February 07, 2006

Don't mess with Helen Thomas.

The White House briefings by Dubya's press secretary Scott McClellan are disturbingly the same. Much of the time, the White House press throws softballs, which McClellan has no trouble responding to. Even with the testier climate of late, the hard questions that are sometimes asked usually die in the morass of McClellan's obfuscations and outright lying.

But an experienced White House reporter can sometimes nail McClellan to the wall. And when we talk experience, there's no reporter with more of it than Helen Thomas, who began covering the White House beat when JFK was president. As any of the last eight presidents [and who knows how many press secretaries] could tell you, it's a bad idea to try to stop Thomas from getting at the truth.

Scottie's nemesis

Helen Thomas lies in ambush for Scott McClellan before a 2005 White House press briefing.
[Photo: John Pendygraft/St Petersburg Times]

At yesterday's briefing, Thomas had a question about Dubya's illegal wiretapping:

Q Does the President think he should obey the law? He put his hand on the Bible twice to uphold the Constitution. Wiretapping is not legal under the circumstances without a warrant.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I guess you didn't pay attention to the Attorney General's hearing earlier today, because he walked through very clearly the rationale behind this program. And, Helen, I think you have to ask are we a nation at war --

Q There is no rationale to disobey the law.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, he's not -- are we a nation at war?

Q That's not the question.

MR. McCLELLAN: No, that is the issue here.

Q No, the question is, the point is there are means for him to go to war, get a warrant to spy on people.

MR. McCLELLAN: Enemy surveillance is critical to waging and winning war. It's one of the traditional tools of war.

Q Nobody says he doesn't have running room to --

MR. McCLELLAN: And the Attorney General outlined very clearly today how previous administrations have used the same authority and cited the same --

Q That doesn't make it legal.

MR. McCLELLAN: -- and cited the very same authority.

Q If they broke the law, that's too bad. You know what happened to Nixon when he broke the law.

MR. McCLELLAN: And we're going to continue doing everything we can within our power to protect the American people. This is a very different circumstance, and you know that.

Q No, I don't.

Q Two questions. One, --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, then you should go back and listen to what the Attorney General said, because he laid out the safeguards that are in place, and how it's the career officials at NSA that make the decisions when it comes to this.

Q The President has to obey the law.

MR. McCLELLAN: And he does.

This magpie gives the match to Helen Thomas, by a mile.

Posted by Magpie at February 7, 2006 09:10 PM | US Politics | Technorati links |

Heh. The very gloatingest of Mr. Burns-style "Excellent"s to Ms. Thomas.

Posted by: natasha at February 10, 2006 06:21 AM

Helen should be embarrassed at being so ignorant about Article II war powers. Then again, I understand she's beyond embarrassment....sigh.

Posted by: jak at February 15, 2006 05:24 PM

You should be embarassed over having so little concern for your civil liberties.

Posted by: natasha at February 16, 2006 06:00 PM