Culper Partners Rule of Law Series: Sen. Saxby Chambliss on the Rule of Law
We were really concerned that is. Other members of the committee MU is and they would be in different types of questions. But at the same time, it was such a significant issue, then if the country involved ever found out that means you what we knew what we know that it would be a major national security issue. I'm David Chris. And I'm Nate Jones, and this is the culprit partners of law special series on the law fair podcast in this podcast series. We explore the rule of law, particularly as it relates to US, national security and criminal law enforcement today. We're joined by former Senator Saxby Chambliss senators Chambliss represented the state of Georgia in US Senate for two terms prior to that he served four terms in the US house of representatives a total of twenty years in congress during his tenure in the Senate who's a member of the Senate Armed Services committee. He was also on the Senate select committee on intelligence where he served as vice chairman from two thousand eleven to two thousand fourteen his previous role as chairman of the house intelligence subcommittee on terrorism. Homeland security made him one of the leading congressional experts on issues he is currently a partner at dealing piper. And the chairman of the NFC visor the conversation covers a lot of ground from the history of the congressional intelligence community to the significance of election in your in the proper penalties for lying to congress Chambliss describes what is like to serve on the Senate intelligence committee, even mentions a particular situation, apparently still classified undisclosed that is so significant that if the country involved ever finds out what we know the result will apparently cost American lives. Senator Chambas seems most of all to lament the loss of professional and personal relationships across political lines, and he wants to stand up strongly for the hard working women men of the US intelligence community in show. Oh of true bipartisanship. He also tells us the Ted Kennedy was the best legislator. He ever knew. Still offer podcast episode four hundred into Senator Saxby Chambliss on the rule of law. So Senator Chambliss thank you very much for being here. And welcome to the culprit partners rule of law podcast. Always going to be and thanks for generating discussion on the rule of law and continue to do right word that you have always done in the romanizing scared. During your twenty years in the US congress. Did you feel as if the rule of law was sort of a foregone conclusion in the United States or wasn't instead something you really felt the country had to renew and regenerate and work at and if so did you feel like you had an obligation to live up to that ideal. Five members of congress. And and you believe in the row along you're gonna get. Percent of -firmative responses to that. But I think the. I'm sorry. What do they mean? By when they all say, yes. Mass twist. I mean, it's when you have some facts that you have to plan the wall too. Is this agreement comes in as to whether or not an issue where rural laws says, usually so so, and and I think there there's some examples. Occurred to me as is. About this. From the two exhaustion of a member of of the house of representatives which occurred while I was there in the process of Bill Clinton. The even though everybody agrees with the fact that the rule of law is what we should go bad. Democrats argued. This was not an issue where the rule of law should Lagos was not criminal of and Republicans argue just the opposite. I think the encouraging thing from a US perspective around the world is and we in four charges of. Yes. President Clinton from the standpoint remember? Moated for the most aren't force those and summer can on Democrats to so the awhile work in the way that the rule of law should were. So I had that in is a general foregone conclusion that yes the rule of law is apple in our civilian. Our our political rice. But then you get into the politics when when you have the political fast that are involved and not featured example, I guess if it didn't line up one hundred percent Republican democrat shows that people were being moved by something other than just straight party affiliation. Chummy some of the other ways, you think congress is set up either formally or informally with the committee structures or or as I say even informal mechanisms to ensure that rule of law is upheld. What what are some of the ways that that gets done incomes? We have a community system structure in the house in Senate and one of the most important committees and bodies is did you and that's where the jurisdiction of the rule of law for the most start applying new committee houses was due in it in the Senate are to most party committees in most respected by mies. Manning said there's an awful lot of partisan activity in the way of the the white the rule of law his approach from a legislative standpoint. So why you can have this agreements about policy at the end of the day because we have that community. Charter and those are second committees are charged with the responsibility of ensuring the rule of law class and our everyday. Life there to most respected committees that we have and then two committees that are wasn't too. When they deliver segma-, the members of congress when it comes to dealing with legislation that comes out of those of those committees, you know. Sometimes Republicans and Democrats in the Senate sort of come together or in the house come together to sort of gang up on the executive branch that certainly been the perspective of certain members of the executive branch from time to time we had dead John Brennan on this podcast recently. And he described a very contentious period with the Senate intelligence committee Democrats