The fact remains - immunity was given to illegal acts though few knew what violations had been made.
The deception and the misinformation were clearly presented to members of the Senate by Senator Russ Feingold:
"Mr. President, it could not be clearer that this program broke the law, and this President broke the law. Not only that, but this administration affirmatively misled Congress and the American people about it for years before it finally became public. So if we are going to go back and discuss these issues that I thought had long since been put to rest, let’s cover the full history.
Here is the part of the story that some seem to have forgotten. In January 2005, eleven months before the New York Times broke the story of the illegal wiretapping program, I asked then-White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales at his confirmation hearing to be Attorney General whether the President had the power to authorize warrantless wiretaps in violation of the criminal law. Neither I nor the vast majority of my colleagues knew it then, but the President had authorized the NSA program three years before, and Mr. Gonzales was directly involved in that issue as White House Counsel. At his confirmation hearing, he first tried to dismiss my question as “hypothetical.” He then testified that “it’s not the policy or the agenda of this President to authorize actions that would be in contravention of our criminal statutes.”
Well, Mr. President, the President’s wiretapping program was in direct contravention of our criminal statutes. Mr. Gonzales knew that, but he wanted the Senate and the American people to think that the President had not acted on the extreme legal theory that the President has the power as Commander in Chief to disobey the criminal laws of this country.
The President, too, misled Congress and the American public. In 2004 and 2005, when Congress was considering the reauthorization of the USA Patriot Act, the President went out of his way to assure us that his administration was getting court orders for wiretaps, all the while knowing full well that his warrantless wiretapping program was ongoing.
"Mr. President, I sit on the Intelligence and Judiciary Committees, and I am one of the few members of this body who has been fully briefed on the warrantless wiretapping program. And, based on what I know, I can promise that if more information is declassified about the program in the future, as is likely to happen either due to the Inspector General report, the election of a new President, or simply the passage of time, members of this body will regret that we passed this legislation. I am also familiar with the collection activities that have been conducted under the Protect America Act and will continue under this bill. I invite any of my colleagues who wish to know more about those activities to come speak to me in a classified setting. Publicly, all I can say is that I have serious concerns about how those activities may have impacted the civil liberties of Americans. If we grant these new powers to the government and the effects become known to the American people, we will realize what a mistake it was, of that I am sure."
His complete comments from the floor can be read here.