urbina 8/7/2009) Jennifer Crider of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) responds to Limbaugh’s assertions: “Rush Limbaugh’s comparison of the Democratic Party to the Nazi Party in World War II is as disgusting as it is shocking. Limbaugh’s use of the Nazi swastika in attempting to make a tasteless political comparison has no place in the public discourse. At a time when families need real solutions to rebuild the economy and make health care more affordable, Rush Limbaugh is attempting to sidetrack the important debate through his use of symbols that are synonymous with murder and intolerance. Americans deserve better.” (Rhee 8/6/2009) Conservative columnist David Brooks of the New York Times calls Limbaugh’s rhetoric “insane.” (Media Matters 8/10/2009)
Conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh calls Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) “deranged” for her assertion that some anti-health care reform protesters are carrying swastikas and other Nazi symbols to health care discussions (see August 4, 2009). He then accuses Democrats of being like Nazis in their ideology and agenda: “The speaker of the House accusing people showing up at these town hall meetings of wearing swastikas—that is not insignificant, folks. This woman is deranged. They are unraveling. But that is not insignificant. You have the Democrat speaker of the House saying that people—citizens—who are concerned about health care are now wearing swastikas. She’s basically saying that we are Nazis. She is saying that the people who oppose this are Nazis.… This party, the Democrat [sic] Party, and where it’s taken this country—the radical left leadership of this party—bears much more resemblance to Nazi policies than anything we on the right believe in at all.” Progressive news and advocacy Web site Think Progress notes that numerous instances of Nazi symbols have been photographed at various health care forums, including one poster of President Obama with a Hitler-style moustache and several posters with swastikas prominently displayed (see July 25, 2009 and August 6, 2009). (Media Matters 8/6/2009; Terkel 8/6/2009) At another rally, a Democratic lawmaker was compared to Nazi torturer Dr. Josef Mengele (see August 4, 2009).
House Democratic leaders Steny Hoyer (D-MD) and Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) publish a jointly written op-ed in USA Today, pressing for the Democrats’ health care reform package. They acknowledge the innate controversy inherent in the issue, and write: “We believe it is healthy for such a historic effort to be subject to so much scrutiny and debate. The failure of past attempts is a reminder that health insurance reform is a defining moment in our nation’s history—it is well worth the time it takes to get it right. We are confident that we will get this right.” They declare flatly that the House “will approve” a reform bill “in September.” However, they note, “an ugly campaign is underway not merely to misrepresent the health insurance reform legislation, but to disrupt public meetings and prevent members of Congress and constituents from conducting a civil dialogue” (see June 30, 2009, July 6, 2009, July 25, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 31, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 2, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 5, 2009, August 5, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 6, 2009, and August 6-8, 2009).… These disruptions are occurring because opponents are afraid not just of differing views—but of the facts themselves. Drowning out opposing views is simply un-American. Drowning out the facts is how we failed at this task for decades. Health care is complex. It touches every American life. It drives our economy. People must be allowed to learn the facts.” After this screed, Hoyer and Pelosi give a brief defense and explanation of the health care reform package:
It will provide more patient choice;
It will allow Americans the freedom to keep their current plan or move to a different plan;
It will take away the power of the insurance companies to determine health care choices;
It will lower health care costs;
It will promote preventative care.
“This month, despite the disruptions, members of Congress will listen to their constituents back home and explain reform legislation,” they write. “We are confident that our principles of affordable, quality health care will stand up to any and all critics.” (Hoyer and Pelosi 8/10/2009)
Progressive media watchdog organization Media Matters documents a number of instances where conservative commentators twist the words of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Steny Hoyer (D-MD) into accusations of “calling Americans Nazis” or accusing citizens of being “un-American.” Hoyer and Pelosi wrote an op-ed in USA Today saying that for groups of corporate-sponsored protesters to disrupt and prevent open debate on the topic of health care reform was un-American (see August 10, 2009). Apparently the “Nazi” accusation comes in part from recent allegations by Rush Limbaugh that Pelosi and other Democrats have used Nazi accusations of their own (see August 6, 2009) and have, themselves, adopted Nazi symbology and precepts (see August 6, 2009).
MSNBC's Scarborough - MSNBC host Joe Scarborough, a former Republican congressman, says on his show, “[O]n the left, you’ve got a speaker calling Americans un-American for going to town hall meetings and accusing them of carrying swastikas in there.” Scarborough goes on to say that it is not right to counter right-wing accusations and disruptions “by calling your opponents Nazis.”
Fox News Anchor - Fox News anchor Gregg Jarrett says, “First of all, in the beginning, Pelosi sort of suggested that any American citizen who dared voice an objection in a protest is a Nazi, apparently based on one isolated incident.” Former George H. W. Bush speechwriter Peggy Noonan wrote that Pelosi called protesters “Nazi-like.”
Wall Street Journal Columnist - Wall Street Journal columnist James Taranto echoed Noonan, writing that Pelosi “insinuated that they [protesters] are Nazis,” and added that Nazi analogies are “far more common on the left than the right.” Limbaugh said flatly that Pelosi “is saying the people who oppose this are Nazis.”
Washington Times Op-Eds - The Washington Times says that Pelosi is “misleading” in asserting that protesters were “carrying swastikas.” Instead, the Times writes, “Closer examination [of the protest signs being carried at the town hall forums and rallies] revealed that in every case, the symbol was being used as a warning against the arrogance of power of which Mrs. Pelosi has become emblematic.” Citizen journalist Andrew Breitbart, in a Washington Times editorial, says that Pelosi “blatantly lied and said that the protesters were wielding ‘swastikas and symbols like that.’” The Wall Street Journal called Pelosi “completely clueless” for saying that anyone carried Nazi symbols to protests. Taranto wrote that Pelosi was suffering from “a fevered imagination” in seeing swastikas at protests and rallies. (Media Matters 8/11/2009)
Fox Hosts - Fox News hosts Gretchen Carlson and Steve Doocy tell their viewers that Hoyer and Pelosi called protesters “un-American.” Carlson says, “Some lawmakers are outright canceling the town halls now, and Nancy Pelosi says anyone who speaks out is un-American.” Doocy says moments later: “Of course, going back to Nancy Pelosi saying that apparently the opposing view to her view is un-American, that’s our text question this hour. Is it un-American to debate health care?” (Media Matters 8/10/2009)
Protests of Nazi Rhetoric - The Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish organization, has protested the use of Nazi symbols and rhetoric both by anti-health care reform protesters and by conservative commentators (see August 7, 2009).
Representative Paul Broun (R-GA) holds a “town hall” forum to discuss the Democrats’ health care reform efforts in the North Georgia Technical College auditorium. The audience is primarily white, elderly, and supportive of Broun’s opposition to reform. He begins by displaying three white binders to the audience and declaring: “Folks, this is Obamacare. Let me start this by telling you what I think of this bill and Obamacare.” He then raises the binders over his head and slams them to the ground. “This is a stinking, rotten fish, and they don’t want you to smell it, and they want to shove it down your throat and make you eat it before you smell how rotten and stinky it is,” he says, and promises to vote against the reform bill no matter how it is changed. Broun has made headlines by claiming the health care reform proposal “is gonna kill people” (see July 10, 2009) and comparing President Obama to Adolf Hitler. During the forum, he calls Latin American socialist leaders Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez Obama’s “good buddy” (sic).
Reform an Excuse for Martial Law - Going even farther, Broun claims that a “socialist elite” made up of Obama, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) intends to use a pandemic disease or natural disaster as an excuse to declare martial law. “They’re trying to develop an environment where they can take over,” he says. “We’ve seen that historically.”
Killing Old People - Broun feeds into his elderly audience’s concerns over the debunked claims that the reform proposal would lead to the euthanization or untimely death of American seniors (see July 23, 2009 and July 23, 2009). Obama “is going to let the old folks die, and I don’t like that at all,” one audience member says. Broun agrees, telling the audience that younger citizens would get preferential treatment over elderly patients. “Eventually, mama will be lying in bed until she gets pneumonia and dies,” he says. Citing a study by the Lewin Group, which has not only been debunked but shown to have been propagated by health insurance company UnitedHealth (see July 27, 2009), Broun tells his audience that under the reform bill, 114 million Americans will be forced off their employers’ insurance plans and onto a competing government-run plan because small businesses will not be able to pay for the mandated insurance. The reform proposal will lead to a government-only “single payer” system, he asserts. “They want to take away your insurance and dictate what kind of health care you’re going to get,” he warns. Furthermore, the government will end Medicare and other federal health care programs.
Broun's Alternative: 'Letting the Market Work' - Broun says his Republicans have an alternative: allowing groups of citizens to form private insurer groups and thusly enjoy group rates and other cost reductions. His other ideas include expanding Medicare’s stable of private providers, strictly capping malpractice lawsuits, making health care expenses tax-deductible, and relaxing some state insurers’ restrictions on pre-existing conditions. “We can lower the cost of health care markedly by giving people more options and letting the market work,” he says.
Supportive Crowd - The crowd is almost uniformly made up of Broun supporters, but one woman attempts to ask a question about covering the uninsured while Broun is speaking. Uniformed deputies remove her from the auditorium for a time before allowing her to return. When she asks another question during the question-and-answer period, audience menbers demand that the facilitators “cut her mic.” Broun conducts two sessions, the first containing some 400 participants and the second 150. The auditorium seats 250. (Jilani 8/12/2009; Aued 8/12/2009)
In an op-ed for USA Today, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) takes the White House to task for “letting House Speaker Nancy Pelosi [D-CA] and Congress run health care reform into the ground,” and says that Republicans have always “stood ready to work with him to pass bipartisan health care reforms that reflect the priorities of struggling American families and small businesses.” Boehner says Pelosi and the Congressional Democrats have crafted a bill that “puts Washington in control of Americans’ health care—something most Americans staunchly oppose.” He then accuses President Obama of trying to “spin the American people” about what he calls the “hopelessly flawed bill.” He terms the bill “radical,” and claims, falsely, that Pelosi and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer labeled opponents of the bill “un-American” (see August 10, 2009—Pelosi and Hoyer wrote that “[d]rowning out opposing views is simply un-American”). Boehner says that neither Republicans nor anyone else “condone… the actions of those who disrupt public events,” but decries those who claim the dissent against the bill is in any way “manufactured” (see April 14, 2009, April 15, 2009, May 29, 2009, July 27, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 5, 2009, Before August 6, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 6-7, 2009, August 10, 2009, and August 12, 2009). He says Obama is lying about the portion of the bill that would allow Americans to keep their present health care, and cites the debunked study by the Lewin Group (see July 27, 2009) as evidence. He says the bill would add $239 billion to the deficit over the next decade, says Obama is lying about not cutting Medicare benefits, and says Obama is lying when he says the bill would not lead to health care “rationing.” Boehner concludes by claiming that “Republicans are offering better solutions that would make quality health care more affordable and accessible for every American,” and calls on Obama to “scrap this costly plan, start over, and work with Republicans on reforms that reflect the priorities of the American people.” (Boehner 8/13/2009) Liberal news and advocacy Web site Think Progress notes that Boehner’s office has sent out messages promoting the town hall disruptions, and notes that Boehner’s claims of “rationing” are wrong. (Corley 8/13/2009)
The Office of the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), releases a fact sheet contradicting what it calls “a myth opponents of health insurance reform have been spreading: that people would be ‘forced’ to choose a public health insurance option, and falsely attributes it to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).” The claim has circulated throughout the media, Pelosi’s office notes, and says, “In fact, the public option in America’s Affordable Health Choices Act simply provides those using the Health Insurance Exchange a choice between various private plans and a public plan—with the choice being made by the individual, never an employer.” The fact sheet notes four instances of the claim being made on August 16 alone:
Representative Tom Price (R-GA) tells an Associated Press reporter that the Democrats’ reform bill would force citizens to abandon their private health care plans in favor of a government-run plan, and says the CBO supports his claim.
