The Senator Henceforth to Be Known as Jay Rock

I’ve been threatening to do this for a while: ditching the moniker "Jello Jay." And while I was going to hold out until we actually got a public option through the Senate, I gotta say that nothing seems to have gotten under MaxTax Baucus’ skin so much as Jay Rock picking apart, detail by detail, the many ways in which the MaxTax is a big giveaway to the health care industry. Here’s Jay Rock echoing Wendell Potter.  And here he is noting how impotent Congress has been at trying to reign in the helath care industry with measly little laws. 

Update, via Digby: Jonathan Cohn explains why Jay Rock showed up to champion health care.

Over the last few weeks Jay Rockefeller has emerged as the Senate’s most visible spokesman for a public insurance option. And, purely from a public relations standpoint, this is something of a mixed blessing. He comes from West Virginia and is pretty popular there, so that certainly helps bring non-coastal credibility to the cause. But Rockefeller speaks in a plodding, rambling style that doesn’t always make for great television. He’s also pretty stubborn, which makes him a loud advocate but not necessarily an effective one, at least given the way the U.S. Senate works.

But Rockefeller gets something better than almost anybody I’ve seen–something he’s expressed in interviews and, most recently, during this weeks hearings of the Senate Finance Committee. It’s how everyday people, particularly those without a lot of money, interact with the health care system. It’s easy to treat health care as an abstraction–to make it all about economic theories and Congressional Budget Office projections. (I’m surely guilty of this myself.) Rockefeller sees it through the eyes of West Virginians making $30,000 a year–people who just want to know they can pay their premiums and that, if they do, the insurance they get will protect them when they get sick. 

Rockefeller’s ability to channel these feelings may seem odd, given his privileged pedigree. But it makes sense given what he’s done with his career. Remember, West Virginia didn’t choose him. He chose West Virginia, starting with his service as a VISTA volunteer. He knows his constituents very well. And he acts that way.

It’s a great piece, but I’d add one thing. I actually think Jay Rock’s stubbornness may be effective, partly because others in the Senate can explain it in terms they understand. Read more

Jello Jay Rockefeller on the Public Option

A number of people have been expressing pleasant surprise at Jello Jay’s recent comments on the public option:

"We can’t count on insurance companies. They are just maximizing their profits. They are sticking it to consumers.

"I am all for letting insurance companies compete. But I want them to compete in a system that offers real health-care insurance. I call it a public plan," Rockefeller said….

Government-backed programs are big enough to bring medical costs down, Rockefeller believes.

"Back in 1993, all our Veterans Administration hospitals got together and agreed to buy prescription drugs as a group. The next week, the costs of those drugs went down by 50 percent.

"Today, the insurance industry runs this whole deal, spending $1.4 million every day to fight health-insurance reform. The government has a lot of power to lower prices," Rockefeller said….

"We have a moral choice. This is a classic case of the good guys versus the bad guys. I know it is not political for me to say that," Rockefeller added.

"But do you want to be non-partisan and get nothing? Or do you want to be partisan and end up with a good health- care plan? That is the choice." [my emphasis]

Now, I am happy to hear Jello Jay talk like a Democrat, demand that we put people’s interest ahead of corporations.

And I think the commentary on Jello Jay’s aggressive words here often forgets the "politics is local" rule: while every state (save maybe insurance-heavy states like CT) would benefit from the implementation of real health care reform, West Virginia no doubt really could use it.

That said, I am also cognizant of a little historical detail. The most "important" legislative act Jello Jay did last year, for his own career, was to shepherd the FISA Amendment Act through Congress (yeah, "important" is in scare quotes). And the single most important event that brought about Jello Jay’s success came when then-candidate Obama flip-flopped on his promises to oppose retroactive immunity, and with that flip-flop signaled to the rest of the caucus it was time to support the bill.

Candidate Obama saved Jello Jay’s legislative butt last summer (much to our chagrin).

One of Candidate Obama’s earliest Senate backers, of course, was Jello Jay. A guy who loudly supported Obama even when his state voted in large numbers against him in the primary.

Well, here we are with President Obama, revving up the fight for his most important legislative project. Read more

The Scope of the SSCI Investigation and Where It Leads

Honest. I was going to write this post today or yesterday or tomorrow even before Rachel Maddow said people would be parsing her interview last night with Sheldon Whitehouse closely (here’s the full interview).

