WASHINGTON -- A former top aide to Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) fired back at the Obama administration this weekend, challenging the president's assertion Friday that he welcomed a debate on privacy and national security and that Congress had been fully briefed.
Jennifer Hoelzer was a longtime aide to Wyden until recently, and vented her frustration in a way she couldn't as his communications director or deputy chief of staff. Hoelzer wrote on TechDirt that she was stunned to see President Obama claim he wanted such a conversation after she had worked for years to beg and plead with the administration to declassify material so that an actual debate could take place.
Really, Mr. President? Do you really expect me to believe that you give a damn about open debate and the democratic process? Because it seems to me if your Administration was really committed those things, your Administration wouldn't have blocked every effort to have an open debate on these issues each time the laws that your Administration claims authorizes these programs came up for reauthorization, which -- correct me if I am wrong -- is when the democratic process recommends as the ideal time for these debates.
For example, in June 2009, six months before Congress would have to vote to reauthorize Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which the Obama Administration claims gives the NSA the authority to collect records on basically every American citizen -- whether they have ever or will ever come in contact with a terrorist -- Senators Wyden, Feingold and Durbin sent Attorney General Eric Holder a classified letter "requesting the declassification of information which [they] argued was critical for a productive debate on reauthorization of the USA PATRIOT Act."
Hoelzer then goes on to list example after example of efforts the administration made to make sure that there was never the kind of debate the president now says he welcomes.
On CBS' Face The Nation, host Bob Schieffer told former NSA head Michael Hayden that some members of Congress had complained that intelligence briefings had become like the game "20 Questions." If they didn't ask exactly the right question, they'd never know what it was they didn't know. "How can you ask when you don't know the program exists?" Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said in response to administration assertions that members of Congress were free to ask questions.
"Let me apologize to members of Congress," Hayden told Schieffer, before adding that, "this is just incredibly complicated."
"The agency's been tremendously candid," Hayden promised, pointing to a previous classified letter that informed Congress that "we are gathering the metadata of all calls in the United States."
Yet after apologizing, he then blamed members of Congress, saying, "If you don't have time [to study the intelligence community], then you shouldn't be a member of the [intelligence] committee."