Press Briefing by Senator Charles Schumer
November 1, 2000
I am Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York, and I am here today to call on the president to veto the Intelligence Authorization Act of 2001 and to urge my colleagues to take a stand against this bill. The bill violates the core purpose of the First Amendment, and it is vital that the president protect the values that have allowed our nation to flourish, by vetoing this bill.
It now appears that we'll have a lame duck session in two weeks. The president can now veto this bill with the knowledge that Congress can go back, repass the Intelligence Authorization Act, and either repair or remove this potentially devastating provision. There is bipartisan support for, at the very least, amending this provision so it won't take effect for another year, allowing us to hold hearings and decide the issue in the light of day. Senator Grassley and Congressman Hyde have both already expressed support for this idea. Today I'm sending a letter to all my colleagues in both the House and Senate asking them to join me in asking the president to veto the bill. We can do better for the American people.
Momentum is clearly building against this dangerous legislation. Just yesterday, the chief executives of four of our nation's leading news organizations -- the New York Times, CNN, the Washington Post and the Newspaper Association of America -- took the rare step of writing the president to warn him that signing the bill would come at the cost of an informed public.
Now it is our turn to take a stand against a bill that violates the very purpose of our First Amendment. The legislation may seem well-intentioned in its attempt to deter leaks of classified information that could affect our national security. But make no mistake about it. This bill attempts to protect our national security in such broad and vague terms, and without regard for the potential of rampant overclassification of government information, that it will have profound effects on the ability of an informed citizenry to keep our government honest.
You can protect classified information in a far more careful and narrow way without doing damage that this bill does.
The bill's proponents argue that it only criminalizes the disclosure of properly classified information, but in a classic example of legislative legerdemain, "properly classified" is then broadly defined to include any information that a person, quote, "has reason to believe has been properly classified by appropriate authorities," unquote. That can mean virtually anything.
This open-ended definition would require all current and past government officials to guess at what might be illegal, while the threat of serious jail time hangs over their heads. This will undoubtedly chill whistle-blowers, dissenting officials, and those who occasionally point journalists to public information that is critical to our government. Ultimately, this bill will jeopardize our national security by shielding broad categories of information vital to evaluating our government, our policies and our practices.
We should never forget that one of the core purposes of the First Amendment was to prohibit government from suppressing embarrassing information, not criminalizing its release. There may be ways to tighten our laws relating to disclosures of our most sensitive information without chilling the press and core political speech, but this legislation attempts to protect our national security at the expense of an informed public and, in that end, that's no real security at all.
Any questions? Yes.
Q Have you talked to any members of the Senate or House Intelligence Committee about what they think about this?
SEN. SCHUMER: I have. I've talked to Senator Bryan, who is the ranking Democrat, and he is for the provisions. But he suggested to me that a one-year delay while we could look at this would be a reasonable thing to assume. I'd like to go further than that. I'd like the president to veto the bill and, instead of putting in a one- year delay, we fix this. But a one-year delay would be -- at minimum, prevent this provision from going into effect. So that's on the table.
Q I just have one question.
SEN. SCHUMER: Sure.
Q How long does the president have to veto this?
SEN. SCHUMER: He has to veto it by Saturday. But then, what's changed things is -- veto or sign it by Saturday -- but what's changed things is the lame duck session that we will have will give us time to address the changes.
So it's no longer an either/or proposition for the president. He can have the best of both worlds, which is a intelligence authorization bill protecting national security but not overreaching.
Q Have you talked to the authors of this provision?
SEN. SCHUMER: Well, Senator Bryan was one of them and Senator Shelby was -- Senator Shelby thought it was a good thing to do. The problem here is, there was not much disclosure. There were very few hearings. There was very little discussion. And this is an example, when you try to sort of -- and this happens more in intelligence legislation, for obvious reasons, than others -- but when you try to sort of whiz something through Congress, bad things can happen. This legislation is a good example of why the process in Congress ought to be rather slow and certainly rather open.
Q Do you think the president is going to veto it even though Senator Shelby likes the bill the way it is and he'll repass it anyway?
SEC. SCHUMER: The responsible thing to do would be to repass the bill with changes, and I believe that -- I don't know this for a fact -- but I believe Senator Shelby would rise to that occasion.
Okay? Great. Thanks everybody.