Back in February, I was very skeptical whether a DiFi-led SSCI investigation into torture would be a rigorous investigation. I owe DiFi an apology, because by all appearances this investigation is time-consuming, demanding, and productive. The Senate Intelligence Committee has been maintaining an unbelieveable pace of closed hearings this year–often two a week–many of which must deal with this investigation (though some clearly deal with other intelligence issues such as the warrantless wiretapping program). At least per Rachel’s comments in her interview with Senator Whitehouse, the committee won its squabble with CIA to get unredacted cables from the field. And as a result of the hearings, Sheldon Whitehouse has come out and said "no further actionable intelligence" was gotten through waterboarding Abu Zubaydah. Thus far, this is not the weasely whitewash we’ve come to expect from SSCI (though it remains to be seen whether Kit Bond and friends can politicize whatever report we get out of it–and whether we get a report at all). So I apologize to DiFi for my doubts.

I wanted to look at the scope and the direction of this investigation–at least what we know. Both at the beginning, and now, SSCI has said the investigation covers three things:

  • Whether detentions and interrogations complied with DOJ authorizations
  • Whether the interrogations gained valuable intelligence or not
  • Whether SSCI was kept properly informed

Here’s how Whitehouse described the questions they’re asking in his Senate speech the other day:

I see three issues we need to grapple with. The first is the torture itself: What did Americans do? In what conditions of humanity and hygiene were the techniques applied? With what intensity and duration? Are our preconceptions about what was done based on the sanitized descriptions of techniques justified? Or was the actuality far worse?

Were the carefully described predicates for the torture techniques and the limitations on their use followed in practice? Or did the torture exceed the predicates and bounds of the Office of Legal Counsel opinions?

[snip–Whitehouse basically interjects the same argument I made here, that Panetta’s declaration makes it clear the torture did exceed OLC bounds]

The questions go on: What was the role of private contractors? Why did they need to be involved? And did their peculiar motivations influence what was done? Ultimately, was it successful? Did it generate the immediately actionable intelligence protecting America from immediate threats that it had been sold as producing? How did the torture techniques stack up against professional interrogation?

Well, that is a significant array of questions all on its own, and we intend to answer them in the Senate Intelligence Committee under the leadership of Chairman Feinstein, expanding on work already done, thanks to the previous leadership of Chairman Rockefeller.

As I noted, both Whitehouse and I have pointed out that Panetta’s declaration by itself makes clear that the torture exceeded the authorizations it had gotten from OLC–but we already knew that from the CIA itself. And as Whitehouse has made clear, and I have made clear, we already know the program was ineffective–but we already knew that from the CIA itself. And (though Whitehouse doesn’t focus on this aspect of the investigation), we know that CIA did not brief SSCI the way it said it did–nor in the manner it was legally obliged to do. We know that, too, from the CIA itself.

So where does that lead us? That’s why this exchange from Rachel’s interview with Whitehouse last night is so important.

Maddow: The way you’ve described that makes me want to ask a question that no one’s been able to tell me–and I’ve been asking a lot of people. The remit of what the intelligence committee is looking at right now–looking at what happened to High Value Detainees, millions of pages of documents, succeeded in getting agreements to get stuff completely unredacted. We know it’s going to be a big comprehensive look at what happened to those High Value Detainees. Does it only look at what the CIA did, or will it look at the chain of command, whether or not instruction came from the White House, the Office of the Vice President beyond the Intelligence Agency?

Whitehouse: We’re not at the stage yet, in the investigation, where those chain of command issues are yet raised. I hope very much that it will. I believe it implicates chain of command issues. And I think that that’s a critical question.

Maddow: But it’s not what the intelligence committee is looking at right now and we should not expect that will be in the intelligence committee’s report when it comes out in six months or so?

Read more

SSCI Investigating Its Torture Briefings

I’m all in favor of an unrelenting focus on Dick Cheney’s role in torture, but I think David Corn’s focus on the possibility that Cheney’s briefing of Pat Roberts and Jello Jay on March 8 (and possibly March 7), 2005 is too narrowly focused. (h/t fatster via RawStory)

"The Senate intelligence committee’s study includes an examination  of how the committee was briefed on the CIA’s detention and interrogation program,"  says Phil LaVelle, a Feinstein spokesperson. "This includes briefings of committee leadership, and is not limited by who conducted the briefing." The committee has restricted this part of its review and is not examining briefings provided to other committees–such as the House intelligence committee–according to a congressional source familiar with the probe. But given that Cheney briefed two senior members of the Senate intelligence panel, the committee can review what Cheney told Roberts and Rockefeller about the interrogation program and evaluate whether his assertions were supported by the facts. That is, the Cheney briefing is fair game for the Senate investigators.


