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Senators Question Cheney Role in CIA Briefs

By John Amick

News over the weekend that former Vice President Dick Cheney ordered the concealment from congressional oversight of a clandestine CIA operation brought further calls of reform today in how the Central Intelligence Agency briefs Congress.

"This is a big problem, because the law is very clear," Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said on "Fox News Sunday." "I think that if the Intelligence Committees had been briefed, they could have watched the program. They could have asked for regular reports on the program. They could have made judgments about the program as it went along. That was not the case because we were kept in the dark. That's something that should never, ever happen again."

Democrats pointed to the reports of Cheney's involvement as a clear violation of the legal authority granted to the vice president.

"You can't have somebody say, well, if you're vice president, you don't have to obey the law," Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Vt.) said. "But if you're the soldier out this in the field or if you're a civilian, you had better obey the law. You can't do that. Democracy can't do that."

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) defended Cheney, saying more facts need to be revealed on what the program actually was and how developed the operation was.

"Some of the Intelligence Committee people are pushing back on those stories," Sen. Sessions said. "I don't know what the facts are. But I believe that Vice President Cheney served his country with as much fidelity as he could possibly give to it. And he tried to serve us in an effective way. And I hope that nothing like this would impact on his outstanding record."

"That's a serious breach," Sen. Kent Conrad (D-S.D.) said of the withheld information on CNN's "State of the Union." "Look, you can't gloss over it.... This is a question of whether something was not given the elected leaders of the Congress, which is required by law. That's a serious matter."

At least three Republicans, Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire and Sen. John Cornyn of Texas invoked past or possible future actions by Congress and a sitting president as examples of how appointing a special council or prosecutor to investigate the Bush-era CIA's interrogation of certain terror suspects, as Attorney General Eric Holder is reportedly considering, would lead to an endless amount of partisan witch hunts.

"If he (Holder) does that, he needs to go all the way back to 1995 and investigate the Clinton administration renditions, which might have led to -- to interrogations in other countries at a time when he was the deputy attorney general, and ask what laws were broken; did he know about it?" Alexander said on "State of the Union."

Despite many Democrats advocating investigation in some form of the legality of the Bush administration's national security activities, one point, made by Sen. Cornyn, may trump all: President Obama has yet to voice any support to such probes.

"I hope that the attorney general listens to the president, who says, 'We need to look forward, not backward,'." Cornyn said. "This is high-risk stuff, because if we chill the ability or the willingness of our intelligence operatives and others to get information that's necessary to protect America, there could be disastrous consequences."

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Obama's rival in last year's presidential campaign, admitted that CIA agents were ordered to do legally questionable duties, but he still thinks the Obama-approved "move forward" model is best for the country.

"We all know that the operatives who did it most likely were under orders to do so," McCain said on "Meet the Press." "For us to continue this and harm our image throughout the world -- I agree with the president of the United States, it's time to move forward and not go back."

Familiar pros and cons on Judge Sotomayor

Members of both parties repeated a barrage of familiar pros and cons on the qualifications of Judge Sonia Sotomayor as the Senate Judiciary Committee prepares for the beginning of Sotomayor's Supreme Court confirmation hearings tomorrow on Capitol Hill.

Sen. Cornyn emphasized quotes Sotomayor made in speeches over the years describing her own role as a judge as a "wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life" as a focal point in Republican opposition to the nomination, part of GOP strategy ever since Sotomayor was nominated by President Obama on May 26.

"The problem is you've got to call balls and strikes as a judge," Cornyn said on "Fox News Sunday." "The ethnicity focus, the focus on sex and on race, and saying that there may be different outcomes depending on who the judge is, is antithetical to the whole idea of the rule of law, objective and neutral justice. And that's the reason why this deserves some questions."

Speaking on Sotomayor's claims that her ethnicity affects her judicial outlook, Sen. Sessions, the top Republican on the Judiciary committee, said her oft-repeated views should give pause to anyone who cares for the "core of the American system."

