Ranking Member, 43 Others Seeking NSA Domestic Eavesdrop Docs from DoJ
Says Resolutions are 'Nonpartisan Constitutional Check and Balance on Administration', Mark-Up Conference Scheduled for Wednesday
By Brad Friedman on 2/14/2006, 5:32pm PT  

In advance of tomorrow's scheduled U.S. House Judiciary Committee mark-up conference for two Resolutions of Inquiry concerning the NSA's warrantless domestic eavesdropping program, The BRAD BLOG has obtained the statement to be given by the committee's ranking member, Rep. John Conyers (D-MI).

The resolutions (H. Res 643 and 644) direct the Attorney General to submit all documents "relating to warrantless electronic surveillance...of persons in the United States conducted by the National Security Agency" to the Judiciary Committee for review.

As we reported exclusively last Saturday, in an unusual weekend email notification the Dept. of Justice announced to the committee they would be holding a last minute briefing on the program for them on Monday --- in advance of tomorrow's session. That briefing occurred yesterday as scheduled.

In his statement for tomorrow's mark-up conference on the resolutions (audio and video to be broadcast live via the Judiciary Committee website beginning at 10am ET on the web), Conyers explains what his resolution --- supported by 44 members so far --- does and doesn't ask for.

While seeking documentation from the Attorney General, Conyers will explain that the information is not sought "in a conclusory fashion."

"We are not saying that the President broke the law or has acted contrary to the Constitution," according to the congressman, "In fact, this resolution may well produce documents that rebut those allegations."

He points out that many of "the Nation's most preeminent legal and intelligence authorities," from both sides of the political aisle, have questioned the constitutionality of the program, and that even the Dept. of Justice, in last Monday's briefing, admitted that "some of the legal questions involved here are close calls."

Conyers goes on to laud the chair of the committee, Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), for his recent letter sent to the AG requesting answers to 51 questions about the program. He adds, however, that other committee members have questions they'd like answered as well. Conyers' asks that those other members would also appreciate having their questions forwarded to the Dept. of Justice on behalf of the committee.

The congressman concludes by reaching out to both sides of the aisle:

"It is time that Congress begins to serve as a genuine check and balance on the Administration. This is not a partisan issue, to me it's a constitutional issue, and I urge my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to help us, before its too late."

John Conyers' complete statement for tomorrow's conference follows in its entirety...

STATEMENT OF CONGRESSMAN JOHN CONYERS, JR.

I urge my colleagues to support my resolution of inquiry, which has been cosponsored by 44 individuals, including every single Democrat on this Committee,

First, let me make clear what materials this Resolution is requesting. It simply asks the Attorney General to submit all documents in his possession relating to warrantless electronic surveillance of telephone conversations and electronic communications of persons in the United States conducted by the National Security Agency, subject to necessary redactions or requirements for handling classified documents. This request would include any and all opinions regarding warrantless electronic surveillance of telephone conversations and electronic communications of persons in the United States, as well as other records which would allow us to better understand the size, scope, and nature of the program.

Second, I want to explain why we are asking for this information. We are not asking for this information in a conclusory fashion. We are not saying that the President broke the law or has acted contrary to the Constitution. In fact, this resolution may well produce documents that rebut those allegations. What is clear is that, assuming what has been reported is true, many Constitutional and legal experts - Republicans and Democrats - have indicated that this secret domestic surveillance program raises substantial questions about whether the program is legal and whether it is constitutional.

These include the Nation's most preeminent legal and intelligence authorities: (1) Harvard Professor Laurence Tribe; (2) 14 of the nations preeminent legal scholars, including William S. Sessions, the former Director of the FBI under Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, and William W. Van Alstyne, a Law Professor at William and Mary who was a witness called by this Committee's Republican Members during the impeachment of President Clinton; (3) Bruce Fein, a former Deputy Associate Attorney General in the Reagan Administration, (4) Jonathan Turley, a Constitutional scholar and another witness called by the Republicans on this Committee during the Clinton impeachment, and (5) the non-partisan Congressional Research Service.

The question before us is not whether you agree or disagree with these individuals, but whether you think their judgments are sufficiently serious to warrant further inquiry by this Committee. I would also add that the Justice Department, when it briefed staff on Monday, indicated that some of the legal questions involved here are close calls.

Third, if you agree that this warrants further inquiry, the question is what kind of action this Committee should take?

I commend the Chairman for sending a letter to the Attorney General asking questions about this program. Many of us have questions of our own and I hope the Chairman will forward them to the Attorney General and ask that they be answered with the same speed.

Questions alone - which can be ignored or danced around - are not sufficient. This Committee has always taken the common sense approach that the best way to find out what people were thinking at the time they made decisions, is to get the documents they wrote at that time reflecting those thoughts. In fact, on a number of matters - including biometric passports, judicial sentencing practices, the Civil Rights Commission, and Legal Service Commission - the Chairman's first step has been to obtain and preserve relevant documents.

The Washington Post has written, that the Executive Branch treats Congress "as an annoying impediment to the real work of government. It provides information to Congress grudgingly, if at all. It handles letters from lawmakers like junk mail, routinely tossing them aside without responding."

It is time that Congress begins to serve as a genuine check and balance on the Administration. This is not a partisan issue, to me it's a constitutional issue, and I urge my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to help us, before its too late.