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The senator's mailbag



A reader shares correspondence with Sen. Blanche Lincoln. His point: If she thought Bill Clinton should have been censured by a vote of Congress for a sexual indiscretion, why won't she support Russ Feingold's motion to censure the current president for spying on the American people?

His letter and her letter on the jump. We report. You decide.


Senator Lincoln,

Let me see if I understand you. 

You say that you don't believe that "censuring President Bush is warranted at this time", even though you  "share Senator Feingold's frustration that the majority party in Congress has failed to exercise its responsibility to conduct meaningful oversight of the current Administration."

Yet you are in fact the same person who said, on Feb. 12, 1999 before the Senate committee, " I have and will support a strong bipartisan censure resolution that tells the President and this Nation that the President's misconduct with a subordinate White House employee was deplorable, and that future generations must know that such conduct will lead to a profound loss of trust, integrity and respect."

Which would indicate that you found censuring the President to be appropriate at that time.  So I guess that we can't expect you to support promoting President Bush unless he's found to have had sex while in office. 

No, I'm sorry, I don't understand you.


Thank you for contacting me about reports of the U.S. government spying on American citizens and a Senate resolution introduced by Senator Russ Feingold to censure President Bush.

 As you know, President Bush recently confirmed that he authorized the National Security Agency (NSA) to secretly monitor international phone calls and e-mails between U.S. residents and foreign individuals outside of the U.S. without court supervision.  Later, a USA Today report disclosed that the NSA had collected telephone and email records on millions of American citizens.  I support giving law enforcement and intelligence officials the tools they need to protect the security of our nation and its citizens.  However,  the NSA surveillance program may have been conducted without court approval and oversight in violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).

 Congress enacted FISA in 1978 which established the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) to supervise the use of electronic surveillance by the government in gathering foreign intelligence information. Further, the legislation specifies procedures under which government officials may conduct surveillance of a foreign agent or official.  In almost all cases, the law requires the government to obtain a warrant from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court before executing a wiretap or other means of surveillance.

 As you may know, the Bush Administration contends the NSA eavesdropping program did not require approval under FISA and that the President can order domestic spying under his legal authority to protect our national security.  I believe the Administration has failed to sufficiently explain why the current FISA procedures are insufficient to meet the needs of intelligence officials.  The Administration should work with Congress to amend FISA if necessary to address any shortcomings in the law which is designed to protect both our security and the civil liberties of Americans.

 In response to concerns regarding the NSA surveillance program, Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin introduced a Senate Resolution in March to censure President Bush.  I share Senator Feingold's frustration that the majority party in Congress has failed to exercise its responsibility to conduct meaningful oversight of the current Administration.  However, I do not believe that censuring President Bush is warranted at this time.

 The role of Congress should not be to rubber stamp President Bush and his Administration, but to perform its appropriate role in our system of checks of balances as designed by our founders and provided for in the Constitution.  Congress cannot turn a blind eye because the President is a member of the same party that currently holds the reins of power in Congress.  The allegations contained in Senator Feingold's resolution are serious and should be investigated fully.  For Congress to shirk its obligation to perform an important check on executive powers would be a disservice to the American people and the Administration.

 Again, thank you for contacting me.  I am proud to represent the citizens of Arkansas in the U.S. Senate and hope you will not hesitate to let me know whenever I may be of assistance to you in the future.



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