Feingold: McConnell Distorted Senate Surveillance Debate in Speech

Views

As we’ve often noted here, Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell has frequently gotten into trouble for making statements that were either impolitic or, well, not true. And last week, in his zeal to demonstrate the unreasonableness of liberal critics, he made a statement that was both.

Speaking at Furman University, he said (pdf):

We had a bill go into the Senate. It was debated vigorously. There were some who said we shouldn’t have an Intelligence Community. Some have that point of view. Some say the President of the United States violated the process, spied on Americans, should be impeached and should go to jail. I mean, this is democracy, you can say anything you want to say. That was the argument made. The vote was 68 to 29. It’s a bill we can live with. It’s the right bill.

Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) is not happy. Sure, many senators — particularly Feingold and Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) — objected to key aspects of the legislation, including the provision granting retroactive immunity to the telecoms. But the debate was nothing like McConnell describes. And Feingold writes in a letter to McConnell today that he ought to either back up his statement or “issue an immediate correction and an apology.”

Feingold concludes:

While all sides of this debate deserve to be heard, to falsely attribute statements to United States Senators serves only to mislead the American people. It also undermines your credibility and that of the position of Director of National Intelligence.

We put a call in to McConnell’s office to see what the response is. We’ll let you know when we hear back.

You can see Feingold’s letter here or read it below.

Update: As Spencer reported over at The Washington Independent last month, McConnell was similarly glib in criticizing those who disagree with him at a talk at Johns Hopkins.

April 1, 2008

The Honorable J.M. McConnell
Director of National Intelligence
Washington, D.C. 20511

Dear Director McConnell:

I have received a copy of your March 28,2008, speech at Furman University. In it, you described Senate action on the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, stating:

“We had a bill go into the Senate. It was debated vigorously. There were some who said we shouldn’t have an Intelligence Community. Some have that point of view. Some say the President of the United States violated the process, spied on Americans, should be impeached and should go to jail. I mean, this is democracy, you can say anything you want to say. That was the argument made. The vote was 68 to 29.”

As you correctly noted, the bill was the subject of vigorous debate. Many members of the Senate expressed serious concerns about the lack of checks and balances included in the legislation and the potential impact of the new authorities on the privacy and civil liberties of Americans. Many Senators were also concerned that retroactive immunity for companies alleged to have cooperated with the President’s warrantless wiretapping program would undermine the rule of law.

However, I am not aware of any Senator saying or suggesting that “we shouldn’t have an Intelligence Community” or that President Bush “should be impeached and should go to jail.” I would therefore appreciate your providing a list of all statements made by Senators during the debate that you believe support these assertions. If there are no such examples, you should issue an immediate correction and an apology.

While all sides of this debate deserve to be heard, to falsely attribute statements to United States Senators serves only to mislead the American people. It also undermines your credibility and that of the position of Director of National Intelligence.

Russell D. Feingold
U.S. Senator