when he himself had been appointed by democratic President Barack Obama, and I know you are present for that. I mean, the lineups ever sort of go out of whack for institutional separation of powers reasons. That's kind of the nature of the world of intelligence, and you're in that process Janda sideways with democratic members of the. Senate intelligence committee and vice chairman, I became his mess friend have. John Ryan in his approach to the mess version. And there there were times when Republicans from a national security as well intelligence perspective disagrees. In a big way with President Bush particular was on these rounding Iraq. So he can happen for most of time. I would say that Republicans was for Republican in the White House and Democrats likewise. But in the end of the day, they are some situations that can know that. But Democrats opposed to ready. President. And likewise. Yeah. Let's talk a little bit about how these intelligence committees came to be where the vice chair on on Senate Intel and previously in house. I mean tells about how they came into existence, and what is it that they're really supposed to do that is so special. Our fortunate to sir, the house Intel committee my last years in the house, and then them sending many all of years and fourteen years Schrag of serving on the committee in early on that I wanted to make sure I knew this history of the committee because I was going to do my job. I like to know the background what it is. We're going to be asked to news and history into having. It is a lot more than the history of other than it is or some of which they back to the early years of Geiger's and in the late seventeen and hundreds and early eighteen hundreds the intelligence committees are a product of some situations within the intelligence community where we had an overreach by Ince's end. The personal lives of American citizens in seventies. All of that came to light as a result of several different situations became public and when. The church commission, which was as in it commission, and it was long several different commissions that were put in place at the same time, then the mid seventies their investigation, they found some real significant violations of the constitution relative to the fourth amendment. That were being carried out by some members of the intelligence community. There was no oversight of those agencies back congress vice Pacific committee that time. So that's when the intelligence committees were created in mobile house in the mid mid seventies. Which really isn't that wrong ago? And but the the committees themselves are different in the structure compared to other committees in that, for example. The make of Senate MTO committee is fifteen members. It does not matter matter how many Republicans or Democrats are elected to the Senate. The matter. News in the majority. You're going to have team members you're gonna have a of jonky party and some of the minority party in Senate, whereas on the other committees. The ratios vary depending on the margin of the majority ends. So and the other thing that is different by design about the Senate intelligence committee is you don't have a chairman and ranking member like you have on every other committee chairman vice chairman, so I was vice chairman to then chairman Feinstein for my last four years, and when that basically was and we were Coequal she ran the hearings, but in her absence Iran hearings that doesn't happen and other committees. The the next in line on majority runs here. She cannot hire find anybody without my consent and me likewise. We we share the the parties vote from a budgetary standpoint is as well as they day operation Lee. The house is a little bit different. I mean, we probably won't talk in a little more. Detail about what is happening with or saying to the house Jones committee over the last couple of years, and I say, it's different McCall's is always been much more partisan than Senator toners committing that. We had members of of the Senate committee that. On particular issues such as privacy or mania? Gms the enhance to issue we we would have disagreements, and we would have serious divisions within the committee. But for the most art on the issues that we normally don't with I- terrorism though, domestic and farmed the gathering of intelligence and the way we get intelligence. Pretty much for were all saying. Hey, jr. And we can have disagreements about some aspects of a program. But for the most part, we all agreed that at the end of the day. The most important thing is that we have to make sure that our men and women and responsible forget in the intelligence to make America say cure twos. Need to work with to do the best job that they can with him the round and and restrictions of the castigation. Yeah. Senator this is Nate since he raised the issue might as well go right to talk about a little bit. You know, you talked a little bit about the institutional protections to maintain a level of bipartisanship and exist on the Senate side on the house side, we've seen things I some people think we've seen things go off the rails of little bit. And. As one question is do you think that's attributable to the lack of those does institutional protections. Or does it also require individuals to work at maintaining that kind of relationship. Combination of all of the of. Quickly served is is somebody who's telling us with the intelligence community about what was happening known the house was personalities involved. And there was a there was a real issue between the the leadership of the committee on most is and when that happens is not going to be a very good result. And I think that's what we what we have seen when the the Russians situation developed I conversation with those underwater and some bird. Then obviously, Germany ranking champion