The San Francisco Chronicle became one of the few media outlets to report on the multiple false claims about 9/11 and FISA in Michael Mukasey's speech two weeks ago, as they adeptly summarized the key events in this article today. As the article, using the Lee Hamilton and other quotes reported here, put it: "It seemed like a sensational disclosure -- a phone call that, if traced and monitored, could have allowed authorities to thwart the attacks -- but it has proved difficult to verify."
Also, Mukasey appeared yesterday before a Senate Appropriations subcommittee and was questioned on this matter by Pat Leahy:
On his third question, Leahy asked Mukasey to clarify a recent comment he made in San Francisco where he implied that the failure to listen in on a phone call from Afghanistan to the United States prior to the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks had cost 3,000 lives.
"Nobody else seems to know about this. Can you tell me what the circumstances were and why?" Leahy said.
"The phone call I referenced relates to an incoming call that is referred to in a letter in February of this year to House Intelligence Committee Chairman [Silvestre] Reyes [(D-Texas)] from Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell and I," Mukasey said.
"One thing I got wrong. It didn't come from Afghanistan. I got the country wrong," Mukasey continued without specifying the country where the call originated.
So finally, Mukasey, only because he has been forced to do so, admits that he was wrong in the facts of this alleged call. If the Attorney General is going to go around tearfully claiming that there was a pre-9/11 call that the Government was prevented by surveillance laws from investigating and which would have prevented the 9/11 attacks, wouldn't one think that he would actually know what he was talking about? He made a similar claim, though much more vaguely, in a letter he signed two weeks earlier to Congress. How does one just get something like that wrong -- a bombshell which the Chronicle described as "sensational" -- if it really happened?
More to the point, Mukasey's claims still make no sense even if one changes the country of origin. There is still nothing about any episode of that sort -- a call from a foreign country into the U.S. that the administration was prohibited from investigating -- in either the 9/11 Report or the Joint Inquiry.
But whether this call actually occurred has always been the secondary level of deceit in what Mukasey said. Most significant is that even if there had been such a call, Mukasey's claim -- that FISA's warrant requirements somehow prevented investigation of that call -- is completely deceitful, as Leahy's follow-up statement suggested:
Mukasey, who used the phone call as an example to highlight the intelligence shortcomings before 9/11, did not explain why he included the comment to argue for expanded surveillance powers in a question-and-answer session after his speech on March 27.
"No FISA [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] application should have been necessary to monitor a foreign target in a foreign country," Leahy reminded Mukasey. "We didn't need it then. And we didn't need it today."
John Conyers ought to follow up on the questions he asked in the excellent letter sent by him and two Subcommittee Chairs to Mukasey last week. Even with this "modification," Mukasey still is plainly not telling the truth about what he said.
And this has been going on forever -- when the Bush administration wants more unchecked power or to evade accountability, they send out whoever the Trusted, Honorable, Non-partisan officials of the Month happen to be to make emotionally manipulative -- and outright false -- claims about the 9/11 attack in order to secure those powers. Here, Mukasey got caught red-handed making numerous false and misleading claims -- about both the facts of 9/11 and the law -- and he shouldn't be allowed to get away with it simply because, under pressure, he has now "acknowledged" some minor error that does not, in any way, mitigate the core deceit here.
UPDATE: The commenter selise, one of the most reliable sources around, has posted a transcript of the Leahy-Mukasey exchange that is somewhat different (and even more damning) than the source quoted above. Mukasey claims that his only point was that no warrant should be required for foreign-to-foreign calls, but virtually nobody contests that. Indeed, that has always been the law under FISA -- certainly it was the law as of 9/11 -- and there was absolutely nothing preventing them from having intercepted and investigated that call (more details on that here, from Kevin Fenton).
Moreover, virtually everyone in Congress -- including even Russ Feingold and Rush Holt -- were willing to amend FISA to clarify further that no warrants are required to eavesdrop on such calls, but the President threatened to veto any such amendment unless it was accompanied by telecom amnesty. So it's hard to believe -- to put it mildly -- that Mukasey's only point was that foreign-to-foreign calls shouldn't require warrants, since (a) nobody contests that and (b) no warrants were required for such calls as of 9/11. His point was that FISA's warrant requirements prevented discovery of the 9/11 attack ("We've got three thousand people who went to work that day and didn't come home to show for that") and that claim is every bit as false as Mukasey's description of the call itself.