Holder Pressed on NSA Secret Storing of Phone Records

Senators grill U.S. attorney general on program the White House called "critical."
22:04 | 06/06/13

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Transcript for Holder Pressed on NSA Secret Storing of Phone Records
-- Good morning this is an ABC news digital special report on -- Hernandez in New York US attorney general Eric Holder is testifying sitting before a senate operations committee comes -- the British newspaper the guardian revealed the US government is spying on every domestic and international phone call placed by Verizon customers whose numbers they're calling not -- -- let's listen and. It's the correct answer would -- say no we stayed within -- -- and -- assuring you we did not spy on members of congress. You know I'd like to suggest something here armor when I -- the New York Times this morning it was like oh god no one more thing. And not one more thing where we're trying to protect America and then we'll check for spying on America. I I think the full senate needs to get a brief witness. On and I think we need the attorney general I think we need to National Security Agency. In other appropriate people this is no way to minimize actually senator Kirk -- very excellent question. -- but. There are also I think certain features that we had to be given -- -- classified more classified. Environment. Also. Show. I'm not going to determine who answers -- questions or censor Matt they're helping you -- of months. I could I would hope that it. Use chairman of memory and intelligence committee it is a -- wouldn't. Create the appropriate. -- that is classified hearing. To get into this with the attorney general -- be open with us. I think that what senator Kirk is raising is very important question. And -- and did you know be when I grade I agreed to -- -- question isn't in quite frankly is dishonored our -- and I know I'm sure you will. -- planned to ask myself what I would like to suggest is that. I will send. A -- to senator Reid and McConnell because. I think this cuts across communities think it goes to judiciary I think it goes to armed services I think it goes to Intel. Behind and had it not only including the scope of an appropriation. Yes. Yes madam chair would just suggest that for. Separation of powers that. Whoever was so sloppy bring this for you and it probably didn't -- segregate out the Supreme Court. To make sure that when you're jumping out of -- executive branch -- you want to make sure you're not. Gaining new Intel and leverage over. Separated powers under our constitution. -- I would hope that we would get absolutely sure it serves that not a single Supreme Court justice was. And all involved in this Verizon think. That we send her show -- races a great -- centers shall we weren't you and I talk about -- You'd like to proceed. Where we do -- due diligence says a committee but also this does involve. Others in addition to the justice -- I would like to do believe it's relevant thing this committee looking into them. Class I'd say. And I would be more than glad as I said in an appropriate setting to deal with us and -- senator -- them please do not. Take my response is something as being anything but respectful of the concerns that you have raised there have been no intention to do. Anything of that nature that is to spy on members of congress to spy on members of the Supreme Court. And -- without getting into anything. The specific I will say this that with regard to. That that members of congress have been fully briefed as these. Issues matter is have been. Under underway at I -- I'm not really comfortable in saying an awful lot more about that but the concerns that you have raised. But we're gonna stop here because this fully briefed as some fund that drives us up a wall because -- following -- means a group of eight leadership. It does not necessarily mean relevant committees -- sitting right here now here's senator Shelby and nine. A former chair of the intelligence committee more. Senator Collins. Chairs the homeland security committee in that it's actually to a new framework to coordinate intelligence and he's viewed as a national leader on the topic senator -- experience and senator Kirk himself wasn't it. Intelligence officer in the United States and in the -- tell -- what kind of like an eighteen here. But we also don't necessarily mean we didn't -- -- -- circle. So fully briefed doesn't mean we know what's going one man chairman and senator Shelby says we've got to know what's going going and there are appropriate questions to ask. I met chairman -- Yes it falls within the jurisdiction. Of this committee the appropriation -- the chief chairing the subcommittee teaching chair and -- ranking own vote. To get into this we find the justice or we fund the FB we find. The all these operations and if we don't known -- not properly briefed as to what going on we're not doing our oversight and I know you're gonna do our lives I got. So which are suggesting is -- -- he a classified hearing for the full appropriations. What's that he served that's protects more time notebook will proceed in that direction and we look forward. To working in a collaborative way and actually we have senator Feinstein chairs and tell tapping the full expertise. The full committee. Senator Kirk did you have a good. I would just say your your work when the gang violence is really excellent I didn't if you -- -- quite. And I elected not to the group I'm