Help me figure this out. Last night, in a punch-up over national security, Cruz defended his support for the USA Freedom Act by claiming that the old protocols under the Rubio-favored Patriot Act covered only 20-30 percent of phone numbers whereas the new protocols cover 100 percent. To which Rubio replied, “Let me be very careful when answering this, because I don’t think national television in front of 15 million people is the place to discuss classified information.” At the same time, this happened on Twitter:
Cruz shouldn't have said that.
— Becca Glover Watkins (@beccaglover) December 16, 2015
Who’s Becca Glover Watkins? She’s the communications director for Sen. Richard Burr. And who’s Sen. Richard Burr? Why, he’s the head of the Senate Intelligence Committee. The clear implication from Rubio and Watkins was that Cruz had revealed something important that wasn’t supposed to be revealed. The media noticed and went running to Burr this morning. Was it true? Had Ted Cruz, whose natsec credentials are already being attacked by Rubio, blabbed about the NSA’s reach? We’re going to look into it, said Burr, fueling the fire:
“I’m having my staff look at the transcripts of the debate right now,” Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, told reporters. “Any time you deal with numbers … the question is, ‘Is that classified or not?’ Or is there an open source reference to it?”…
The North Carolina senator didn’t specify what — if any — consequences Cruz could face if his staff determines that the Texas Republican did discuss classified information.
“I would be a lot more worried if he was in fact a member of the committee, but to my understanding this subject matter was not one where any members outside of the committee had been briefed on it,” he said.
Burr himself didn’t see Cruz’s comment because, no joke, he was watching “The Voice” at the time. (“It was the final episode,” he told NBC.) If the intel committee’s looking into it, though, it must be reasonably serious. Hold your breath, Cruz fans.
Okay, now exhale. Because this was released just within the last two hours:
You are the worst, Burr. pic.twitter.com/kQfwW6Rcm7
— southpaw (@nycsouthpaw) December 16, 2015
Wait, so staffers didn’t look at the transcripts? Or they did look at the transcripts and decided that what Cruz said wasn’t any sort of breach? If the latter, how did they know that without running down whether the detail about data collection among 20-30 percent of phone numbers versus 100 percent of phone numbers had been publicly revealed yet? The statement leaves it ambiguous as to whether Cruz has been cleared of wrongdoing or that no one’s bothered to check (yet).
Mark Levin is unhappy:
Sleazy RINO, Sen. Richard Burr, uses his committee to try to smear Cruz; Burr needs to be defeated https://t.co/t7qbeK0sGw
— Mark R. Levin (@marklevinshow) December 16, 2015
So is former Cruz staffer Amanda Carpenter, who wonders why Rubio was so quick to suggest a possible breach of classified information. Maybe Rubio genuinely didn’t know what was classified and what wasn’t — that can be tricky, right, Hillary? — or maybe he did it deliberately to bolster his argument that Cruz is reckless on counterterrorism. As for Burr, I don’t know how to reconcile what he said this morning about having people check on this and the statement this afternoon about the committee’s disinterest. What’s going on? Did some pro-Rubio actor nudge Burr to suggest that Cruz might have screwed up, or did some pro-Cruz actor nudge him to shut down this whole line of inquiry? Er, are there any pro-Cruz actors on Capitol Hill?
Update: As for the merits of the underlying debate, via BuzzFeed, here’s a nice boost for Cruz from a man respected by both his fans and Rubio’s. Mike Lee, who sponsored the USA Freedom Act, says Cruz is right and Rubio is wrong on whether the bill makes America less safe.