May 31st, 2015
12:59 PM ET

Sen Mike Lee on SOTU: "I think the question is not really about whether we will get this passed, but when.‎"

Today on CNN’s State of the Union, Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) and Senator Angus King (I-ME), joined chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto to discuss this past weekend's Senate negotiations to renew the USA Freedom Act and the possible consequences to the current powers in the act if it is allowed to lapse during the Chamber's recess.

Text and video highlights and a transcript of the discussion are below

MANDATORY CREDIT: CNN’s “State of the Union”

TEXT HIGHLIGHTS

Sen. Mike Lee on having the votes to pass the USA Freedom Act:  “I do believe we have the votes… I think the question is not really about whether we will get this passed, but when. It will happen either tonight or it will happen on Wednesday or some time in between then, but really within that 72-hour window, we are going to pass the House- passed USA Freedom Act, which passed the House with a bipartisan supermajority of 338 votes.”

Sen. Angus King on his concerns with the USA Freedom Act: “I think it's important that people understand, we are not talking about the content of phone calls. My concern - and I support the concept of moving the data out of the government. I think that's a good idea from a privacy point of view. My concern is that, if you move it out of the government, leave it with the phone companies, and the phone companies say, well, we're deciding we're only going to hold that data for a week or a month or six months, then the program loses its functionality altogether, and you have in effect repealed it without really saying so.”

Sen. Mike Lee on how the bad habits of both parties slowed the process of passing this bill: “…we proposed this bill last year, so that it could be introduced and passed well in advance of this deadline. Unfortunately, this sort of thing has become all too common. It's been a trend and a bad habit adopted by both parties. Bad habits, old habits sometimes die hard. But this is an idea and a habit whose idea has - whose time has finally come. I think it's time for us to move forward and to stop governing by cliff.”

Sen. Angus King on creating a balance between the Fourth Amendment and providing “common defense”: “…what we are doing here, Jim, is trying to balance the fundamental responsibility that the Constitution assigns to us of national security, to provide for the common defense and ensure domestic tranquility…with the Fourth Amendment and privacy rights. But the Fourth Amendment isn't absolute. It said people shall be free of unreasonable searches and seizures. We are always trying to strike the balance between those two principles, in light of risks and in light of technology.”

Sen. Mike Lee on collecting phone record data, even under this new bill proposal: “…the phone companies will hold the records, because they are the phone companies. They have a record of who calls whom. …the NSA will be able to query and reach out to the phone companies to get that calling data that is relevant to an actual national security investigation. But we don't think it's a good idea for the government to just be collecting all this data in bulk just because it's there. This data, when aggregated and when put into a database that covers a five-year period of time, potentially 300 million Americans, it reveals a lot about a person, about how they spend their time. And we don't think it's appropriate for the government to just collect this information simply because it exists.”

Sen. Angus King on if the potential 72-hour window once the bill is passed, concerns him: “It does concern me.  …it now does look like the votes are there. So, the only question is when. And I would hope that those who are making a big deal of standing in the way and objecting and blocking realize that all they are really doing is slowing something down for two or three days, that there is a risk created. …we could get it over with tonight if people will cede back time, if you will, pass the bill, and it could be on the president's desk tomorrow morning, with no lapse in the protections for the public. …And I don't want to exaggerate the risk, but it created a risk that we won't have a tool in our national security toolkit.”

VIDEO HIGHLIGHTS

GOP Senator: NSA reform bill will pass

Senator: U.S. threat level has never been higher

FULL TRANSCRIPT

THIS IS A RUSH FDCH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

 

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN HOST: Joining me now is Republican Senator Mike Lee. He is sponsoring the new surveillance reform bill that the Senate will take up later today, and, as well, Senator Angus King, who has some concerns, serious concerns, with the proposed legislation.

I want to begin, if I can, with Senator Lee.

Senator Lee, as we look at this legislation, we are coming down to the wire here. Do you believe you have the votes to get this passed tonight, so that those powers that we just described aren't suspended?

SEN. MIKE LEE (R-UT): I do believe we have the votes.

And so, at this point, I think the question is not really about whether we will get this passed, but when. It will happen either tonight or it will happen on Wednesday or some time in between then, but really within that 72-hour window, we are going to pass the House- passed USA Freedom Act, which passed the House with a bipartisan supermajority of 338 votes.