ABC reporter Jake Tapper, on ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos, asks, “How can the administration make the promise that if you like your insurance plan you can keep it, when CBO and other analysts estimate that some people will be switched from private to public?”
Fox News anchor Chris Wallace, on Fox News Sunday, tells his listeners of “a study by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office which found that by 2016, 9 million people will no longer have their employer-based plan under health care reform because businesses would decide in many cases that it’s cheaper simply to pay the penalty and push people into a public plan.”
David Gregory, the anchor of NBC’s flagship Sunday talk show Meet the Press, asks, “Does he [President Obama] undermine his credibility when he makes some claims like, if you like your insurance you can keep your insurance, when a lot of people have said not really; employers could drop people from insurance if they wanted to move people into a public plan, if that existed?”
Pelosi’s office states that, unlike the claims and questions advanced by Price, Tapper, Wallace, and Gregory, the CBO has noted that under all versions of reform legislation, US citizens would retain the choice of whether to keep their existing insurance or join the “public option” government program. (Speaker of the House 8/17/2009)
Representative Michele Bachmann (R-MN) gives a speech to an audience at the conservative Independence Institute in Denver, Colorado. Bachmann tells the audience that “we… have to make a covenant, to slit our wrists, be blood brothers” to defeat health care reform. Bachmann, whose speech is frequently punctuated by cheers, says health care reform has “the strength to destroy this country forever.… Right now, we are looking at reaching down the throat and ripping the guts out of freedom. And we may never be able to restore it if we don’t man up and take this one on.” She continues: “Something is way crazy out there.… This cannot pass.… What we have to do today is make a covenant, to slit our wrists, be blood brothers on this thing. This will not pass. We will do whatever it takes to make sure this doesn’t pass.… You’re either for us or against us on this issue.” Calling her speech a “personal legislative briefing,” Bachmann tells the audience that many Americans pay half of their incomes in taxes, and thusly, “This is slavery. It’s nothing more than slavery.” The Colorado Independent characterizes Bachmann’s speech as “filled with urgent and violent rhetoric.” She proudly calls herself the nation’s “second-most hated Republican woman,” behind only former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK), and calls herself first on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA)‘s list of “top targets,” presumably for defeat in the 2010 elections. Bachmann provides her own proposal for health care reform: “Erase the boundaries around every single state when it comes to health care,” enabling consumers to purchase insurance across state lines; increase the use of health savings accounts and allow everyone to “take full deductibility of all medical expenses,” including insurance premiums; include tort reform; and, she concludes: “Do a few other tweaks and you’re there. Your whole crisis is gone.” (Luning 8/31/2009; Nill 9/1/2009)
Representative Charles Boustany (R-LA), a cardiac surgeon, gives the Republican rebuttal to President Obama’s speech on health care reform (see September 9, 2009). (Thrush 9/9/2009) Boustany tells his listeners that Americans “want health care reform,” but wanted to hear Obama “tell Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi, Majority Leader [Harry] Reid and the rest of Congress that it’s time to start over on a common-sense, bipartisan plan focused on lowering the cost of health care while improving quality.” Boustany acknowledged in an interview that the Republicans had done almost nothing themselves to address the health care crisis, but says in his speech that the Democrats’ reform proposals are too big, too expensive, and too ineffective. (Weisman 9/9/2009)
Large Campaign Donations from Health Care Corporations - Boustany is an unusual choice for the response, as the Center for Responsive Politics notes that he has received $1,256,056 from health and health insurance interests in his five-year political career. Such donations make up over 20 percent of his total fundraising. David Donnelly of Public Campaign Actions Fund notes: “There is a conflict of interest when members of Congress stand before the public and recite the same talking points put forth by lobbyists and the heads of insurance and HMO giants opposing health care legislation. Rep. Boustany has taken more than $160,000 in campaign contributions from insurance and HMO interests alone. Do you think he’ll disclose that to his national audience tonight?” Boustany makes no such mention during his response. (US Newswire 10/9/2009)
Voted against Children's Health Care, Flu Vaccination Funding - The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) notes that Boustany voted against the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (S-CHIP), did not support a supplemental appropriations bill that included an increase in flu vaccination funding, and voted against an expansion of COBRA funding, a government program designed to supplement working Americans’ health coverage. DCCC spokeswoman Jessica Santillo says: “Congressman Boustany’s no votes on issues ranging from providing health insurance for children, to fighting pandemic flu, to keeping the doors open at community health centers makes him a credible voice for special interests, but not for hardworking Louisianians who struggle with health insurance companies.” Boustany has explained that his vote against S-CHIP funding was to encourage a different way to expand the program: “I proudly support S-CHIP, so we must ensure our children are getting the quality health care they need. A massive increase of S-CHIP further neglects those children who already slipped through the cracks. These children need to see a doctor to receive care.” (Romm 9/9/2009)
Other Details of Boustany's Life and Career Brought Up - Politico notes that Boustany had three malpractice suits filed against him while he was a practicing doctor. Two of the cases were ruled against Boustany, and the third was settled out of court for an undisclosed monetary amount. (Thrush 9/9/2009) Boustany has previously indicated his doubts that Obama is actually an American citizen, aligning him with the “birther” movement (Daily Kingfish 9/9/2009) , a position he later recanted. (Linkins 9/9/2009) And several progressive blogs delight in recounting his 2004 attempt to purchase an English lordship from a British con artist. (Daily Kos 9/9/2009)
Representative Joe Wilson (R-SC), who shouted “You lie!” at President Obama during his speech to a joint session of Congress earlier in the evening (see September 9, 2009), apologizes publicly for his behavior during the speech. In an e-mail to reporters, he writes: “This evening, I let my emotions get the best of me when listening to the president’s remarks regarding the coverage of illegal immigrants in the health care bill. While I disagree with the president’s statement, my comments were inappropriate and regrettable. I extend sincere apologies to the president for this lack of civility.” He also apologizes to White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel. (Thrush 9/9/2009; Thrush 9/9/2009)
Slammed by Republicans and Democrats - Before Wilson makes his apologies, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) calls his actions “totally disrespectful,” and adds, “There is no place for it in that setting, or any other, and he should apologize for it immediately.” Vice President Joe Biden, a longtime senator, says the next morning: “I was embarrassed for the chamber and a Congress I love. It demeaned the institution.” Representative Eric Cantor (R-VA) says after the speech: “Obviously, the president of the United States is always welcome on Capitol Hill. He deserves respect and decorum. I know that Congressman Wilson has issued an apology and made his thoughts known to the White House, which was the appropriate thing to do.” Cantor spent much of the speech ostentatiously texting on his Blackberry, and later claimed to be taking notes on the proceedings. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) says angrily upon leaving the House chambers: “I’ve been here for 35 years. I’ve been here for seven presidents. I’ve never heard anything like that.… It strengthens the president, because it demonstrates what he is facing. Most people have respect for the president.” Wilson’s fellow South Carolinian James Clyburn (D-SC) says the outburst is just another in a long line of political attacks by Wilson. “Joe Wilson took our state’s reputation to a new low,” he says. “I thought [Governor] Mark Sanford had taken it as low as it could go, but this is beyond the pale.” (Sanford is under fire for having a long-term affair and spending state tax monies on visiting his paramour in Argentina.) “To heckle is bad enough, but to use that one word, the one three-letter word that was not allowed to be used in my house while I was growing up, is beyond the pale.” Representative Maxine Waters (D-CA) says of Wilson’s outburst: “It was just something that nobody had ever witnessed before. We all felt embarrassed.” Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) predicts Wilson’s outburst will have political consequences: “The person who said it will pay a price. I think the average American thinks that the president and the office deserve respect, and that was a disrespectful comment. They’ll pay a price in the court of public opinion.” (Thrush 9/9/2009; Associated Press 9/10/2009; Kellman 9/10/2009; Scherer 9/10/2009)
Acceptance - The White House quickly accepts Wilson’s apology. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi agrees, saying, “It’s time for us to talk about health care, not Mr. Wilson.” (Kiely 9/10/2009)
Resolution of Disapproval - House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) says the House may call for a rebuke of some sort against Wilson. “There’ll be time enough to consider whether or not we ought to make it clear that that action is unacceptable in the House of Representatives,” he says after the speech. “I’ve talked to Republican members who share that view.” (Associated Press 9/10/2009) On September 15, the House will pass a “resolution of disapproval” against Wilson, with only six Republicans voting for the resolution. (Rosen 10/4/2009) The resolution is brought in part due to Wilson’s refusal to apologize to either Obama or to the House of Representatives on the floor of the House. (Kiely 9/10/2009)
Using Wilson's Outburst against the GOP - The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent writes that Democratic strategists will use Wilson’s outburst to portray the Republican opposition to reform “as obstinate, angry, and irrevocally hostile towards Obama and his agenda.” (Sargent 9/10/2009) In the weeks after the speech, the Republican Party will use Wilson’s outburst as the centerpiece of a fundraising effort around the nation. The National Republican Congressional Committee will call Wilson a “national figure” who is raising important concerns about health care reform. The House Democratic campaign organization will respond, saying of Wilson and his Republican supporters, “[T]he very liars who heckled President Obama for calling them out are raising millions of dollars off of their rude, dishonest attack.” (Fox News 9/26/2009) Salon’s Joan Walsh asks: “How is it that Obama hasn’t faced a single heckler in his own health care town halls, but he’s not safe from the angry, uninformed mob when he speaks to Congress? The next time you see an important Republican leader claim the town-hell hecklers are just fringe elements and bad apples, remind them of Rep. Wilson.” (Walsh 9/9/2009)
Raising Millions - In the days after the speech, Wilson will send e-mails to his supporters claiming to be the target of “liberals who want to give health care to illegals” for his outburst, and asking for donations. Wilson’s campaign will claim that it raises over $1 million in donations in the first 48 hours after the speech. (CNN 9/12/2009) By the time the September 30 deadline passes, Wilson and the challenger for his House seat, Rob Miller (D-SC), a retired Marine, will have raised over $4 million between them. Wilson will attend fundraisers as far afield as Michigan and Missouri. When Wilson boasts of being given “hundreds of invitations” to appear with Republicans in other states, Miller will retort: “He’s out there on his ‘thank you tour.’ He should be doing an apology tour. He should be apologizing to every teacher, every law enforcement official, every man, woman, and child in South Carolina for being disrespectful to the president.” (Rosen 10/4/2009)
An organization called the “9/12 Project” (see March 13, 2009 and After), sponsored by Fox News talk show host Glenn Beck, holds a protest rally on the Capitol Mall in Washington. Other sponsors include lobbying firm FreedomWorks (see February 16-17, 2009, February 19, 2009 and After, February 27, 2009, March 2, 2009, March 13, 2009 and After, April 14, 2009, and April 15, 2009), ResistNet (see August 10, 2009) and Tea Party Patriots (see July 17, 2009 and Late July, 2009). Many protesters credit Beck for inspiring them to come to the protest, though Beck himself does not attend. (Marshall 9/12/2009; Brown, Hohmann, and Bacon 9/12/2009) Many of the signs praise Beck and Fox News, while others celebrate former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK), Representative Ron Paul (R-TX), and other conservative figures. Still others further the claim that health care reform will “kill Grandma” (see August 12, 2009) and “kill babies.” One sign, referring to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), reads, “I need my health care… Pelosi makes me sick!” Many signs depict President Obama as a Communist or socialist; one claims, “I work hard so Obama voters don’t have to!” and another refers to “Comrade Obama.” One sign, declaring “Yes! We are a Christian nation!” is signed by one of the rally speakers, Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC). (John Lewandowski 9/12/2009)