"This is a mature judicial philosophy that she has stated," Sessions said on CBS's "Face the Nation." "She has criticized the idea that a woman and a man would reach the same result. She expects them to reach different results. I think that's philosophically incompatible with the American system."

When fellow "Face the Nation" guest Sen. Leahy suggested Republicans would have opposed anyone President Obama selected to fill the vacancy left on the court by the resignation of Justice David Souter, Sessions reiterated his view of Sotomayor's "judicial activism."

"I am really flabbergasted by the depth and consistency of her philosophical critique of the ideal of impartial justice," Sessions said. "I think that's a real expression of hers. And I think it does not show up as much on the lower court where you're supervised by your circuit in the Supreme Court."

Democrats were quick to point out several factors that signal a fairly easy confirmation process, including her unprecedented judicial experience for a Supreme Court nominee, her mainstream voting record, her powerful personal story and her status as the first Hispanic to be nominated to the high court.

"She has shown to be a mainstream judge. You don't have to guess what kind of a judge she's going to be," Sen. Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said on "Face the Nation." "We've had a lot of judicial nominees of both Republicans and Democrats talk about the background, how that has influenced them. Former President Bush talked about empathy when he nominated a Republican to the Supreme Court. You know, the fact is her answers are these: Ultimately and completely, the law controls."

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Democratic Whip in the Senate, mentioned the bipartisan support Sotomayor has garnered in her career. "She is a restrained and moderate jurist who was put on the bench initially by Republican President George Herbert Walker Bush and promoted by President Clinton," Durbin said on ABC's "This Week." "She's an exceptional person. I believe she's going to do very well."

In response to criticism that Sotomayor had judged improperly in a case of a group of mainly white firefighters in New Haven, Conn., (who claimed discrimination when they were denied promotions after none of the minorities in the department did well enough on a crucial exam leading to the abolishment of all test scores) when she backed the city of New Haven's actions, Leahy pointed out her decision on the appellate court was one, in fact, that followed precedent of earlier rulings, the exact kind of non-activist ruling conservatives claim to embrace.

"She simply followed what the Supreme Court rulings were at that point," Leahy said. "She did what a judge is supposed to do. She followed the court."

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), on NBC's "Meet the Press," said he believes Sotomayor will get at least 78 votes, just as Chief Justice John Roberts earned when he was confirmed in 2005. Whether or not Sotomayor might receive the kind of vote totals some controversial serving justices collected -- Justice Scalia got 98 votes in 1986 -- remains to be seen.
Health-care reform peaks and valleys

Health-care reform in Congress has had its peaks and valleys in the past month, as Democrats attempt to keep their own party as a cohesive unit while trying to cull any support at all from the GOP for a wide range of proposed initiatives. One recent proposal is taxing taxing wealthier Americans to make up for more than $500 billion of the over $1 trillon price tag.

Of that surcharge (a tax of 1 percent that starts for individuals earning about $250,000 a year, and 3 percent for those making a million dollars a year or more), Schumer admits it's an option being discussed, but wouldn't go further on that aspect of negotiations in the Senate Finance Committee.

"I believe that (Senate Finance Committee) Chairman (Max) Baucus' goal to have a plan that pays for it (health-care reform) set by the end of this week will happen," Schumer said. "Now, to get into the specifics ..... obviously the surcharge has a benefit; it meets the president's goal of not taxing anybody below $250,000. But I think to negotiate in public when there are many different options is not going to be very helpful, so I'm not going to do that."

Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), the Republican Whip in the Senate, countered, voicing concern that the surtax would fall heavily on small businesses. "At least 55 percent of the income that would be generated by this surtax directly hits the entrepreneurs who run these small businesses," Kyl said on "This Week." "It would be a job killer. It would be exactly the wrong thing to do any time, but especially when we're in the middle of a recession."

Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said the Obama administration would like to avoid taxing employer-based health care, but no ultimatums have been made as many legislative versions of reform float around Congress.

