A limitless tolerance

A LIMITLESS TOLERANCE…. The New York Times reported last night that the CIA, following direct orders from Dick Cheney, “withheld information about a secret counterterrorism program from Congress for eight years.” CIA Director Leon Panetta has scrapped the program, but the decision to hide it from Congress has obviously raised a lot of concerns among lawmakers.

Well, among some lawmakers. Matt Corley noted this afternoon that a variety of leading Republican senators were asked about the revelations on this morning’s talk shows, and none seemed especially troubled by the story.

Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), the #2 Republican in the chamber, for example, was asked whether Cheney should have ordered the CIA to keep the program secret from Congress. He asked, rhetorically, “What if it’s a top secret program? Of course he and the president would both be responsible for that.”

Actually, in the world where grown-ups live, Congress has oversight authority over the CIA, and the agency is legally required to notify lawmakers — at a minimum, the so-called “Gang of Eight” — about intelligence activities. No administration, even those run by Jon Kyl’s buddies, are supposed to run counterterrorism programs without checks and balances.

Kyl’s nonchalance was rather common this morning.

On Fox News Sunday, Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) said that while he agrees that “the CIA should brief the Congress,” any mention of Cheney is just the Obama administration trying to “blame the Bush-Cheney administration” for everything. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that he doesn’t “know whether it was appropriate,” but dismissed the concern by saying, “the CIA is in the secrecy business.”

Also on CNN, Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH) said that it “is wrong if somebody told the CIA not to inform the appropriate members of Congress,” but tried to cast the debate as an “attempt” by Democrats “to basically undermine the capacity to protect and develop intelligence.”

Not surprisingly, the majority party seems to see things differently. Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) told George Stephanopoulos there should “absolutely” be an investigation. “The executive branch of government should not create programs like these programs and keep Congress in the dark,” Durbin said. “To have a massive program that was concealed from the leaders in Congress is not only inappropriate, it could be illegal.”

On “Fox News Sunday,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said Cheney’s decision to order the CIA to keep information from Congress is a “big problem.”