Inflating the Numbers - Reports by local police and fire officials estimate the crowd at between 60,000 and 70,000, which columnist Josh Marshall calls “smallish by big DC protest/event standards but definitely respectable.” The Washington Post reports, “Tens of thousands protest Obama initiatives and government spending.” However, estimates by conservative radio hosts, bloggers, and media commentators put the numbers far higher, at up to two million. (TPMDC’s Brian Beutler notes that expectations were inflated the day before by a Democratic House staffer, who sent out an e-mail predicting a turnout “ranging from hundreds of thousands to two million people.” Beutler writes: “For reference, two million is just a hair under four times the total population of Washington, DC, and approximately the number of people who showed up to the history-making inauguration of President Barack Obama. Sound like a bit of an exaggeration? It probably is.” He also notes, “A source at a major liberal organization in Washington says, ‘one of the things we decided to do was try to raise expectations for turnout.’” When the initial figures are published in the media, protest organizers and various participants begin claiming that the actual turnout was somewhere between one and two million, but the numbers are being suppressed by pro-Obama media outlets. (Beutler 9/11/2009; Marshall 9/12/2009) One conservative blogger writes: “‘Media’ estimates range from 60,000 to 500,000 to around two million (yes, 2,000,000). Those estimates, the language employed, and the visuals chosen for use in reporting the rally and representing the people gathered, vary greatly based solely on bias.” (Richart 9/14/2009) Conservative blogger Michelle Malkin initially reports third-hand claims that ABC News is reporting turnouts between 1.2 and two million, then updates her report to note ABC denies making any such claim. She quotes another conservative blogger who writes, “However big it was, it was bigger than expected.” By day’s end, Malkin notes an ABC report that the wildly inflated crowd estimate came from FreedomWorks: “Matt Kibbe, president of FreedomWorks, the group that organized the event, said on stage at the rally Saturday that ABC News was reporting that one million to 1.5 million people were in attendance. At no time did ABC News, or its affiliates, report a number anywhere near as large. ABCNews.com reported an approximate figure of 60,000 to 70,000 protesters, attributed to the Washington, DC, fire department. In its reports, ABC News Radio described the crowd as ‘tens of thousands.’ Brendan Steinhauser, spokesman for FreedomWorks, said he did not know why Kibbe cited ABC News as a source.” Malkin then writes, “The Left, of course, has seized on the error to discredit the undeniably massive turnout today.” (Michelle Malkin 9/12/2009; ABC News 9/13/2009) The next day, unidentified people circulate a photo from 1997 to ‘prove’ that the rally actually attracted over a million protesters (see September 13-14, 2009). Two days after the event, London’s Daily Mail reports “up to two million” at the rally. (Gardner 9/14/2009)
Fears of Socialism - The Post reports that many protesters wave signs and tell reporters about their fears of a “socialist America” under Obama, and warn that the Democrats’ attempts to reform US health care are undermining the Constitution. One protester bellows into a bullhorn: “You want socialism? Go to Russia!” “Hell hath no fury like a taxpayer ignored,” Andrew Moylan, head of government affairs for the National Taxpayers Union, tells the crowd, which responds with lusty cheers. One speaker, Representative Tom Price (R-GA), tells the crowd: “You will not spend the money of our children and our grandchildren to feed an overstuffed government. Our history is decorated by those who endured the burden of defending freedom. Now a new generation of patriots has emerged. You are those patriots.” Many of the signs support Representative Joe Wilson (R-SC), who days before accused Obama of lying during the president’s appearance before Congress (see September 9, 2009). (Brown, Hohmann, and Bacon 9/12/2009)
Exhortations to Violence? - Some of the signs and slogans chanted by the protesters strike observers as perhaps calling for violence against elected officials or citizens who disagree with the protesters’ views, or are racist and/or personally slanderous. One sign depicts an assault rifle and the words, “We came unarmed from Montana and Utah… this time!” Another reads, “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time… Pennsylvanians are armed and ready!” Another, referencing proposed “triggers” that would launch a government program to provide health insurance, depicts a rifle with the caption, “I got your ‘trigger’ right here… it’s called the Second Amendment!” A number of protesters hold professionally printed signs referencing the recent death of Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA), reading, “Bury ObamaCare with Kennedy.” Another, referencing the Cleveland Zoo and the discredited “birther” theory, asks: “What’s the difference between Cleveland and the White House? One has an African lion and another a lyin’ African!” A related sign calls Obama the “president of Kenya.” Another, purporting to speak in “ghetto slang,” asks, “Where my white privilege males at?” A protester waves a sign reading, “Fascist are [sic] now in control they [sic] are like a cancer slowly killing America WAKE UP.” The now-familiar signs of Obama with a Hitler mustache, and of “socialist” Obama made up like the Joker from Batman comics and movies, are also in evidence. One speaker calls Obama the “parasite-in-chief.” (Brown, Hohmann, and Bacon 9/12/2009; Gardner 9/14/2009)
Reaction from Democrats - The reaction from Congressional Democrats is tepid. Doug Thornell, an adviser to Representative Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), tells reporters, “There is a lot of intensity on the far right to defeat the president’s agenda, but I am not sure that holding up signs that say we have to bury health reform with Senator Kennedy will go over well with moderates and independent voters.” (Brown, Hohmann, and Bacon 9/12/2009)
Democratic candidate Bill Owens wins an unexpected, narrow victory in a special election for the US House seat representing New York State’s 23rd District, a win widely seen as a setback to the national tea party movement. Owens ran against Conservative Party candidate Douglas L. Hoffman in a race that saw the original Republican Party candidate, Dede Scozzafava, drop out under heavy pressure from local, state, and national tea party organizations to give way to Hoffman, their preferred candidate. Scozzafava was the unanimous choice of the 11 county chairs of the district’s Republican Party organization. The 23rd District is traditionally Republican. Conservative figures identified with the tea party, such as former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin and Governor Tim Pawlenty (R-MN), who has presidential aspirations, came out strongly in favor of Hoffman and against Scozzafava, as did talk show hosts Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and Fred Thompson, and the editorial pages of the Weekly Standard and the Wall Street Journal. Scozzafava is a moderate Republican who supports gay and abortion rights, and the federal economic stimulus package promoted by the Bush and Obama administrations. The Republican National Committee (RNC), which had backed Scozzafava, applauded her decision to withdraw and endorsed Hoffman. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA), who like the RNC had supported Scozzzafava but in the days before the election endorsed Hoffman, says he worries that having third-party candidates routinely enter races would split conservative votes and give Democrats control of federal and state governments. “This makes life more complicated from the standpoint of this,” he says.“If we get into a cycle where every time one side loses, they run a third-party candidate, we’ll make [Nancy] Pelosi [D-CA] speaker for life and guarantee [President] Obama’s re-election.… I think we are going to get into a very difficult environment around the country if suddenly conservative leaders decide they are going to anoint people without regard to local primaries and local choices.” After Hoffman’s loss, some tea party figures blame the Republican Party for the defeat, saying that if the party had gotten behind Hoffman from the outset, he would have defeated Owens. Fox News commentator Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas, agrees, saying: “I think Doug Hoffman likely would have won if he had been the Republican candidate from the get-go. It wasn’t a spike in the end zone for the Democrats. They got that seat not because Democrats were brilliant, but because Republicans were stupid.” Some conservatives attempt to frame the loss as a victory because they forced the more moderate Scozzafava out of the race. Brian Brown of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) says, “Our number one goal was to make clear that the Republican Party cannot take someone as liberal as Dede Scozzafava and thrust her out on the voters and expect the voters just to accept it.” The seat became vacant after Representative John M. McHugh (R-NY) was appointed by President Obama to become secretary of the Army. After facing a barrage of heavy criticism from Limbaugh, Palin, and the like, Scozzafava abruptly withdrew from the race and threw her support to Owens. Some critics questioned Hoffman’s eligibility to run for the seat, noting that his home in Lake Placid, New York, is not in the district. The conservative Club for Growth spent $1 million promoting Hoffman’s candidacy, and other conservative organizations such as the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List and NOM also supported Hoffman. The groups funneled cash into Hoffman’s campaigns, printed up literature, and sent volunteers from other areas in the country to work for Hoffman. Dick Armey, the former House majority leader who now heads the conservative lobbying group FreedomWorks (see February 16-17, 2009, February 19, 2009 and After, February 27, 2009, March 2, 2009, March 13, 2009 and After, April 14, 2009, and April 15, 2009), says the race proves Republicans need to stop fielding moderate candidates. “My own view right now is the myth that you have to be a moderate—a Democrat lite—to win in the Northeast probably has less standing now than in any time since I’ve been in politics,” Armey says. “The small-government candidate in the Republican Party—or running as an independent—is going to be the one to draw the energy of these voters.” Marilyn Musgrave, a former representative from Colorado who works for the Anthony List, says after the election that the conservative backing of Hoffman proves to Washington lawmakers that they should not take conservative votes for granted. “Don’t just assume we’re yours,” she says. (Feldmann 10/29/2009; Nagourney and Peters 10/31/2009; Peters 11/3/2009)
Conservatives gather on Capitol Hill to protest the Obama administration’s push towards health care reform, in a rally featuring guest speaker Representative Michele Bachmann (R-MN). (Media Matters 11/6/2009) Bachmann called the rally the “Super Bowl of Freedom,” and told Fox News viewers that “socialized medicine is the crown jewel of socialism. This [health care reform] will change our country forever.” (Sladja 11/3/2009; Sklar 11/11/2009) Actor Jon Voight, speaking to the crowd, says of President Obama: “His only success in one year as president is taking America apart piece by piece. Could it be 20 years of ‘subconscious programming’ from Reverend [Jeremiah] Wright [Obama’s former pastor] to damn America?” And House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) tells the crowd, “Pelosi care [referring to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-CA] is the greatest threat to freedom I’ve seen in my 19 years in Washington.”
Signs Use Racial Images; Call Obama Communist, Nazi - Signs visible in the crowd proclaim, among other sentiments:
“Get the Red Out of the White House”;
“Traitor to the US Constitution” (featuring a photo of Obama);
“Ken-Ya Trust Obama?” (referring to theories that Obama is a citizen of Kenya—see January 24, 2007, January 16, 2008, August 1, 2008 and After, October 8-10, 2008, and August 11, 2009—and with autographs from Representatives Steve King, R-IA and Ron Paul, R-TX);
“Un-American McCarthyite” (featuring a photo of Pelosi);
“I’m the King of the World: Remember the Titanic?” (featuring a drawing of Obama as the “Jovial Sambo” character from the Jim Crow era);
“National Socialist Health Care” (featuring a photograph of a pile of corpses from the Holocaust, and claiming that health care reform is the next “holocaust”).
Nine rally participants are arrested for attempting to force their way into the Hart Senate Office Building. Hundreds more attempt to force themselves into nearby government office buildings while chanting, “Kill the bill!” (Montanaro 11/5/2009)
Sponsored by GOP - MSNBC’s Domenico Montanaro writes: “It is important to know that this rally was set up by the GOP. While other groups certainly got people to show up, the folks who came here ultimately came at the invitation of the Republican Party. The GOP provided the speakers and the music, etc.” (Montanaro 11/5/2009)
Fox Pundit Inflates Crowd Estimates - While other media sources use local police reports to estimate the crowd at around 4,000, Fox News’s Sean Hannity tells listeners that the crowd is closer to 20,000 in size. Hannity later drastically scales back this claim. Hannity, who along with other Fox News pundits and on-air anchors had heavily promoted the rally for days beforehand, predicted the crowd would be “massive” in the hours before the protest. On his radio show, aired on ABC Radio Network, Hannity tells listeners: “We announced on Hannity Friday night on the Fox News Channel, we had Congresswoman Michele Bachmann on, and she mentioned that there was going to be on Thursday, she was going to put together in less than a week a little town hall on—what do you want to call it—march on our nation’s Capitol. And anyway, 20,000 people showed up today.” Hannity echoes the claim several times on his radio show. However, with no explanation, he concludes his radio broadcast by saying, “I heard there was, like, 5,000 people plus there.” (Montanaro 11/5/2009; Media Matters 11/6/2009) On Hannity’s Fox News broadcast later that evening, he returns to his earlier estimates of “20,000” rally participants, and shows viewers old footage from Glenn Beck’s 9/12 rally (see September 12, 2009) to bolster his claim. (Neiwert 11/11/2009) On November 11, Hannity will admit that he “screwed up” in showing the footage, and claims it was merely “an inadvertent mistake.” (Corley 11/12/2009) Hannity does not address how the mistake came to be made. (Corley 11/11/2009) Media critic Rachel Sklar will write, “It’s really blatant and remarkable… this sort of misrepresentation is simply not an accident.” (Sklar 11/11/2009) A week later, Fox News anchor Gregg Jarrett will make a similar mistake (see November 18-19, 2009).