"I think the president continues to reemphasize that he has opposed the notion that we would tax health care benefits, continues to think that is not the best strategy to go forward," Sebelius said on "State of the Union." "If at the end of the day that's the chosen way, I mean, the House clearly doesn't have it in, the (Senate) health committee doesn't have taxing benefits as part of the proposal. We're waiting to see what (Senate) Finance comes up with."

On taxing employer-provided health benefits, Sen. Gregg pointed the finger at unions for heavily influencing Democratic opinion. "I think the UAW (United Auto Workers) is calling the shots there, and that's why it's not on the table because they've got some very high-end health policies, and they don't want them to, their union members to have to reduce those health policies," Gregg said.

Gregg repeated what has become the standard GOP answer when asked of a public option. "A public option is a slippery slope to a single payer system like Canada or England have, which inevitably leads to putting a bureaucrat between you and your doctor and inevitably leads to delays, it leads to rationing," Gregg said.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) countered on "State of the Union," viewing a public option as no more bureaucratic than the handling of care by insurance companies. "The reality for families today is if there's an insurance company bureaucrat between you and your doctor telling your doctor what they're allowed to do because of what they'll pay for, telling you what they'll pay for, putting you through all kinds of bureaucracy to try to figure out if you can get care, assuming you're not dropped if you get sick or can't get insurance if you have a pre-existing condition," Stabenow said.

Best of the Rest:

-- McCain on Afghanistan troop levels and former Defense Sec. Donald Rumsfeld:

"We've got to remember what worked in Iraq, and that is, it requires additional troops if necessary. Listen to our military leaders. I saw on the front page of the Post this morning, General McChrystal may say we need more troops. Let's tell the American people how tough it is. Let's tell them what's at stake. And I want to work with the president and make sure we win this thing. But let's not try to go back to the Rumsfeld era of trying to just go out, kill people, leave and try to get out of there."

-- Schumer on the economic stimulus:

"This is not a four-month plan, this is a two-year plan. When you have such an awful situation, the worst economy that we've had in December, the president hamstrung because the usual tools of getting us out of a recession were lowing interest rates but interest rates were already at 1 percent, you need a strong, long-term plan that has a number of phases. Now you're going to see the second part of the stimulus, which is the job creation part, really kick in."

-- Rep. Eric Cantor (D-Va.) on the economic stimulus:

"I do think it is fair to say that the stimulus is a flop. The goal that was set when we passed it was unemployment wouldn't rise past 8.5 percent, and what we see now is businesses just aren't hiring. Even the best projections have us losing 750,000 more jobs this year."

-- Cornyn on Democrats and Supreme Court filibusters:

"Well, of course, it was unheard of to filibuster judges until our friends on the Democratic side filibustered a number of nominees. And unfortunately, a gentleman who might have been the first Hispanic nominee to the United States Supreme Court, Miguel Estrada, who was filibustered seven times and denied an up or down vote -- I don't think that will happen to Judge Sotomayor, even though that precedent has now been established."

-- Cornyn on the implication of investigating the CIA's role, post-9/11:

"So after the Obama administration leaves, the subsequent administration will conduct a grand jury to determine whether the president or any person in this administration should be indicted and prosecuted."

-- McCain on Sarah Palin's resignation as governor of Alaska:

"Well, I wasn't shocked. Obviously, I was a bit surprised, but I wasn't shocked. I understand that Sarah made the decision where she can be most effective for Alaska and for the country. I love and respect her and her family. I'm grateful that she agreed to run with me. I am confident she will be a major factor in the national scene and, and in Alaska, as well."

-- McCain on Palin's decision:

"Oh, I don't think she quit. I think she changed her priorities."

-- McCain on Palin's qualifications as president of the United States:

"I know she's qualified. I know she's qualified."

By editors  |  July 12, 2009; 3:44 PM ET
Categories:  Sunday Talkies  
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Next: Jill Biden to Have Shoulder Surgery


Lamar Alexander's suggestion that all US officials should be at least as accountable as the rest of the population for known violations of the law is a very good one. We should appoint an independent (not Obama style 'bipartisan', which just includes collussion of both gangs)commission to see that exactly this is need to wait til the 'next administration' which would allow many
perpetraitors to live out their lives on generous government retirements. Is a Senator who colluded in mass murders he helped commit, decades ago still accountable for his actions?
Well, the statute of limitations doesn't run out for the rest of us on that.
Should CIA drug kingpins be treated better?

