Leading Republican senators stepped up their attacks on the administration Thursday for its handling of the interrogation of the Christmas Day bomber. And in the process, they criticized the work of law enforcement officials.
Appearing on Fox News, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) accused the president of treating Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab "as if he had robbed a convenience store." But in a dig at the FBI interrogators overseeing the interrogations, the Kentucky Republican compared their work to that of longtime softball interviewer CNN's Larry King.
"He was given a 50-minute interrogation," said McConnell. "Probably Larry King has interrogated people longer and better than that, after which he was assigned a lawyer who told him to shut up. That is not the way to deal with a person in the war on terror."
McConnell's remark may make for an effective sound bite. But with regards to the intersection of politics and national security, it is an envelope-pushing charge.
For the past several weeks, Republicans have been overly willing to charge that the president and the Department of Justice erred in their decision to put Abdulmutallab through the criminal court system rather than the military alternative. Few of them, however, have directly taken on law enforcement agents.
The entire debate seemed to fizzle this week after it was reported that, under George W. Bush's Department of Justice, another terrorist suspect (shoe bomber Richard Reid) was also read his Miranda rights. Republicans also were caught off guard after the Obama White House leaked the news that Abdulmutallab was talking to interrogators and providing useful information.
But rather than backing off their criticisms, it seems that GOP officials have chosen to shout them even louder. Hours before McConnell went on the air, fellow Republican Senator Kit Bond of Missouri wrote a letter to the president saying he was "deeply disturbed" that the administration was leaking "vital national security information regarding the recent cooperation by the Christmas Day bomber Umar Farouq Abdulmutallab." The Missouri Republican said that FBI Director Bob Mueller had "personally stressed to me that keeping the fact of his cooperation quiet was vital to preventing future attacks against the United States."
The White House swiftly refuted Bond's account, insisting it would never release information that "could endanger an operation" and demanding that the senator himself apologize to people in the White House and in law enforcement.