Bill Frist vs Harry Reid

I’ve not seen it mentioned here but our institution of government is under assault. Yes, Again. This time it’s over the NSA hearings and it’s the most  important fight for every American. It’s really about we the people, our civil liberties.

Bill Frist has threatened to change the construct of the Senate Intelligence Committee in order to block NSA hearings. This is not just outrageous. It’s a deliberate attempt to block any investigations into Bush’s illegally authorizing warrantless spying and wiretaps. March 7 is a crucial vote.

Glenn Greenwald has the background including the various correspondence here. Highly recommend it be read in full. You’ll need to scroll down to article.

[T]he Senate Intelligence Committee was created in 1976 and, from the beginning, it has been unique in its structure and operation. Due to the urgency of ensuring that our country has nonpartisan and non-politicized oversight over the Government’s intelligence activities, the Intelligence Committee is structured so that — unlike every other Senate Committee — the majority is unable to dominate the Committee’s operation and agenda, and the minority has much greater powers than it does on any other Senate Committee.[..]

Frist specifically threatened that if the Committee holds NSA hearings, he will fundamentally change the 30-year-old structure and operation of the Senate Intelligence Committee so as to make it like every other Committee, i.e., controlled and dominated by Republicans to advance and rubber-stamp the White House’s agenda rather than exercise meaningful and nonpartisan oversight.[..]

Yet again, Republicans are threatening to radically change long-standing rules for how our government operates all because they cannot manipulate the result they want. From redistricting games to changing the filibuster rules, when Republicans are incapable (even with their majorities) of manipulating the political result they want, they use their majority status to change how our government works in order to ensure the desired political outcome.

[..]

This much is clear. Someone is afraid, very afraid of the outcome. And Harry Reid is very blunt about it. We need to help Harry give Frist and Roberts a real taste of hell.

ReddHedd over at Firedoglake has ‘Cheater and Hypocrite’ Bill Frist on the floor of the Senate saying this on November 7, 2003.

“The [Intelligence] Committee’s nonpartisan tradition has been carefully cultivated over the years by its members. The tradition is part and parcel of the Committee’s rules, which extend prerogatives to the Minority that are not found in other committee rule books.

For a quarter century, there has been a consensus in the Senate that the Committee’s nonpartisan tradition must be carefully safeguarded. Nothing less is acceptable, given the dangerous and sensitive nature of the subject matter for which it has oversight responsibility.”

Glenn Greenwald provides this link to Frist’s letter to Senator Harry Reid on March 3, 2006 (PDF)

Excerpt

“I am increasingly concerned that the Senate Intelligence Committee is unable to carry out its critically important oversight and threat assessment responsibilities due to stifling partisanship that is exhibited by repeated calls by Democrats on the Committee to conduct politically-motivated investigations. This is deeply troubling given that the Select Committee was established years ago to promote bipartisanship in some of the most sensitive and vital areas of our nation’s security.

The inquiries currently underway, and the ones being proposed by the minority, would demand an overwhelming amount of staff time, attention and resources. Rather than conducting oversight of the intelligence community and its activities, or assessing current and future threats to the United States national security, the committee is focusing most of its activities on investigations that offer little (or no) value to the challenges our Nation faces now.

[..]

I would propose that we meet with Senators Roberts and Rockefeller as soon as possible. The Committee was established and structured to reflect the Senate’s desire for bipartisanship, and to the maximum extent possible, nonpartisan oversight of our nation’s intelligence activities. If attempts to use the committee’s charter for political purposes exist, we may have to simply acknowledge that nonpartisan oversight, while a worthy aspiration, is simply not possible. If we are unable to reach agreement, I believe we must consider other options to improve the Committee’s oversight capabilities, to include restructuring the Committee so that it is organized and operated like most Senate Committees.”
(emphasis mine)

So, what has changed Senator. Afraid of where the investigations may lead?

That’s an incredible letter from Senator Frist. Don’t you think? Listen up Bill, the threat is within the Oval Office. Rolling back 200 plus years, he’d be crowned King George 1V. This time, not at Westminister, on the Hill.

And here is Sen. Harry Reid’s response to Frist. Reid is to the point.

Really, Senator Frist you lack principles. But we knew all along.

Excerpt

Dear Senator Frist:

As you know, the independent, bipartisan 9/11 Commission concluded in its report that improving and strengthening congressional oversight of the intelligence community would greatly contribute to America’s security. In the Commission’s view, effective congressional oversight would help our intelligence agencies deliver the accurate and unbiased intelligence that is so essential to America’s success in the global war on terror.[..]

Despite the unanimous finding of the Commission on this critical issue, I am concerned that the Republican-controlled Senate Select Committee on Intelligence is still not providing the kind of rigorous oversight urged by the 9/11 Commission and required by the Constitution and the Senate’s Standing Rules. This Committee’s failure to conduct oversight of critical and controversial national security decisions by this Administration contributes to the perception that this Republican Congress is unwilling to hold this Administration accountable for its mistakes and missteps.

For example, despite the fact that the Bush Administration’s detainee, interrogation, and rendition policies have increased the risk to our troops and contravened or ignored international law, Chairman Roberts has blocked an investigation.

The Committee has a similar record on another issue of critical significance to our troops and our security — how the Bush Administration used, and perhaps misused, intelligence to sell its case for war with Iraq. Although more than two years have passed since the Chairman grudgingly consented to launch an investigation, the Committee has yet to interview key Administration officials, let alone produce a report.[..]

I understand that Chairman Roberts committed to hold a committee vote to launch an investigation of the Administration’s NSA program on February 16th.. Despite the Chairman’s repeated assurances that he would permit such a vote, ultimately he refused to allow the committee to do so. Press reports indicate the Chairman reneged on his promise to hold a vote after heavy White House pressure.[..]

I understand that the Chairman has reversed himself again, and has promised a vote for March 7th. This vote will be a critical test of whether this Republican-controlled Congress can conduct critical oversight of the Bush Administration, the intelligence community, and a Bush Administration surveillance program that has raised many legitimate concerns. [..]

In the post-9/11 world, America cannot afford a Congress or a congressional committee, especially one as important as the Senate Intelligence Committee, to become lax in its duties. I hope you will agree that the committee is too important to our national security for us to allow it to become an extension of the White House public relations operation, and that you will do everything in your power to ensure the March 7th vote takes place.

Sincerely,

Harry Reid
Democratic Leader

So what’s to be done? Senators Roberts and Frist have been attending to other than we the people’s affairs. Maybe there’s too much fund-raising for private charities. That’s the new gig.  

Sen. Roberts, for months now, has been in shameless hiding and dodging. He needs a little special attention. But as suggested over at FDL, Dkos, and other blogs, ALL 100 Senators need to hear from us.

These NSA hearings are critical to the three branches, the system of checks and balances. Unless we prefer a slide into dictatorship, it’s paramount that the NSA hearings be held. In my view, Gonzalez and his client Bush have a case to answer- the case for impeachment.    

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