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After NSA Leaks, Senators Question Snowden Vetting, Secret Court

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call
“I want to know more about this man, but what I’ve learned so far is troubling,” Durbin said of Snowden.

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, who was among a group of eight senators introducing a bill Tuesday to require the declassification of important Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court opinions related to the NSA, said that the public should know more about these programs, without defending Snowden. “There’s been a pretty public example of why people ought to be concerned about these laws that are very broad and give the government all kinds of power,” Lee said, before saying that he thought it would be appropriate to characterize Snowden as a traitor. “From what I’ve been told, the guy broke a whole bunch of laws.”

Collins, who noted she joined the Intelligence Committee at the start of this Congress, wants to hear more about the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

“I think having the court provide some carefully worded summaries might well be helpful, but I want to learn more,” she said.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., wants to keep the attention off Snowden and on the government. Paul told CBS that he viewed Snowden’s own criminal liability as a less important issue, with the scope of the NSA programs related to phone records and electronic communication deserving the Senate’s and the public’s attention.

At the White House, Press Secretary Jay Carney emphasized a point made Monday by Senate Judiciary ranking member Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa: Congress had a chance to expand whistle-blower protections for employees of the intelligence community and opted against it.

“Because it was clear that Congress would not provide protections for intelligence community whistle-blowers, the president took executive action, issuing a landmark directive that extended whistle-blower protections to the intelligence and national security communities for the first time,” Carney said. “The directive prohibits retaliation against whistle-blowers who report information through the appropriate channels and established procedures, including a review panel of [inspectors general] of other agencies to ensure that such — retaliation does not occur.”

“I think he’s sort of a side point,” Paul said. “I think the real point is that the Bill of Rights are being violated. Our privacy is being violated. Really, no government should do this, and we need to obey the rules.”

Durbin, a member of the “gang of eight” that drafted the Senate’s pending immigration overhaul, also said any proposed changes to the intelligence laws shouldn’t come up as amendments to that measure, including the proposal from Lee, Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., and others to provide more transparency about the FISA court process.

“That would be a serious mistake. I would resist that — whatever they want,” Durbin told reporters Tuesday in response to a question about the chances NSA amendments may surface.

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