As John mentioned, this morning Senator Durbin met the new media and, more specifically, “Pajama Line.” This occurred because I had the good fortune of accompanying filmmaker Andrew Marcus of Pajamas Media to the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the legality of the NSA intercept program. I’ll skip over Attorney General Gonzales’ excellent opening statement, which I’m sure has been well-covered by the blogosphere. I’ll also mention only in passing my interview of the excellent Senator Cornyn, and proceed to the highlight of my morning, which occurred during the first break when I questioned Senators Kennedy and Durbin.
Kennedy was rehearsing his current talking point that the administration has impaired our security by operating behind the back of Congress. His line was that if only the president had informed Congress about the program, Congress would have asked the right questions and the end product would have been a bullet proof surveillance program instead of one that (in Kennedy’s view) is in trouble. I reminded Senator Kennedy that the administration had informed key members of the Intelligence Committee, and no one had raised any questions. Kennedy responded that the administration only told committee members it had picked. Before I could respond that the administration “picked” the leader and ranking member of the Senate and House committees as well Senate and House leaders from both parties, Kennedy was gone, replaced at the microphone by Senator Durbin.
Durbin presented the usual Democratic line, which assumes that the the intercept program violates FISA and proceeds from there. I pointed out that the Attorney General had just explained how FISA contains an exception for surveillance authorized by another act of Congress, and that (in Gonzales’ view) the congressional authorization of force (AUMF), by authorizing all means necessary to prevent another attack, provides authorization independent of FISA for the administration to listen to al Qaeda calls into the U.S. Durbin allowed that I had accurately recited the Attorney General’s argument.
I then asked why, if the Democrats disagree with the administration’s understanding of what AUMF authorizes, they don’t present clarifying legislation telling the administration that its interpretation is incorrect. This would enable the Senate to vote on whether it thinks listening to calls from al Qaeda to the U.S. is a necessary and proper measure to prevent another attack.
Apparently peeved at the thought of having to vote on that issue, Senator Durbin asked what organization I was with. I told him I was respresenting Power Line and Pajamas Media. Durbin said he wasn’t familiar with this group, and then proceeded to address my question. His answer was (I quote from memory) that “this is not how things work” and that (if I understood him correctly) the issue is whether the president’s actions are constitutional.
I attempted to follow-up by noting that if the administration is right about the interplay of FISA and AUMF, there is no serious constitutional question because the president is acting with the permission of Congress. Durbin made it clear, however, that questioning was over. His parting shot was that he would try to check out what I write for “Pajama Line.” My parting shot, that Dan Rather knew something about the outfit, drew laughter. Afterwards, Debra Burlingame, sister of the captain of American Airlines flight 77 and a strong proponent of the NSA surveillance program, complimented me on my questioning.
If this is what reporters get to do regularly, I may have made a bad career choice.
JOHN adds: Mark Tapscott writes:
Capitol Hill is buzzing with talk of a news conference earlier today in which Powerline’s Paul Mirengoff was pushing some hard questions at Sen. Teddy Kennedy, D-MA, and Sen. Richard Durbin, D-IL, about the NSA’s anti-terrorist international “eavesdropping” program.
Kennedy apparently got flustered with Mirengoff, so Durbin started fielding the questions and himself became increasingly flustered.