This is a good day for the American people, whose rights will be protected, whose Fourth Amendment and privacy interests will be defended. At the same time, their national security interests will also be protected and preserved.

SCIUTTO: But 72 hours, that would still provide a window where these powers are suspended. And, as the president described when he was making the case on Friday, even a short window, considering the level of the threat from groups such as ISIS, et cetera, would provide an opportunity, a danger.

Are you saying that even if you have the votes, that there will be a period where these powers are suspended?

LEE: I hope not. I think that would be unfortunate and I think it would unnecessary, and that's why I would like to get it passed today.

I will point out I tried to bring this up early last week, because I recognized that this cliff was coming. We have known for four years that this deadline was approaching. And I think the American people are starting to demand more. They're starting to expect that Congress actually moves ahead of the game and stops governing by cliff.

The American people deserve better than this, especially when it comes to a program that is an integral part of protecting our national security.

SCIUTTO: So, how did we get to this cliff? It's not a budget showdown. It's a national security showdown. How did we get here?

LEE: Well, we have known it was coming for the last four years.

Several of us had concerns starting the last time that this program was reauthorized four years ago. We voted against it. And we began working on a process to reform Section 215 of the Patriot Act.

I have felt strongly about this for a long time, so much so that I devoted an entire chapter of my new book, "Our Lost Constitution," to this program and to its ramifications for the Fourth Amendment and for the privacy interests of the American people.

But that's why we came up with the bill. And we proposed this bill last year, so that it could be introduced and passed well in advance of this deadline. Unfortunately, this sort of thing has become all too common. It's been a trend and a bad habit adopted by both parties.

Bad habits, old habits sometimes die hard. But this is an idea and a habit whose idea has - whose time has finally come. I think it's time for us to move forward and to stop governing by cliff.

SCIUTTO: Well, yes, and it's a habit now that has the country's ability to counter terrorism in its sights.

Rand Paul, as you know, is preparing for a fight. He's saying he will block this legislation. You backed him when he held the floor for 10 hours. You even stepped in for him when he was on the floor.

Are you prepared to do the same tonight, in light of the concerns he still holds?

LEE: Senator Paul and I share similar concerns about the collection of bulk metadata.

We think it's wrong for the government to be collecting phone records on every single American's phone calls. We do differ as to the strategy for how to deal with it. And so, although he and I share a similar concern, I don't agree with his approach. And I have taken a different approach here.

I think the USA Freedom Act solves the underlying problem.

SCIUTTO: But let me ask you this, finally, before I let you go.

When this program, the bulk metadata program, was revealed through Edward Snowden, the administration first claimed that there were some 50 terror plots that had been blocked due to that metadata collection. That number was watered down. That talking point disappeared.

Senator Pat Leahy and others established that, well, in fact, it was just one plot, $8,500 going from one American to Al-Shabaab, that was directly connected to information connected in the phone - collected in the phone metadata program.

Now, the fact is, the government, under this proposal, won't hold the data anymore, but the phone companies will. I mean, the data is still getting collected. Why is it necessary?

LEE: Well, the phone companies will hold the records, because they are the phone companies. They have a record of who calls whom.

And so the NSA will be able to query and reach out to the phone companies to get that calling data that is relevant to an actual national security investigation. But we don't think it's a good idea for the government to just be collecting all this data in bulk just because it's there.

This data, when aggregated and when put into a database that covers a five-year period of time, potentially 300 million Americans, it reveals a lot about a person, about how they spend their time. And we don't think it's appropriate for the government to just collect this information simply because it exists.

SCIUTTO: Senator Lee, I want you to stand by, because I'm going to go to Senator King now.

Senator King, you are a member of the Intelligence Committee. You have expressed serious concerns, lingering concerns even with the proposal that is going to be voted on today. Have your concerns been addressed?

And, for instance, I will ask you specifically, is moving the metadata out of the government's hands to the phone companies, where the government would then have to request access to it, is that enough of a reform to address the concerns that you and many other privacy advocates have had in the U.S.?

SEN. ANGUS KING (I-ME): Well, the answer is yes and no.

I think moving the data out of the government is an important step. I have been lobbying in the Intelligence Committee for two years for just that step. The problem I have is that the bill, as currently drafted, has no requirement whatsoever that the phone companies hold the data for any particular period of time.