Posted by: ares_home | July 13, 2009 4:02 PM | Report abuse

"We all know that the operatives who did it most likely were under orders to do so," McCain said on "Meet the Press." "For us to continue this and harm our image throughout the world..."

None of those are adequate reasons to avoid investigation and enforcement of our laws. The first excuse was already soundly rejected by our own military and judicial authorities at Nuremberg... "I was only following orders" is NOT a legal or even morally adequate excuse for war crimes.

And "It would make us look bad" is such a lame excuse that it scarcely requires any further rebuttal than to phrase it clearly.

Posted by: Iconoblaster | July 13, 2009 1:26 PM | Report abuse

Just wanted to point out that Kent Conrad is D-ND, not D-SD.

Posted by: sams_predicament | July 13, 2009 11:59 AM | Report abuse

Within the body of this article is a ref. to the SCOTUS hearings. My take on the court of appeals is that it does not have the power to change the finding of the lower court, only to determine if the processes used to reach the judgment were appropriately applied. Will someone bring this distinction to the minds of both those who question and those who listen?

Posted by: maab76 | July 13, 2009 10:56 AM | Report abuse

This country cannot allow this blatant disregard for the law. We need a special prosecutor appointed to investigate this and numerous other illegal Dick Cheney incidents. If Dick Cheney is found guilty of breaking the law he must be prosecuted just like any other American that breaks the law. No one is above th elaw. We do not have Kings and Queens in this country, we have elected officials that must follow the law.

Posted by: dmhkh | July 13, 2009 10:03 AM | Report abuse

Dick Cheney the murderer, the creator of the Muslim Holocaust of the Palestinians, the unethical crook, who invaded IRAQ to steal the Iraqi oil, he is the Republican Taliban leader and he needs to be publically beaten up with shoe throwing ceremony and then hang him in the middle of Washington DC Mall. The actions of Bush & Cheney have cast a curse on America & our economy is suffering and the prosperity of America like the good old days has vaporized & it will be hard to attain the same level. The USA is dogged by unethical elected members, corrupt & selfish corporate tycoons who only look after self serving short term goals. A country where its hard working citizens suffer, live in poverty, have no medical coverage and the drugs companies, hospitals, HMOs, Managed healthcare organizations & physicians look think about their personal agenda to get rich at the expense of the helpless nations, this country's future is doomed and its citizens do not trust its elected officials. The congress, the senate, the special interests groups are bought by the lobbyists & they just do not care.

America Wake Up! Americans wake up & throw these slimy unethical leaders out of office and walk out on unethical corporations who only look after their personal interests and pay the government officers to win endless projects without an outcome.

Cheney is the corrupt gang leader and hopefully he should either kill himself or dig a hole and hide away or perhaps the next heart attack can be the last one and help Americans get rid of him.

Posted by: shamahussain | July 13, 2009 9:50 AM | Report abuse

I still want to know why Dick Cheney and his gang are not rotting in prison right now, or at least on the way there.

Posted by: agrossman1 | July 13, 2009 9:00 AM | Report abuse

Bad weekend of the Bush administration.time for justice. there is a related post at

Posted by: carlyt | July 13, 2009 12:02 AM | Report abuse

My world would seem a saner and more rational place if Cheney failed to die comfortably in bed. That this snarling stooped secretive man manages to get away with all his cynical lying and war-mongering is an offense to the patriots who made this country. Please let him endure questioning and disgrace and, please, imprisonment.

Posted by: chrisfox8 | July 12, 2009 11:24 PM | Report abuse

masondickme's comment at 7:46 is worth a second look. As a former history major, I like it.

