WASHINGTON – The House passed a resolution Thursday evening that expresses support for intelligence and law enforcement programs that track terrorists and their finances, and condemns disclosure and publication of classified information that backers say would impair the War on Terror.
The resolution passed by a vote of 227-183, with 22 members not voting.
The measure also calls on news organizations to avoid exposing Americans "to the threat of further terror attacks" by revealing U.S. government methods of tracking terrorists.
Author Rep. Mike Oxley, R-Ohio, the retiring chairman of the House Financial Service Commitee, did not specifically mention The New York Times, but it is clear that the resolution is a rebuke to that and other newspapers that published classified information about government efforts to follow the money of terror groups through the SWIFT program.
Oxley called the leaks "treasonous:"
"We are at war, ladies and gentlemen. Now some of you folks find that an inconvenient fact," he said.
The Times has defended its reporting, saying publication has served America's public interest. Its executive editor, Bill Keller, said in a statement after the House passed the resolution that the paper took seriously the risks of reporting on intelligence.
"We have on many occasions withheld information when lives were at stake," Keller said. "However, the administration simply did not make a convincing case that describing our efforts to monitor international banking presented such a danger. Indeed, the administration itself has talked publicly and repeatedly about its successes in the area of financial surveillance."
The resolution's preamble, which lays out the reasons for the resolution, claims the news media have made it harder to fight terror. The resolution then states support for the Terror Finance Tracking Program and calls on the media to stop revealing U.S. secrets.
"Whereas beginning on June 23, 2006, certain media organizations knowingly published details about a classified program that the United States government had legally and with appropriate safeguards used to track the financing of terrorism, including specific intelligence gathering methods ...
"Be it resolved that the House of Representatives condemns the unauthorized disclosure of classified information by those persons responsible ... and expects the cooperation of all news media organizations in protecting the lives of Americans," the resolution reads in part.
Republican supporters of the resolution say that the news media have undermined the War on Terror and hurt U.S. efforts to fight U.S. enemies.
"We've just tipped off all of the terrorists around the world that here is another way that we could have caught you, but now you know about it," added House Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio.
Boehner added that The New York Times' disclosure risks Americans' safety.
"The press has a responsibility in America, in my view, to be very sensitive about writing about information that jeopardizes a very important program that was being helpful to our people. And in doing so, I, frankly, think that they risked the lives of Americans. ... And so for Congress to speak on this issue shouldn't surprise anyone," he told reporters on Thursday.
But Democrats called the GOP resolution a lot of hype.
"Let's be honest, we're here today because there hasn't been enough red meat thrown at the Republican base before the Fourth of July recess, that's why we're here," said Rep. James McGovern, D-Mass.
Since the publication of the bank tracking program last Friday, The New York Times and other papers have argued that they were giving information to the public that they needed to have. On Wednesday, the editorial board of the New York Times published an unsigned piece that says the paper's editors were performing their duties as members of the Fourth Estate.
"Ever since Sept. 11, the Bush administration has taken the necessity of heightened vigilance against terrorism and turned it into a rationale for an extraordinarily powerful executive branch, exempt from the normal checks and balances of our system of government. It has created powerful new tools of surveillance and refused, almost as a matter of principle, to use normal procedures that would acknowledge that either Congress or the courts have an oversight role," the editorial reads.
"This seems to us very much the sort of thing the other branches of government, and the public, should be nervously aware of," the editors continue.
On Thursday, the Times published an article quoting former officials who said the paper didn't really tell the terrorists anything they didn't already know.
"I would be surprised if terrorists didn't know that we were doing everything we can to track their financial transactions, since the administration has been very vocal about that fact," William F. Wechsler, a former Treasury and National Security Council official, told the Times.
But Rep. J.D. Hayworth, R-Ariz., told FOX News that argument uses flawed logic.
"Now, they try to defend themselves, saying, look, it's common knowledge. Well, I guess it's common knowledge to our enemies that we have special forces and that we have an Army, a Navy, an Air Force and the Marines, but we don't stipulate the sources and methods utilized by those people in getting things done, nor do we draw attention to sensitive operations," he said.
He said that it's also irresponsible for members of the media to claim they are "arbiters of what should be national security" and are "neutral observers of the scene."
"That's a strange type of reasoning here. And it's certainly — I won't call it politically correct. I think it's nationally suicidal," he said.
On Thursday, President Bush used strong words to condemn the leak and the publication of secret and legal government programs.
"There can be no excuses for anyone entrusted with vital intelligence to leak it and no excuse for any newspaper to print it," Bush told Republican supporters at a fundraiser for Sen. Jim Talent of Missouri.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi argued, however, that the "so-called New York Times resolution" is the fault of congressional Republicans who refused to do their own oversight of the program.
"Most of the conclusions in the Republican drafted, so-called New York Times resolution about the financial transaction surveillance program are not the result of congressional fact-finding or rigorous oversight. That is in the unfortunate tradition of the Republican Congress' approach to its oversight responsibilities when it comes to intelligence activities and its selective displeasure over possible leaks of classified information." she said in a statement.
Pelosi, D-Calif., said Democrats had wanted to offer a substitute resolution that "expresses Congress' support for appropriate surveillance of terrorist financial transactions and our concern that unauthorized disclosures of classified information may have made it more difficult to locate terrorists and terrorist networks, and disrupt their plans." But Republicans prevented the alternative from being introduced into debate.
Bush said members of the House and Senate had been briefed on the SWIFT program and had the opportunity to express their concerns if they believed it had problems.
"It's legal, it's been briefed to the U.S. Congress like the terror surveillance program," he said, referring to the National Security Agency program that was also revealed by The New York Times.
As the House prepared for its vote, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, also introduced a Senate resolution condemning the "unauthorized disclosure and publication of classified information." According to an aide, it is "not as strident as the House version" and doesn't go after the media so much as it does leakers inside the administration.
The resolution mentions no newspaper by name and does not call for an investigation or prosecution of journalists for such conduct. It does admonish that disclosure and publication of such "highly classified" programs as the terrorist surveillance program and terrorist finance tracking program "puts America's terrorist enemies on notice of tactics used to hunt them down, and makes defending against further terrorist attacks more difficult."
The resolution calls on the Department of Justice to "vigorously and tirelessly investigate and prosecute" those who leak such information.
Separately, Cornyn said he asked Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., to have the committee look into the extent to which the Espionage Act protects publication of leaked classified information. Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., has also requested a full report from Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte on the damage done by the unauthorized disclosure in newspapers of bot the NSA and Treasury Department programs.
Meanwhile, Hayworth said that he and 70 other representatives have sent Speaker Dennis Hastert a letter asking him to pull the press credentials for The New York Times.
"By courtesy and custom, there is a standing committee of journalists who customarily have determined credentialing for members of the press since back in the 1880s. But in the final analysis, elected members of the House and the Senate, through their respective leaders — in the case of the House, that would be the speaker — ultimately, they make the decision," Hayworth said.
He added that yanking the credentials is not a violation of the First Amendment as it wouldn't restrict the Times from reporting on Congress.
"However, it would remove Times reporters from some of the most important real estate in Washington, D.C., the speaker's lobby and the press gallery of the United States Congress," he said.
The Associated Press and FOX News' Jim Mills and Trish Turner contributed to this report.