George Bush told the truth yesterday

Bush on why the White House is so desperate for telecom amnesty: "The litigation process could lead to the disclosure of information about how we conduct surveillance."

Topics: Washington, D.C.,

In his Press Conference yesterday, Commander-in-Chief George W. Bush candidly explained why he was so eager to have Congress grant amnesty to telecoms:

Allowing the lawsuits to proceed could aid our enemies, because the litigation process could lead to the disclosure of information about how we conduct surveillance.

The bit about Helping the Enemies is purely false, just standard Bush fear-mongering. Federal courts receive and rule on highly classified information with great regularity without any public “disclosure.” FISA (in 50 USC 1806(f)) specifically provides that secret information can be submitted to the Judge without even the other side having access to it. If — as the President suggested — courts can’t be trusted with national security secrets, then it would mean, just as he intends and just as much of the press has accepted, government officials are free to break the law in secret by claiming that national security concerns prevent courts from ruling on what they did. In a Super Scary World, the need for secrecy outweighs all.

But on a more important level, Bush is finally being candid about the real reason the administration is so desperate to have these surveillance lawsuits dismissed. It’s because those lawsuits are the absolute last hope for ever learning what the administration did when they spied on Americans for years in violation of the law. Dismissal via amnesty would ensure that their spying behavior stays permanently concealed, buried forever, and as importantly, that no court ever rules on the legality of what they did. Isn’t it striking how that implication of telecom amnesty is never discussed, and how little interest it generates among journalists — whose role, theoretically, is to uncover secret government actions?

There was an explosion of press interest for a couple of days last May when former Deputy Attorney General James Comey testified about the melodramatic hospital scene where John Ashcroft refused the demands of Alberto Gonzales and Andrew Card to authorize whatever it was the President’s domestic spying program entailed, but the most significant revelation from Comey’s testimony was — and still is — that the administration was engaged in spying activities back then so patently illegal and unconscionable that the entire top level of the DOJ threatened to resign if they continued.



What was it that the administration was doing that provoked that reaction even among its own far right political appointees at the DOJ? On which Americans were they spying without warrants, how were those Americans selected, and what was done with the information? Former OLC official Marty Lederman perfectly described the glaring, unanswered questions about Bush’s domestic spying programs raised by the Comey testimony — questions that are still unanswered and will remain so forever if Congress gives Bush telecom amnesty:

If [the TSP is] the narrow version of the NSA program, just how broad and indiscriminate was the surveillance under the program that Ashcroft, et al. would not approve? . . .

This is the real heart of the Comey story — What happened between September 2001 and October 2003, before Comey and Goldmsith came aboard? Just how radical were the Administration’s legal judgments? How extreme were the programs they implemented? How egregious was the lawbreaking?

We still have no idea. Nobody does. And the establishment press could not be any less interested in finding out. The number two official at the Justice Department openly reveals that the President — with the active, knowing collaboration of the telecom industry — was breaking the law so severely for years that it was about to provoke mass resignations from his loyal right-wing appointees, and we all just collectively yawn, blissfully content not to know what they did.

The telecom lawsuits are the last hope for finding any of this out. They’re the last hope for ever having this still-secret behavior subjected to the rule of law and enabling the American people to learn about what their Government did for years in illegally spying on them. That’s why — the only real reason — the White House is so desperate for telecom amnesty. That’s what George Bush means when he says that amnesty is urgent “because the litigation process could lead to the disclosure of information about how we conduct surveillance.” In a functioning democracy, when high political officials break the law, such behavior is actually supposed to be “disclosed,” not concealed.

While the media has completely ignored this angle of the telecom immunity story — the only one that is actually real — they continue to pose Jeff-Gannon/Chris-Wallace-like “questions” such as this one, from yesterday’s Press Conference:

Q Mr. President, on FISA, do you worry that perhaps some House Democratic leaders are playing a high-stakes game of “wait and see,” in terms of if we get attacked, we all lose; if we don’t get attacked, then maybe that makes the case that you don’t need all the powers in FISA?

Mr. President, aren’t Democrats purposely causing us to be vulnerable to the Terrorists in order to make a political point? Thank you, Mr. President. It’s amazing that even when the Leader points the media directly to the real story — amnesty is crucial because lawsuits “could lead to the disclosure of information about how we conduct surveillance” — they still ignore it.

Glenn Greenwald

Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

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