Posted by: douglaslbarber | July 12, 2009 9:17 PM | Report abuse

Now we see what all Cheney's machinations were about concerning water boarding and Pelosi earlier this year. They were preparations for this moment that he knew was coming.
Cheney once told Leahy "f*ck yourself" when being questioned about his role in Haliburton. Now the REAL f*cking is about to begin and Leahy is going to be one of those doing it- to Cheney.

Posted by: seemstome | July 12, 2009 8:32 PM | Report abuse

Cheney is the unendicted director of the treasonous plot to out covert CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson., and her entire CIA cover organization Brewster Jennings.


Posted by: onestring | July 12, 2009 8:29 PM | Report abuse

We spent years and 50 million dollars investigating Clinton's personal failings; what's the great danger in investigating Cheney's subversion of the Constitution in violation of his oath of office?

Posted by: nodebris | July 12, 2009 8:01 PM | Report abuse

I'm not one to contact a Senator or Congressman every time I feel strongly about an issue but this one I will not sit out. I voted for Obama and he has my support. But if he vetoes actions against Cheney or other Bushwackers I will go to my rooftop and shout as loud as I can for as long as I can. We are where we are today, in a great recession, because of the Bush/Cheney incompetency {at the best} and the lock stepped Republican party. Turn the other cheek, no, this isn't the Sanford/Ensign party {hypocrites}. If they committed crimes they should pay. Period! This is America, not Fox's America, but our America, and justice must....will prevail.

Posted by: mythsdreams | July 12, 2009 7:46 PM | Report abuse

The great Andrew Jackson took his military commission and formed a militia that illegally hunted escaped slaves, brutally massacred Native Americans from what is now Alabama and Mississippi, invaded Florida and ran out the Spanish giving Florida to the U.S. He is a called a hero. Makes on wonder how we define a patriot. Let us not ignore the history our country's desire for conquest and domination and the tactics that are used to defend the higher principles of our democracy. If at our core we are malicious and devious we will never achieve justice from the deeds of scoundrels.

Posted by: masondickme | July 12, 2009 7:46 PM | Report abuse

Right-wing Sessions may not have all the facts, but he has the ONE fact that matters: Cheney ordered the CIA not to inform congress. That is a violation of the law PERIOD! Cheney did not have the authority to lie or to mislead congress. That is the only fact Sessions should consider, everything else is bs.
Cheney did not serve his country, he only served himself in a shameful and criminal manner.

Posted by: analyst72 | July 12, 2009 6:53 PM | Report abuse

Look, I'm a reasonable guy. Bring Cheney in, charge him, try him, convict him and I'll be happy enough. You won't even have to bring in Bush, Runsfeld, Rice, etc. Just put that mfer in prison and that will be enough.

But if you don't do that and soon, it's gonna be hard on you POS neocons. Somebody's got to pay for the crimes you all did.

Posted by: bigbrother1 | July 12, 2009 6:22 PM | Report abuse

"...we were kept in the dark. That's something that should never, ever happen again." So sez Senator DiFi.

Well, DiFi, and Nancy, you too: what you knew was bad enough and still you didn't impeach those criminals in the White House. So who is really to blame here?

Posted by: fzdybel | July 12, 2009 6:21 PM | Report abuse

millions of people have died in wars from following there god who ever it is Jews Cristian, Muslims. and they have wars over real estate they have wars because of someone race for thousands of years and it will always be that way does not matter if we hit each other over with a stone ax shoot an arrow or a bullet its human nature the only way we will stop war is when we run out of air to breath

Posted by: getsix1 | July 12, 2009 6:05 PM | Report abuse

Cheney has a Dirty Little Secret...

"And I think that it is time to tell":

Posted by: caraprado1 | July 12, 2009 5:55 PM | Report abuse

Among life's finer pleasures I love lobster in drawn butter, a trout rising to a fly I tied, a hike to the top of Yosemite Falls or the bottom of the Grand Canyon, the first sight of the Rockies after driving west through Ohio Indiana Illinois Missouri Kansas and eastern Colorado in summer, and good sex. OK, even bad sex is among life's finer pleasures.

In any case, the sight of Dick Cheney behind bars would be, for me, the finest pleasure of them all.

