"We will tell you where the materials are buried when you arrive in the U.S.," says the voice, speaking -- via telephone -- from the mountains of Pakistan.
"I will be ready," responds another voice, speaking from Islamabad.
Mind you, this is a wholly hypothetical conversation. But Democrats may want to imagine it now as they ponder whether to follow the hyperbolic lead of Sen. Barbara Boxer of California in attacking President Bush for ordering the National Security Agency to monitor, without warrants, certain communications to and from the U.S. involving people with suspected links to al Qaeda.
Inspired by a radio appearance she made last month with former Nixon White House Counsel John Dean, Boxer is urging Senate Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter, the Pennsylvania Republican, to hold hearings on the president's NSA program even before next week's scheduled confirmation hearings for Judge Samuel Alito. "John Dean, who was White House counsel to President Nixon during Watergate," Boxer wrote Specter, "believes that this president has admitted to an 'impeachable offense.'"
A little common sense might have curbed Boxer's enthusiasm for pursuing Dean's theory.
President Bush, she might recall, ordered the NSA surveillance program in a specific historical and legal context.
Four years ago, al Qaeda terrorists hijacked jetliners from inside the U.S. and flew them into the World Trade Towers, the Pentagon and a field near Shanksville, Pa., killing thousands.
Three days later, the Senate voted 98 to 0 for war; the House, 420-1. The war resolution authorized the president "to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons."
For once, American politicians united at the precise spot where an obvious fact collided with an equally obvious policy prescription: Foreign enemies had infiltrated the U.S. to commit mass murder. We needed to go to war to stop them from doing it again.
Now, the question for Sen. Boxer ought to be: When, in prosecuting the war Congress authorized to prevent "future acts" of terrorism by al Qaeda, does the president need permission from a federal judge?
Presumably, even Sen. Boxer would agree that when U.S. troops entered a cave in Afghanistan believed to be occupied by al Qaeda, they didn't need a warrant.