So did Cheney make an honest presentation during the behind-closed-doors meetings with congressional leaders when he was veep? Feinstein can find out–if she wants to.

The Senate intelligence committee’s investigation is not wide-ranging–which may be good news for Cheney. According to a press release it issued, the committee is mainly focusing on what the CIA did, whether it remained in compliance with guidance it received from the Justice Department, and what was the value of the intelligence it obtained through the use of "enhanced and standard interrogation techniques."  That press release makes it seem unlikely that the committee is investigating whether the White House–with or without Cheney’s involvement–pressured the Justice Department to cook up legal cover for the CIA’s use of so-called enhanced interrogation techniques.

When I asked LaVelle whether the committee was examining the 2005 Cheney briefing, he declined to comment. The committee is not confirming or denying any specific aspects of its inquiry, including the witnessess it has or will be interviewing. But the committee has granted itself the authority to investigate what Cheney told committee members about the CIA interrogations. If it chooses not to do so, its probe will be incomplete. [my emphasis]

That is, I think Cheney’s role in persuading the SSCI not to investigate the torture program in 2005 may be one of the least interesting things the SSCI might be investigating wrt its CIA briefings. Consider two other items of interest:

CIA Claims to Have Briefed Democrats When It Didn’t

Read more

Dick Cheney’s Torture Kabuki

I wanted to pull three threads together in this post, which suggest how Cheney instituted torture in this country:

  • Alberto Gonzales may have been approving torture even while Condi Rice and others went through the show of getting an OLC opinion to authorize it;
  • CIA claimed to be briefing Congress when it wasn’t;
  • The Bush Administration then claimed Congress had bought off on torture to persuade those objecting to torture within the administration.

There are also certain parallels with the way Cheney implemented his illegal wiretap program.

Alberto Gonzales’ approvals

As Ari Shapiro reported last week, Alberto Gonzales was personally approving the techniques Mitchell’s torturers would use on a daily basis.

The source says nearly every day, Mitchell would sit at his computer and write a top-secret cable to the CIA’s counterterrorism center. Each day, Mitchell would request permission to use enhanced interrogation techniques on Zubaydah. The source says the CIA would then forward the request to the White House, where White House counsel Alberto Gonzales would sign off on the technique. That would provide the administration’s legal blessing for Mitchell to increase the pressure on Zubaydah in the next interrogation.

We know there’s cable traffic from the field back to CIA HQ every day. And we know there’s a May 28, 2002, 4-page cable from HQ back to the Field that roughly corresponds to when Ali Soufan has said the torturers brought out the small box in which they eventually confined Abu Zubaydah. This may mean there’s a seven-week gap between the time the harshest techniques were first okayed, and the time Condi purportedly gave the torture program its first okay on July 17, 2002. As I noted the other day, this raises the possibility that the OLC approval process was all just show, basically endorsing torture that had gone on for some time already.

Is it possible that when Bellinger and Condi asked for an OLC opinion, the CIA’s torturers were already hard at work, and it’s only because Bellinger asked for an opinion that they even bothered? If Gonzales was relaying daily approvals for torture directly to the torturers in the field, then why would it appear that Condi was the one who "approved" the program in mid-July? Why not Gonzales?

It’s a possibility that one of Shapiro’s sources is contemplating.

"I can’t believe the CIA would have settled for a piece of paper from the counsel to the president," says one former government official familiar with those discussions.

Read more

John Rizzo’s Nomination and the Bybee Two Memo

On August 23, 2006, Jello Jay Rockefeller wrote to Michael Hayden requesting a number of documents in relation to John Rizzo’s nomination to be CIA’s General Counsel. In addition to a list of all OLC memos and access for the full committee to the 2004 CIA IG report on torture, Rockefeller asked for materials relating to the Bybee Two memo listing all the torture techniques CIA could use. As with the IG report, Jello Jay asked that all committee members be able to read the document (starting on page 15).

[For Bybee Two] the question is not whether it should be delivered [to the Committee], for it is here, but whether all Members of the Committee and their staff assisting them in preparing for the hearing may read it. The Senate has referred the nomination to the full Committee, not to the Chairman and Vice Chairman alone. Each Member must decide how to vote. In doing that, each should be able to ask those questions that he or she deems necessary for an informed vote. The memo was requested from OLC for the CIA by the nominee and he had responsibility for implementing it. Members may therefore wish to question him about it.

