At last night's Republican presidential debate, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul got into it over the National Security Agency's bulk records collection program. Debate co-host Megyn Kelly asked Christie if he thought it was really fair to say he'd blame Paul for a terrorist act that occurred after Paul's campaign against the NSA's bulk collection program. From the transcript:
Yes, I do. And I'll tell you why: because I'm the only person on this stage who's actually filed applications under the Patriot Act, who has gone before the federal — the Foreign Intelligence Service court, who has prosecuted and investigated and jailed terrorists in this country after September 11th.
I was appointed U.S. attorney by President Bush on September 10th, 2001, and the world changed enormously the next day, and that happened in my state.
This is not theoretical to me. I went to the funerals. We lost friends of ours in the Trade Center that day. My own wife was two blocks from the Trade Center that day, at her office, having gone through it that morning.
Paul stressed the importance of warrants for records collection, saying he didn't trust President Obama even if Chris Christie wanted to give the president another hug, a reference to Christie's October 2012 meeting with Obama after Hurricane Sandy hit the northeast. Christie responded that the hugs he remembered were from victims of 9/11 families. Seriously.
But, Christie's personal experience-based defense of the NSA's collections program contains an easily disprovable lie, as Emptywheel points out:
Never mind that most US Attorneys don't, themselves, go before the FISC to present cases (usually it is people from the National Security Division, though it was OIPR when Christie was US Attorney), never mind that the name of the court is the "Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
The real doozie here is Chris Christie's claim that he "was appointed U.S. attorney by President Bush on September 10th, 2001."
On December 7, 2001 — three months after the attacks — President Bush released this notice of nomination.
Emptywheel also reads an implication of illegal wiretapping in Christie's rhetorical gusto:
Christie implies he was involved in the dragnet in question. He was US Attorney from January 2002 to December 2008 — so he in fact would have been in office during the two years when the phone dragnet worked through the Servic–um, Surveillance court, and four years of the Internet dragnet. But if, as he implies, he was involved in the dragnet for the entire span of his tenure — and remember, there were huge cases run out of Trenton right out of 9/11 — then he was also using the fruits of illegal wiretapping to do his job. Not Servic — um, Surveillance court authorized dragnets and wiretaps, but also illegal wiretaps.
A majority of Americans in opinion surveys say they disapprove of the NSA's collection programs. A Pew Research poll this May found a full 74 percent of respondents did not believe privacy should be sacrificed for safety. But Paul is one of only a few Republican candidates (Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is another) who has fought against the NSA program, and hawkish Republican candidates like Christie see attacking Paul on that as an effective way to build support among the Republican base, illustrating how out of touch that base can be on some of the important issues of the day.