The following are statements released by civil liberties groups in response to the report that the Obama administration has been collecting the phone records of U.S.-based Verizon customers.
Jameel Jaffer, American Civil Liberties Union deputy legal director: "From a civil liberties perspective, the program could hardly be any more alarming. It's a program in which some untold number of innocent people have been put under the constant surveillance of government agents. It is beyond Orwellian, and it provides further evidence of the extent to which basic democratic rights are being surrendered in secret to the demands of unaccountable intelligence agencies."
Michelle Richardson, legislative counsel with the ACLU Washington Legislative Office: "Now that this unconstitutional surveillance effort has been revealed, the government should end it and disclose its full scope, and Congress should initiate a full investigation. This disclosure also highlights the growing gap between the public's and the government's understandings of the many sweeping surveillance authorities enacted by Congress. Since 9/11, the government has increasingly classified and concealed not just facts, but the law itself. Such extreme secrecy is inconsistent with our democratic values of open government and accountability." (read more)
Freshman Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., said the recent wave of scandals involving the Executive Branch does not give Americans confidence in their government, and he is determined to hold officials accountable.
Perry reminded viewers today on Power Play with Chris Stirewalt on FoxNews.com that President Obama has used Harry Truman's famous "The buck stops here" in the past to hold himself accountable. Perry does not think the president has followed through with that declaration. "Benghazi, the IRS, the Justice Department, EPA, Kathleen Sebelius, the buck does not stop anywhere. There is nobody responsible; nobody held accountable. They apologize and then just walk away," said Perry.
Perry questioned the notion that the recent allegations into Internal Revenue Service (IRS) civil servants in Cincinnati targeting Tea Party groups was somehow bipartisan in nature or deserved the scrutiny. "If so, why weren't the unions targeted?" asked Perry. He added, "This was an instrument of government used to target individual citizens and groups based on their political beliefs. That is not something that flies in America...that is something from a third world country." (read more)
RICHMOND, Va. -- Virginia Attorney General and Republican gubernatorial nominee Ken Cuccinelli has challenged his Democratic opponent, Terry McAuliffe, to 15 debates.
Cuccinelli made the challenge Thursday as both candidates spoke at a luncheon put on by the Virginia Public Access Project, or VPAP.
Cuccinelli spoke first and while neither candidate outright attacked his rival on stage, the Republican urged McAuliffe to release all his taxes for the past eight years.
"It's no fun," said Cuccinelli. "But I did it because it shows voters how we would serve."
McAuliffe's speech centered on luring businesses and 21st century jobs to Virginia by having the best-educated workforce in the country.
"I don't consider education an expense," said McAuliffe. "I consider it an investment."
After the event while talking to reporters, McAuliffe called Cuccinelli's debate challenge a gimmick. "We agreed to five debates weeks ago."
McAuliffe has released tax summaries for the past three years, which his aides call the customary practice in Virginia politics.
"I have been transparent," McAuliffe told a gaggle of reporters. He also added that Cuccinelli failed to report $18,000 in gifts from a company called Star Scientific. Cuccinelli has said it was an honest mistake and that as soon as he realized it, he reported it himself. (read more)
The IRS acknowledged Friday that its agents at an Ohio office asked inappropriate questions of Tea Party and other conservative groups as they flagged them for additional scrutiny.
The following, based on questionnaires made public by Tea Party groups, are examples of the requests made by the IRS as part of the application for tax-exempt status.
-- Copies of current web pages, including blog posts and social networking site pages
-- Copies of all newsletters, bulletins and flyers
-- Names of donors and amounts they gave
-- Names of those who received donations and amounts received
-- Dates of community events including rallies
-- Contents of speeches delivered at sponsored events
-- Names of event organizers
-- Copies of documents that rate political candidates
-- Amount of money spent on publishing materials
-- Membership agreement and rules that govern members
-- Salary information
WASHINGTON - Joint Chiefs Chairman General Martin Dempsey says U.S. forces stand ready to take military action in Syria -- but warns a no-fly zone in the country may not work.
"Whether the military effect would produce the kind of outcome that all of us would desire - an end to the violence, some kind of political reconciliation among the parties and a stable Syria - it's not clear to me that it would produce that outcome," Dempsey said Tuesday at a Christian Science Monitor luncheon. "Options are ready," Dempsey continued. "And if it becomes clear to me or if I'm ordered to do so we will act, but at this point, that hasn't occurred."
While no specific details were provided on those options, Dempsey was clear that despite new intelligence indicating chemical weapons have been used in Syria, America's military posture remains the same.