vice-chairman Senate Intel committee and no in to hear them tall separately as well as together about the fact that this would probably the most cities as you that that would be involved in doing the tenure. Because in the end was something is basically to Americans are election process is no down. One of those as us in any members in the house to deal with. And when nobody them told me was it. We're not sure where we're going on this. But we're joining the, Yep. We're going to do all the investigating together. There's not gonna be any Republican hearings and democratic hearings and most importantly the day. We're going to produce a of that is a meaningful product. But as a product that both of us are going to be able to sound off on then didn't happen on the house. And when chairman is for whatever reason made is true of malign house where you valley was ended some documents or something and sort of got all track or as you say made all the radios they were never able to get back on the radio. And because of that the Senate into committee was immediately perc- think correct? From soon the rail Landau in the room, and ultimately see pretty much to come your relevant on the issue. That is a number one. Is you still facing the certainly in the electoral process, which is foundation of our democracy. Yeah. One one other follow up question on that. The changes of power in the house in opportunity to push the reset button on himse. Or is there? Some other way to have some adults in the house intervene to repair that relationship. What's your sense? Claim players in the game. Yeah. All you're gonna have is is you have Democrats in charge versus Republicans in charge. And I think. Has have an opportunity to show earlier. I hope they do and making restore relevancy that committee because it is so horri- likewise. I think it's going to require supervision on the part of Republicans to realize and they're not in power, which means they're not going to be able to go in the direction was going into the last couple of years, and if most sides will agree to that and most sides will exhibit really good leadership. I think there is operatives to get their house back in or but it's. They just say well you as messing so you're in last year, and we're going to go just as far in the other direction. Then you're going to see us lunar continue on that committee. Yeah. Tell us maybe you can give congressman shifts and congressman newness advice e you had a reputation when you were there as a very by part is in Senator friendly to both sides of the aisle. You've mentioned senators Feinstein and Warner in this podcast. And in your farewell speech. I believe you went out of your way to praise both of them based on your time there. So how do you do it because you know, you were able to maintain good relations with them? But at the same time, I don't think anybody would accuse you of pulling your punches on the genuine policy differences that. Agreed. So how'd you manage that one of the lessons to others could maybe draw from that in order to get things back on the rails? The Senate has always been a congenial body is designed to be a little bit different from the house, and the framers of gas station is on the house to the are charging, and and frankly more Hartson than Senate, and you know, everybody's million with all the conversations between Washington Jefferson relatives that figure is you. So goes way back, but on Senate side, you get to spend more time with individual members MacOS therefore thirty nine members of the house and their hundred members of the Senate. So just the major of that being what it is you send more time when Democrats and you spend more time with those on your side of the out too. But you become friends and most Warner and and Johnston still are my good friends, and I enjoyed working with. Always agree on everything. But we disagree. Respectfully. And and, you know, Republicans don't have a patent on all the good ideas, and certainly grasses don't and one of the Senate has always been designed to do the best of both eyes, and sinus we find that is is the best resolve rather than having piece of legislation which is fifty one nothing with anyone Democrats and over publicans vice versa. We've seen some examples of bad happening over the last several years ObamaCare being one I think. Obama had listen to. Dumes some legislation without much better. These legislations in the long run likewise attacks tankage, President Trump had passed work with the Democrats and democratic votes for some of the provisions within much matter piece of legislation. So you think you're fights. But you if you do so recycle way, Eugene and all right now for your right? Keep the respect of folks crossing on the side of the island in the Senate. You have to have them because there's times when you gotta have sixty. And it was important to me to have personal relationships. In addition to this policy relationships where I could work with the and that made it fun. It's no fun. It's no fun to get up every morning thing. Again, they want democrat make number press life miserable. The day. That's not good entity to the work. Every one does have the ceiling sometimes people in both parties are actually raking warning and going to bed at night and thinking nothing other than that in between those times. So as right. I think that is is funny David mentioned that because I think there is a perception among the general public, it seems that the partisanship in in congress, including in the Senate has gotten worse over the years. Do you was that in your experience while you were serving there? Do you think it's gotten worse since you left? Gradually worse year in my twelve years in the Senate. I had my first two years and Senator example hours on the Senate Judiciary committee cheer, the subcommittee on immigration. My