President Obama meets with House Republicans in a meeting designed to bridge something of the gap between the two sides. During the meeting, Obama advises the House Republicans to put an end to the bitter partisan attacks they routinely launch at him and his administration if they are serious about wanting to work with the White House on health care reform. “If you were to listen to the debate, and frankly how some of you went after this bill, you’d think that this was some Bolshevik plot,” he says. He continues: “If the way these issues are being presented by the Republicans is that this is some wild-eyed plot to impose huge government in every aspect of our lives, what happens is you guys then don’t have a lot of room to negotiate with me. I mean, the fact of the matter is that many of you—if you voted with the administration on something—are politically vulnerable in your own base, in your own party. You’ve given yourselves very little room to work in a bipartisan fashion. Because, what you’ve been telling your constituents is: this guy’s doing all kinds of crazy stuff that is going to destroy America.” Obama calls the legislation to reform American health care “pretty centrist” and notes that it incorporates many aspects of Republican proposals (see April 21-May 12, 2009, August 20, 2009, September 12, 2009 and After, and September 16-17, 2009). He reminds the Republicans that they will need to negotiate with Democrats to incorporate some of what they want into the final legislation. “Most independent observers would say” it is “similar to what many Republicans proposed to Bill Clinton,” Obama adds; many of the ideas in the legislation were first suggested in 1994 by then-Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-KS). Obama tells the assemblage that their proposals on health care are largely comprised of “political assertions that aren’t substantiated”; he reads from a summary GOP ideas booklet, and says that most of the claims of how Republican health care reforms would work are “not true.” Mike Pence (R-IN) counters that the ideas in the booklet are “backed up precisely by the kind of detailed legislation that Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi [D-CA] and your administration have been busy ignoring for 12 months.” Obama says several times that he has read Republican proposals, but cannot find evidence supporting their efficacy. Citing a GOP counter-proposal for the economic stimulus bill passed in 2009, he says, “I couldn’t find credible economists who could back up the claims.” Tom Price (R-GA) later tells a Daily Caller reporter that Obama is only listening to “leftist” economists. Amid the accusations, several Republicans, such as Peter Roskam (R-IL), complain that the Republicans have “really been stiff-armed by Speaker Pelosi… there really is this dynamic of frankly being shut out.” Obama concludes the meeting by saying: “What I can do maybe to help is to try to bring Republican and Democratic leadership together on a more regular basis with me. That’s, I think, a failure on my part, is to try to foster better communications even if there’s disagreement. And I will try to see if we can do more of that this year.” The meeting is described as “contentious” by the conservative news blog Daily Caller, with Republicans flinging accusations at Obama, and Obama answering them and returning accusations and admonishments of his own. After the meeting, Thaddeus McCotter (R-MI) says, “I give the president an enormous amount of credit, because I’m sure that there wasn’t a person in the room that’s been elected that hasn’t had to go in to an adversarial setting, and be heavily outnumbered and yet stay that long and take those questions.” Price says that many of his colleagues laughed when Obama told them he was not an ideologue, “because I don’t think the American people believe that.” (Volsky 1/29/2010; Ward 1/29/2010)
The number of extremist militia and “patriot” groups has expanded dramatically since the election of President Obama, according to a report issued by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), a nonprofit organization that tracks “hate groups” and other, similar organizations. The number has expanded from 149 in 2008 to 512 in 2009—a 244 percent increase. “That is a lot of change in a short period of time,” says SPLC research director Heidi Beirich. The SPLC report says the number has “exploded in 2009 as militias and other groups steeped in wild, antigovernment conspiracy theories exploited populist anger across the country and infiltrated the mainstream.” While many of these groups do not espouse violence and are not considered a direct threat to government officials, government property, or citizens, some of them do advocate violent strikes against government organizations and/or “liberal” groups or individuals. The number dwindled during the eight years of the Bush presidency, the SPLC reports, but since the election of a black, Democratic president, along with a poorly performing economy and a female speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), as catalyzing factors, the number has increased, and continues to grow. “The country is becoming more diverse,” Beirich says. “Some people find it hard to handle.… These are extreme stressors for people.” Chip Berlet, an analyst for Political Research Associates, writes: “We are in the midst of one of the most significant right-wing populist rebellions in United States history. We see around us a series of overlapping social and political movements populated by people [who are] angry, resentful, and full of anxiety. They are raging against the machinery of the federal bureaucracy and liberal government programs and policies including health care, reform of immigration and labor laws, abortion, and gay marriage.” The SPLC tracked 42 armed and potentially violent militias in 2008; that number has grown by over 300 percent, to 127, since then. The SPLC writes: “Patriot groups have been fueled by anger over the changing demographics of the country, the soaring public debt, the troubled economy, and an array of initiatives by President Obama and the Democrats that have been branded ‘socialist’ or even ‘fascist’ by his political opponents (see August 1, 2008 and After, October 10, 2008, October 27, 2008, January 2009, March 4-6, 2009, March 17, 2009, March 25, 2009, March 29, 2009, April 1-2, 2009, April 3-7, 2009, April 9-22, 2009, May 13, 2009, May 28, 2009, July 24, 2009, Late July, 2009, August 10, 2009, August 11, 2009, August 18, 2009, September 1, 2009, September 12, 2009, September 17, 2009, November 5, 2009, January 27, 2010, May 7, 2010, May 19, 2010, May 25, 2010, July 3-4, 2010, September 13, 2010, September 18, 2010, September 21, 2010, September 29, 2010, September 29, 2010, October 3, 2010, October 14, 2010, October 26, 2010, November 16, 2010, and April 27, 2011). Report editor Mark Potok says: “This extraordinary growth is a cause for grave concern. The people associated with the Patriot movement during its 1990s heyday produced an enormous amount of violence, most dramatically the Oklahoma City bombing that left 168 people dead” (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995). Moreover, the report finds, the “patriot” movement has made common cause with the “tea party” political movement, and the two are becoming more and more entwined. The report finds, “The ‘tea parties’ and similar groups that have sprung up in recent months cannot fairly be considered extremist groups, but they are shot through with rich veins of radical ideas, conspiracy theories, and racism.” The “patriot” movement’s central ideas are being promoted by national figures, such as Fox News talk show host Glenn Beck and lawmakers such as House member Michele Bachmann (R-MN). The number of identified “racist hate groups” has not increased significantly from 2008 from 2009, the report finds, growing from 926 to 932. However, the growth rate would have been far higher if it were not for the collapse of the American National Socialist Workers Party, a key neo-Nazi network whose founder was arrested in October 2008 (see December 18, 2009). So-called “nativist extremist” groups, vigilante organizations that go beyond advocating strict immigration policy and actually confront or harass suspected immigrants, have also grown in number, from 173 in 2008 to 309 in 2009, a rise of nearly 80 percent. The SPLC reports: “These three strands of the radical right—the hate groups, the nativist extremist groups, and the Patriot organizations—are the most volatile elements on the American political landscape. Taken together, their numbers increased by more than 40 percent, rising from 1,248 groups in 2008 to 1,753 last year.” The report warns that the number and intensity of violence from these groups, and from “lone wolf” extremists perhaps triggered by these groups’ rhetoric and actions, is increasing. Since Obama took office in January 2009, six law enforcement officers have been murdered by right-wing extremists. There are large and increasing numbers of arrests of racist “skinheads” for plotting to assassinate Obama, and an increasing number of anti-government extremists have been arrested for fomenting bomb plots. (Southern Poverty Law Center 3/2010; Southern Poverty Law Center 3/2/2010; Warikoo 3/31/2010) A Detroit Free Press report will directly tie the Michigan Hutaree, a radical Christian group arrested for planning the murder of local police officers (see March 27-30, 2010), to the growing trend of militant activity documented in the SPLC report. Political science professor Michael Barkun, an expert on extremist religious groups, says of the Hutaree arrests: “I don’t think this is the last we’re going to see of these groups. The number of such groups has increased fairly dramatically in the last couple of years.” Beirich will note that the Hutaree were not isolated from other militias: “They were part of the broader militia movement,” she says. However, her conclusion is disputed by Michigan militia member Michael Lackomar. “They more closely fit the definition of a cult,” Lackomar will say. “They believe the world is about to end according to how it was written in the Bible, and their job is to stand up and clear the way for Jesus and fight alongside him against the forces of darkness.” While “[a] lot of people are upset at an ever-growing government that is overreaching,” Lackomar will say, most militias do not go to the Hutaree’s extremes. He will call the Hutaree’s plans to attack police officers “despicable.” (Warikoo 3/31/2010)
Andrew Shirvell, the assistant attorney general for the state of Michigan, wages an Internet campaign against a gay college student. In April, Shirvell, identifying himself as “Concerned Michigan Alumnus,” begins posting a series of attacks on his blog against Chris Armstrong, an openly gay student at the University of Michigan, after Armstrong is elected student assembly president. Shirvell’s opening post reads in part: “Welcome to ‘Chris Armstrong Watch.‘… This is a site for concerned University of Michigan alumni, students, and others who oppose the recent election of Chris Armstrong—a RADICAL HOMOSEXUAL ACTIVIST, RACIST, ELITIST, & LIAR—as the new head of student government.” (Capitals in the original.) (CNN 9/30/2010) (The blog is later restricted to invited members only.) (Andrew Shirvell 9/2010) In subsequent posts, Shirvell attacks Armstrong for allegedly engaging in “flagrant sexual promiscuity” with another male member of student government; going back on campaign promises; sexually seducing and influencing “a previously conservative [male] student” so much so that the student “morphed into a proponent of the radical homosexual agenda”; hosting a gay orgy in his dorm room in October 2009; and trying to recruit incoming first year students “to join the homosexual ‘lifestyle.’” Shirvell posts a picture of Armstrong with the word “Resign” scrawled over his face, and another with “Racist Elitist Liar” over his face; the picture includes a gay pride flag with a swastika superimposed over it and an arrow pointing to Armstrong, a clear indication that Shirvell associates Armstrong with Nazism. Shirvell also acknowledges protesting outside of Armstrong’s house and calling him “Satan’s representative on the student assembly.” Shirvell makes a number of calls to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office while Armstrong works there as an intern, in what an investigation finds is “an attempt to slander Armstrong—and ultimately attempting to cause Pelosi to fire Armstrong,” according to Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox. Cox goes on to note that Shirvell has attempted to “out” Armstrong’s friends as being homosexual, even though several aren’t gay. In late September, asked about Shirvell’s six-month Internet attack against a college student, Cox says in a statement: “Mr. Shirvell’s personal opinions are his and his alone and do not reflect the views of the Michigan Department of Attorney General. But his immaturity and lack of judgment outside the office are clear.” Shirvell says his blog posts are personal and have nothing to do with his job. “I’m a Christian citizen exercising my First Amendment rights,” he tells CNN. “I have no problem with the fact that Chris is a homosexual. I have a problem with the fact that he’s advancing a radical homosexual agenda.” Asked directly if he is a bigot, Shirvell responds: “The real bigot here is Chris Armstrong. I don’t have any hate in my body at all.” Governor Jennifer Granholm (D-MI) says she would fire Shirvell if she were attorney general. Armstrong seeks a restraining order against Shirvell, who has been banned from entering the Michigan college campus, asking that Shirvell be kept from harassing him at home or other places he frequents. Campus police are investigating Shirvell for harassment and stalking. On October 1, Shirvell takes a voluntary leave of absence after the national media begins reporting his harassment of Armstrong. (Jilani 9/29/2010; CNN 9/30/2010; AnnArbor.com 10/1/2010) On his blog “Pharyngula,” biology professor P. Z. Myers of the University of Minnesota writes: “The scary part is that Armstrong is just the student body president… a position with almost no power. Shirvell is an assistant attorney general for the state of Michigan. Let’s just hope that that is the peak of his political career.” (P.Z. Myers 9/29/2010) Shirvell will be fired in November (see November 8, 2010).
