By far the most heated exchange between GOP presidential debates Thursday night came between Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
While most disagreements were civil with candidates saving their sharpest attacks for President Obama and Hillary Clinton, these two candidates made it clear they were not on the same page when it comes to how to fight and capture terrorists.
The issue that got them hot behind the collars was the NSA’s warrantless collection of Americans’ phone records and whether a president should be allowed to order the use of this technique, bypassing the regular court system and going before the secret FISA court that was established after Sept. 11.
Paul argued it was a blatant overstepping of the Fourth Amendment, but Christie thought otherwise and wants to give the NSA even more power.
Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly asked Christie about previous statements he’s made saying Paul should be called before Congress to answer for his opposition to warrantless wiretapping should the country be hit by another terror attack.
“Do you really feel you can assign blame to Sen. Paul just for opposing the bulk collection of people’s phone records in the event of a terrorist attack?” Kelly asked.
“Yes I do. And I’ll tell you why,” Christie said. “Because I’m the only person on this stage who has actually filed the applications under the Patriot Act, who has gone before the Foreign Intelligence (Surveillance) Court, who has prosecuted and investigated and jailed terrorists in this country after September 11.”
Christie was appointed U.S. attorney on Sept. 10, 2001, by President Bush.
“The world changed enormously the next day, and it happened in my state,” he said. “This is not theoretical to me. I went to the funerals. We lost friends of ours in the Trade Center that day.
“When you actually have to be responsible for doing this, you can do it, and we did it for several years in my office, respecting civil liberties and protecting the homeland.
“And I will make no apologies ever for protecting the lives and the safety of the American people,” Christie said. “We need to give more tools to our people not fewer, and then trust those people and oversee them to do it the right way. As president, that is exactly what I will do.”
Paul, who led a 10-and-a-half hour filibuster on the Senate floor to end the secret Patriot Act practice, said Christie’s methods were unacceptable.
“I want to collect more records from terrorists, but less records from innocent Americans,” Paul said. “The Fourth Amendment was what we fought the American Revolution over. John Adams said it was the spark that led to our war for independence. And I’m proud of standing for the Bill of Rights, and I will continue to stand for the Bill of Rights.”
Watch the entire heated exchange between Sen. Rand Paul and Gov. Chris Christie:
“And Megyn. That’s a completely ridiculous answer,” Christie said. “‘I want to collect more records from terrorists but less records from other people.’ How are you supposed to know, Megyn?”
“Get a warrant!” Paul shouted.
“That’s easy to say. When you’re sitting in a subcommittees just blowing hot air about this, you can say things like that,” Christie said. “When you’re responsible for protecting the lives of the American people …”
“Here’s the problem, Governor,” Paul shot back. “You fundamentally misunderstand the Bill of Rights. Every time you did a case, you got a warrant from a judge. Here’s the problem, Governor. I’m talking about searches without warrants, indiscriminately, of all Americans’ records, and that’s what I fought to end. I don’t trust President Obama with our records. I know you gave him a big hug, and if you want to give him a big hug again, go right ahead.”
The crowd erupted in “oohs” and screams of delight.
But Christie wasn’t done.
Like a street fighter who’d just been hit in the groin, he straightened up and came right back at his opponent.
“You know, Sen. Paul … you know the hugs I remember, Senator, are the ones I gave to the families who lost their people on 9/11.”
He then accused Paul of demagoguery and using the issue to raise money for his campaign.