December 19, 2005
The New York Times Will Not Comment on the Meeting
Kudos to Jonathan Alter--and to whoever leaked him this story:
Bush's Snoopgate: WEB-EXCLUSIVE COMMENTARY By Jonathan Alter WPNI Updated: 6:17 p.m. ET Dec. 19, 2005: Bush came out swinging on Snoopgate—-he made it seem as if those who didn’t agree with him wanted to leave us vulnerable to Al Qaeda-—but it will not work. We’re seeing clearly now that Bush thought 9/11 gave him license to act like a dictator.... No wonder Bush was so desperate that The New York Times not publish its story on the National Security Agency eavesdropping on American citizens without a warrant, in what lawyers outside the administration say is a clear violation of the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.... [O]n December 6, Bush summoned Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger and executive editor Bill Keller to the Oval Office in a futile attempt to talk them out of running the story. The Times will not comment on the meeting, but one can only imagine the president’s desperation.
The problem was not that the disclosures would compromise national security, as Bush claimed... that “the fact that we are discussing this program is helping the enemy.” But there is simply no evidence, or even reasonable presumption, that this is so. And rather than the leaking being a “shameful act,” it was the work of a patriot inside the government who was trying to stop a presidential power grab.
No, Bush was desperate to keep the Times from running this important story—-which the paper had already inexplicably held for a year—-because he knew that it would reveal him as a law-breaker. He insists he had “legal authority derived from the Constitution and congressional resolution authorizing force.” But the Constitution explicitly requires the president to obey the law. And the post 9/11 congressional resolution authorizing “all necessary force” in fighting terrorism was made in clear reference to military intervention. It did not scrap the Constitution and allow the president to do whatever he pleased in any area in the name of fighting terrorism.
What is especially perplexing about this story is that the 1978 law set up a special court to approve eavesdropping in hours, even minutes, if necessary. In fact, the law allows the government to eavesdrop on its own, then retroactively justify it to the court, essentially obtaining a warrant after the fact. Since 1979, the FISA court has approved tens of thousands of eavesdropping requests and rejected only four. There was no indication the existing system was slow—-as the president seemed to claim in his press conference-—or in any way required extra-constitutional action....
[T]he president knew publication would cause him great embarrassment and trouble for the rest of his presidency. It was for that reason—and less out of genuine concern about national security—that George W. Bush tried so hard to kill the New York Times story.
Posted by DeLong at December 19, 2005 05:53 PM