- The Washington Times - Monday, January 30, 2006

The esteemed Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee spent January slinging mud at Judge Samuel Alito and making general buffoons of themselves. Fresh from that performance, starting Monday the same senators will kick around the National Security Agency in the opening session of its wiretap hearings — led by an admitted leaker who was once booted off the Senate Intelligence Committee for his violations.

Nineteen years ago, Sen. Patrick Leahy, Vermont Democrat, resigned from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence after admitting leaking a document on Iran-Contra to NBC reporter John Dancy. Back then, Mr. Leahy thought he knew better than the rules required, and so he leaked. He insisted he acted “carelessly” and had no political intent, but the problem of leaks was a real one and the unilateral Mr. Leahy could anger intelligence professionals with the best.

As it happens, Mr. Leahy is now the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee. What will he do with the troves of information soon to be at his disposal? What kind of credibility should an admitted leaker be lent if and when he promises to handle the material carefully?

The problem isn’t just Mr. Leahy; it’s the whole misguided idea of bypassing the Senate Intelligence Committee and holding the hearings in a public and partisan atmosphere like Judiciary Committee. The Senate Intelligence Committee is specifically designed to handle sensitive intelligence matters; the Judiciary Committee is not, at least not to the same extent, and is far more susceptible to politicization and leaks. The Democrats should know: Last year they were howling about a Republican staffer who allegedly hacked into the computers of Democratic committee members to unearth strategy memos on President Bush’s judicial nominees. Is this the environment to examine sensitive national-security information?

The Republican side of the Judiciary Committee is even more to blame. It lacks a known leaker but it was Sen. Arlen Specter who vowed in December to hold the hearings in his committee in the first place. No one objected, at least not publicly, to this power grab.

“Power grab” is the reality here. As much as congressional Democrats denounce the NSA program as a presidential usurpation, Congress is engaging in its own power grab: It wants to blow sensitive NSA programs into plain sight to stake out its oversight territory. No one begrudges Congress its legitimate role in ensuring that the intelligence agencies execute their responsibilities within the law. But why must the whole affair be broadcast on CNN? The answer is politics.

Sadly, in the coming weeks, we are likely to see the Judiciary Committee make a spectacle to rival their character assassination of Judge Alito. But this time, rather than a judge’s integrity, it will be sensitive national-security information that they trample over.

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