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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Hillary Clinton’s Voting Record Distorted

Republican challenger John Spencer falsely claims she opposes the Patriot Act, which she voted for twice.


Republican John Spencer says Hillary Clinton “opposes the Patriot Act” when in fact she voted for the law in 2001 and again in 2006 when it was renewed.

Additionally, Spencer claims “National Security Agency wiretaps of terrorist suspects were vital to stopping this attack” on US-bound airliners. Actually, US law enforcement played a relatively small role. British officials uncovered the alleged plot and quietly followed its development for months before alerting US officials just days before the arrests.


The Spencer ad displays a headshot of Clinton beside one of Osama Bin Laden as the announcer states that “Hillary Clinton opposes the Patriot Act and the NSA Program that helped stop another 9/11.” However, Clinton voted for passage of the original Patriot Act in 2001, as well as the reauthorization in 2006.

John Spencer Ad:
“Tie Hands”

Announcer: Islamic Fascists still hate us. They still want to attack us. But the recent terrorist attack to destroy American airliners headed for New York was detected and defeated. National Security Agency wiretaps of terrorist suspects were vital to stopping this attack. But Senator Hillary Clinton opposes the Patriot Act and the NSA program that helped stopped another 9/11. She’d leave us vulnerable.

Spencer: That’s wrong. I’m John Spencer and I approve this message because I won’t play politics with our security.

Distorting Patriot Act Support

On his blog, Spencer supports his assertion that Clinton opposes the Patriot Act by citing a vote against cloture during the debate over renewal of the Patriot Act in late 2005. Clinton did join 46 other senators in that vote, including 5 Republicans. Those who wanted debate to continue didn’t necessarily oppose the law itself, however, but were pushing to give federal judges greater control over some of the expanded surveillance powers the law gives to law-enforcement officials.

At the time, Clinton released a statement  explaining her vote. In the statement, Clinton listed concerns about lack of a risk-based system to allocate homeland security funds and a need to balance civil liberty protections along with the security measure:

Clinton: I believe the conference report falls short of this goal, and I am hopeful that with more time, those negotiating these provisions will find the proper balance.

Debate on the reauthorization of the Patriot Act continued when Congress came back from its winter recess. After some changes, Clinton voted for the bill when it came up for final passage on March 2, 2006.

NSA Wiretapping as a Vital Tool?

The Spencer ad also criticizes Clinton for questioning the NSA wiretapping program, and makes a highly dubious claim that NSA wiretaps were “vital” to stopping the alleged plot to blow up US-bound airliners taking off from Britain.

It’s true that Clinton has sharply attacked Bush for the NSA program, saying the President lacked legal authority to order wiretaps without judicial warrants, and has “stonewalled” Congress by refusing to supply details of how the program works. She hasn’t opposed eavesdropping on suspected terrorists, however, and in fact has said she would allow warrantless wiretaps in certain cases during “the immediate aftermath of war,” and that “in cases of true emergencies” she would allow law enforcement officials to eavesdrop first and get a warrant later.

The Spencer ad asserts that “National Security Agency wiretaps of terrorist suspects were vital to stopping” the recent British terror plot. As evidence, Spencer cites an Aug. 10 interview of White House terrorism advisor Fran Townsend on the CNBC’s Kudlow and Company:

Townsend: The tools we have today, without them, I don’t think we would have been as successful in working with our British colleagues as we were to thwart this plot.

However, Townsend never specified the NSA program as one of these “tools” and did not characterize it as “vital.” In fact, she revealed the following day, on MSNBC’s Hardball with Chris Matthews:

Townsend: We put every tool at our disposal into use to help our British colleagues. But this really was a British investigation for the longest time. We didn’t see an American threat. It was only recently we developed the American angle working with our British colleagues, but this was really a British threat.

Furthermore, White House Press Secretary Tony Snow said the President was first given a “detailed briefing” of the plot by the British on Aug. 4, less than a week before British officials made arrests on Aug. 10. And the President himself makes no claim that NSA wiretaps had any role in uncovering the alleged plot. In fact, in remarks in Green Bay, Wisconsin on Aug. 10 Bush gave British authorities the credit for that:

Bush Aug. 10: I want to thank the government of Tony Blair and officials in the United Kingdom for their good work in busting this plot.

We judge Spencer’s ad to be misleading to the extent that it claims the NSA wiretaps were “vital” to stopping an alleged plot that was in fact uncovered by the British.  And there is no evidence in the public record that NSA wiretaps were a vital part of that process.


Watch John Spencer Ad: “Tie Hands”


“Statement of Hillary Clinton on the USA Patriot Act Reauthorization Conference Report,” Clinton Web site.

“Remarks of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton on Privacy to the American Constitutional Society,” Clinton Web site.

President Bush Discusses Terror Plot Upon Arrival in Wisconsin,” White House. 10 Aug. 2006.

White House Press Briefing, Tony Snow. 11 Aug. 2006

U.S. Senate, 107th Congress, 1st Session. Senate Vote No. 313.

U.S. Senate, 109th Congress, 1st Session. Senate Vote No. 358.

U.S. Senate, 109th Congress, 2nd Session. Senate Vote No. 29.