On NBC’s Today show, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA), widely expected to mount a presidential bid in 2012, tells an NBC audience that “tea party” leaders “understand that in the end their job is to help defeat Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi.” Gingrich tells interviewer Matt Lauer that it would be a “disaster” if the “tea party” movement split the base of the Republican party in the November elections, and would “guarantee… the re-election of Nancy Pelosi as speaker.” Pelosi (D-CA) and Reid (D-NV) are the leaders of Democrats in the House and Senate, respectively. (Media Matters 4/6/2010) Gingrich has not hesitated to vilify Pelosi in the media (see May 15, 2009).
Fox News talk show host Glenn Beck tells his viewers that in order to stop Democratic leaders from imposing a communist regime on America, they are going to have to “shoot them in the head.” He specifically cites Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) as one of those leaders. He says that while Democratic leaders such as Pelosi and President Obama are not themselves communists, they use “avowed communists” such as former union leader Andy Stern to force America towards a communist system. “These people are politicians and they knew—they’re progressive politicians,” Beck says. “They’re not—they’re not total government. They’re not communists. They do not want to be communists. They don’t. But they would like it here. And they would like all the control they have, so dollars—so money could go into their—money could go in their pockets. That’s right.… So, this is what you have to understand. These people saw these people as fuel. If we can just unite, then it becomes a united front. This is your strong arm. This will do all the bad things for you. Okay?” He says that the Democratic Party is infested with “communist revolutionaries” who are driving the party, and thereby the nation, towards a Stalinist state. “The radicals have infected the party. They have been brought in by politicians who don’t really care about anything. They just want to win. They’ve been tolerating the revolutionaries—the Democrats have.” Beck says that “tea partiers” and other right-wing elements must oppose the “radicals” in the Democratic Party at all costs. He says: “Tea parties believe in small government. We believe in returning to the principles of our Founding Fathers. We respect them. We revere them. Shoot me in the head before I stop talking about the founders. Shoot me in the head if you try to change our government. I will stand against you and so will millions of others. We believe in something. You in the media and most in Washington don’t. The radicals that you and Washington have co-opted and brought in wearing sheep’s clothing—change the pose. You will get the ends. You’ve been using them? They believe in communism. They believe and have called for a revolution. You’re going to have to shoot them in the head. But warning, they may shoot you. They are dangerous because they believe. Karl Marx is their George Washington. You will never change their mind. And if they feel you have lied to them—they’re revolutionaries. Nancy Pelosi, those are the people you should be worried about.… They want to overthrow our entire system of government, and their words say it. Why won’t you believe it?… The revolution of 1776 was a picnic compared to what the revolutionaries of today would like to do. It’s not a lot of fun. Usually, millions of people die.” (Fox News 6/10/2010; Raw Story 1/20/2011) Months later, Beck will claim that he was actually warning Democratic leaders about the prospects of being shot by “radical leftists” (see January 21, 2011).
The anti-abortion advocacy organization American Life League (ALL) releases another in a series of “Deadly Dozen” ad campaigns. The first, in 1995, targeted a dozen abortion and health care providers, and was subsequently blamed for a spate of deadly violence against those named in the ads (see 1995 and After). In 2003, ALL launched a second “Deadly Dozen” campaign, this time targeting US senators (see January - April 2003). The current round of ads features a poster listing a dozen Catholic lawmakers, including members of Congress and of the Obama administration. The list includes Vice President Joseph Biden (D-DE); Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis; Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius; Interior Secretary Ken Salazar; Senators John Kerry (D-MA), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Susan Collins (R-ME), and Barbara Mikulski (D-MD); and Representatives Ginny Brown-Waite (R-FL), Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Rosa DeLaurio (D-CT), and Mike Castle (R-DE). As with ALL’s 2003 campaign, the current campaign calls on the named lawmakers’ community bishops to deny them communion. The ad concludes with the slogan, “You can’t be Catholic and pro-abortion!” A blogger in Delaware reports seeing the poster in the vestibule of his church. (Jay Anderson 9/13/2010)
Journalist John Hamilton publishes the results of a series of interviews with Byron Williams, who is charged with multiple counts of attempting to murder police officers from a shootout with Oakland, California, Highway Patrol officers (see July 18, 2010 and After). Williams has said that he targeted a progressive charitable foundation in San Francisco, the Tides Foundation, because of its liberal policies, and has said he intended to “start a revolution by traveling to San Francisco and killing people of importance at the Tides Foundation and the ACLU.” Since his arrest, Williams has retained Hamilton to be his “media advocate.”
Williams and Fox's Beck - Williams told Hamilton that his primary political influence and informational source is Fox News talk show host Glenn Beck. Williams had Hamilton watch specific broadcasts of Beck’s shows to glean information about what Williams describes as an intricate conspiracy between President Obama, liberal philanthropist George Soros (see August 8, 2006 and February 2007), Brazilian oil company Petrobras, and BP, the corporation responsible for triggering the Gulf oil disaster. Williams also cites right-wing pundit David Horowitz (see August 5, 2003 and November 30, 2004) and right-wing conspiracist Alex Jones (see July 24, 2009) as other influences. The progressive media watchdog organization Media Matters notes that Beck spoke 29 times about the Tides Foundation in the 18 months leading up to Williams’s shooting spree, sometimes at length; other pundits rarely mentioned the organization, if at all, during that same time period. Williams defends Beck, saying that the talk show host advocates non-violence and merely “confirm[ed]” his belief in the conspiracy. “Beck would never say anything about a conspiracy, would never advocate violence,” Williams told Hamilton. “He’ll never do anything… of this nature. But he’ll give you every ounce of evidence that you could possibly need.” Beck, he says, is “like a schoolteacher on TV. You need to go back to June—June of this year, 2010—and look at all his programs from June, and you’ll see he’s been breaking open some of the most hideous corruption.” In that month, Beck advised his viewers to stop a Democratic-orchestrated “march towards Communism” by “shoot[ing]” Democrats such as Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) “in the head (see June 9, 2010).
Genesis of a Shootout - Williams moved to his childhood home in Groveland, California, in 2007 after serving a prison sentence for a 2001 bank robbery. Williams has an extensive criminal record, and has been convicted of assault, property destruction, hit-and-run, and drunken driving. He lived with his mother during that time, unable to find steady work, and growing increasingly depressed and fascinated with right-wing radio and television. His neighbor, Tom Funk, told Hamilton of Williams’s profanity-laden tirade on the night of November 4, 2008, after Obama won the presidency. He remembered Williams shouting what he calls racist, drunken threats after the news of Obama’s victory was announced, saying: “He was up there cussing and saying that America is not going right by having a black president. He was using words he shouldn’t be saying after 9/11, because it would have put him in jail. Threatening words towards the president.” In the days before and after the election, Funk said, Williams liked to listen to radio talk show host Michael Savage (see January 10, 2008, March 13, 2008, and November 10, 2008). Hamilton found transcripts of Savage’s radio broadcasts during that time; Savage held forth about the “bloodbath coming to America” should Obama be elected, and predicted that the nation was on “the verge of a Marxist revolution in the United States of America. You have a naked Marxist, America-hating, white-hating [Democratic] party—wing of the party—about to seize power. And you don’t even know it.” Hamilton then interviewed Williams’s mother Janice, who drives an SUV with “Palin 2012” bumperstickers on it. Williams’s mother told Hamilton that in phone calls and a letter to her, her son “basically said: ‘I’m sorry, I never intended to hurt anyone. I got really angry and lost my head.’” She said she did not believe her son would actually have attacked either the ACLU or the Tides Foundation. She also denied that her son shouted racial imprecations after Obama’s election, saying: “I read one account that he used the n-word. I don’t believe that. The neighbors told that to the media, but they just wove that out of whole cloth. I don’t care how loud anyone here gets, there’s no way anyone over there could have heard anything that far away. It’s just someone seeking publicity.” She said her son does not tolerate alcohol well, because he is partly “American Indian… [t]hat’s why he can’t drink.” The day of the shooting, she “found 18 or 20 beer bottles by the sink.” Her son is angry, she told Hamilton, because of “the federal government. And the shadow government that operates behind the scenes, manipulating things.” She said she agreed with many of her son’s concerns about government intrusion: “I believe in limited government. The government should be there solely for the purpose of protecting our borders. All the other stuff is add-ons. This whole Obamacare thing has everything to do with consolidating government. There’s no concern about the little people. Having said that, my hope was to retake the country peacefully, through the ballot box.” She denied that her son was influenced by Beck, Savage, or any other right-wing commentator, saying: “All the reporters who came out here last month were blaming what he did on Rush [Limbaugh], Glenn Beck, and the tea party. Why would you blame the messenger? If Glenn Beck tells us something, and everyone gets upset about it, why blame him?” She called the Tides Foundation “a money laundering scheme for the radical left that didn’t want their names attributed to what they were doing,” a charge first leveled by Beck. She did confirm that her son was a Beck fan: “Yes, he liked Glenn Beck, but he didn’t feel he went far enough. He’d take it only so far, but stopped short.” She added that almost everyone she had heard from after the shooting supported her son’s position: “I had only one hate call out of all the thousands of people who heard about this case. Most people have expressed support—not for the act, but for the frustration behind it.”
Jailhouse Meetings - Hamilton talked to Williams in the visiting area of the Santa Rita Jail in Dublin, California, twice over a period of two weeks. Williams told Hamilton that he worried about being portrayed as an “extremist,” and said he should probably not discuss “that incident”—the shooting—because of his pending criminal trial. Williams was loquacious about his political views; he said, “My big thing was the oil rig, the Deepwater Horizon,” referring to the immense BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. “I’ve uncovered enough evidence to—I think in a court of law it could bring [BP CEO] Tony Hayward, Barack Obama, George Soros, and members of Halliburton indicted for treason.” Williams believes that the oil spill was deliberate, plotted by Soros. “It was a sabotage,” Williams explained. “Hayward and [Wall Street financial firm] Goldman Sachs sold their stock, which was depreciating, two weeks before the spill. Soros invested $1 billion of his own money into Petrobras. Soros has the Tides Foundation and the Tides fund. He funnels billions of donated dollars into the fund, which he uses for all kinds of nefarious activities.… Obama sent 2 billion of taxpayer dollars to Petrobras for deep water oil exploration, while holding a moratorium on deepwater exploration in the US. Once you see this pattern—it’s fishy stuff.… Halliburton, whose job was to seal the well—two days before the explosion, they bought an oil spill clean-up company.… When I saw the news was dropping the issue like a hot potato, I became infuriated.” He concluded: “The bottom line is that George Soros is the financier of Obama. And Obama has a clear agenda: First he did the health care reform. After that, it was all about energy. He wants to impose the worst tax ever conceived: a cap-and-trade system on carbon emissions. Think of it. Even your breathing could be taxed, because you give off greenhouse gases. That’s why I did what I did. There are not a lot of people fighting back. I don’t see a response.” Williams evoked the Civil War by asking why Gulf Coast residents did not rise up in arms about what he says was a conspiracy to destroy their shoreline for Soros’s profit. “What ever happened to the spirit of the South, of the Confederacy in the Civil War?” Williams summed up the plot as he sees it: “What I see here is a plan to bring the country down.”
