Is the White House lying about spying again?

Democrats say the Director of National Intelligence went along with a congressional FISA compromise -- until Bush overruled him.

Published August 4, 2007 3:58PM (EDT)

Is the White House lying about negotiations over the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) bill?

Salon had an odd Associated Press wire story up mid day on Friday. On top was an "update" trumpeting President Bush's rejection of compromise attempts on FISA. At the same press conference the AP highlighted, Bush said: "I'm going to ask the DNI [Director of National Intelligence]: Does this legislation give you what you need to prevent an attack on the country? Is this what you need to do your job, Mr. DNI? That's the question I'm going to ask. And if the answer is yes, I'll sign the bill. And if the answer is no, I'm going to veto the bill." But the update was attached to a main story reporting that the DNI -- Mike McConnell -- was going along with a compromise with Democrats.

"To acknowledge the interests of all, I could agree to a procedure that provides for court review -- after needed collection has begun -- of our procedures for gathering foreign intelligence through classified methods directed at foreigners located overseas," McConnell wrote in a statement late Thursday night. "While I would strongly prefer not to engage in such a process, I am prepared to take these additional steps to keep the confidence of members of Congress and the American people that our processes have been subject to court review and approval." McConnell was known to be lobbying hard for the bill all week.

But Bush rejected attempts at compromise, as did his congressional stooges (including House Minority Leader John Boehner, who leaked what may have been classified information about a court decision that led to the new FISA legislation this week, on GOP-megaphone Fox News. Was Boehner being boneheaded or brazen? We report; you decide) Spencer Ackerman has more on it all here. "A key Democrat in the negotiations, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD), says that a deal had in fact been reached with McConnell, who has been busy lobbying Congress on a FISA update all week," Ackerman wrote. Hoyer spokeswoman Stacey Bernards told him: "The White House quashed the agreement." McConnell later came out and denied he'd agreed to a compromise, and the Senate went on to pass Bush's FISA bill 60-28, rejecting a tougher version introduced by Jay Rockefeller and Carl Levin. Balkinization breaks it down here.

Predictably, Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Bush administration) voted for the Republican bill, along with l6 Democrats, including Virginia's Jim Webb and Claire McCaskill of Missouri. The House is expected to pass a compatible version. All this for a disgraced president with record-low approval ratings. I shouldn't be shocked, but I'm shocked. Shocked.

By Joan Walsh

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