IR: What are you hearing from Idahoans about the IRS targeting accusations?
Risch: You know, we fought a revolution over this exact same thing. This should be an outrage to every American, not just if you’re a member of the Tea Party movement or a conservative group that was targeted. But if you’re a liberal or a Democrat, if you’re an American with no affiliation, you ought to be outraged by your government using its power and the authority it has to get after people, to chill free thought and free expression, and use the government’s power in order to tamp down people’s philosophical beliefs; everyone should be outraged over that. On the other side, they caught President Richard Nixon doing the same thing to the left, and that was just as outrageous as what Obama has done to the right.
IR: But are you hearing a sense of outrage from Idahoans?
Risch: Sure. Obviously we are. And I’m going to do everything I can to get these people in jail. These people need to be made an example of. I see one has already taken the Fifth Amendment, which means that there is probably not only smoke there, but probably substantial fire as well. We’re going to work really hard to get to the bottom of this, identifying people, and not just the underlings, but we’ll follow it right on up to where it goes.
IR: There have recently been new allegations made of domestic surveillance being conducted by the National Security Agency. This time the claims are coming from a former NSA worker named Edward Snowden. What do you make of his claims? Are you concerned?
Risch: Well first of all, we should always be concerned about this. I’m on the Senate intelligence Committee, and our job is to ensure that intelligence is not only done well, so Americans are kept safe, but also that it is done in such a way that there isn’t an intrusion on Americans’ freedoms and constitutional rights. In this particular instance, I’ve been a little bit surprised at the amount of news that this incident has generated because with this particular gentleman, really the only thing he did is describe surveillance programs that have been described in the New York Times frequently over the last three and a half years. They are not new.
But more than that, he made some allegations about how there was this overreach in spying on Americans, but you know, he didn’t provide any details at all. I’d be really interested in the details of what he would have to say. I watched the interview. He said that he had the authority to tap the telephone of anybody he wanted to, including federal judges and everyone else. I’d like to know who gave him that authority, because that authority doesn’t exist under the Constitution, or under federal law. If he did that, he committed a felony, and anybody who directed him to do that committed a felony. We’d like to hear about that, but I see he is now making himself unavailable in Hong Kong. But Americans need to be vigilant about this type of thing. And if you’re making telephone calls to known terrorists, you should be concerned, but if you’re not, you can sleep pretty well at night.
IR: Some would say that our U.S. government has reached a point where it has become proficient in conducting surveillance and monitoring the behavior of law-abiding citizens, yet it won’t straightforwardly call out acts of terrorism when they actually exist. The Boston terror bombing is a case of this. Some reports indicate that federal authorities knew a prospective attack was coming to Boston, yet they failed to notify local authorities. Other reports indicate that this is because the Obama administration refuses to acknowledge acts of terror that may have ties to Islam. In the aftermath of such terror attacks, the president has repeatedly warned Americans to not “rush to judgment.” Even Attorney General Eric Holder, when questioned, has refused to say the words “radical” and “Islam,” back-to-back. Is there a sense in which our federal government will turn its power against law-abiding citizens, but refuses to acknowledge lawlessness coming from people of minority religious groups or from other countries and cultures? Do you hear this type of concern from constituents?
Risch: I do hear this from constituents, and to at least some degree, I share that view. I am here because of that. I love my country. The government, on the other hand, needs to be watched, it needs to be reigned in. You can’t twist it too tight. There are millions of people now who work for the government, and some of them think they have authority to do something when in fact they actually don’t. The NSA case may be a prime example. You cannot listen to another person’s telephone call, whether you’re the president of the United States or not. You cannot do that short of going before a judge and getting a warrant based upon probable cause. And what happened at the IRS should give every American pause. It is obvious that some of these things that have been alleged have actually been done. Those who committed these acts need to go to jail.
IR: What would you say to the Idahoan who is worried about the IRS, but also worried about it being the enforcer of Obamacare? Our state Legislature and governor chose to create a state insurance exchange and comply with Obamacare. Those decisions were out of your purview obviously, but the decisions were made and now the IRS will be enforcing the federal health care regulations on us. And now we have learned that the state insurance exchange will be using federal computers from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to collect data on us. What do you tell the concerned Idahoan about this?
Risch: First of all, not one single Republican (in the U.S .Congress) voted for this. And the involvement of the IRS in Obamacare was one of the key issues that we debated about Obamacare. That said, we work every day to try and change this. Both Sen. (Mike) Crapo and I have been co-sponsors on legislation to repeal Obamacare. But we’re not done. We’re going to continue this fight.