"Nothing I've heard in the last week or so has changed anything about the actions we're taking as a military," he said. "We've been planning, we've been developing options, [and] we are looking to determine whether these options remain valid as conditions change. That doesn't mean that what's happened over the last week wouldn't change the policy calculus - but militarily our task has been to continue to plan, to continue to engage with partners in the region, and to continue to refine options so that if we're asked to implement any - we'll be ready."
President Barack Obama has said if the Assad regime uses chemical weapons it would be a 'game changer' and such action would cross a 'red line.' (read more)
The following is a list of lawmakers who crossed party lines on the "Manchin-Toomey amendment," the proposal to expand background checks to Internet sales and gun shows. The amendment failed in the Senate Wednesday on a 54-46 vote.
Republicans who defected and voted "yes":
Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey
Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk
Maine Sen. Susan Collins
Arizona Sen. John McCain
Democrats who defected and voted "no":
North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp
Arkansas Sen. Mark Pryor
Alaska Sen. Mark Begich
Montana Sen. Max Baucus
Nevada Sen. Harry Reid (Reid only voted no for procedural reasons, so that Democrats can call up the provision later on)
Mark Kelly, the husband of former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, knocked Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake for his opposition to the Senate gun control bill -- saying he's one of many lawmakers "looking for a reason to get to no."
"It appears to me that maybe he hasn't read the bill because his concerns are addressed in the legislation," Kelly said at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast.
Giffords was severely wounded in the 2011 Tucson mass shooting. She and her husband have since launched a campaign urging lawmakers to approve expanded background checks and other provisions.
Flake, though, said on his Facebook page that the current proposal "goes too far."
Kelly has a meeting with Flake later Tuesday. "When I explain to him in person, I think we can get him to come around," Kelly said.
Asked what would happen if Flake ends up not supporting this bill, Kelly said his organization would seek to replace him in the Senate. "Friendship is one thing, saving people's lives is another," he said.
Senior aides to Sen. Marco Rubio tell Fox News they just had their best fundraising quarter in two years.
According to the aides, Rubio raised for his PAC and his re-election committee more than $2.3 million in the first quarter of 2013.
They also report that the campaign:
-- Identified more than 15,000 new donors
-- Raised money from all 50 states
-- Received more than half of that money from low-dollar donors
The campaign raised more in the first quarter than they did in all of last year. Though Rubio is not up for re-election in Florida until 2016, the surge comes as the Republican senator plays a key role in negotiating immigration legislation, which is expected to be introduced Tuesday.
The average for a politician to raise in an "off-cycle" year is a few hundred thousand dollars, max.
The union representing thousands of Immigration and Customs Enforcement employees is calling on Republican Sen. Marco Rubio to leave the tight-knit group negotiating an immigration overhaul.
Rubio is considered the most politically vital member of the so-called "Gang of Eight," since his support could give conservatives cover to ultimately vote for legislation Congress for years has struggled to pass. Rubio is one of four Republicans in the group, which is preparing to introduce legislation in a matter of days.
But National ICE Council President Chris Crane issued a lengthy statement Friday saying the union is not confident the bill would address the flow of illegal immigration. He specifically raised concern that, based on the assessment of one Democratic member, the plan could legalize millions of illegal immigrants before enforcing border security.
"I would then respectfully call on Senator Rubio to follow through on his commitment to the American people -- and his pledge to accomplish enforcement before legalization -- and to leave the Gang of 8," Crane said in a statement.
The proposal, though, is said to ratchet up border surveillance and make other security changes. Rubio spokesman Alex Conant, in response to the ICE union statement, said the forthcoming proposal is "the start of the process." (read more)
WASHINGTON - We will soon know the fate of what some are calling the military's new ‘Nintendo medal.'
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel told members of the House Armed Services Committee Thursday that he will make an official announcement early next week, but the Pentagon chief may have already tipped his hand.
"It is a concern to me, it's a concern to any veteran, anybody in the military," Hagel said during his first appearance on Capitol Hill since being confirmed as defense secretary.
The Distinguished Warfare Medal was rolled out in February and was supposed to be awarded to troops who operate drones or use other technical skills to fight America's wars without ever stepping foot on the battlefield.
Former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said it was meant to recognize contributions made in a world of changing warfare, but veterans groups objected, with many outraged over the fact that the new award had been ranked above medals like the Bronze Star or the Purple Heart -- earned only by troops who serve on the front lines and in harm's way. (read more)