The PJ Tatler

McCain: Phone Records Seizure Could Be 'Understandable,' But Not Defending It 'Per Se'

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) seemed to be trying to stake out a ground somewhere between Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on the controversy over the acquisition of phone records by the NSA.

“If this is just a way of checking on whether phone calls were made to organizations that we know overseas that are dedicated to committing acts of terror, then I think it’s understandable,” McCain said last night on Fox.

“But I think the burden of proof, as always, has to be on the government. Explain why it had to be such a wide net, what they expected to get out of it, and who did they really go after, if anyone, as a result of this kind of sweeping, really all-encompassing gathering of phone communications that were made all over by millions.”

McCain said he’s not defending the seizure of the records “per se.”

“They did go to a FISA court, you know, a court that the judges are well versed and have a good background on the issues of dangers to America as far as attacks are concerned and terrorist organizations. They did go to the FISA court,” he said.

“…What I’m saying is that I believe this started in the Bush administration, and I think that there needs to be a thorough vetting. On a macro scale, after 9/11, we were all concerned, as you might fully expect, about further acts of terror. So I think we did things that maybe in retrospect or started practices that in retrospect may have been an overreaction, which is understandable.”

The senator said “the Rosen thing” — the labeling of Fox News correspondent James Rosen a co-conspirator to access his records — “has added to the conspiracy view that many Americans have of our government.”

“The IRS stuff adds to it. The Associated Press thing adds to it. It’s an argument for a more open and transparent government. And this administration that said it was going to be the most transparent in history, I think you might argue it’s the least transparent certainly in recent times,” he said. “And one of the reasons they may have gotten away with it is, very frankly, they had a much more compliant, that’s the best word I know, media than previous, certainly the Bush administration had.”

“…Now someone over in the intelligence agency is thinking, well, McCain is giving away all our secrets. Well, shouldn’t Americans know if the government is carrying out a practice that could be an invasion of privacy? Shouldn’t the American people be comforted? Don’t you owe them an explanation?”