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The author of the Patriot Act said Thursday that a secret program under which the Obama administration was collecting phone records from millions of Americans is "excessive" and beyond the scope of the law. 

Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., who wrote the 2001 law, was among a host of lawmakers on both sides of the aisle who raised alarm over the practice. 

The Guardian newspaper first reported the National Security Agency had been collecting records under a court order from millions of Verizon customers in the U.S. Defenders of the program tried to ease the furor by assuring the public this is "nothing new" -- and in fact has been going on for seven years. But the acknowledgement that the program is long running only fueled the outrage from civil liberties groups and lawmakers who described it as a blatant overreach. 

"This is a big deal, a really big deal," Sensenbrenner told Fox News, adding that such a broad seizure was "never the intent" of the law. He floated the possibility of amending the Patriot Act before its 2015 expiration to stop this. 

In a separate statement, he called the program "excessive and un-American." 

The Republican lawmaker also fired off a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder -- who would not comment on the program when asked about it Thursday -- explaining why he thinks the records collection goes astray of the law. He noted that the key section of the law that allows the government to obtain business records requires the information to be relevant to an authorized investigation. 

"How could the phone records of so many innocent Americans be relevant to an authorized investigation?" he asked in the letter. 

He said the order "could not have been drafted more broadly," and said he does not think it's "consistent" with the law's requirements. 

A handful of in-the-know lawmakers lined up to defend the program, while acknowledging the need to protect privacy. 

Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., chairman of the House intelligence committee, said the effort is not "data mining," and has helped quash a terrorist attack on U.S. soil in the past few years. He would not elaborate. 

The leaders of the Senate intelligence committee also defended the program, saying it is "nothing new." Republican Georgia Sen. Saxby Chambliss said it's been going on for seven years. 

Chairwoman Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said these orders are actually renewed every three months through the court. She said the records are there for investigators to access if there is suspicion of terrorist activity. 

"The threat from terrorism remains very real and these lawful intelligence activities must continue, with the careful oversight of the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government," Feinstein and Chambliss said in a joint statement. 

Speaking later in the day, Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid said "everyone should just calm down." 

Administration officials, while not directly acknowledging the order, defended their authority to collect records and stressed they're not listening in on conversations. 

However, civil liberties groups and some lawmakers sounded the alarm over the collection effort. 

"The National Security Agency's seizure and surveillance of virtually all of Verizon's phone customers is an astounding assault on the Constitution," Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said. 

One civil liberties group called this the "broadest surveillance order to ever have been issued." 

"It requires no level of suspicion and applies to all Verizon subscribers anywhere in the U.S.," the Center for Constitutional Rights said in a statement. 

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who has historically opposed the Patriot Act, said the effort "is not what democracy is about." 

The report in the Guardian newspaper follows revelations that the Justice Department was seizing the phone records of journalists, including at Fox News, in the course of leak probes. 

The order, a copy of which apparently was obtained by The Guardian, reportedly was granted by the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court on April 25 and is good until July 19. 

It requires Verizon, one of the nation's largest telecommunications companies, on an "ongoing, daily basis" to give the NSA information on all telephone calls in its systems, both within the U.S. and between the U.S. and other countries. 

The text of the order, as published by The Guardian, says that "the Custodian of Records shall produce to the National Security Agency (NSA) upon service of this Order, and continue production on an ongoing daily basis thereafter for the duration of this Order, unless otherwise ordered by the Court, an electronic copy of the" the records in question. 

The newspaper claims the document shows for the first time that under the Obama administration the communication records of millions of U.S. citizens were being collected indiscriminately and in bulk, regardless of whether they were suspected of any wrongdoing. 

View online: here

Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) prepared the following opening statement for today’s hearing on “The Department of Justice's Handling of Known or Suspected Terrorists Admitted into the Federal Witness Security Program”:

Last month, the Justice Department’s Inspector General released a report that should have sent chills through anyone who read it.  The report was titled “the Department of Justice’s Handling of Known or Suspected Terrorists Admitted into the Federal Witness Security Program,” but it just as easily could have been called “the Department of Justice’s MIS-handling” of this program.

The Witness Security Program, often called WITSEC, is a critical prosecutorial tool that has been in existence since 1971.  The program protects witnesses who agree to testify in a variety of different types of criminal cases, including drug trafficking, organized crime and, in recent years, terrorism cases.  For example, witnesses involved in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and the “Blind Sheik” prosecutions have been included in the WITSEC Program.  In order to protect them from harm stemming from their testimony, participants are relocated to a new community by the Justice Department, afforded financial assistance, and provided a new name and identification documents.  
  
