Congressman Jerrold Nadler, Chairman of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties, said today that there is no question that the warrantless wiretaping engaged in by the Bush Administration is a felony offense and that the President and Attorney General engaged in a criminal conspiracy worse than Watergate. Nadler was referring not to the mysterious program that the Acting Attorney General refused to support, but rather to the program the Attorney General approved of. Nadler said he finds the lack of attention to the obvious criminality of the President "incredible." The same could be said of Nadler's failure to support impeachment.
MARSHALL: Hi, this is John Marshall from TPM Media. We're here this morning with Congressman Jerrold Nadler of the 8th District of New York, which covers...lower Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn?
NADLER: And the West Side.
MARSHALL: And the West Side. You are starting a series of hearing later this week about the Constitution, civil liberties, and particularly the Bush administration's abuse of each of these. What are these hearings going to be about?
NADLER: Well, they'll be about a number of things. This week we'll be having a hearing on the NSA and warrantless wiretapping, the abuse of the FISA court and so forth. The rest of the month we'll be having hearings on rendition, we'll be having hearings on habeas corpus, and the Military Commissions Act.
MARSHALL: A lot of our viewers know there was this testimony a few weeks ago by James Comey, the former Deputy Attorney General, this is the thing about this nighttime visit to Attorney General Ashcroft's hospital bed, etc. Substantively that seemed to bring up that there was a lot more disagreement within the Justice Department than we realized about this program. Has that added more —
NADLER: Well, it brought up two things. Number one, what you just said. There was more disagreement than we realized — three things, really. Number two, they apparently went ahead with an unauthorized program even for a while after they got the advice of the Justice Department that it was illegal. We'd like to know what that was. Third, apparently — remember the New York Times revealed that they were wiretapping people in the United States whom they believed might be in contact with a foreign agent abroad, without getting wiretaps as required by the law. The Justice Department deemed that okay. But apparently they were doing something else, which the Justice Department deemed not okay, which they continued doing after the Justice Department said it was not okay, and only when Comey and others threatened to resign did they allegedly stop doing this or modify it. We'd like to know what that was.
Now of course they have testified that, Comey said it was classified. We're going to ask him. We may have to go into executive session. Because we can't legislate, Congress can't legislate, if they hide it from us. The President admits that on forty-five different occasions he granted authorization for wiretapping without a FISA court warrant — what I call warrantless wiretapping, outside the law. This is a felony. This is punishable by five years in jail. The President, the Attorney General, and anybody else — there's a prima facie case they engaged in a criminal conspiracy. And in effect what they're saying is they have a right to classify, and thus hold themselves harmless, from a criminal conspiracy.
From my point of view, if the executive branch is contemptuous of the power of Congress, and is going to go above the law, and ignore the law, you have to use whatever weapons the Constitution gives Congress.
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MARSHALL: We've been following very closely this attorney general firing story, going back a few months now. In the course of that, sort of a sub-part of that story is the purging of civil rights division, voting rights division, you've got all these career people who've left, kind of pushed out. You're going to look at how the Attorney General has run those divisions of the Justice Department. What are you going to be looking at?
NADLER: Well, we've already had one oversight hearing on that. We'll have more. It's a separate issue. It's the politicization, the ideologicalization, if you will, of the Justice Department. You have a situation with the disregarding, humiliating and in effect expelling of the professionals, the career people of the Justice Department, having the political people overrule them for political reasons, not justice reasons, and now we know through Monica Goodling that the career people were being replaced on a political basis — even though the law says they're supposed to be non-political.
MARSHALL: How do these accusations of voter fraud, attempts to push accusations of voter fraud, what's the tie-in between that and voting rights around the country?
NADLER: Well, the tie-in is that by all objective measurements there's been very little voter fraud. The Justice Department has gone all out to try to find it, and they've found very very little of it. I don't have the statistics in front of me, but almost none of the type they're talking about of voter fraud where one person votes for another person, a person votes where they're not supposed to vote, etc. But what they've been doing is using the excuse, and the Republican party has been doing this — this all came out of Karl Rove's shop — the Republican party's been using the excuse of allegedly rampant voter fraud to push procedures, and laws in various states, in Congress, to require more and more restrictive identifications and other things, allegedly to prevent voter fraud but really it has the effect of voter suppression. Now, if you're a US Attorney — these US Attorneys are all Republicans, they're all appointed by the President, they have no motive to ignore legitimate voting fraud — but a number of them, we know, started looking into allegations of voter fraud because some Republican party official would say, hey, there's voting fraud in this place or that place. And they'd look into it and they'd find nothing there, and they said so! And they got fired. So they were fired in effect for not pursuing cases against innocent people. Which is a subversion of justice.
MARSHALL: Is there one issue that really hasn't gotten a lot of press attention that should, that you're going to be looking at?
NADLER: I think the one issue that hasn't gotten enough attention is the overwhelming obviousness of the fact that this entire warrantless wiretapping is illegal and the President and Attorney General are engaged in a criminal conspiracy. I mean, to me this is worse than Watergate. I don't understand why — yes, it got in the press a little...yes, this is illegal, no it's not, because we have this power. Well, the Supreme Court says you don't have that power. There is no shadow of a claim at this point. And it's incredible.
MARSHALL: And this is even separate from, I mean James Comey as acting Attorney General, comes in and says, you've got to bring it back, you're saying even at that level it's still illegal, even what he approved?
NADLER: Yes, that's right. Clearly.
MARSHALL: Thank you very much for your time.
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