March 16, 2006

Wyden Statement on the Feingold Censure Resolution

Washington, DC - U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) released the following statement today regarding the Feingold Censure Resolution:Senator Russ Feingold recently introduced a resolution of censure of President Bush in response to allegations of illegal government surveillance on American citizens without a warrant. I understand the frustration that led Senator Feingold to introduce this resolution and support his right to do so without becoming the target of personal attacks questioning his patriotism and loyalty to his country.Congress has a responsibility to thoroughly investigate the President's warrantless surveillance program and to ensure that our government is fighting terrorism in the most effective way possible while protecting the privacy rights of law-abiding Americans. It is Congress' obligation -- irrespective of party politics -- to determine whether or not the President broke the law, and to hold him accountable if he did. As with the proposed censure and impeachment of President Bill Clinton, this process should include a thorough investigation of all of the relevant facts, full congressional hearings, and a meaningful opportunity for the President to explain and defend his actions prior to any votes regarding the President's possible censure.Like most Oregonians, I was stunned to hear the Administration admit that the President directed the National Security Agency (NSA) to eavesdrop on Americans' phone calls without first getting a warrant. Although I am a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, this program's existence had been withheld from me. Since learning about the program, I have repeatedly called for the Committee to fully investigate the NSA operation, and I think it is stunning that a majority of my colleagues on the Committee have opposed authorizing an investigation by the full committee.I am extremely dubious that there exists any legal basis for the President's actions. There is already a law in place that permits intelligence agencies to very quickly tap the phones of suspected terrorists - it is called the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). And the recently passed PATRIOT Act extension -- which President Bush favored -- updated many of these surveillance provisions. These laws require the government to show probable cause that someone is a terrorist or spy, and get a warrant from a judge before they use a wiretap. There is even an emergency provision that allows the government to use the wiretap and then apply for a warrant afterwards, if a delay would threaten national security. If the government can get a warrant by showing probable cause, and even apply for it after the fact in emergency situations, then there would seem to be no reason to have intelligence agencies conducting wiretaps without ever obtaining warrants.Further, I am very concerned that the Administration has selectively released information as part of a public relations campaign to build support for the program instead of submitting to appropriate congressional investigation and oversight. Administration officials' statements to Congress strongly imply that many details about this program have been concealed from the public and the vast majority of the Congress. I am particularly concerned that their selective release of information may be intended to conceal unnecessary invasions of privacy, or possibly violations of the law.Finally, I am infuriated by the way Congress is moving on the NSA situation to date. Despite the fact that Congress knows virtually nothing about the extent of the President's NSA program, already bills have been introduced in Congress to nibble around the edges of the NSA program and to legalize acts that may later be found to be patently illegal. Congress is acting like a doctor dispensing a diagnosis and treatment for a patient he has never seen.