All-Star Panel: The politics and policy of NSA leaks

'Special Report' All-Star panel weighs in


This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," June 10, 2013. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


FORMER SEN. RUSS FEINGOLD, D – WI: Some have said, I think somewhat cavalierly, that in these difficult times we have to accept some reduction in our civil liberties in order to be secure. If we lived in a country that allowed the government to open your mail, eavesdrop on your phone conversations, or intercept your e-mail communications, that country would not be America. Preserving our freedom is one of the main reasons that he we are now engaged in this new war on terrorism. We will lose that war without firing a shot if we sacrifice the liberties of the American people.


BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: Former Wisconsin senator, a Democrat, Russ Feingold back in October of 2001. He was the only senator to vote against the Patriot Act.  President Obama then-State Senator Obama in 2001 had this to say -- "I'm always more concerned about the encroachment on civil rights or civil liberties that apply selectively to people. When they apply to everybody there tends to be sort of a majoritarian check. When we come to the wiretap provisions, for example, if those laws start encroaching too much on people's privacy the average person...everybody starts griping and complaining."

Back with the panel. OK, Charles, this is the Rand Paul kind of argument, and he made it this weekend on "Fox News Sunday." What about the politics of this?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Well, I think there is a lot of outrage and I think part of the reason is, that whereas a lot of Americans would say it sounds -- if it's controlled, if the courts are looking after it and Congress it would be OK. But there has been a huge lack of trust in the government as a result of this happening precisely right after a couple of scandals that showed an administration that you cannot trust.

The IRS, people resent the IRS and they know its power, but they accept it on the assumption that it will deal even handily. Then you get an IRS scandal in which it is clear they went after people as a product of their political beliefs, a sacred notion in the United States, that's a huge abuse.

You get the pursuit of James Rosen, a Fox reporter, who is singled out, and the Justice Department lies essentially to a judge and pretending he might be a criminal co-conspirator as a way to get into his e-mail. And you wonder if DOJ and IRS are being abused as a political instrument, how could you not abuse the NSA?

So I think it's a function of where we are now. If this had happened in the days after the inauguration of Obama in 2009, it would have been a lot less of a story because people had trust in the Obama administration, and in the government in general. And that's what I think is lacking, and it's poisoning the whole debate right now.

BAIER: Juan, it's a convergence of Democrats on the left, libertarians on the right, or if you want to call it that. Would there have been more senators voting with Russ Feingold against the Patriot Act today?

JUAN WILLIAMS, SENIOR EDITOR, THE HILL: No. And I think this is what I was saying to you earlier - - the margins, thinking about your question, Bret. Maybe you would get one or two. Certainly Rand Paul would join him, right? But, in fact, you would not get a majority to do away with the program today. I don't think there is anybody on the Hill today and I was there who is saying, oh yeah, you know what, let's get rid of the program, let's have a vote, because they know that the passion is not there.

You have Dianne Feinstein, Democrat head of Senate intelligence, joined arm in arm with Mike Rogers head of House intelligence in saying they were briefed on this, they knew about it. They have tried to brief others on it. They are aware of the FISA court, you know, to come to Jason's point about congressional oversight. It's fully in place. So I think what you come down to is you have the politics playing out where you have people on the right who are after the Obama administration and see this as something you can lump into a series of scandals and evidence of government overreach and intrusion in our lives again to make a case against President Obama. But on its own merits I don't see it.

BAIER: Just a few minutes ago Senator Feinstein said that some of the things that Snowden said in that interview didn't seem to match up, seemed farfetched. And she said as far as the law, if it can be changed in some way, we're all for making it better. Quickly.

JASON RILEY, WALL STREET JOURNAL: You can make fun of Obama for being hypocritical on this, comparing his earlier statements to his criticism of Bush for using the same program. But once you get that sort of thing out of your system, it comes back down to, is it legal and is it working? And I think right now, based on what we know it passes both of those thresholds.

BAIER: Except it didn't get the Tsarnaev brothers in Boston.

RILEY: Correct.

BAIER: That's it for the panel. But stay tuned for a newscast that was a bit out of focus. 

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