CBS Hounds Rand Paul on NSA Spying Scandal: 'Why Only Now Raise These Concerns?'

Norah O'Donnell unsurprisingly conducted a confrontational interview of Senator Rand Paul on Tuesday's CBS This Morning, pummeling the Kentucky Republican for his strong opposition to the National Security Agency's controversial PRISM surveillance program. The anchor played up how "all three branches of government have approved this surveillance" after Paul asserted that "we don't want the government looking at our entire life."

O'Donnell also hammered the senator for supposedly not speaking up earlier about his objections to this electronic monitoring: "There was an invitation in 2011 for...all lawmakers to view this classified report on what was going on....Did you go to that? Why not? Why only now raise these concerns? Congress was briefed on this." [audio available here; video below]

The CBS morning newscast brought on Senator Paul for his take on intelligence contractor Edward Snowden's recent exposure of PRISM's monitoring of tens of millions of Americans. Co-anchor Charlie Rose led the interview by asking the politician, "Do you think he's [Snowden] a hero or a traitor?" When the Republican initially brushed aside the question as "sort of a side point" and stated that the "the Bill of Rights is being violated", Rose repeated his question: "But do you agree with what he did? Whether there is a title to what he did or not, do you agree? Did he do the right thing? Do you support him?"

Anchor Gayle King then asked her sole question during the segment: "The polls show that a lot of Americans seem to be okay with what the government is doing to monitor terrorist threats, even if it invades on privacy. What do you say about that?" Paul replied, in part, by citing how he obtains "most of my daily needs on my Visa card....You can tell whether I go to a psychiatrist; whether I gamble; whether I read conservative magazines; whether I drink; whether I smoke. Your government has no right to this knowledge unless you're accused of a crime; unless there's probable cause."

O'Donnell interrupted her guest mid-answer and began her particularly hostile portion of the interview:

NORAH O'DONNELL: But Senator, there's no proof that the government is monitoring that and using that information. They need a warrant in order to find out where you're shopping and where you're using your credit card.

SEN. RAND PAUL, (R), KENTUCKY: Actually, you're wrong. There's no proof that they're actually doing it, but we do know that third party records – for the past 30, 40 years – have not been sufficiently protected by the Fourth Amendment. We have an exclusion. We say that when you give up your records to a bank, that you're actually giving up your right to privacy. I disagree with those court cases. Some of those court cases need to be reversed. It's not just President Obama. It's President Bush, and all of the presidents – probably for the last four or five presidents. But I think the American people are fed up with it. Now that more and more of our lives are online and digitized, we don't want the government looking at our entire life.

O'DONNELL: Senator, this is an important issue. All three branches of government have approved this surveillance. Obviously, it's carried out by the executive branch. Congress approved it. The courts have approved it. The Congress was briefed 22 times on this PRISM surveillance program between October 2011 and December 2012. Did you attend any of those briefings?

PAUL: Most of these are for the Intelligence Committee, so I wouldn't have been invited. But I would say just because Congress approved it doesn't make it right. Congress has about a 10 percent approval rating, so I think we're often doing things the public doesn't approve of. Last year – last year, we approved of indefinite detention, where an American citizen can be detained without charge or trial for the rest of their life and sent to Guantanamo Bay. I think that's wrong, whether the President signed it or not. It's also hypocritical because the President, when he was a senator, was much more in favor of defending civil liberties.

O'DONNELL: In press accounts, though, today, it says there was an invitation in 2011 for all senators – all lawmakers – to view this classified report on what was going on. You could also ask for a briefing. Did you go to that? Why not? Why only now raise these concerns? Congress was briefed on this.

PAUL: I've been raising these for over a year. You can look back at a speech I gave in Las Vegas last year. I have attended briefings on this, so I was aware of it. The interesting thing is, is that I was unable to talk about it; so was Senator Wyden. They put a gag rule on us. They put a gag rule on those who were investigated.

The most ridiculous thing I hear from people of this persuasion is politicians saying, 'oh, nobody was complaining'. But you can't complain because they put you in jail if you complain, or they don't tell you if they're investigating you. We had eight million suspicious activity reports from banks issued, but you're not allowed to complain because nobody knows you're being investigated. I think Americans don't want the surveillance state.

The former NBC correspondent, along with Rose, have a record of hardball interviews of Republican/conservative guests, while going soft on Democrats/liberal ones. Back in November 2012, the CBS anchors took turns hammering Senator John McCain over his opposition to Susan Rice potentially becoming secretary of state.

O'Donnell later strongly suggested that Senator Marco Rubio, and the GOP in general, were extremists on the gun issue during an interview of the Florida Republican in February 2013. By contrast, she and Rose helped Senator Joe Manchin boost gun control efforts in Congress during a May 7, 2013 segment on CBS This Morning.

— Matthew Balan is a news analyst at the Media Research Center. You can follow him on Twitter here.