Posted by: douglaslbarber | July 12, 2009 5:54 PM | Report abuse

i think they have pissed away to much time 8 years thousands of hrs and millions of dollars for maybe they broke the law maybe if they were not so rabid trying to pin something on bush they may have been able to stop the economy from tanking if they has seen it early they have been chasing bush for 8 years he is gone deal with it and move on to important things like getting jobs for ten million unemployed and the economy

Posted by: getsix1 | July 12, 2009 5:45 PM | Report abuse

As fears of a flu-pandemic continue to worry those who care for the health of humanity, one cannot avoid wondering whether it is only something as catastrophic as that which might cause mankind, especially those who purport to govern on our behalf, to at last turn away from the never-ending business of slaughtering our fellow beings?
When God the father let his son Jesus be so cruelly put to death He surely hoped that we, His people, would turn away from the then brutality imposed under Roman rule.
What He has for over 2000 years observed is a world continually awash in brutality and slaughter. That instead of intelligence resulting in us behaving in a more civilised way, the situation gets worse! That the C.'Intelligence' A. and other similar organisations deal in torture. That we, the people, the vast silent majority, who of course are peace-loving persons moulded in His ilk, unfailingly continue to elect to government those who then cause our fellows to be trained into virtual killing-machines. That these latter may forever sally forth so to slaughter 'rag-heads' and 'gooks' with absolute impunity, insensitive as to whether the foe be armed man or civilian or woman or child.

To see that whereas in those two millenia a situation could easily have been achieved where no child died from starvation, no mother became heartbroken, no poverty remained, and where diseases were made curable more often!

I guess this situation must make God pretty unhappy! For He knows we have the instinctive ability to distinguish right from wrong. Not in the sense of judging our fellows but knowing that to kill them is not our right!

I am caused sometimes to wonder whether my shock on learning of how the nazis behaved has been made even worse when learning of how the US trains its marine corps....of how it recruits them! And what results!

But the arch crime is the continuing deception perpetrated by those who govern on those who, in trust, elected them. Exactly what brand of moral ethics Mr Obama employs when making press by indicating the closure of that disgusting opposite to human dignity which is Guantanamo Bay camp, whilst obviously being aware of what goes on at Bagram USAF base in Afghanistan? How much more blatant can hypocricy et?

US foreign policy is without doubt ENSURING a growing global intolerence, a detest, a disgust, and only those who are blind to reality could deny this.

Stupid antics played out supposedly to make the world safer by reducing nuclear weapon stockpiles would make a child rock with laughter! Posturing agressiveness against those nations who desire to have any nuclear weapon is ridiculous, in that it simply creates resentment and subterfuge.

What of truth? And integrity? Of loving our fellows? comes the cry. "Who is that naive and simple idealist?" comes the political rejoinder.


Posted by: gmacdonald1 | July 12, 2009 4:48 PM | Report abuse

Sorry, Mr. McCain, you are wrong on that last point: Gov Palin was not qualified, not even close in fact. You should have picked Gov Ridge or Sen Lieberman and then perhaps you may have had a chance, or even Gov Romney or Pawlenty. They were higher-quality candidates, even Sen Hutchison wouldve been better. Gov Palin was a big reason you lost. Thank you for your service, sir, but when you picked her you deserved to lose. And you did.

Posted by: breakspear | July 12, 2009 4:45 PM | Report abuse

It's sad that the father son presidents can't be celabrated for what it could be set in history.But what has to be said now is the son wasn't the leader in charge he was being made to look that way while the real person in charge was doing his own thing.Comitting crimes and covering them up by using his power to say don't let congress know when he knew that was a clear vilation of the law.Then put his child out there and tell her you got to help me make the public look the other way because he was in trouble.Now what can Bush to defend this mess thats' out now.Come on let's get the truth out once and for all so we will be able to move on.

Posted by: hearnandrewd | July 12, 2009 4:42 PM | Report abuse

Enough of the side shows and BS. Fix the GD economy.

Posted by: Bubbette1 | July 12, 2009 4:37 PM | Report abuse

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