Senate Democrats

Reid: President’s Latest Surveillance Scare Tactics Irresponsibly Distort Reality

Washington, DC—Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid made the following statement today in response to President Bush’s letter on FISA:

“The President sadly continues to choose confrontation over negotiation, threatening to veto any extension of the Protect America Act while crying wolf about the dangers of letting it expire.  These latest scare tactics represent the President at his most unreasonable, irresponsible and misleading.

“No amount of fear mongering will change the fact that our intelligence-collection capabilities have not been weakened since last week.  Even the President’s own Director of National Intelligence agrees.

“But for the President, this debate isn’t about protecting America; it’s about protecting the telecommunications industry and his own Administration.  He has explicitly refused to compromise on immunity for telecommunications companies even as he claimed the law’s expiration endangers Americans.  I can only conclude, then, that the President would put Americans’ lives on the line to let phone companies off the hook.  Democrats have different priorities.

“Congressional Democrats will continue to work on a bipartisan basis to finalize a strong law.  As we do, there should be no question in anyone’s mind that U.S. intelligence agencies have the legal ability to take all actions necessary to protect the security of the American people.  For anyone to suggest otherwise is wholly inaccurate.”

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THEN…

LAST WEEK: President Bush Said He Would Not Pass Any Temporary Extension of the Protect America Act. “Congress has had over six months to discuss and deliberate. The time for debate is over. I will not accept any temporary extension.” [President Bush, 2/13/08]

LAST WEEK: Not a Single House Republican Voted to Extend Protect America Act. On February 13, 195 House Republicans voted against passage of a bill to extend the Protect America Act of 2007 (PL 110-55) for 21 days beyond its current expiration date of Feb. 16. The Protect America Act amended the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (FISA) to expand the authority of the attorney general and the director of National Intelligence to conduct surveillance of suspected foreign terrorists without a court warrant. [HR 5349, House Vote #54, 2/13/08]

LAST WEEK: Senator McConnell Objected to Passing an Extension of the Protect America Act.

Senator Reid: As indicated earlier today, I would ask consent to extend the time on the legislation. I am a so, the bill that’s– I’m sorry, the law that’s now in effect. I want to extend that 15 days to see if we can work out something with the House. So I now ask unanimous consent that the Senate proceed to the consideration of calendar 571, S. 2615, the bill be read a third time, passed, the motion to reconsider be laid on the table with no intervening action or debate.

Senator McConnell: Madam President?

The Presiding Officer: The Republican Leader.

Senator McConnell: Reserving the right to object… So I – for the moment, Madam President, I object. [Congressional Record, 2/12/08]

YESTERDAY: Republicans Refused to Even Allow Their Staff Members to Attend Bipartisan, Bicameral Meeting to Seek Compromise on FISA Reform. “In what should have been a bipartisan, bicameral meeting, staff members of the House and Senate Judiciary and Intelligence Committees met today to work in good faith to reach a compromise on FISA reform. As we have said, we are using this week to work on a compromise that strengthens our national security and protects Americans’ privacy. Unfortunately, we understand our Republican counterparts instructed their staffs not to attend this working meeting, therefore not allowing progress to be made in a bipartisan, bicameral way. While we are disappointed that today’s meeting could not reflect a bipartisan effort, we will continue to work and hope Republicans will join us to put our nation’s security first.” [Statement by Chairmen Leahy, Rockefeller, Conyers and Reyes, 2/21/08]

LAST WEEK: DNI McConnell Testified That Collection of Foreign Terrorist Communications Would Continue for One Year If Protect America Act Expired. Asked if targeting and collection of communications of foreign terrorists now underway will continue if the Protect America Act expires, DNI McConnell said, “The provisions of the bill allow us, once we had submitted to the FISA court the procedures and so on, they’re approved, and we are loaded, from the date that’s approved, we get a year.  So some level of collection will go forward if it, in fact, expires on Saturday.” [Senate Intelligence Committee Hearing, 2/14/08]

LAST WEEK: DNI McConnell Agreed that No Current Intelligence Collection Efforts Would Be Shut Off If Protect America Act Lapsed. Asked if collection currently ongoing under the Protect America Act will be shut off if the law expires on Saturday, DNI McConnell said, “It would not be turned off.  The issue becomes compelling private sector cooperation and then things that change, yes, sir. That’s correct. The way you stated it is correct.” [Senate Intelligence Committee Hearing, 2/14/08]

…AND NOW

TODAY: Bush Administration Is Warning That Expiration of Protect America Act Has Opened Crucial Intelligence Gaps. In a letter to House Intelligence Committee Chairman Silvestre Reyes, DNI McConnell and Attorney General Mukasey wrote, “In our letter to Senator Reid on February 5, 2008, we explained that: ‘the expiration of the authorities in the Protect America Act would plunge critical intelligence programs into a state of uncertainty which could cause us to delay gathering of, or simply miss, critical foreign intelligence information.’ That is exactly what has happened since the Protect America Act expired six days ago without enactment of the bipartisan Senate bill. We have lost intelligence information this past week as a direct result of the uncertainty created by Congress’ failure to act. Because of this uncertainty, some partners have reduced cooperation.” [Letter to Chairman Silvestre Reyes from DNI McConnell and Attorney General Mukasey, 2/22/08]

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