Sources of Information - Asked where he gets his information, Williams responded: “Alex Jones. PrisonPlanet.com is his Web site. Also, DiscoverTheNetworks.” Hamilton identifies Williams’s sources: “Jones is a conspiracist and repeat Fox News guest who mingles dire warnings of the ‘New World Order’ (see September 11, 1990) with stories of government complicity in the 9/11 attacks. DiscoverTheNetworks is a Web site claiming to track ‘the individuals and organizations that make up the left.’ It’s run by David Horowitz, a former leftist who has reinvented himself as a right-wing propagandist.” Williams then named Beck as another major source of his information and said Beck is “like a schoolteacher” who uses his chalkboard to great effect. “I collect information on corruption,” Williams said. “I’ve been at it for some time.… Our media accepts the false reports and downplays the conspiracy theories.… A public that is aware of corruption can oppose the corruption. A public kept in the dark simply passes it by.” Fox News, Williams said, is the only television news outlet that is not “censored,” he said. “So perhaps Fox has broken away from the mold.” Aside from its presumably independent status, Williams added: “There’s only one conservative channel. That’s Fox. All the other ones are all liberal channels.” Williams stated that he watched Fox because of Beck, and not vice versa: “I would have never started watching Fox News if it wasn’t for the fact that Beck was on there. And it was the things that he did, it was the things he exposed that blew my mind. I said, well, nobody does this.” Williams told Hamilton to “go back to June—June of this year, 2010—and look at all his programs from June. And you’ll see he’s been breaking open some of the most hideous corruption. A year ago, I was watching him, and it was OK, he was all right, you know?… But now he’s getting it.” Williams said that he believes Beck knows more than he is willing to tell. Referring to the Gulf Oil spill, Williams said: “This is what he won’t do, Beck will not say it was a contracted hit. But he’ll give you every ounce of evidence you can possibly need to make that assumption yourself.… You see what I mean?… That’s why he downplays the 9/11 truthers. He talks bad about them.” Williams then retold some conspiracy theories that he apparently believes that Beck seems to dismiss, including the Alex Jones-propagated idea that the US government was responsible for the 9/11 attacks. Of his various conspiratorial beliefs, he advised Hamilton: “Think like a conspiracy theorist. Except don’t use the word ‘theory.’ Because the conspiracies are not theories. The official report is the lie; the conspiracy is the truth.” Beck’s mission, Williams said, is to “expose” progressives and “leftists” who are endangering American democracy.
Ties to Tides - Beck is the source from which Williams first learned about the Tides Foundation, which he believes is at the heart of the Soros/Obama plan to destroy America. Beck himself has said of the Tides: “The chalkboard was brought up… for the Tides Foundation. I think that might have been the first time we used it.” His efforts to “expose” Tides “was the first time that I really realized its success—Tides Foundation and ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now). Because you can map it all out. And I know that they make fun of me for it, but that’s—that’s the difference.… Tides was one of the hardest things that we ever tried to explain. And everyone told us that we couldn’t. It is the reason why the blackboard really became what the blackboard is. It is because I was trying to explain Tides and how all of this worked.” Beck has repeatedly, and falsely, labeled the organization as “George Soros’ Tides Foundation,” which he has suggested is part of a liberal plot to “create mass organizations to seize power.” Tides, he said, is a “shady organization” that funnels money to “some of the most extreme groups on the left.” Beck has asserted that Tides is “involved in some of the nastiest of the nasty.” In the 18 months preceding Williams’s shooting spree, Beck attacked Tides 29 times on his Fox show. (Hamilton 10/11/2010)
Fox News talk show host Glenn Beck denies he ever advised his viewers to “shoot” Democratic leaders such as Nancy Pelosi “in the head.” Beck made his statement during a June 2010 broadcast on Fox (see June 9, 2010), and at the time his comments were not widely publicized. In the aftermath of the January 2011 shooting of Democratic Representative Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), his comments become publicized and garner heavy criticism. Today, Beck joins his producer Steve ‘Stu’ Burguiere on his daily radio show to deny making the comments. Beck begins by accusing his “leftist” critics of twisting his words. He cites a story on the right-wing news Web site The Blaze, titled, “Did Glenn Beck really tell his audience to shoot people in the head?” and then cites a blog, Patterico’s Pontifications, that claims an “analysis” of his statement really shows that he was warning about the likelihood of Democratic politicians being shot by “radical leftists.” Beck introduces the Blaze story, then says: “This is the worst of the worst. This is the left, and those who don’t care about truth, honor, or justice at all.” Burguiere adds: “It’s just so blatant. They don’t even try to hide it anymore.” Beck then says: “And will do anything they have to do to discredit, dishonor, and inflame.… This is so easy to explain.” He presents an audio clip of his June 2010 broadcast, then says, “Let me give you the context.” He says that when he said in 2010: “You’re going to have to shoot them in the head. But warning, they may shoot you,” the “you” referred to “leftists politicians in Washington and the people in the media on the left,” while “they” referred to their “radical leftists friends. In this clip I am warning that ‘they,’ the revolutionaries that have been co-opted by the politicians and the media, they actually believe, and have called for a violent revolution. They believe it. And I was warning last summer that if they feel betrayed, if they feel like you’ve been lying to them, you’ve been using them—they’ll kill you. They’ll kill you, because they believe in something.” Burguiere adds: “And we know that because they’ve said it in their own words. They have said they wanted violence, and now that they think that they have someone on their side, if that person lets them down, you’re in danger too, and they’ve said that.” Beck says that “just because [Washington leftists] don’t actually believe in anything, doesn’t mean nobody else does. We do. Millions. You know why you’re confused by this show? It’s because I believe in something. You don’t.” Beck and Burguiere go on to accuse “radical leftists” of wanting to establish a communist tyranny in America, and to exterminate 25 million Americans who believe in democracy. (Media Matters 1/21/2011; Jonathon Seidl 1/21/2011)
House Republicans rush a bill to the floor for a vote to eliminate all public funding of the presidential election. The bill, if passed by the Senate and signed into law by President Obama, would eliminate one of the few remaining public funding methodologies for federal elections, and, critics say, give wealthy corporate and individual donors even more influence over elections. Public financing of presidential elections was made law by the 1971 Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA—see February 7, 1972 and 1974) and upheld by the Supreme Court (see January 30, 1976). The bill comes to a vote almost exactly a year after the Supreme Court allowed corporations and labor unions to make unlimited donations to political organizations (see January 21, 2010). The bill, HR 359, was sponsored by Representative Tom Cole (R-OK) in June 2009 and cosponsored by 17 other House members, all Republicans. It would eliminate the Presidential Election Campaign Fund and the Presidential Primary Matching Payment Account. The Republican House leadership did not hold hearings on the bill, nor allow it to be debated in committee. Representative Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) calls the bill “a sneak attack on the system,” and notes that the Republicans had pledged to observe “transparency and openness,” but instead are pushing through such a transformative bill without allowing debate. The bill passes the House on a 239-160 vote, with the Republican majority overriding the Democratic minority. Ten Democrats vote for the bill and one Republican votes against it. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has already introduced his version of the bill in the Senate, though Senate Democrats say the bill has no chance of passing; Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says through a spokesperson that the bill will never be brought up for a vote. (Kroll 1/24/2011; Raw Story 1/25/2011; Walsh 1/26/2011; Overby 1/27/2011; Salant 1/27/2011)
Repair or Eliminate? - Presidential candidates who accept public funding must agree not to accept private donations in the fall campaign. Every presidential candidate from 1976 to 2008 has accepted public funding. In 2000, George W. Bush (R-TX) did not take public financing for his primary campaign, and in subsequent years no presidential nominee has taken such funding. In 2008, Barack Obama (D-IL) declined to take public financing for his general election, the first presidential nominee to do so. Republicans claim the elimination of the public funding program would save the government between $520 and $617 million over the next 10 years. Meredith McGehee, policy director at the Campaign Legal Center, says the public financing system needs to be updated. It was created in 1976, she notes, and does not reflect the needs of 21st-century candidates. Lawmakers from both parties have attempted, without success to introduce legislation to update the system. McConnell says that Americans do not believe in the PECF, citing declining public participation. The program is funded by a $3 check-off on individual tax returns; in 1980, almost 29 percent of tax returns carried the check-off, while in 2007 only 8.3 percent of tax returns checked off the donation. “In a time of exploding deficits and record debt, the last thing the American people want right now is to provide what amounts to welfare for politicians,” McConnell says. House Democrats have introduced legislation that would modify and update the PECF instead of end it. One of that legislation’s sponsors, David Price (D-NC), says, “Dare we forget what Watergate was all about?” (Price is referring to the post-Watergate origins of the PECF.) “President Nixon’s Committee to Re-Elect the President, fueled by huge quantities of corporate cash, paid for criminal acts and otherwise subverted the American electoral system. Let’s not return to the darkest days of our democracy.” (Kroll 1/24/2011; Walsh 1/26/2011; Overby 1/27/2011; Salant 1/27/2011)
Obama Administration Opposes Bill - The Obama administration strongly opposes the bill, saying that the public financing system should be improved rather than eliminated. In a statement, the White House says: “The presidential election public financing system was enacted in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal to free the nation’s elections from the influence of corporations and other wealthy special interests. Rather than candidates having to rely on raising large sums of private money in order to run, the system provides qualifying presidential candidates with the option of accepting matching funds in the primary and a public grant in the general election.… H.R. 359 would kill the system, not strengthen it. Its effect would be to expand the power of corporations and special interests in the nation’s elections; to force many candidates into an endless cycle of fundraising at the expense of engagement with voters on the issues; and to place a premium on access to large donor or special interest support, narrowing the field of otherwise worthy candidates.” (Raw Story 1/25/2011)
Divided Response from Lawmakers - Representative Eric Cantor (R-VA) says after the bill passes that voting it into effect “should be a no-brainer.” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) says that Congress “should come together to ensure that the American people are heard, that they are heard and that they are not drowned out by special interest dollars.” Republicans such as Aaron Schock (R-IL) call Democrats and the Obama administration “hypocrites” because in 2008, Obama turned down public financing. Schock says, “It was President Obama who killed it and made a mockery of public financing of president campaigns with his arrogant pressing of self advantage.” David Price (D-NC) makes an angry rejoinder, saying: “Talk about having it both ways. [Schock] comes onto this floor to condemn President Obama for opting out of the system, and then he proposes to abolish the system so that everybody has to opt out.” Cole also condemns Obama for not taking public financing in 2008, and says he believes public financing of elections should be illegal, but goes on to say that he supports Republicans who take public financing because it is a legal option. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA) says: “Special interest money is having a corrosive effect on our democracy, eating away at the people’s confidence in their government and their elected representatives. The one beacon of light in this system is the public financing of presidential campaigns. It is, I would remind everyone, a voluntary system.” “This is an attempt to finish the job that the Supreme Court started with the Citizens United decision,” says Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY). Schumer chairs the Senate Rules Committee, which has jurisdiction over campaign finance legislation. “It would bust one of the last dams protecting our election system from an uncontrolled flood of special-interest money.” (Walsh 1/26/2011; Overby 1/27/2011; Salant 1/27/2011)