And in a section asking for more information about Rizzo’s role in buying off on torture policy (and following a completely redacted paragraph), Jello Jay asked specifically about Rizzo’s role in formulating Bybee Two.

The focus of the requests described above concerns matters relating to and following the August 2002 Second Bybee Memo. There were also important decisions about U.S. legal policies related to counterterrorism, including on such matters as the application of the Geneva Conventions, that preceded the Bybee Memos, and my understanding is that the nominee had a role in that process, both within the CIA and outside of it. It will therefore be important to assess his participation in the formulation of those policies. Accordingly, in addition to documents relating directly to the Second Bybee Memo, please provide documents authored by the nominee, or prepared under his supervision, that set forth the nominee’s contribution to the development of U.S. legal policy after the September 11 attacks.

The request is important for several reasons. First, it asks to what degree Rizzo was involved in the shredding of the Geneva Conventions, particularly repeated exemptions even from the flabby support of the GC applied to other agencies. Read more

WaPo’s Partisan Press Release Service

The front page of the WaPo website features what amounts to a press release from John Boehner, attempting to continue blaming Nancy Pelosi because Dick Cheney tortured.

House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) "ought to either present the evidence or apologize’" in the wake of her comments that CIA officials misled her about the use of controversial interrogation techniques on terrorist suspects.

"Lying to the Congress of the United States is a crime," Boehner said yesterday on CNN’s "State of the Union." "And if the speaker is accusing the CIA and other intelligence officials of lying or misleading the Congress, then she should come forward with evidence and turn that over to the Justice Department so they can be prosecuted."

He added: "And if that’s not the case, I think she ought to apologize to our intelligence professionals around the world."

The story doesn’t report that two out of three of the other members of Congress who were "briefed" in September 2002 (including the hyper-anal Bob Graham) back Pelosi’s claim. Here’s Graham:

The CIA when I asked them, what were the dates these briefings took place, gave me four dates. And I went back to my spiral notebooks and a daily schedule that I keep and found, and the CIA concurred, that in three of those four dates, there was no briefing held. That raises some questions about the bookkeeping of the CIA. Under the rules of clandestine information, I was prohibited from keeping notes of what was actually said during that briefing other than a brief summation that it had to do with the interrogation of detainees.

And here’s Goss, speaking of the torture techniques prospectively (and therefore revealing that he was not briefed they had already been used, which is precisely what Pelosi has claimed):

the techniques on which they were briefed were to actually be employed

And for good measure, here’s Jello Jay, pointing out that the CIA also got its briefing schedule wrong with him, as they did with Graham.

Read more

“If You’re Trying to Commit a Crime,” You Wouldn’t Brief Democrats

I’ve been meticulously tracking the erroneous claims made about whether or not Democrats got briefed on torture because:

  • The known briefing schedule makes it clear that CIA broke the law requiring them to inform Congress of their actions
  • Some of the arguments rely on either illiteracy or willful ignorance of the public record in their claims

But in today’s hearing Lindsey Graham makes clear why the Republicans are arguing this point so aggressively.

Now. I don’t know what Nancy Pelosi knew and when she knew it. And I really don’t think she’s a criminal if she was told about waterboarding and did nothing. But I think it is important to understand that members of Congress, allegedly, were briefed by … about these interrogation techniques. And again, it goes back to the idea of what was the Administration trying to do. If you’re trying to commit a crime, it seems to me that’d be the last thing you’d want to do. If you had in your mind and your heart that you’re going to disregard the law, and you’re going to come up with interrogation techniques that you know to be illegal, you would not go around telling people on the other side of the aisle about it. 



That’s the point now, isn’t it?

Because no one in Congress was told that the CIA was going to start torturing in 2002, until it was too late. Pelosi and Goss were told, after CIA had waterboarded Abu Zubaydah 83 times, that CIA might waterboard in the future. Bob Graham was not told of waterboarding at all, according to him. Jello Jay was not at the briefing at which CIA told Pat Roberts "in considerable detail" about waterboarding. The CIA doesn’t even say Jane Harman was told about waterboarding specifically in February 2003 (though I assume she was). 

The first time CIA can say for certain that any Democratic members of Congress at all were briefed on waterboarding was in July 2004, after CIA had waterboarded for what ended up being the last time, and after their own Inspector General determined they were breaking the law.

