NSA revelations only 'the tip of the iceberg,' says Dem lawmakerSo tell us, already!
By Daniel Strauss, June 12, 2013, The Hill
"I can't speak to what we learned in there, and I don't know if there are other leaks, if there's more information somewhere, if somebody else is going to step up, but I will tell you that I believe it's the tip of the iceberg," [Rep. Loretta Sanchez] said.
[...] "I think it's just broader than most people even realize, and I think that's, in one way, what astounded most of us, too," Sanchez said of the briefing.
Members of Congress can say anything on the floor that they wish, without any possibility of outside legal repercussions.
United States Constitution, Article I, Section 6That provision supersedes any oath of secrecy members of Congress have taken.
[The Senators and Representatives] shall in all Cases, except Treason, Felony and Breach of the Peace, be privileged from Arrest during their Attendance at the Session of their respective Houses, and in going to and returning from the same; and for any Speech or Debate in either House, they shall not be questioned in any other Place.
U.S. Supreme Court, United States v. Gillock - 445 U.S. 360 (1980) (p. 369-370)Edward Snowden only wishes he had that kind of immunity.
The Framers viewed the speech or debate privilege as fundamental to the system of checks and balances. The Works of Thomas Jefferson 322 (Ford ed.1904); The Works of James Wilson 421 (R. McCloskey ed.1967).
Sen. Mike Gravel did it with the Pentagon Papers.
He went from obscure Alaskan Senator to national hero, overnight.
A member going solo could run the risk that the rest of the members of the house would vote to expel him/her, but if the revelations are bad enough, those members would feel considerable political pressure not to do so. If a few members join in on the fun, it could be politically impossible for the rest of the house to take action against them.
It would be difficult for Democrats in the House of Representatives or Republicans in the Senate to read revelations of things like classified National Security Agency 4th Amendment violations into the record, given that they don't hold committee leadership positions. (In Sen. Gravel's case, he used his chairmanship of a subcommittee to call an after-hours hearing.) But Democrats in the Senate and Republicans in the House are free and clear to do this.
If members of the executive branch retaliate by withholding classified information, either house of Congress has the power to hold them in contempt ("inherent contempt" power, enforceable via a house's sergeant-at-arms), or both houses together can remove them from office for high crimes and misdemeanors, i.e. abuses of official power, via impeachment. (That applies to officials who lie to Congress, too.)
Let's be utterly clear: if Senators or Representatives decide to release information that the executive branch has classified, they have the unilateral power to do so.
When the executive branch exceeds its legitimate authority, when the President and the administration overstep the power that the Constitution proscribes, the legislative and judicial branches should step in and stop the abuses. This is how checks and balances are supposed to work. If a branch of government fails to abide by the oath of office to uphold the Constitution—especially when, in so doing, that branch fails to guard its own prerogatives, as with Congress allowing the President to grossly misinterpret the laws it passes—the structure of our federal government fails.
When significant portions of the Constitution are not in effect, then the social contract between the people and the government is broken, and the government is not legitimate.
I'm not claiming that anyone in Congress will do this. I mean, really, what would it take to get them to, the realistic possibility of a mass popular uprising? I'm saying that they should. Public officials (particularly Democrats) often claim they don't have the power that they actually do, power that they can and should use on our behalf to uphold our rights.
This was "already diaried" by Mets102 with respect to Republican Congresspeople. ukit wrote about the Hill story. Of course others made this point before (it's right there in the Constitution and within living historical memory!), notably bmaz (who is now at Emptywheel) at Firedoglake in 2007, with respect to Democratic leaders and Bush/Cheney secret abuses of power.