Kirk suggests NSA phone records searches could have violated separation of powers

Alexis Levinson Political Reporter
Font Size:

WASHINGTON — Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk asked Thursday whether National Security Agency’s obtaining phone records from millions of Verizon customers might have given the executive branch access to phone records of members of the Legislature and Judiciary, upsetting the balance of powers prescribed under the constitution.

“You know, when government bureaucrats are sloppy, they’re usually really sloppy. I want to just ask, could you assure to us that no phones inside the Capitol were monitored of members of Congress that would give a future executive branch, if they started pulling this kind of thing up, would give them unique leverage over the legislature,” Kirk asked Attorney General Eric Holder at a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing about the Department of Justice’s 2014 Fiscal Year budget at which Holder was testifying.

Kirk also questioned whether Supreme Court justices might have had their phones monitored, asking Holder for “absolute assurance that not a single Supreme Court Justice was involved.”

“When you’re jumping up out of your executive branch lane, you want to make sure you’re not gaining new intel or leverage over separating powers under the constitution,” Kirk said.

Holder declined to discuss the issue at the hearing.

“With all due respect, Senator, I don’t think this is an appropriate setting for me to discuss that issue. I’d be more than glad to come back in an appropriate setting to discuss the issues that you have raise, but in this open format,” he said.

Committee Chair Barbara Mikulski said that the full committee, and even the full Senate, needed to have a briefing on the issue, possibly in a classified setting.

Kirk urged that prior to that hearing, Holder take steps to ensure that records of such a breach in the separation of powers were not destroyed.

“Whoever was running this program, knows they really screwed up,” he said.

Follow Alexis on Twitter