Article 1, Section 6 of the Constitution establishes an absolute free-speech right for members of Congress on the floor or in committee, even if they are disclosing classified material. It states that “for any Speech or Debate in either House, they shall not be questioned in any other Place.”
Within hours of Colorado Senator Mark Udall losing his reelection bid last week, transparency activists were talking about how he should go out with a bang and put the Senate intelligence committee’s torture report into the congressional record. The report is said to detail shockingly brutal abuse of detainees by the CIA during the George W. Bush administration, as well as rampant deception about the program by top officials. But the Obama White House is refusing to declassify even a summary of the report without major redactions. And Republicans take over the Senate in January.
Udall is one of two senators — along with fellow Intelligence Committee member Ron Wyden — who have consistently demanded greater transparency from the intelligence community. If he made the report public on the Senate floor or during a hearing, he couldn’t be prosecuted.
The last time any senator did anything nearly so grand was in 1971, when Mike Gravel, two years into his 12 years representing the state of Alaska, entered 4,000 pages of the Pentagon Papers into the congressional record just before the U.S. Supreme Court lifted an injunction on publishing them in the press.
Now, Gravel is urging Udall to join the club.
“If Udall wants to call me, I can explain this to him,” Gravel, pictured above, said in a phone interview from his home in Burlingame, Calif.
Gravel’s recommendation: “What he’d have to do is call a subcommittee meeting like I did, late at night.”
Back in 1971, Gravel first tried to read the Papers from the Senate floor. He even got himself rigged up with a colostomy bag so he wouldn’t need to take breaks. But he was stymied by an unexpected procedural move.
So he moved to Plan B: He called a late-night subcommittee meeting with almost no notice to the other members.