White House Counterterrorism Adviser John Brennan said Sunday that Republicans had been briefed that underwear bomber Umar Abdulmutallab had been placed in FBI custody shortly after the failed attack. At the time, they had raised no objections, and only criticized the administration's approach later.
This isn't exactly surprising. Even though the policy continuity between the Obama and Bush administrations has been so flush that it's disturbing, Republicans have nevertheless vehemently objected to policies that they found acceptable when their party controlled the White House.
Brennan said that on Christmas night he had briefed four senior House and Senate Republicans about Abdulmutallab, who was "in FBI custody" and at that point "talking" and "cooperating." He said that at no point did any of the four -- Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the Senate Republican minority leader; Sen. Christopher S. Bond (Mo.), ranking GOP member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence; Rep. John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), the House minority leader; and Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.), ranking minority member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence -- raise concerns about Abdulmutallab being placed in military custody or being Mirandized.
Bond and spokespeople for McConnell and Hoekstra have subsequently said that they didn't know Abdulmutallab was being "mirandized," but that's precisely what being in FBI custody would entail -- they are a federal law enforcement agency. That response doesn't excuse the subsequent Republican overreaction. In fact, it makes it worse. It suggests those among the GOP who are now complaining about how Abdulmutallab is being handled are incompetent rather than uninformed.
The GOP seems mostly disappointed that Abdulmutallab is providing useful intelligence without being tortured or otherwise mistreated. Had Obama heeded the GOP's calls for Abdulmutallab to be put in military custody (and it's not clear that's legal; the past two administrations have deliberately dodged SCOTUS cases on the assumption that it likely isn't), it's unlikely the key cooperation of Abdulmutallab's family could have been secured -- or for that matter, that of other Muslims in future terrorism cases. Meanwhile, Republicans seem to have settled on two lines of attack, with the first being to disparage the FBI like McConnell did last week. The second is to argue that while Republicans are allowed to attack the administration for being weak on national security, correcting the faulty assumptions at the heart of those criticisms is unfair.
Brennan, a career CIA man whose controversial record in support of some Bush-era policies got him in trouble with the left early last year, seemed particularly fed up with the GOP criticism of those intelligence and law enforcement professionals whose job it is to protect the country:
I think those counterterrorism professionals deserve the support of our Congress. ... And rather than second-guessing what they are doing on the ground with a 500-mile screwdriver from Washington to Detroit, I think they have to have confidence in the knowledge and the experience of these counterterrorism professionals.
I think this approach, trashing counterterrorism professionals, has substantial political risk for the GOP. Or it would, if the Democratic Party were interested in something other than playing defense. While the Center for American Progress' John Podesta called on McConnell to apologize for trashing the FBI Sunday, you're not likely to see very much aggressive pushback from members of Congress while the administration appears to want Republican cooperation on the health-care bill.
What's that definition of insanity again? Doing the same thing over and over, and expecting a different response ...
-- A. Serwer