going to be offering an amendment to the next -- that this bill. For thirty million bucks to identifying gangs of national significance. I wish I would hope would be the gangster disciples in Illinois has talked about the possible need to. -- rest of upwards of 181000. People who are members of that game. Two do this especially. Because of my overwhelming concern for the Baltimore -- situation. Which is not seem which is -- sucking up to the chairman wasn't. Anything else in her current taxes -- I wouldn't hurt I would just you know because -- just issued some more whoever was -- running this program. Who knows they really screwed up I would just ask that you kind of -- their records and not allow the destruction of evidence that they have. Accidentally monitored other branches of the government. Quite well as -- said it would act Abby Morgan -- discuss this in. An appropriate sentence. We will. -- and I give my kids were to take committee members. Senator Graham. Well thank you I'm very glad I came this has been an interesting hearing now I'm when asking a question. Pay close attention I always do -- negative question. The purpose. Of the Patriot Act up and defies court and the national security administration. Is to make sure that we're aware of terrorist activity and disrupting plots against our interest -- at home and -- tree. I would agree with the the purpose of the Patriot Act is not to allow the executive branch to gather political intelligence on the judicial branch. -- the legislative branch you agree with that. -- So this is like killing innocent people and I can't say. I know exactly what you're trying to say there is no lawful authority in the -- -- -- any other statute. To -- somebody who's done nothing wrong anywhere do you agree with that. Yes I agree that we're trying to capture and kill people who we believe present a national security threat -- nation. Wright also -- and one thing we're trying to do in this. Patriot Act. Is to find out about terrorist organizations. And individual terrorist who they may be talking to him. The yen I can't -- what that is and as an overall hope America that people appreciate we're -- war costs Asher is held it. How the American appease people appreciate that way you protect the homeland as you try to find out what the -- -- today I'm a Verizon customer. It doesn't bother me one bit for the national security administration to have my phone number because what they're trying to do is find out. What terrorist groups we know about it individuals and -- Eller college. In -- by number pops up on some terrorist phone. I'm confident that defies -- court is not going to allow my phone calls to be monitored by my government. Unless you and others can prove to them that I'm up to the terrorist activity the probable -- standard. So I may come out differently than my colleagues on this. This was created by the congress and if we made mistakes -- that now -- we're gonna get back inside the line. But the consequences taking these tools away from the American people through their government would be catastrophic. So you keep up what you're doing and if you've gone outside the lane he fix it. President Bush started it president bombs -- that we needed from my point if you. Now under the law of war. There -- three branches -- -- what branch of government is in charge of actually implementing and executing the war. The executive branch so we don't have 535. Commanders in chief we have one right. That's true okay can you tell me any other time in -- the war where our judiciary. Took over the decision of who -- target. Who the enemy was and whether or not to use lethal force from the executive branch. I'm not aware that we obviously operate with any lead with a legal parameters but within those legal parameters it is -- how wall while will be astonished. For America during this war to turn over from the commander in chief. The ability to use lethal force to -- -- elected judges. That absolutely no expertise. And -- Background as to who the enemy is and whether or not we should. Use lethal force I think the worst possible thing we could do is to take away from this commander in chief and any -- commander in chief. The power to determine who the enemy is an attack on the war and what kind of forced -- -- and give it to -- judges. That would be the ultimate normalization of the war. Support you for having transparency. And for making a hall hard call. But you have from my point of view been more than reasonable when it comes to the drone program and to an American citizen. If you -- with the enemy. In -- still laborious process to determine if you have. We will kill you are captured the best way to avoid that is not help al-Qaeda and -- -- was an American citizen in Yemen. Any doubt your mind he was helping -- -- Nine and if you look at that letter that I -- we laid out exactly why he was the target. Debt he was appropriate target and their other American citizens we know -- associated with al-Qaeda -- Adams a spokesman is that correct. That is correct if we find them kill him are capturing don't go to the court and you don't need my permission and do it costs -- your job. As the executive branch up. Finally. -- she asked a very good question. Would this administration used one time Monday. In the future to housing -- -- capture. I think the president has been pretty clear it is not our intention to any additional prisoners okay so it goes back -- question. A jail can't BS yet. Under the