ranking member was Ted Kennedy as I came back to Georgia and campaign on the fact that I were closely with Genanady get some immigration legislation fast. I would not have been reelected, but Kennedy was the best legislator I've ever seen. And I learned a lot from him. And when I learned from him was that if you wanna have a good piece of legislation the end of the day, you were when your colleague on the other side of the aisle to ensure that then you what you want. But at the same time, you're going to have to give up something that's. That's. Word compromise is a full letter words in Washington today against the way, the Senate works, and it works messed when when that compromise is injected into religiously process, so should they return to regular order an Brier application of the sixty vote rule with that health the Senate fulfill its historic you know, sort of mediating function. On a row is always been the Cam saving grace in the salvation of the Senate. Keeps ability and reason within the legislative process. And I thought when Harry my decision to go to one votes on the calendar, with the exception of supreme court justices in two thousand thirteen that was that was a terrible decision. And I thought Democrats winter regret it felt when Mitch McConnell reuse. The says, you know, regret Franko nominees. Exactly the same thing. I I just think were bad news. And I wish there were some way to get back to the sixty vote rule. It's hard to imagine that anybody who has fifty one votes is going to in the present vote to raise the number to sixty. Is there some way that we could you know, agree that say twelve years from now, no matter who's in power, we're going to revert to sixty budget, some light, you know, legislative tricks like that that might do the you the deal for us or or is it just hopeless? Will. In you're right. And nobody is in majority today is yeah. We're going to mandate sixty versus fifty one that's not gonna happen and a resolution of. The putting is far out there into the future. And like you say and see any respective who's in control of the house and Senate all the White House. Miss room was going to come back into play on certain. Yeah, there's a lot of conversation. Now among Democrats that if we ever reach intro we on a thinking about doing, well, you're not gonna get elected majority leader in in the Senate by campaigning on that platform. I'm sure. Not only are brands for this to get fixed. Sounds like nice shorter. But let's shift gears a little bit and talk about interactions with executive branch in especially with the intelligence committee. You know, one of the core legal obligations. The checking branch has is to keep the committees of the house and Senate fully currently informed, and the doesn't have a asterisk. But I think it's pretty well understood that that has some some limitations or exceptions. You have a great deal of experience, I seem with the executive branches interpretation of where those exemptions are appropriate. And why did you find there are image to be compelling? Can you tell our listeners how you resolve differences of opinion? Requirement that the rest of national security Myers. There's specific languages you energy, which says members of the intelligence that is you'll be fully informed of all intelligence issues. The way the interpretation of that as immoral and I think correctly, so but there are certain leadership positions with him a house in. Where leaders I house and Senate themselves or the Seger. And and the monarchy later on the house majority leader Mahajan on centers as well. As the chairman and vice-chairman ranking member of intelligence committees are to be fully informed in a different way. From other members of even the intelligence in atoms in there are certain things that are home going within the realm of national security where you can't afford to afford the risk of the any leaks taking place, and we all know that Washington. Him the lease the most not into the Potomac. So. It is. Good way, we end what was called the thing. Eight which were four leisure physicians receive raisings different level from the remainder of any. Dying as conscious decision from the time that other members of the committee also the same racing, and we never got turned down. We we have some arguments with executive Bryant's from time to time about the same of what they should tell. But example of that is and. Leon Panetta was a director vice chairman, and he called me up actually knew before I was fishery nine he before I knew. So I knew he was running the message. Let's run, but he told me on Sunday night. And he said you and I need to me tomorrow something I need breaking. I've been on for years. And I thought I was pretty well informed but found out right quick that were along other things. I was never told all of a sudden. Going about what he in reference to that time was the the fact that we were observing individual and. My bottom on that. We saw was was of Iran's young and that was January. And then course, we ultimately king conclusion that was in and we got brings on regular weekly basis after that and my level. Nobody only committee news that those observations for taking place like grant where you just can't afford the run the risk, but Braun population being fully informed. Now, we're some Acadians in fact. I don't remember you being involved in any discussions. That's good back. My bushy years when we end the interrogation program underway part of of yet. You was to make sure that the the individuals who were running every program we're doing under the appropriate authority, and we had a relative age with the Bush White House over may review, the memo's granting the thority for for the detention program. So. There are times when you you really. But he has with the administration over issues, and you know, the