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Beltway Confidential

Lindsey Graham, John McCain on the 'extreme fringes of American society,' says Justin Amash

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Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., told a crowd of libertarians Thursday that Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., "are on the extreme fringes of American society in terms of their views on war.”

Speaking at the Liberty Political Action Conference, Amash was responding to a question about Graham's request to seek military action against Iran as well as Syria.

“I’ve had a lot of town halls in my district — there is basically nobody who thinks like they do,” Amash said. “So, you know, it’s a very small percentage of the population and I think you can basically dismiss what they’re doing.”

Amash also spoke at length about his amendment that would have defunded the National Security Agency's program to collect massive stores of consumer telephone records and metadata from innocent Americans.

Amash said, “the Intelligence committee is not one of the branches of government, but that’s how it’s being treated.”

Specifically, Amash said that the classified briefings that members were encouraged to attend for information regarding the NSA surveillance program were more like “a game of 20 questions.”

“You ask a question and if you don’t ask it in the exact right way you don’t get the right answer,” Amash said.

Amash said that asking about the wrong agency — or even using the wrong pronoun — would result in an answer of “no,” and that the correct answer would not be given. He said that members would go from hearing to hearing and briefing to briefing asking questions to try and get an answer.

Amash said that the idea that members could just go into the classified briefings and get answers was “ridiculous.”

“In an extreme hypothetical, let’s say they had a base on the moon,” Amash said. “If I don’t know that there’s a base on the moon, I’m not going to go into the briefing and say ‘you have a moon base,’ right?

“If they have a talking bear or something, I’m not going to say, ‘Have you guys engineered a talking bear?’ You’re not going to ask questions about things you don’t know about,” Amash said.

At times, the intelligence committees would allow members of Congress brief periods of time to read classified documents. Amash said that in order to read the document he had to sign a non-disclosure agreement, but said Americans would learn about the information in the documents “one way or the other.”

“This information will come out eventually,” Amash said. “The kind of things that they are trying to hide can’t be hidden forever.”

Americans first found out about the NSA surveillance program from leaks by former government contractor Edward Snowden, who is currently a fugitive in Russia.

Amash wouldn’t say if he would pardon Snowden for his leaks because “I don’t know all the facts.” But his opinion of Director of National Intelligence James Clapper was crystal clear.

“With respect to Director Clapper, I have said before that he should be charged, that he should resign and he should be removed.”

Amash said that it was possible for grassroots to influence politicians, and that he was working the system “from the inside.”

For instance, Amash introduced the LIBERT-E Act, which would revise the PATRIOT Act to only allow data collection from Americans if they were under investigation. The bill would also allow members of Congress to read court opinions and members of the public to have redacted versions of those opinions.

“You can’t have a free society with secret laws,” Amash said.

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