And then, in 2005, when CIA was trying to sustain their ability to torture against Congressional wishes, CIA had briefings for Ted Stevens and Thad Cochran with no Democrats in attendance. They had a briefing for John McCain with no Democrats in attendance. Read more

Rockefeller to Politico: Read the Damn SSCI Narrative Already!!!

Jello Jay has finally resorted to explaining things to journalists reeeaaalllly slowly, so they can understand that this passage from the SSCI narrative, produced during Jello Jay’s tenure as Senate Intelligence Chair …

After the change in leadership of the Committee in January of 2003, CIA records indicate that the new Chairman of the Committee was briefed on the CIA’s program in early 2003. Although the new Vice-Chairman did not attend that briefing, it was attended by both the staff director and minority staff director of the Committee. [my emphasis]

… means that the new Vice Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee in January 2003, a guy named Jay Rockefeller, maintains he did not attend the briefing that the CIA claims he attended. Spelled out all simple-like so reporters can understand it, Jello Jay’s stance reads like this:

We are not in a position to vouch for the accuracy of the document. We can tell you that in the particular entry stating that Senator Rockefeller was briefed on February 4th of 2003 with an asterisk also noting him as later individually briefed — that is not correct, or at least is not being reported correctly by people reading the document. The Democratic staff director attended a briefing on Feb. 4, but Senator Rockefeller was not present and was not later briefed individually by anyone in the intelligence community. He was first personally briefed by the intelligence community on Sept 4th, 2003. [my emphasis]

And these passages from the SSCI narrative…

In May 2004, the CIA’s Inspector General issued a classified special review of the CIA’s detention and interrogation program, a copy of which was provided to the Committee Chairman and Vice Chairman and staff directors in June of 2004. The classified August 1, 2002, OLC opinion was included as an attachment to the Inspector General’s review. That review included information about the CIA’s use of waterboarding on the three detainees.


In July 2004, the CIA briefed the Chairman and Vice Chairman of the Committee on the facts and conclusions of the Inspector General special review.

… suggest that Jello Jay first learned the full extent of what we were doing with waterboarding in 2004, when he received the IG report that revealed (among other things) that the CIA wasn’t doing what the OLC memos said it was doing.

Senator Rockefeller has repeatedly stated he was not told critical information that would have cast significant doubt on the program’s legality and effectiveness. Read more

Why Is Pat Roberts So Quiet?

Virtually every report treating the CIA list of torture briefings seems either blissfully ignorant of or totally unconcerned with two significant conflicts between that list and the SSCI Narrative released earlier last month. The conflicts are:

  • CIA says Jello Jay attended the February 4, 2003 briefing on torture; SSCI says he did not (though note CIA’s asterisked comment admitting "later individual briefing to Rockefeller" and Rockefeller’s recent statement about being briefed, which suggests they may be reaching consensus that he had a later, "incomplete" briefing).
  • CIA does not say it briefed the Senate on "legal/policy issues" nor that "CIA [was] currently seeking reaffirmation from DOJ on use of EITs as well as renewed policy approval from NSC principals to continue using EITs" on July 15, 2004–it says it did brief the House intell leaders on this; SSCI says CIA did say it "was seeking OLC’s legal analysis on whether the program was consistent with the substantive provisions of Article 16 of the Convention Against Torture."

The conflicts are important because, if the SSCI narrative is correct, it would show key conclusions reporters are making about the briefings are false, it would clearly undermine the validity of the rest of the CIA briefing list, and it would show that CIA’s version left out key aspects of Congressional oversight (or lack thereof). If the CIA version is correct, it would mean CIA avoided at least one discussion about legal issues that pertained directly to the Senate’s role in approving treaties.

The conflict, however, is not just a he-said-he-said conflict between Bush’s CIA leadership and one key Democrat. The CIA and the SSCI agree that Pat Roberts attended both of these briefings (though not the individual briefing Jello Jay had). Now, Pat Roberts was not on SSCI when it developed its narrative, so he may or may not have had input into the narrative. But it has been public for weeks, and Pat Roberts remains mum about its accuracy (or not; also, he has not yet weighed in on the CIA version, either). 

But we do know there has been an extended process between CIA and SSCI on these issues. 

As Jello Jay explains, discussions about the SSCI narrative started last August–and the CIA, as well as key members of the Bush Administration–got input.

In August 2008, I asked Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey to join the effort to create such an unclassified narrative. Read more