there's some of that doing all right now the fact that Republican amid he's in the house is seen documents from the end of the they refused turn over and they're just not going do it. And they're going to win those arguments because they think it's within the the the realm of of. There sections side when there's a risk of Liege of something really really cause. While some American Mayes. Yeah. And the game made is pretty small group. I would say in the context of the interrogation program. One of the things that came out. There was Senator Rockefeller who's on many of the time in part of the game vase had expressed concern in the early days of out the limitation of of the disclosure to gang of aids in and among other things said he felt constrained by not being able to talk to other members or staff that it was particularly limiting at times in in your village to conduct vigorous oversight. There are times when I did that way. There's one particular situation slows I was privy to was brief regularly home that really goes on great concern going forward because. Country that was involved and the year of the issue. We were really concerned that it's. The members of the committee is and would be asking different types of questions. But at the same time it was such as. That the country involved ever found out. And we knew what we knew what we know that it would be a major national security issues again and cost American lives. And and you just you can't afford to run that risk, and when you had disagreements with the executive branch over those kinds of things as you said, it's alternately often up to the executive branch to make a decision about what can be disclosed to. Did you feel like you were in a wealth of while position? I guess to to judge whether they're limitations were appropriate might the argument on you at the end of the day. And I in you that it was going to be there. How most ration- or the Allama them stretching? They were the ones that were going to help them. Decision Mike her. But if we feel strongly about it, we didn't have to go and all the way to the Oval Office too. So you really ought to think about this losing this. And and there were times that we provide most of the time we didn't. But you know. Presents frozen. He had to I guess put it fine point time. We saw again in case in the house where they they actually moved forward with their own process to declassify information. It sounds like, you know, at the end of the day, you all regularly deferred to executive brats branches judgment on that would push it as far as he could have been alternately would resign to it. And I'm wondering if you have any perspective on whether and under what circumstances might be appropriate for the congress to go ahead and overrule the executive branch in that kind of way. K remember against? Where I can say that I think they should've been overruled. Some of them are being more loan than obviously there's situation and existence now relative to the transparency of of vice accord, they was involved in. And we're on vice ical were and still today, you see alike that there are some things that are classified that should remain classified that the general public does not need to know. And we end that argument relatives and to the Faisal award, and and Germany was actually released some documents from vice core where they were classified documents. And and then you you you have the, and I say released documents from sandy correcting on that any documents coming from Pfizer co workers are not authorized for release the class or not. But melissa. For the most part, whether it's Republican or democrat. I think if use good judgment in the when we get have arguments about whether or not to really something. Can I just follow on that the newness Feis it because it is the first time that we've seen in public portions of if is application the application on Carter page, are you worried than this unprecedented event will have some long-term bad effect on the Feis program. Because you're gonna price to spend sent out saying. And there's you know, there's nothing to any member of intelligence committee is familiar with the by the process to go out on on any major network on Sunday on and all of a sudden start talking about something within visor gore that they've been briefed on. And and this is not the way that that that cord was designed to work, and it's not the way the world classified documents in hell were shooting were so yeah, that does concern me that can happen and taking a little bit of the case study one of the things that struck us. I think is the legislative branch and executive branch were set up in some ways to fight over issues. Like this from time to time. What's what's a little strange about right now is that? As you pointed out earlier, you've got the FBI and DOJ sort of trying to hold the line on not disclosing investigative documents. And following the standards in the so-called Lindor letter about not briefing congress about ongoing investigations, not disclosing informed and so forth. But instead of a straight out fight between the executive branch and congress with the president in the agency's lined up on one side in the committees on the other sort of got a mixed here with seems like the president taking the side of some people in congress, including German news against his own agency within the executive branch. What do you make of that sort of slightly unusual alignment, and do you think our system was really designed to accommodate that kind of that kind of line lineup in these areas. Things happen with Indian tale world over the last couple of years, and I I was apprised. President Trump didn't really taking intelligence community Hurley home for what it is. Which is the best organization again until June Syria's in the world, and they do it. Professionals and