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CNN "Newsroom" - Transcript: Legality of the National Security Agency Data Collection


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Joining us now from West Babylon, New York, out on Long Island, is Republican Congressman Peter King. He's a member of the House Homeland Security Committee. He's chairman of the subcommittee on counterterrorism and intelligence.

Congressman, so what's your reaction to this report that has just been released by this watchdog group, specifically the part that asserts the meta - the data program, if you will, collecting all that data, is illegal?

REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: Yes, Wolf, first I strongly disagree with that. And it seems like you have a board here going outside its lane. I mean I don't know who qualified them to decide whether or not it's legal or constitutional. We've had 38 court rulings, 17 federal judges who have said that this is legal and is constitutional. And, to me, that - you know, that's the appropriate venue, the federal courts, not a privacy board. I'm not aware of any findings that the privacy board made showing that anyone's rights have been violated or that the NSA has abused anyone. And, to me, that's what they should be looking at, is there anything in this program which has led to the abuse or the depravation of rights of Americans. And so far, as far as I know, whether it's Snowden, whether it's the president's panel, whether it's this board, the privacy board, I'm not aware of anyone who has found any significant violation of anyone's rights.

BLITZER: Yes, well, one district court did suggest that -- not a few weeks ago, that it was unconstitutional. Another one said it was constitutional.

KING: Right.

BLITZER: I assume it's eventually going to go up to the United States Supreme Court.

KING: Right.

BLITZER: But what about the other more -- perhaps more substantiate part of what these five panelists are suggesting on. This, I think, there's pretty much unity among all five, that they really didn't find any evidence that all of this collection of data has prevented any terrorists from operating in the United States?

KING: Again, I would look at the fact that you have two administrations, whether it's George Bush or Dick Cheney or President Obama or whether it's Attorney General Mukasy (ph) under the Republicans, whether it's John Brennan, CIA director under the Democrats. The fact is, they all believe it is helpful.

Let me give you one case that I am aware of and I was even somewhat on the ground during this. That's the Zazzi (ph) subway case, where Zazzi himself was found by section 702, which is the overseas portion of the Patriot Act. But then a co-conspirator of his was found under 215c (ph), which is the internal. And that showed the connection between Zazzi and the co-conspirator. As a result of that, they were able to then trace Zazzi coming from Denver to Brooklyn, where this co- conspirator was located. He's now serving life in prison. So just that one case alone, which would have involved the deaths of hundreds if not more on the New York City subway system.

But it's not just the actual threat that you stop. What this does is part of a mosaic. It fills in blanks. It leads authorities one way or the other. Also can exclude threats. For instance, last summer, during the embassy bomb -- attempted embassy bombings overseas, that plot, we were -- the government was putting -- quickly able, through using 215c, to realize that there was not an American component to that, that there was not going to be an attempted attack here in the U.S. So it helps you not only to include but also to exclude. And, again, virtually every law enforcement and counterterrorism expert in the field believes that this is necessary.

BLITZER: But what do you say to some of - some of your own fellow Republicans, like Senator Rand Paul for example, who believes this is a real violation of the privacy rights of the American people?

KING: Well, I would say there's no program where the privacy rights are more protected. It's monitored on a regular basis, systematic basis by the courts. It's monitored by the justice department and by two committees in congress. And again, with all of the millions of papers that are out there, millions of documents that Snowden's released and all these so-called exposes, no one has been able to show any abuse of anyone's rights, nothing to be used for political purposes. And, to me, if you go to almost any law enforcement or government agency, you're going to find some violation of someone's rights. We're not finding that with the NSA. So I would say if there's any program which has been managed honestly and with protection of the rights of Americans, it's been the NSA. And, quite frankly, I don't know who made Rand Paul an expert on the Constitution. I mean, I - I read Judge Bill Paulie's (ph) decision last week in New York. If I listen to that and listen to Rand Paul, I'll go with Judge Paulie. You're right, there's one decision by Judge Hulian (ph). One out of 38 different opinions that have been written. Only one that said it's unconstitutional. And he again is talking about possible violations in the future. He was not able to point to any violations happen thus far.

BLITZER: Well, three of these panelists, three of the five panelists, now agree with Rand Paul, it is constitutional. So the debate, I assume, you agree as well, will continue. The stakes, as you well point out, congressman, are pretty significant.

KING: And also, again, Wolf, this board was not there to judge constitutionality. They're not judges. They're not federal judges and they're not in the Justice Department, nor are they in Congress. They're there to discuss privacy and they apparently didn't find any privacy violations.

BLITZER: I think one of them was a former federal judge, Patricia Wall (ph). Maybe two of them were former judges. But we'll go back, we'll look at the exact makeup of that five-member panel. But they've been in business now what since 2006-2007. The president asked them to come up with these recommendations. They studied it, he reviewed it. He disagrees with them on the sensitive issue of the legality of all of this, but they've now weighed in. So the discussion will continue and the debate will continue. Maybe one of these days we'll have you and Rand Paul on our show together and you guys can debate this out. That would be a good serious debate.

Congressman, thanks very much.

KING: Yeah, you can sell tickets to that one, Wolf.

BLITZER: I know. I'm ready.

Thanks, Congressman.

KING: Thank you.

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