While conducting its periodic oversight into the WITSEC Program, the IG discovered that the Department – specifically, the U.S. Marshals Service and the Criminal Division’s Office of Enforcement Operations (“OEO”) –had little to no safeguards in place to make sure that the American people were protected from these potentially dangerous individuals.  While most of the details of what the IG discovered are contained in a much longer non-public report, the six-page public summary alone paints an extremely troubling picture.  

For example, the IG discovered that the Department did not actually know how many terrorists had been admitted to WITSEC.  It had lost track of at least two terrorists in the Program.  It was not sharing critical information about potential terrorist activities by WITSEC participants with our national security stakeholders, including the FBI.  And, the Department was not providing the witnesses’ new identities to the Terrorist Screening Center, which meant that these new names were also not included in the Transportation Security Administration’s No Fly List.  Accordingly, known terrorists who were trained in aviation and explosives, and who were banned from flying, were free to fly commercially at their whim.  I would say that this sounds like the plot of a Naked Gun movie if it weren’t so terrifying – and true.

One of the most important lessons after September 11th was the critical need for better information sharing among our national security and law enforcement entities.  The IG’s report makes it clear that there is still much work to be done in this regard.  Today, I expect to hear from the Justice Department how this mismanagement was allowed to happen, how the Department intends to mitigate the potential harm to our national security that has already been done, and what it is doing to make sure something like this doesn’t happen again.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.) today sent a letter to Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Peter Kadzik in response to the letter they received from him yesterday.  On May 29, Chairman Goodlatte and Subcommittee Chairman Sensenbrenner wrote to Attorney General Eric Holder seeking answers to the discrepancies between his sworn congressional testimony before the
House Judiciary Committee and his decision to obtain a search warrant for the emails of James Rosen, the chief Washington correspondent for Fox News.  To date, the Committee has not received an on-the-record response from Attorney General Holder.

Below is the text of the letter.  To read the signed letter, click here.

“Dear Mr. Kadzik,

“We received yesterday a letter from you that you claim responds to our May 29th letter to the Attorney General.  It does not.  The Attorney General made on-the-record statements before the Judiciary Committee and the American people under oath that prompted our letter.  Congress and the American people deserve to have the Attorney General respond to the Committee on the record.  A letter from a subordinate that fails to answer many of our questions does not suffice.  
 
“We, along with other members of Congress, have been invited to an off-the-record meeting at the Justice Department with Attorney General Holder.  The email inviting us to this meeting says it “is one of a series of meetings with media and other organizations that the Attorney General is conducting as part of the policy review directed by the President.”  We support the policy review that the Department has initiated at the President’s behest.  But, as with your letter, an off-the-record policy review meeting with the Attorney General is not a substitute for an on-the-record response to our letter.

“We expect the Attorney General to respond fully, in writing, to our letter by close of business on Wednesday, June 5, 2013.  We look forward to his response.”

As former Chairman and 35-year veteran of the House Judiciary Committee, I’ve sought answers to tough questions from both Republican and Democrat-appointed cabinet members. I am not motivated by partisanship, but by truth.  And once again, Eric Holder is hiding from the truth. 

On May 29, Chairman Goodlatte and I sent a letter to Holder which included a list of questions that gave the Attorney General the opportunity to clarify his May 15 testimony to the Judiciary Committee.  Unfortunately, in lieu of a genuine response, he tasked Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Peter J. Kadzik with drafting a defense. 

This is insulting and further proof that the buck doesn’t stop with Attorney General Holder. Not only did the letter come from a low-level staffer at DOJ, not Holder himself, it fails to answer the questions raised by his misleading testimony. 

Here are just a few problems with the Department’s response

“[T]he President has directed the Attorney General to conduct a review of Department policies regarding investigations involving the media.”
Problem: The Attorney General is in charge of investigating himself.

“[T]he Attorney General has initiated a dialogue with new media representatives.” 
Problem: The meeting was off the record and most members of the press declined the invitation.

“[Eric Holder] supports media shield legislation currently under consideration by the Senate.”
Problem: The Administration promoted the legislation in a blatant response to the AP scandal.  Even if it was law, it probably would not have protected AP reporters or James Rosen of Fox News.

“The Attorney General’s testimony before the Committee on May 15, 2013, with respect to the Department’s prosecutions of unauthorized disclosure of classified information was accurate and consistent with these facts.”
Problem:  Only a building full of lawyers can split hairs so finely to argue the Department’s investigation of Rosen did not rise to the level of a potential prosecution.  Every first year law student understands the difference between an investigation and a prosecution, but if the Department’s broad and open-ended warrant of Rosen’s emails was not part of a potential prosecution, then the Department has no regard for the First or Fourth Amendments. 

