Sen. Graham Can’t Get an Answer: Did Intel Community Monitor His Conversations With Foreign Leaders?

By Susan Jones | June 27, 2017 | 11:50am EDT
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) is demanding to know whether his conversations with foreign persons abroad were monitored and if requests were made to unmask those conversations. (Screen grab from C-SPAN)

( - He didn't quite bang the table, but Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on Tuesday offered the verbal equivalent, repeatedly asking intelligence officials a simple question multiple times, to which he received no clear answer:

"Is it possible to find out, if I, Lindsey Graham, was incidentally collected talking to a foreign leader abroad?" Graham asked. “Is that possible? Am I entitled to that information? Am I entitled, as a United States senator, to know whether or not the intelligence community monitored a conversation I had with a foreign leader abroad?

"Am I entitled, as a United States senator, to know if my conversations with a foreign person overseas was collected and if somebody made a request to unmask me?" Graham asked intelligence officials at a Judiciary Committee hearing on FISA reauthorization.

Not getting a satisfactory answer, Graham finally got some help from Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who told Graham to "proceed" with his questions until he got an answer: "I mean, if there's anything in this country that people are entitled to, it' least an answer to their questions!" Grassley exclaimed.

"Yes, sir…I'm violently agreeing with you!" Graham said. "So, if I were you, I'd answer my questions,” Graham told the witnesses. “Because he's mad!"

The remark prompted laughter in the hearing room.

Leading up to that moment, Graham asked the intelligence community officials:

“I'm overseas talking to a foreign leader, which I do a lot. If they're collecting on that foreign leader, I want to know is it possible for somebody in the administration to get ahold of the conversation and unmask me -- is that possible?

“Yes, I mean--” Paul Morris, an attorney with the National Security Agency, started to say.

“Is it possible for me to know if that happened?”  Graham interrupted.

Not getting a simple answer from Morris, Graham cut in again:

“I'm talking about, to me! Can I find that out, yes or no? Do I have the legal right as a United States senator to find out if my government is monitoring a conversation between me and a foreign leader -- and if anybody had access to that conversation?”

“Sir, we have worked with the chair and the ranking member of the intelligence committees to support member requests for questions--” Bradley Brooker, the acting general counsel for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, started to say.

“So is it legal or not for me to make that -- I mean, does the law allow me to get that information?” Graham interrupted.

“It's my understanding, Senator, we have that request from you and we are processing--” Brooker said.

“Yeah, it was like months ago,” Graham said. “So like, am I ever going to get it in my lifetime? And if you're not going to give it to me, tell me why.”

Committee Chair Chuck Grassley interrupted:

“I'm not stopping you,” he told Graham. "I wish my colleagues would appreciate what he's trying to do here and give him a little extra time. So proceed!  In other words, I want you to proceed until you get an answer! I mean, if there's anything in this country that people are entitled to, it's entitled to -- at least an answer to their questions!" Grassley exclaimed.

“Yes, sir,” said Graham. "I'm violently agreeing with you!"

Turning to the witnesses, Graham said, "So, if I were you, I'd answer my questions. Because he's mad!"

The remark prompted laughter in the hearing room.

Graham continued:

“So what's the answer here? Am I ever going to get to know the basic facts, because if I'm going to be monitored overseas -- maybe there's a good reason to monitor the person I'm talking to -- I just want to know what consequence as a senator flows my way.  If somebody in my own administration doesn't like me, the other administration outside of my party doesn't like me, should I be worried about that conversation falling in the hands of political people that may one day be used against me?”

"Sir, as a career intelligence professional, senator, I don't think you should be concerned, because--" Brooker started to say.

Well, answer my question then," Graham said. "Get -- answer my question. I'm very concerned until I get an answer.”

“And we have your request,” Brooker said. “And I know we're working on it.” Brooker noted that Graham's request for information about whether his conversations were monitored includes "every news clip" about Graham, and intelligence officials are working with Graham’s staff to narrow the scope of the request.

"We are working with your staff to try to get you an answer as soon as possible,” Brooker said.

“Is there a legal reason you can't answer that question?” Graham asked.

“Not a legal reason,” Brooker said.

“OK, thanks,” Graham said, ending his interrogation.

“Are you satisfied?” Chairman Grassley asked Graham.

"Not really, but we'll move on because other people have important questions, too," Graham said.

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