Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said lawmakers should stop complaining that they were unaware the National Security Administration was tracking the phone records of millions of Americans.
Lawmakers in the House and Senate have said in recent days they were not informed about the NSA surveillance, which was leaked by a 29-year-old government contractor last week. But Reid, D-Nev., said everyone was at least offered the chance to learn about it.
“We’ve had many, many meetings that have been both classified and unclassified that members have been invited to,” Reid said Tuesday after a closed-door meeting with fellow Democrats. “If they don’t come and take advantage of this…they shouldn’t come and say, 'I wasn’t aware of this,' because they’ve had every opportunity to be aware of all these programs.”
Reid reiterated the same defense used last week by President Obama, who insisted that lawmakers were told of the practice.
The surveillance is being conducted under authority granted by the Patriot Act, a law Congress approved after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and reauthorized about two years ago.
Reid and Obama’s view differs from that of Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, the top Republican on the Senate Homeland Security Committee, who said Monday she was not informed about the program.
Sens. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., and Mike Lee, R-Utah, introduced legislation that would make the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which approves surveillance requests in secret, to be more open to scrutiny.
Reid was unenthusiastic about the bill when asked about it by reporters, and he demurred on the question of whether there is enough congressional oversight of the NSA surveillance program.
“Enough is something that is in the eye of the beholder,” Reid answered, pointing the Senate intelligence panel that oversees the program.
Reid cited recent polls that show a majority of Americans support the surveillance programs, which the government insists are necessary to protect against future terrorist threats.
“The American people, in polls,” Reid said, “support what is happening with trying to stop terrorists from doing bad things to us.”