Let me - let's back up, though, Jim. I think it's really important for people to understand, we are not talking about the content of phone conversations here. Nine out of 10 people I talk to on the street say, I don't want NSA listening to my phone calls. That's not what we are talking about.

We are talking about is the telephone numbers and what - who those numbers call, not any content, for example, the Tsarnaev brothers in Boston, right after the marathon, to be able to check their phone number and see who they had called around the country to determine whether this was a couple guys in Boston or a national plot.

So, I think it's important that people understand, we are not talking about the content of phone calls. My concern - and I support the concept of moving the data out of the government. I think that's a good idea from a privacy point of view. My concern is that, if you move it out of the government, leave it with the phone companies, and the phone companies say, well, we're deciding we're only going to hold that data for a week or a month or six months, then the program loses its functionality altogether, and you have in effect repealed it without really saying so.

And that's been the issue that I have been trying to raise throughout this process, is, there should be some reasonable requirement for holding the data, if, indeed, you think the program has some value. And I do.

SCIUTTO: But I hear you on the point that it's not the content of phone conversations. I am aware of that. I think many of our viewers are aware of that.

But, at the end of the day, it's still about who Americans are in touch with, which many would consider private information. Even if you're not listening to the calls, it's who those people called. And you mentioned the Tsarnaev brothers. But can't law enforcement, if they have a suspect in mind, then track those phone conversations, as opposed to collect everybody's, mine and yours included, just in case they might have to do so? That was the key privacy issue there.

KING: Well, and you are right. And that's exactly why I and Mike Lee and many others have supported getting this data out of the hands of the government.

It just - even though there was no effort - no evidence of it ever being abused, there were protections built in, I think all of us felt or many of us felt that we ought to get it out of the hands of the government.

But there is a step here that the government has to go through the court, the FISA court, in order to get what amounts to a warrant, to have a reasonable, articulable suspicion of terrorist connection. And then they can go and search the data. So they can't just go in and check your records to see who you are calling in California.

So, there are protections. And what we are doing here, Jim, is trying to balance the fundamental responsibility that the Constitution assigns to us of national security, to provide for the common defense and ensure domestic tranquility - those are the exact words of the preamble of the Constitution - with the Fourth Amendment and privacy rights.

But the Fourth Amendment isn't absolute. It said people shall be free of unreasonable searches and seizures. We are always trying to strike the balance between those two principles, in light of risks and in light of technology.

And I am strongly in favor of protecting privacy rights, but we also have to be aware that we are under a threat. And it strikes me as an unusual position for Senator Paul, for example, to be talking about essentially unilaterally disarming an important national security tool at a time when I have never seen the threat level higher.

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you this, because Senator Lee mentioned the possibility that, even though he believes and you believe that the - have the votes to pass this reform bill, that it might be a 72-hour window before it's passed, might be until Wednesday, which means that those essential powers, the unilateral disarming, as you described it, would disappear for a span of two, three days.

I know that's not a long period of time, but it doesn't take long to carry out a terror plot. Does that concern you? Would that 72-hour window or longer be a threat to U.S. national security?

KING: It does concern me.

And I think, as Senator Lee can confirm, this really is about timing. This will get done if the votes are there. And it now does look like the votes are there. So, the only question is when. And I would hope that those who are making a big deal of standing in the way and objecting and blocking realize that all they are really doing is slowing something down for two or three days, that there is a risk created.

How - you can argue whether it's large or small, but there is a risk created for those periods. So, why not - we could get it over with tonight if people will cede back time, if you will, pass the bill, and it could be on the president's desk tomorrow morning, with no lapse in the protections for the public.

So, really, it's a question of whether people are going to make a big production of objecting, and it ends up being passed on Tuesday or Wednesday, and we are in the same place we were; only, we have lost two or three days.

And I don't want to exaggerate the risk, but it created a risk that we won't have a tool in our national security toolkit.

SCIUTTO: And I have heard the same thing from many counterterror officials, that they have not seen the risk level at this state in some time.

Senator Mike Lee, Angus King, thank you very much for joining us on this crucial issue.

KING: Thank you.

LEE: Thank you.

END INTERVIEW

 


Topics: CNN • Jim Sciutto • State of the Union
tmpl
soundoff (No Responses)

Comments are closed.