Congress and the American people deserve an explanation, on the record, from Attorney General Holder. It is clear Eric Holder is dodging accountability and the truth. He is unfit to lead the Department of Justice. 
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.) today received a letter from Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Peter Kadzik in response to a recent letter they sent to Attorney General Eric Holder regarding the discrepancy between his sworn testimony before the House Judiciary Committee earlier this month and his decision to obtain a search warrant for the emails of James Rosen, the chief Washington correspondent for Fox News.   Chairman Goodlatte and Subcommittee Chairman Sensenbrenner released the statements below in response to the letter.

Chairman Goodlatte:  “Today’s response from the Justice Department’s Office of Legislative Affairs raises more questions than it answers.  By having a subordinate send this response rather than Attorney General Holder himself, this response begs the question of whether Holder has something to hide.  Discrepancies in Attorney General Holder’s congressional testimony made on the record need to be corrected on the record to Congress by Attorney General Holder himself.

“Attorney General Holder still has yet to respond to our letter.  He can’t outsource the responsibility for his actions to lower level staff—the buck stops with him.  The American people and Congress deserve answers and accountability from Attorney General Holder.  The House Judiciary Committee anxiously awaits his response to our May 29 letter by this Wednesday’s deadline.”

Subcommittee Chairman Sensenbrenner:  “This response is insulting and further proof that Attorney General Holder refuses to hold himself accountable. Not only did the letter come from a low-level staffer at DOJ, not Holder himself, it fails to answer the questions raised by his misleading testimony. Congress and the American people deserve an explanation from the Attorney General. It is increasingly obvious that Eric Holder has something to hide. I still expect a response from the Attorney General before the deadline of Wednesday, June 5.”


 

Top Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee openly challenged Attorney General Eric Holder on Wednesday over his testimony two weeks ago in which he claimed to be unaware of any "potential prosecution" of the press, despite knowing about an investigation that targeted a Fox News reporter.

Committee Chairman Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., and Rep. James Sensenbrenner, Jr., R-Wis., voiced "great concern" in a letter to Holder. They asked a litany of questions about the department's dealings with the press, and pointedly alleged that the Fox News case "contradicts" his testimony at a May 15 hearing.

"It is imperative that the committee, the Congress, and the American people be provided a full and accurate account of your involvement," they wrote.

The letter comes a day after the committee confirmed it was looking into Holder's testimony. Appearing before the House Judiciary Committee on May 15, Holder insisted that "the potential prosecution of the press for the disclosure of material" is not something he was involved in or knew about.

But days later, it emerged that the Justice Department obtained access to the emails of Fox News reporter James Rosen -- after filing an affidavit that accused him of being a likely criminal "co-conspirator" in the leak of sensitive material regarding North Korea. Rosen was never charged, and never prosecuted. But he was effectively accused of violating the federal Espionage Act.

"The media reports and statements issued by the Department regarding the search warrants for Mr. Rosen's emails appear to be at odds with your sworn testimony before the Committee," Goodlatte and Sensenbrenner wrote in the letter Wednesday. They did not accuse Holder of committing perjury, but noted he was "under oath."

Among other questions, they asked Holder how he could claim to have never heard of the potential prosecution of the press. And they asked him to clarify whether he "personally approved" the search warrant request. Sensenbrenner, in an interview on Fox News, threatened to subpoena Holder to come before the committee if necessary.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, though, said on Wednesday that it appears Holder testified truthfully. He said President Obama "absolutely" has confidence in him.

The top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, Michigan Rep. John Conyers, said he thinks Holder "was forthright and did not mislead the Committee."

"Certainly, there are policy disagreements as to how the First Amendment should apply to these series of leak investigations being conducted by the Justice Department, and that is and should be an area for the committee to consider.  However, there is no need to turn a policy disagreement into allegations of misconduct," he said.

Holder could argue that, in fact, Rosen was never prosecuted -- and so his testimony was not misleading.

A federal law enforcement official said last week that the department had to establish probable cause in the affidavit in order to obtain the search warrant, per the terms of the Privacy Protection Act.

"Saying that there is probable cause to believe that someone has committed a crime and actually charging the person with that crime are two very different things," the official said.

Meanwhile, one of the country's most prominent liberal legal scholars called Wednesday for Holder to be "fired," joining the growing list of left-leaning pundits slamming his department's pursuit of journalists' phone and email records.

