George W. Bush does not want you to find out, along with many other messy details. Was it before 9/11, as suggested by a Bloomberg report that made just such a claim? That would tend to undercut Bush's Argument of Last Resort, by which he claims the authority to do anything he wants by virtue of his Article II powers "in a time of war." But even that magisterial privilege has its limitations. Why couldn't a President, even in a time of war, comply with the simple, rubber-stamp requirements of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act? If he had, there would be no question of liability in the first place. And if he found the FISA law cumbersome, out-of-date and insufficient to deal with all these "enemies who lurk," why didn't he instruct his Attorney General to coordinate a legislative amendment? Hell, those doughy pushovers in Congress will let torture go by the boards, ferchrissake.
Under my standard Canons of Bush Interpretation, I always work from the assumption that whatever rationale Bush announces for anything is not the real reason. I have to say that this approach seldom fails to cover the ground. So while W may lament the tragic predicament of giant telecommunications companies, who only wanted to serve & protect, lying prostrate and at the mercy of rapacious "trial lawyers" seeking billions of dollars for invading the privacy of their customers, I think the president's motivations may lie a little closer to home. His relentless hectoring of the House (the Millionaires' Club [the U.S. Senate], of course, has already caved) is a reliable sign that Bush's inherent paranoia is redlining again. He does not want any loose ends, like a felony indictment, hanging over his blissful retirement plans for January, 2009, and if those shysters are allowed that wholesale discovery that tends to turn up everything down to fine-grained detail, there's no telling where this thing could end up.
I imagine that if some of us loyal citizens have a BushClock on our desktop, Bush has downloaded one too. He's watching the time tick by. Yet it's beginning to drag a little for W. Nine (nine!) more frigging months! In recent years, the Congress has spent a great deal of time in a hitherto unheard-of process, the passing of ex post facto exoneration legislation. Thus, Congress has let bygones-be-bygones about obvious (and felonious) violations of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, the Federal Anti-Torture Act and the U.S. War Crimes Act. Hey, they said: the guy meant well. So let's make sure the Detainee Treatment Act and the Military Commissions Act are loaded up with retroactive get-out-of-jail-free cards.
So I think Bush is a little flummoxed by this intransigence in da House. What gives? It's really starting to piss him off. While I don't share Bush's anger, I do share his surprise. The House may force Bush to play his hole card, which he was beginning to think would be unnecessary. The pas de deux with Cheney: pardon Dick, resign, let Dick pardon him. Just slip it in there the last week during the usual Pardonathon. Yet it's unseemly, and -- much worse for the Cowboy -- a little weak. You mean to tell me, he's thinking, Nancy Pelosi is finally going to stand up to me?