Yesterday Senators Mitch McConnell and Charles Schumer appeared with host Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday. The NSA surveillance story dominated the interview. McConnell did an excellent job of defending the administration by focusing on the scope of the program and the administration’s reasonable conviction of its legality, and by keeping the focus on the search for the leakers. Note how McConnell begins his response to the first question posed by Wallace:
WALLACE: Gentlemen, one of the first issues that the Senate is going to have to take on early this year is going to be this question of trying to draw the balance between presidential powers and protecting civil liberties of Americans in fighting the war on terror.
Senator McConnell, you’ve got renewal of the Patriot Act on your plate, also possible hearings into this domestic NSA spying program. Any chance that the Senate will put new limits on the president’s powers?
MCCONNELL: Well, we’ll certainly take a look at that, but thank goodness the Justice Department is investigating to find out who has been endangering our national security by leaking this information so that our enemies now have a greater sense of what our techniques are in going after terrorists.
The overwhelming majority of the American people understand that we need new techniques in the wake of 9/11 in order to protect us. The president feels very, very strongly that he’s acted constitutionally.
What was interesting to me was how relatively moderate, almost conciliatory, Schumer’s tone was. He criticized President Bush for “unilaterally changing the law,” and got away with never explaining what he meant by that. Still, Schumer, a bitter partisan, also said things like this:
Well, the bottom line is I think everyone, Democrats and Republicans, wants to give the president the tools that he needs to fight the war on terror. No question about it. But the way our country works is the balance between security and liberty is a very delicate one.
And obviously, in times of war, in times of terrorism, the balance shifts towards security, and it should. There are some on the doctrinaire left who say never change it. I don’t agree with that. Almost no Democrat does.
I think the Democrats have been reading the polls. As for the leakers, Schumer said:
WALLACE: Senator Schumer, let me try to wrap this up, because there are other areas I want to move on to. The one other part of this which Senator McConnell has talked about is the Justice Department is going to have a criminal investigation to try to find out who leaked this information.
Now, the ACLU says that’s cracking down on a courageous whistleblower. How do you feel about the idea of investigating and prosecuting the leaker in this case?
SCHUMER: I think that there should be an investigation. Whenever classified information comes forward, it should be looked at. You know, whenever classified information is leaked, there ought to be an investigation, because it could endanger our security.
Having said that, let’s not prejudge. Was this somebody who had an ill purpose, trying to hurt the United States, or might it have been someone in the department who felt that this was wrong, legally wrong, that the law was being violated, went to the higher-ups, they did nothing