Geneva convention that is not a viable option so we're a nation -- that a jail. And the reason we put the -- the ship was got no place to put -- and this -- -- catch up with this mr. attorney general. This nation has lost the ability to gather intelligence because we don't have a prison to put people. And if we don't correct that we're going to lose valuable intelligence in this last question. Do you agree with me that the people we've had at gitmo for years that the intelligence we've gathered -- mainly -- the ball -- interrogation. Has made this country safer and was won the big reasons we got in Latin. -- I think that you know one of the reasons we got. On one of the many reasons we got Osama bin Laden was intelligence that we gathered from a variety. Of the -- -- area made that warned the treasure rose of the intelligence regarding the war. -- -- war on terrorists come from people getting out. By this point you have some people have been there for ten and eleven years eight years and then their intelligence value is close to zero. Well some people may -- but the war is changing what I'm trying to say is there's no doubt in my mind that we get torture our way to giving bin Laden. We put the puzzle together and the big pieces of the puzzle -- What is it doing to your ability to protect us as a nation. We aren't we are struggling really to bomb keep our -- is at the level where we can do our job. Since January of 2011 -- put. They -- hiring freeze in place he lost when he 400 people we've lost about 600 prosecutors. Through the help of this. I mean when you say -- lost what does that mean did they quit and I knocked -- -- -- -- you server. Could you be clear which -- -- -- people who have left the Department of Justice. -- -- not been replaced so we are smaller Department of Justice -- we war. Before I instituted -- the hiring freeze. If we do not get assistance in 2014. The furloughs that we were able to avoid because of your assistance -- assistance. Ranking member Shelby. Those are frozen we -- have to instituting you'll have FBI agents were not on the streets prosecutors when not in the quartz. And you gonna see I admire my guess would be that whoever the attorney general is a year two years from now you're gonna see reduced numbers. With regard to prosecutions. And I think that will be a function this sequestration that we are trying to. We're trying to deal with and we've tried to deal again with with with your help. -- I have -- -- my -- was hot I was in charge. OK you've been watching a senate reached Appropriations. Committee hearing on Justice Department funding but obviously. One section of this. Has been to discuss say story that has appeared in the guardian -- -- Newspaper word that the government has obtained records from Verizon customers in terms of all the telephone calls they have been made lawmakers. Did take the opportunity to ask attorney general Eric Holder and about this unprecedented. Intrusion into the lives. Americans we have Rick -- -- joining us -- ABC news to talk about this. Bottom line the government three of the NSA has requested records from Verizon's. Corporate. Side we don't know whether this has affected Verizon domestic customers -- -- asking for phone records of every phone call placed domestic and international. What exactly -- more do we know about this. This is opening a tiny window into a broad series of actions the government -- doing for several years now we've heard for several members of congress who. Basis that this is not a big deal they've known about this all along presumably. It affects other countries and essentially what we're learning we're -- a portrait of the government having built over a series of some years now. -- massive database that connects all sorts of dots around -- -- not actually listening to phone calls. -- -- be -- the ability go back and look and say these are the connections that were made this number is connected to this number was next to this number and this network. And they -- describing it again lawmakers have been briefed on the describing as a valuable law enforcement tool. It has understandably drawn -- quite a rise and built some interesting coalitions on Capitol Hill a lot of people for the first time now grappling with signs -- going on for awhile. And in the larger sense this debate over privacy vs national security that we as a country have been talking about since nine elevenths. Then seem to be a lot of push back -- this committee hearing and essentially. People are saying this has -- that program approved by congress and that the at the executive branch is discretion. That's right and that the vast middle of both parties -- -- that moderate Democrats moderate Republicans agree they've they've -- this on the front end they feel like it's. Of a valuable program. But this is united liberals on the left libertarians on the right liberals libertarians sometimes they find themselves together on something in this case they find themselves very much in -- on this. From the liberal perspective they're worried about the the fact that their civil liberties being trampled on here that that is if you will be caught up in this -- the libertarians see as a massive expansion of government that concerns them. So they are the ones that are -- tracer fire on this with some very heated language about what this does the constitution. But again the in the early read in terms of senator from congress is that. Most of the mainstream Democrats and Republicans