Campaign Finance Reform Advocates Critical of Bill - David Arkush of the citizens advocacy group Public Citizen says in a statement, “A vote for HR 359 is a great way to tell the American people that you want to give corporations more power over our government rather than make democracy work for ordinary Americans.” Craig Holman of Public Citizen says of the bill: “Make no mistake about it: The Republican leadership’s legislation to eliminate public financing is an attack not just on the presidential public financing system, but also an attack on congressional public financing proposals. To ensure that the public’s voice can be heard against the corporate onslaught, we need to expand public financing of elections, not kill it.” Campaign finance reform advocate Fred Wertheimer of Democracy 21 calls the bill “a gross abuse of the legislative process.” (Kroll 1/24/2011; Raw Story 1/25/2011) The nonpartisan Public Finance Action Fund, which advocates for public financing of state and federal elections, says in a statement: “These efforts are not about saving taxpayer money, they are about giving corporate donors even more access than they enjoy today. We hope these measures don’t advance any further.” (Walsh 1/26/2011)
Bill Dies in Senate - The bill will, as expected, not pass the Senate, which is under Democratic control. A similar bill will be introduced in December 2011 (see December 1, 2011), again pass the House, and die in the Senate. (Abrams 12/1/2011)
A Loudoun County, Virginia, Republican Committee official resigns after the media reports his emailing pictures of President Obama as a zombie with part of his skull missing and a large bullet wound in his forehead. Robert Jesionowski, the committee’s communications director, admits to sending the emails. The reports originated on a conservative blog, Too Conservative, that used the image to promote the committee’s activities at a recent Halloween parade. The blog also displayed a similar image of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). State and local Republican officials strongly condemned the image. Virginia GOP chairman Pat Mullins said: “The disgusting image used today on a mass email has no place in our politics. Ever. The Republican Party of Virginia condemns the image and its use in the strongest possible terms.” Governor Robert F. McDonnell (R-VA) said Jesionowski’s email was “shameful and offensive,” and issued a call through his office to have “those involved to apologize for their actions and to immediately ensure that such imagery is never used again.… The governor has long stressed the need for more civility and respect in our politics. An email like this one undermines those goals, offends all Virginians, and discredits our entire political process. It will not be tolerated.” Jesionowski’s resignation is apparently in response to the criticism. Matt Sell, chairman of the Loudoun County Republican Committee, issues a statement calling Jesionowski’s email “a light-hearted attempt to inject satire humor into the Halloween holiday.” However, Sell continues: “Apparently, some individuals have interpreted an image of Barack Obama that appeared within the email as intending to portray the president as a victim of a violent crime. Nothing could be further from the truth, and we deeply and sincerely apologize to the president and anyone who viewed the image if that was the impression that was left. The LCRC deplores any effort to display, suggest, or promote violence against the president or any other political figure.” (Washington Post 10/31/2011; Washington Post 11/2/2011)
A journalist and activist sues to overturn provisions in a US defense spending bill that authorize indefinite military detention, including of US citizens, who are accused of being associated with groups engaged in hostilities with the United States (see December 15, 2011, December 31, 2011). The indefinite detention provisions in the NDAA caused considerable controversy from the time they were first proposed (see July 6, 2011 and after). Chris Hedges, formerly of the New York Times, and his attorneys, Carl J. Mayer and Bruce I. Afran, file the suit seeking an injunction barring enforcement of section 1021 (formerly known as 1031) of the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), alleging it is unconstitutional because it infringes on Hedges’ First Amendment right to freedom of speech and association and Fifth Amendment right to due process, and that it imposes military jurisdiction on civilians in violation of Article III and the Fifth Amendment. President Obama and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta are named as defendants in the initial complaint, individually and in their official capacities. (Hedges 1/16/2012) Six other writers and activists will later join Hedges as plaintiffs in the lawsuit: Daniel Ellsberg, Jennifer Bolen, Noam Chomsky, Alexa O’Brien, “US Day of Rage,” Kai Wargalla, and Birgitta Jónsdóttir, who is also a member of parliament in Iceland. Senators John McCain (R-AZ), Harry Reid (D-NV), and Mitch McConnell (R-KY), and Representatives Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), John Boehner (R-OH), and Eric Cantor (R-VA), will be added as defendants, in their official capacities. (Final Complaint: Hedges v. Obama 2/23/2012 ) The plaintiffs, their attorneys, and two supporting organizations, RevolutionTruth and Demand Progress, will establish a Web site to provide news and information related to the case, including legal documents. (StopNDAA.org 2/10/2012) The Lawfare Blog will also post a number of court documents related to the case, including some not available at StopNDAA.org, such as the declarations of Wargalla, O’Brien, and Jónsdóttir. (Wakeman 4/4/2012) Journalist and activist Naomi Wolf will file an affidavit supporting the lawsuit. (Wolf 3/28/2012) The judge in the case, Katherine B. Forrest, will issue a preliminary injunction enjoining enforcement of the contested section, finding it unconstitutional (see May 16, 2012).
Conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh insults Sandra Fluke, the Georgetown University law student who testified in favor of federal law mandating that health care providers pay for contraception (see March 1, 2012), as a “slut” and a “prostitute” who wants the government to pay her for having sex. On his radio show, Limbaugh, who wrongly identifies her as “Susan” Fluke, says: “What does it say about the college coed Susan Fluke, who goes before a congressional committee and essentially says that she must be paid to have sex? What does that make her? It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute. She wants to be paid to have sex. She’s having so much sex she can’t afford the contraception. She wants you and me and the taxpayers to pay her to have sex. What does that make us? We’re the pimps. The johns, that’s right. We would be the johns—no! We’re not the johns. Well—yeah, that’s right. Pimp’s not the right word. Okay, so, she’s not a slut. She’s round-heeled. I take it back.” Think Progress reporter Alex Seitz-Wald comments on Limbaugh’s characterization, “While it’s probably not even worth engaging with Limbaugh on the facts, Fluke’s testimony was about a friend who is a lesbian and needed birth control for non-sexual medical reasons, so he’s only wrong about three times over, and offensive many more times over than that.” Seitz-Wald notes that Fluke never discussed her own use, or non-use, of contraception, nor did she allude to her sexual activities at all. (Media Matters 2/29/2012; Seitz-Wald 2/29/2012; Seitz-Wald 3/1/2012)
Misrepresentation - Seitz-Wald will note that Limbaugh is deliberately misrepresenting Fluke’s position and the position of Congressional Democrats. “Fluke’s testimony, and the entire contraception debate, is about insurance companies paying for contraception as part of their health coverage, the… way they pay for any other medication, such as Viagra. Morevoer, Fluke’s testimony was not about herself, but about a friend who need contraception to fight cancer and other fellow law students. This conservative narrative, which is pure fantasy, seems to be based on a single bogus article from Cybercast News Service (CNS), which Limbaugh repeatedly cites, with the ludicrous headline, ‘Sex-Crazed Co-Eds Going Broke Buying Birth Control, Student Tells Pelosi Hearing Touting Freebie Mandate.’” (Bannister 2/29/2012; Seitz-Wald 3/2/2012)
Other News Outlets Join Limbaugh - Other conservative news outlets join Limbaugh in attacking Fluke and other women who use contraception. In the article cited by Limbaugh, CNS’s Craig Bannister says that “sex-crazed co-eds” like Fluke should cut back on the amount of sex they’re having to pay for other needs such as books and food. Fox News’s Trace Gallagher mocks Fluke, saying: “And see, I was gonna go to law school, but I thought all you did was study in law school, right? So, I guess I was wrong on that.” Fox News correspondent Monica Crowley says the government should not pay Fluke and others to have “recreational sex.” CNN commentator Dana Loesch calls Fluke and other women “nymphos” for wanting access to contraceptives, and says Fluke and feminists “support… female genocide.” (Media Matters 2/29/2012; Bannister 2/29/2012)
Fox Business Commentator: Fluke's Testimony Part of a Pro-Abortion Scheme by House Minority Leader - On Fox Business Channel’s Lou Dobbs Tonight, regular guest Bill Donohue calls Fluke a “little brat.” Dobbs asks Donohue to comment on what he calls Fluke’s demand that she be given free contraception, a mischaracterization of Fluke’s testimony (and one contradicted by the clip of her testimony Dobbs plays before Donohue’s comments). Donohue begins by lambasting Georgetown for having a group called “Hoyas for Choice,” which he calls “Hoyas for Abortion,” but not groups like “Hoyas for Racism” or “Hoyas for Anti-Semitism.” Donohue suggests that the university and Hoyas for Choice raise “the nine dollars a month” Fluke needs for her personal contraception needs, and Dobbs notes that Georgetown is “one of the most expensive universities in the country.” Donohue attacks Fluke for “obviously dressing well” but then asking taxpayers to pay for her contraception and, without basis in fact, for her university education to boot. Why aren’t taxpayers funding his anti-gout medication? he asks. “This is what we’ve come down to in this country,” he concludes. “You have these little brats who come on TV and they testify and they say, ‘I want, I want, I want,’ and somehow I have a moral responsibility? They have a lien on me to pay this? It’s all about getting the Catholic Church, obviously, to pay for their abortion-inducing drugs, which is why we’re having this debate.” Donohue says that Fluke’s testimony is part of a scheme by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), “who actually brought her on there to speak,” to force the Catholic Church to amend its position on abortion. (Media Matters 2/29/2012)
'Shockingly Ugly Hatred' - Conservative blogger Charles Johnson, who in recent years has become highly critical of the race- and gender-based rhetoric from the right, writes that the right’s reaction to Fluke constitutes “shockingly ugly hatred,” and says Limbaugh’s attack is “another step into the gutter.” (Charles Johnson 2/29/2012) Atlantic columnist Ta-Nehisi Coates agrees with Johnson, noting that Limbaugh is not just an “entertainer,” but a powerful opinion leader of the Republican Party, and says that Limbaugh’s comments are part of what Coates calls “the normalization of cruelty” and “evidence of the lowest aspects of humanity.” (Coates 3/1/2012) Eric Boehlert, a senior writer at the liberal media watchdog Web site Media Matters, calls Limbaugh’s “radio outburst” an example of his “rancid misogyny,” and writes: “[I]t was perhaps the talk show host’s incessant need to bully powerless people from the safety of his studio that was so striking. That, and the glee Limbaugh seemed to take in not only maligning the young woman, but her parents as well. It’s jaw-dropping.” Boehlert goes on to remind readers that Limbaugh is not just a voice on the radio or an entertainer, but “the voice of America’s conservative movement, as well as the Republican Party.” (Boehlert 3/1/2012)
House Democrats Call for Condemnation - House Democrats, including Pelosi, call for Republican Congressional leaders to condemn Limbaugh’s remarks (see February 29, 2012).
Statement from Law Student - Fluke will issue a statement repudiating Limbaugh’s rhetoric (see March 1, 2012).
Continued Attacks - Limbaugh will continue his attacks on Fluke the next day (see March 1, 2012).
