POLITICS
06/06/2013 02:26 pm ET Updated Jun 06, 2013

Obama 'Scandal' Label Pinned By NRCC To NSA Call Data Surveillance

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The National Republican Congressional Committee on Thursday sought to portray recent reports that the National Security Agency is collecting the call data of millions of Americans as the latest "scandal" to hit the White House under President Barack Obama.

"In a month dominated by the Obama administration's scandals, this will, no doubt, be added to the list," NRCC spokesman Matt Gorman wrote in a blog post on the group's website.

He went on to list a series of recent controversies, including the Internal Revenue Service's targeting of conservative groups, the Department of Justice's seizure of phone records for the Associated Press and continued GOP complaints over the White House's handling of Benghazi.

"If you're having trouble keeping them all straight, I don't blame you," Gorman added. "Keeping track of the 'most transparent administration in history' can be quite confusing."

The Guardian reported Wednesday that the NSA is collecting call data of millions of Verizon customers under a top-secret U.S. court order. The news, which comes on the heels of reports of DOJ leak investigations involving the Associated Press and Fox News, has prompted further concerns over civil liberties and government overreach.

But while a handful of lawmakers were outraged by the news, many of them, including Republicans, defended the program. Indeed, they approved the program and continue to be regularly and fully briefed on it, a senior administration official told The Huffington Post.

House Republicans have nonetheless signaled their intent to try to pin the issue specifically on the administration. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) called on the president to explain why these actions are necessary, even as he acknowledged that the program had congressional approval.

"I trust the president will explain to the American people why the administration considers this a critical tool in protecting our nation from threat of terrorist attack," Boehner said at his weekly press briefing.

When pressed on what role Congress played in the matter and why he couldn't offer an explanation for why the program is warranted, Boehner simply said the legislative branch would provide oversight.

"The tools were given to the administration, and it's the administration's responsibility to explain how these tools are used," he said. "And I'm hopeful we'll see these answers soon."

The response from House Republicans was in stark contrast to many of those in the Senate, including some of the administration's biggest critics.

Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said the program was "nothing particularly new." Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) went so far as to say he was "glad" the NSA was collecting the phone records.

UPDATE: Although Boehner declined the opportunity to defend the program, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) said it was "very valuable" in preventing terrorism.

"Within the last few years, this program was used to stop a terrorist attack in the United States. We know that. It’s important," Rogers told reporters on Capitol Hill. "It fills in a little seam that we have, and it’s used to make sure that there is not an international nexis to any terrorism event if there may be one ongoing. So in that regard, it is a very valuable thing."

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