feel like this is a program that their cultural with the government doing. And we and we have a committee chair Barbara Mikulski say they want to inquire about this there will -- -- surely be. Follow up hearings directly about this issue -- this move. -- we may not be privy to us. That's right a lot of that will be and in closed session but members of the intelligence committee -- -- coming out saying. We've known about this members of congress have known about this for some time they are -- -- had a chance to weigh in on this. And again this one letter that we saw -- -- impacting Verizon. Just seems it -- in the open the gateway to lots that are actually out there this is the only one that we're seeing which is extraordinary in itself that this has been leaked. But this does not mean that this is discrete period of time this doesn't mean that there was one specific threat that that prompted this three month period. That the clear indication that we've gotten from our reporting on this is that this is a a very comprehensive well thought out well planned program that is allowing the government. To build and build and build on this database of numbers and connections. That's interesting because what we know so far is very limited this is only Verizon net -- -- -- network services a period of time from April until July. But essentially what we're learning now is that it's just a tiny piece of the puzzle that we discovered when in fact it's a much larger. Collecting of records and data. That's right you know like an open question in my mind at least is -- -- the public. Is to be to learn of this and we'll see in polling in the coming days I'm -- but. If you watched homeland if you watched 24 you might -- the government already does this for has been doing this you assume that the government has the ability to go back and look at. -- phone numbers and make these kind of connections just on a dime if they need to clearly we're learning a lot more of about the technology behind it about the legalities behind it. But I I do wonder where this falls in the court of all the opinion because. A lot of people feel comfortable with the idea that -- you're not listening to my conversation. With grandma our telling my wife to go pick up some milk. But you are out there trying to get -- -- guys and members of congress feel comfortable about that you heard Lindsey Graham just a moment ago saying. I'm fine if the NSA the National Security Agency has my phone number because they know I'm not a terrorist but I started making suspicious phone calls -- did you know that they're going to be on that they're not an overreach. A lot of trust you put us in the government on this one there's a special court that set up. But it's viewed basically as a rubber stamp they almost never affecting all 2012 that in rejecting the single application. Four additional surveillance as before by the government. We know as he said there's a comfort level perhaps in knowing that this is records only not contents of conversations. Do you think the American public perhaps we draw the line there. That's right -- presumably end of what we know what the program is very limited because it's so -- -- presumably. If -- wanted to actually -- there'd be another set of hurdles that have to go through have to go back to a judge and prove something else. This is just the initial sweep of information. And again if we presume that other companies are involved virtually every -- rural phone call me in the United States foreign or domestic. Could be part of this database and that that seems to be the goal the government has the setting this up so they know a lot more about your call patterns. But -- -- don't that point is though that they they generally don't care about. About you people going around their business that's just noise to them they use is that the -- out. Interesting threads to go back over time -- to potentially catch terrorists again we don't have details on that members of congress say it's been effective. Are there any concerns about how good the government actually isn't calling this day and getting useful information out of it is this even useful to begin with because it's so much data. -- -- a tons of concerns is no question about that I think. I think the scrutiny that we're gonna see going forward is gonna focus on that where did you actually stop o'clock -- is an example here. Why haven't you been able to stop other things like that the Boston bombers because you know in that case they had a lot of very suspicious connections shouldn't that have caught something like that I can imagine those questions. Being raised yes this is so much information that must -- flooding into the government that that finding trends finding useful information -- all that noise is so very difficult. But but as a law enforcement tool is an anti terror tool is something that Democrats and Republicans at least for now seem to think is worthwhile. All right Rick -- -- want to thank you so much for joining us ABC news political director helping us sort this out. As we just finished Washington senate Appropriations Committee and Eric Holder. Giving some first comments about. This news that the government has been pulling records from Verizon and you've been watching ABC news special digital report on time Hernandez -- thank you. This has been a special group. Report from me.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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