TAMPA -- In order to enter the Republican National Convention, one had to pass through multiple layers of security, which involved so many different law enforcement agencies that I literally lost count. So police issues were on my mind on Wednesday when I spotted Rep. Peter King, the cranky Irish Republican Army apologist from Long Island. I asked if he thought there was any merit to arguments leveled -- by both the left and right alike -- that police departments across the country have been excessively federalized and/or militarized, with the Tampa security situation being a prime example.
"No," King stated plainly. "Obviously, we always have to be looking out at all times that the police maintain their proper role. But I think the Department of Homeland Security, and the police I deal with -- whether it's the FBI or the New York City Police Department -- no, I think civil liberties are being protected. Privacy is being protected. And considering the nature of the threat against us, I would say the police are remarkably restrained."
As chairman of the House committee on Homeland Security, King has been a vocal critic of the Associated Press's Pulitzer Prize-winning investigation into the the NYPD's anti-terrorism policies -- including its collusion with the CIA and indiscriminate unlawful surveillance of Muslims (even outside New York City). "Disgraceful," King crowed when I mentioned the investigation. "First of all, they cannot find one thing the NYPD did that was illegal or wrong. Everything was open-source; they did not violate one law, not one provision of the Constitution. Meanwhile, there have been 14 plots against New York that have been stopped. We are the No. 1 target in the world. At any given time there are plots either in place or being contemplated, and they've just done a phenomenal job. They're not violating anyone's civil liberties or civil rights. The Associated Press -- it was a terrible cheap shot and disgrace."
I asked King if he believed the highly renowned journalists responsible for the reports, Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman, had integrity. "No, absolutely not. They have no moral integrity. Absolutely not."
And what about ProPublica, which last month published a report debunking the claim King just made about the NYPD supposedly thwarting 14 terrorist plots since 9/11? (I noticed King was wearing a commemorative 9/11 lapel pin.) After all, ProPublica is a nonpartisan watchdog outfit.
"No, it's a left-wing publication," he rebuffed.
Was he even familiar with the ProPublica report?
"Yeah, sure. I've heard of it," King said. "But I work with the NYPD all the time. I know what's going on in New York. I know what's going on in some of the communities. I know what they've been doing. And the police are doing a tremendous job in New York."
According to King, generally, corruption in the NYPD was not much of a problem: "There's always some corruption in any department; whether it's in the media, whether it's in the military, police, welfare agencies -- wherever you go. The New York City Police Department is extremely honest, and the level of security they're providing is top-rate. First-rate."
If he concedes that some corruption will inevitably exist within the NYPD, did King think Mayor Mike Bloomberg was exercising adequate oversight to root it out?
"It's the best police department in the world," King proclaimed. "So obviously he's a good mayor, and Ray Kelly is the best police commissioner. We should thank God every night for the NYPD, and we should pray for the souls of the AP."
I also asked about civil libertarian objections with respect to the the recently announced "Total Domain Awareness" system, a joint surveillance initiative launched by the NYPD in concert with Microsoft. "To me, it's too bad if they're uncomfortable about it. It's keeping New Yorkers safe," King declared. "It's totally legal. And I really don't care what the Civil Liberties Union has to say, or the Associated Press, or the New York Times."
Well then, which media outlets were fairly representing the nature of these NYPD initiatives in his mind? "Oh, I don't know. I'll just say which ones have been bad. The AP and the New York Times have been terrible," he said.
"How about the New York Post?" I asked.
"The Post has been good, yeah," King confirmed. "Daily News. Wall Street Journal."
While I had King riled up, I figured I might as well transition to drone strikes. Turns out he was not eager to engage on the subject: "I have no comment on any drone strikes. No comment on drone strikes," he said when asked if he had prior knowledge of the strikes in 2011 that killed three U.S. citizens. "I'm on the Intelligence Committee. By law, I'm not allowed to comment on it."
"It's common knowledge that they occurred," I said.
"Well, first of all, it's only people like you, the Associated Press -- I don't care about that. I'm gonna get elected. You said, 'Do I care?' How many Americans are going to be upset about whether or not we're using drones? The fact is, are we going to win? We've been able to kill Awlaki. We've been able to kill Samir Khan ..."
"Also Awlaki's 16-year-old son," I objected, "who wasn't implicated in anything!"
"In any war, there's collateral damage. That's life," King advised me. "That's life and it's death and it's reality; you'd better accept it. Look, I'm not going to argue all night."
"There's been no war declared in Yemen!" I exclaimed.
"Look -- it's, we are ... It's the enemy. I'm watching this," King said. "Disappear."