House Democrats, including Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Louise Slaughter (D-NY), Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), Elijah Cummings (D-MD), and Diana DeGette (D-CO) call upon the Republican House leadership to condemn radio host Rush Limbaugh’s attack on Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke, who after testifying against a Republican-driven anti-contraception bill (see March 1, 2012), was vilified by Limbaugh as a “slut” and a “prostitute” (see February 29, 2012). In a press release, the Democrats say: “When Sandra Fluke testified before the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee after Republicans attempted to silence her, she courageously spoke truth to power. As a result, today, she has been subject to attacks that are outside the circle of civilized discussion and that unmask the strong disrespect for women held by some in this country. We call upon the Republican leaders in the House to condemn these vicious attacks on Ms. Fluke, which are in response to her testimony to the Congress. Democrats will always stand up for women’s health and women’s voices.” (Pelosi 2/29/2012) Maloney tells a reporter, “I am just aghast” at Limbaugh’s attacks on Fluke. “If the far right can attack people like Sandra Fluke, women are going to be afraid to speak because they’re going to be called terrible words. It’s an attempt to silence people that are speaking out for women.” Maloney says that the Republicans’ attacks on contraception access should serve as a “wake-up call” to the women’s rights movement. “I believe these efforts are sinking in. Women have to stand up and say stop. We have to get out and get out strong to let women know around the country that they can speak out against this abuse. The right to space and time our children for our own health and the ability to manage our lives—this is a basic right, and they’re going after it.” (Bassett 3/1/2012) In a press release, Representative Judy Chu (D-CA) writes: “How dare Rush Limbaugh target Ms. Fluke with his hateful rhetoric? Her actions demonstrate a true profile in courage. His are the acts of an ignorant, hateful man who preys on misinformation and cruelty. As is always the case with Rush Limbaugh, facts are his first casualty. Ms. Fluke’s comments had nothing to do with her personal experiences or circumstances. She addressed Congress on behalf of a friend using birth control for non-sexual medical reasons. It had nothing to do with sex. It had nothing to do with Ms. Fluke. Yet Limbaugh delighted in calling her rude and inappropriate names. What’s truly sad is the fact that this man thrives on this kind of filth—it’s how he makes his living. While most Americans work hard and want only to have equal access to health insurance as part of their compensation, and while Ms. Fluke wanted only to stand up for those hardworking Americans’ right to equal access to health insurance, Limbaugh wants only to distort the truth for his ditto head audience. Where is the outrage from Congressional Republicans? Whether they like it or not, Limbaugh speaks for their party and reflects on their judgment. How can the majority party of this legislative body expect qualified witnesses to testify if such personal attacks are allowed to pass? I urge my colleagues from the other side of the aisle to stand up for what is right, and shoot down this thinly-veiled attempt at character assassination.” (Asian American Action Fund 3/1/2012)
The Senate votes down the controversial “Blunt amendment” 51-48, on a nearly party-line vote. The amendment, offered by Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO) as a rider to a routine highway bill and co-sponsored by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and 22 other senators, would have allowed health care providers to refuse to pay for contraception and other health care procedures on religious or moral grounds. If the amendment had passed, health insurance plans and employers could refuse to provide or pay for coverage of “specific items or services” if the coverage would be “contrary to the religious beliefs or moral convictions of the sponsor, issuer, or other entity offering the plan.” Blunt and the bill’s supporters characterize the legislation as an attempt to restore religious freedoms taken away by the Obama administration’s “government health care takeover,” in Blunt’s words; opponents say the bill is an attack on women’s rights and an effort to ban contraception. Blunt said during the debate of the bill: “This amendment does not mention any procedure of any kind. The word ‘contraception’ is not in there because it’s not about a specific procedure. It’s about a faith principle that the First Amendment guarantees.” McConnell says the bill is an attempt to fight for “religious liberty,” which he and others say is under attack by the White House and Congressional Democrats. The Obama administration’s health care policy requires organizations to cover the cost of contraception, but does not require religious establishments to cover the cost. Employees of religious establishments can still obtain contraception from the health care insurance company. Mitt Romney (R-MA), a Republican presidential candidate, first stated his opposition to the bill, then quickly reversed course and said he was for it. The only Senate Republican to vote against the bill is Olympia Snowe (R-ME), widely considered a moderate Republican; three conservative Democrats vote for the bill. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), considered a strong candidate to run as the Republican vice-presidential nominee in the 2012 elections, says the Senate’s refusal to pass the bill is “a setback for religious freedoms in America.” Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) calls the bill a straightforward effort to ban contraception. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) wrote in a recent op-ed, “Instead of coming together to fix our economy and strengthen the middle class, the Senate is considering a measure so extreme that it would allow any employer—religious or secular—to deny their employees coverage of any preventive service, including contraception, mammograms—anything the employer deems unfit to be covered.” Senator Patty Murray (D-MA) says, “The Senate will not allow women’s health care choices to be taken away from them.” Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) says Republicans are attacking women’s health care as part of “a systematic war against women.” Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius had asked the Senate to reject the proposal, saying, “The Obama administration believes that decisions about medical care should be made by a woman and her doctor, not a woman and her boss.” Dr. Hal C. Lawrence of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists came out against the amendment, saying contraception “improves and saves babies’ lives, improves maternal health, and can be life-saving for women with serious medical problems.” The American Cancer Society released a statement opposing the amendment, saying it would allow employers to deny coverage of life-saving preventive services like mammograms and smoking cessation programs based on “undefined religious beliefs or moral convictions.” (Pear 3/1/2012; The State 3/1/2012; The Week 3/2/2012) After the bill is voted down, conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh vilifies Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke, who was not allowed to testify before a House committee meeting debating the bill (Volsky 2/16/2012) , calling her a “slut” and a “prostitute” for advocating the free availability of contraception (see February 29, 2012). Fluke gave her testimony before a panel of House Democrats and posted it on YouTube, where she discussed the needs of young women who use birth control and other contraceptives for medical needs such as cancer prevention. Specifically, she cites the example of a friend who needed, and was unable to obtain, birth control pills to manage polycystic ovarian syndrome. (Beadle 2/16/2012) Democrats and others criticized committee chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) for only allowing men to testify before the House Oversight Committee on the topic of female contraception. It was Issa’s decision to bar Fluke from testifying before the committee. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said at the time: “The Republican leadership of this Congress thinks it’s appropriate to have a hearing on women’s health and purposely exclude women from the panel. I may at some point be moved to explain biology to my colleagues.” Issa only allowed committee Democrats to name one witness; they named Fluke, whom Issa barred from testifying as she was “unqualified” to speak. (Daily Mail 2/17/2012)
US District Court Judge Katherine B. Forrest (Southern Division, New York) finds a controversial section of the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) unconstitutional and issues a preliminary injunction barring enforcement. Section 1021(b)(2) of the NDAA authorizes indefinite military detention without trial of any person “who was a part of or substantially supported al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners, including any person who has committed a belligerent act or has directly supported such hostilities in aid of such enemy forces” (see December 15, 2011). The law makes no exception for US persons. It has been under review by the court because seven individuals (journalists, activists, and politicians) sued, alleging this section is unconstitutional because it violates their First Amendment right to freedom of speech and association and Fifth Amendment right to due process, and that it imposes military jurisdiction on civilians in violation of Article III and the Fifth Amendment (see January 13, 2012). (OPINION AND ORDER: 12 Civ. 331 (KBF) Hedges et al v. Obama, preliminary injunction enjoining enforcement of NDAA Section 1021 5/16/2012)
Judge Finds NDAA Undermines Protected Speech and Association - The plaintiffs argued that, due to their association with and/or reporting on al-Qaeda and the Taliban in the course of their work as journalists and activists, they might be subject to detention under § 1021, and that, due to the vagueness of the law, there was no way to know if the law could be used against them. In testimony and briefs, the plaintiffs gave examples of how they had altered their speech and behavior out of fear they might be subject to detention. In her Opinion and Order, Forrest notes: “The Government was unable to define precisely what ‘direct’ or ‘substantial’ ‘support’ means.… Thus, an individual could run the risk of substantially supporting or directly supporting an associated force without even being aware that he or she was doing so.” And: “The Government was given a number of opportunities at the hearing and in its briefs to state unambiguously that the type of expressive and associational activities engaged in by plaintiffs—or others—are not within § 1021. It did not. This Court therefore must credit the chilling impact on First Amendment rights as reasonable—and real. Given our society’s strong commitment to protecting First Amendment rights, the equities must tip in favor of protecting those rights.” (OPINION AND ORDER: 12 Civ. 331 (KBF) Hedges et al v. Obama, preliminary injunction enjoining enforcement of NDAA Section 1021 5/16/2012)
Judge Rejects All Three Arguments Made by the Government - Forrest summarizes the government’s position in this way: “[F]irst, that plaintiffs lack standing; second, that even if they have standing, they have failed to demonstrate an imminent threat requiring preliminary relief; and finally, through a series of arguments that counter plaintiffs’ substantive constitutional challenges, that Section 1021 of the NDAA is simply an ‘affirmation’ or ‘reaffirmation’ of the authority conferred by the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force.” Rejecting the first and second arguments, Forrest finds the plaintiffs do have standing because their fear of imminent indefinite detention without charge or trial is reasonable, due to the vagueness of § 1021 and the government’s failure to state that the plaintiff’s activities aren’t covered under section 1021, leaving the plaintiffs with no way of knowing if they might be subject to detention. Furthermore, Forrest finds the plaintiffs have suffered actual harm, evidenced by incurring expenses and making changes in speech and association due to fear of potential detention. Regarding the third argument, Forrest rejects the idea that § 1021 could simply be affirming the AUMF, because “[t]o so hold would be contrary to basic principles of legislative interpretation that require Congressional enactments to be given independent meaning”; otherwise § 1021 would be “redundant” and “meaningless.” Furthermore, Forrest finds § 1021 of the NDAA is substantively different than the AUMF; it is not specific in its scope and “lacks the critical component of requiring… that an alleged violator’s conduct must have been, in some fashion, ‘knowing.’” (OPINION AND ORDER: 12 Civ. 331 (KBF) Hedges et al v. Obama, preliminary injunction enjoining enforcement of NDAA Section 1021 5/16/2012)
Judge Finds Lawsuit Will Likely Succeed on Merits, Justifying Injunction - Based on the information put forward by the seven plaintiffs and the government, Forrest concludes the lawsuit will likely succeed on its merits, thus it should be allowed to proceed, stating: “This Court is left then, with the following conundrum: plaintiffs have put forward evidence that § 1021 has in fact chilled their expressive and associational activities; the Government will not represent that such activities are not covered by § 1021; plaintiffs’ activities are constitutionally protected. Given that record and the protections afforded by the First Amendment, this Court finds that plaintiffs have shown a likelihood of succeeding on the merits of a facial challenge to § 1021.” Forrest also notes that issuing a preliminary injunction barring enforcement is unusual, but called for given the evidence and circumstances, stating: “This Court is acutely aware that preliminarily enjoining an act of Congress must be done with great caution. However, it is the responsibility of our judicial system to protect the public from acts of Congress which infringe upon constitutional rights.” (OPINION AND ORDER: 12 Civ. 331 (KBF) Hedges et al v. Obama, preliminary injunction enjoining enforcement of NDAA Section 1021 5/16/2012)
President Obama’s Justice Department files a motion urging a federal judge to reconsider a ruling and order that blocked enforcement of a law authorizing indefinite military detention. The case is Hedges v. Obama and the law at issue is section 1021 of the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The filing calls Judge Katherine B. Forrest’s preliminary injunction barring enforcement of Section 1021(b)(2) of the NDAA (see May 16, 2012) “extraordinary” as it restricts the president’s authority during wartime. It also questions whether “an order restraining future military operations could ever be appropriate,” and disputes Forrest’s finding that the plaintiffs who had sued to overturn the law (see January 13, 2012) have standing to sue. In footnote 1, the government states that it is construing the order “as applying only as to the named plaintiffs in this suit.” Forrest will clarify in a subsequent Memorandum Opinion and Order that by blocking enforcement of § 1021(b)(2), the only remaining persons covered are those defined in § 1021(b)(1): “A person who planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored those responsible for those attacks” (see June 6, 2012). (Hedges v. Obama: Government's Memorandum of Law in Support of Its Motion for Reconsideration of the May 16, 2012, Opinion and Order 5/25/2012)
Background - The NDAA was passed by Congress on December 15, 2011 (see December 15, 2011) and signed into law by President Obama on December 31 (see December 31, 2011). The provision for indefinite military detention of any person accused of supporting groups hostile to the United States, without charge or trial, began to generate controversy soon after it was disclosed (see July 6, 2011 and after).
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