doing in my professional way and as the commander in chief of the United States. He's he's the most powerful man in the world. Primarily because he has Memphis. Intelligence and those people are on his son and he needs to to encourage community and not be critical. He doesn't seem to understand our act as if they're on his side at least g listen to him. I mean, he really seems to respond to the icy as adversary in a lot of ways. While you alluded to. Situation where he can't subdued. And the opposing side J house on these as us he's he hasn't hesitated to be critical and then go and when curses. This is just the warranty is okay, but the intelligence community. And just a difference the year than any other agency within the government, and they're. Intelligence community from the most arch and the done just like gathering of tell which is you know, the mo- are hand closed doors and not in the public round. And that's that's mobile personal opinion rather than you know. The political requirement. I guess, but it certainly makes it less political when it is done that way during the Obama administration and the Bush administration never debates over a variety of things from surveillance authorities to interrogation techniques to how you handle on prosecute captured terrorists. And the the first question I had is particularly during the Bush administration one of the arguments that they were making at the time is that the executive branch in the context of armed conflict could ignore certain statutory, restrictions or or interpret them creatively. And at least in the context of interrogation and not commissions and surveillance. Congress actually stepped in did some investigations in oversight and ultimately legislated. You mentioned earlier that you had some some agreements and some disagreements with with. Bush administration's policies, I'm wondering if you felt it was important for congress to at least legislated in those areas, regardless of what he felt about the policy just to protect certain institutional interests that they have ministering the need to abide by the rule of losses. Heerlen does he role congress? Congress has an obligation to ensure that rain into the Intel humanity, but those who are well within and strange some casting. And is he don't do that. Then there cans the opportunities and those opportunities taking advantage of to to go around because you know, protections that are granted. So yeah, I think clearly that's a role this congress needs. And and what often tend to forget? And then there are a lot of people were even arguing today and words weren't old enough. Then to really appreciate the situation that the country was in the situation Bush administration in which he has I mean, we suffered an attack on September eleventh like we never suffered in his country, maybe Pearl Harbor the compared to and some ways, but this was this was in the heart of America. And as as we were go, then was the concerns within the intelligence community. The next way was and the frozen and make decisions based on best information than he end, the best intelligence and. Certain things in order to protect America and Americans, and you know, looking at it with hindsight when he has. Yemen Hardee's or mandates to some as the intelligence community from. But we didn't know that. And so when. And one of them what about into certainty since two was to make sure that those two were in the two vox. And and do you think that has to restrain him always been a factor and in the mind of both those stray Sion's as well as the current administration relatives of intelligence gathering and and the use of two was. When Americans are free Americans tend to allow some the sins on the friend of those aunties. And I think that's what we saw happen than it was a row kind to step in and say, okay, we're gonna we're gonna do this. We're gonna Lau it, but it's gotta be within certain vans. And unfortunately, in my opinion, the further we get away from September eleven the loser. Those those vans. Is yesterday. Michael Cohen president's former attorney pled guilty to Ryan to congress and the last twenty four hours or so we've heard some folks downplaying that bit saying, it's a process crime. None of the deal, but just today Senator Burr was speaking at a conference in in Austin, Texas in he revealed that the Senate intelligence committee is actually referred number of cases to the special counsel's office for based on suspicion that they misled congress in some way, you know, former member of the has representatives in the Senate in the intelligence committees. How serious you take allegations perjury before congress is something that you find deeply troubling. 'specially nicely. Something like this where there was no Ramel reason in looking with hands. I'd as to why he would congress and not to. This particular issues, but it doesn't matter what he is. If you you've come in. And you don't tell. Conyers and should be treated medicine, actually and guy overseas. Otherwise, you're sending a message, and it would be wrong message. We know situations where people in and even lesser environment and not to try to the and they're going to prison because it fruit to be alive. So when you come to congress, and and you intentionally why should be seriously. Thank you for that in with that. I think we'll let you off the hot seat. Senator chambliss. Thank you very much for joining us on the culprit partners rule of law podcast. It's been a real pleasure again enjoyed being wedding. The love your podcast is produced in cooperation with the Brookings Institution. If you haven't yet, please share the law, fair podcast on social media and give us a rating and review wherever you listen to us. The law podcast is edited by gen pot. You how and our music is performed by Sophia yon, and as always thanks for listening.