Jonathan Turley, an attorney and law professor at George Washington University, hammered Holder in a USA Today column Wednesday. He charged that Holder has "supervised a comprehensive erosion of privacy rights, press freedom and due process," aided by Democrats who looked the other way.

But in the wake of the reporter records scandal, Democrats are starting to join with Republicans in questioning whether Holder continues to be the right man to lead the Department of Justice in President Obama's second term.

Turley, in his column, referenced a recent call by the Republican National Committee chairman for Holder's resignation. "Unlike the head of the RNC, I am neither a Republican nor conservative, and I believe Holder should be fired," Turley wrote.

While Democrats largely defended Holder when his department came under fire for the botched anti-gunrunning sting Operation Fast and Furious, they've been less forgiving over the move this year to seize two months of phone records from Associated Press offices. That bombshell was compounded by the revelation that the department seized phone and email records for Fox News offices. The scandal grew as the department acknowledged Friday that Holder was involved in the court document that accused Rosen of being a likely criminal "co-conspirator," as part of the department's successful argument for obtaining a search warrant for Rosen's emails.

According to a report in The Daily Beast, aides say Holder has started to feel regret for the investigations. Under Obama's direction, he is starting a review of DOJ policies and meeting with representatives from the media.

A Justice Department official said Wednesday that Holder will hold meetings with several Washington bureau chiefs of national news organizations over the next two days.

"These meetings will begin a series of discussions that will continue to take place over the coming weeks. During these sessions, the Attorney General will engage with a diverse and representative group of news media organizations, including print, wires, radio, television, online media and news and trade associations," the official said.

Turley, in his column, scoffed at this course of action, since Holder was involved in the surveillance -- at least the surveillance involving Fox News -- in the first place. "Such an inquiry offers no reason to trust its conclusions," Turley wrote.

He described Holder as a trusted Obama "sin eater," swallowing the worst criticisms to shield the president.

"Indeed, these sins should be fatal for any attorney general," Turley wrote.

View online: here
The Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) political targeting of conservative and patriotic groups is disgraceful and potentially criminal. The IRS abused its authority by holding certain tax-exempt groups hostage that don’t agree with the Obama Administration’s progressive agenda. How high up the ladder this scandal went is currently being looked into by two House committees and a special investigation should be conducted.

Even after the IRS admitted wrongdoing and offered a half-hearted apology, White House press secretary Jay Carney refused to confirm any wrongdoing. Then Sunday, White House senior advisor Dan Pfeiffer told George Stephanopoulos that whether the law was broken is “irrelevant” in this case.
 
I want those responsible held accountable, and I want to know who is going to jail.

It appears Senate Democrats also played a role in the scandal. In 2010, Senator Max Baucus of Montana asked the IRS to investigate political non-profits for violating tax laws. And last year, Senator Schumer and several other Senate Democrats threatened the IRS if it failed to “prevent abuse of the tax code by political groups.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell says, “we’ve only started to scratch the surface of this scandal.”

The Rock River Patriots, a Wisconsin conservative group, also claim to be a target of the scandal. The IRS allegedly asked for names of donors and volunteers. 

According to an article published in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the IRS asked a Texas tea party group if it participated in verifying signatures for Scott Walker’s recall election last year. And the leader of True the Vote, who provided the computer application used to verify signatures for the recall by the Wisconsin groups GrandSons of Liberty and We the People, said she too was extensively questioned by the IRS.

As Americans, there are few things more frightening than a letter from the IRS.  The targeting of “political enemies” by this agency is Nixonian. It was wrong when Nixon did it, and it’s wrong now.

I am also incredibly concerned with the IRS’s role in the implementation of ObamaCare, which the House voted to repeal again last week. The individual mandate will require every American to verify they have obtained government-dictated healthcare coverage to the IRS. And Sarah Hall Ingram, the overseer of the tax-exempt organization at the IRS while conservative and patriotic groups were targeted, is now in charge of the IRS’s ObamaCare office.  It is clear the IRS should not have any part in Americans’ healthcare.

At a Judiciary hearing last week, Eric Holder testified regarding the slew of ongoing scandals plaguing the White House. Holder said at the hearing, “anybody who broke the law will be held accountable.” Unfortunately, Holder, the Department of Justice and the rest of the Obama Administration lack any acceptance of responsibility. I urged Holder to visit the Harry S. Truman library to see the placard on his desks that says, “The Buck Stops Here,” because right now, nobody in this Administration is willing to take responsibility for government mismanagement and corruption.