Democrats’ spines turn to jelly on warrantless spying once again–but there’s still hope

By Martin Bosworth

It was largely expected, but no less disappointing to wake up this morning and find out that Senate Democrats on the Intelligence Commitee agreed to carry water for the Bush administration by granting retroactive immunity to the telecom companies involved in the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping scandal:

The draft Senate bill has the support of the intelligence committee’s chairman, John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), and Bush’s director of national intelligence, Mike McConnell. It will include full immunity for those companies that can demonstrate to a court that they acted pursuant to a legal directive in helping the government with surveillance in the United States. Such a demonstration, which the bill says could be made in secret, would wipe out a series of pending lawsuits alleging violations of privacy rights by telecommunications companies that provided telephone records, summaries of e-mail traffic and other information to the government after Sept. 11, 2001, without receiving court warrants. Bush had repeatedly threatened to veto any legislation that lacked this provision.

The negotiations between the White House and Rockefeller’s committee bypassed the Judiciary Committee, whose senior members (Patrick Leahy and Arlen Specter) both objected to granting blanket immunity without detailed knowledge of what role the telecoms played in the surveillance. As Glenn Greenwald notes with his usual astute anger, this is yet another case of government officials with close ties to business making decisions to benefit their friends in the private sector–and at the expense of the public.

Couple this with the House Democrats pulling their own FISA revision bill, thanks to a nasty bit of parliamentary chicanery from Republican Rep. Eric Cantor, and the narrative is set–The Democrats are afraid of looking “weak” on national security, so they instead knuckle under to the demands of a guy with a 24 % approval rating and further enrage and disappoint their base. But all is not as it seems.

First, as long as no new FISA legislation is passed that codifies the warrantless surveillance program into law and does not grant the telecoms amnesty, that leaves the “Protect America Act” as the guiding law at the moment–and that bill is due to expire in less than six months. The Bush regime is pushing so hard for the criminal activity to be legalized in order to block the mountains of lawsuits filed against the telecoms that played ball with the NSA program–not least because said companies may pull documents out that pin the blame firmly on the government in order to escape liability for their actions. By preventing any new legislation from being passed–even if it means passing NO legislation–the Dems have the opportunity to use one of Bush’s favorite strategies against him, by running down the “shot clock” until he is out of office or agrees to drop his laundry list of demands.

Second, there is a growing chorus of demand that Senator and Presidential candidate Chris Dodd (D-CT), who has already condemned the Intelligence Committee’s Decision, put a hold on the bill or use other parliamentary tactics to stall its passage. Why Dodd? Because of all the Democratic candidates–indeed, of ALL the candidates with the exception of Ron Paul and occasionally Barack Obama–Dodd has spoken out with the greatest strength and clarity against these egregious violations of our rights. I’ve been impressed with Dodd’s leadership of late on issues relating to predatory lending and credit card lending abuses, and this is another area in which he can make up for lost ground by leading the way.

Glenn Greenwald was kind enough to post the phone number for Dodd’s policy director, Amos Hochstein. I called Hochstein and told his assistant that on a professional and personal level, I will support everything Dodd does to prevent this blatant justification for criminal behavior and political graft from becoming law. You, needless to say, should do the same. If our leaders won’t lead of their own accord, we need to make our voices heard and force them to do what they’re paid to do.

UPDATE: Dodd has confirmed that he is placing a hold on the FISA Reauthorization bill. Send him a letter or call his office thanking him for this, and call your Senators and Representatives and ask them this–do they stand with Bush and the big telecom companies, or do they stand for the Constitution? And if they stand for the Constitution, will they support Chris Dodd?

9 replies »

  1. Sirota had this to say on Dodd and the Internet:

    You may have noticed that the blogosphere has been ablaze about the issue of domestic surveillance. Today, the blogospheric pressure is coming down on Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd (D) to basically use his committee chairmanship to prevent a bill from passing that would retroactively immunize telecom companies from legal prosecution for their complicity in helping the Bush administration unconstitutionally wiretap. The push is good, and valuable and I support it wholeheartedly

    But here’s what bothers me. Dodd is the chairman of the Banking Committee – one of the most powerful panels overseeing all the financial and regulatory issues that working-class folks face every single day of their lives. The mortgage foreclosure crisis is just one huge example. And yet, there has been relatively little netroots or blogospheric pressure on Dodd to use his chairmanship for such issues of economic power and class.

    Dodd has New England aristocrat politics (not surprising as the son of a senator from one of the wealthiest states in the nation). He has long been thrilled to swim in the ocean of corporate money that envelopes Washington. He has mastered the art of tacking to the left on non-economic-class issues, but staying within the Washington mainstream on the issues of money that really run the nation’s capital (though, I should say, he has become a bit better on these issues since running for president … sometimes opportunism bears fruit).

  2. I agree completely with Sirota–it’s very telling about where the netroots’ priorities lie and who makes up the major players of the netroots that you don’t see armies of bloggers demanding Dodd push his credit card-reform and predatory lending reform bills.

    It’s also very much in keeping with Sirota’s M.O.–he’s a populist and a rabblerouser who gets all his support from hating on those evil Washington types. Like Matt Taibbi, he chastises the Dems and their supporters (rightly or wrongly) for not focusing on economic populist issues.

    But I’ve seen Dodd step up on these issues personally and seen the legislation he’s pushed–and given that these are issues I fight for, personally, myself, you won’t see me hating on him for it. Let’s hope he takes that same tack with this issue.

  3. Thanks for enlightening me, Martin. Scholars & Rogues is fortunate to have someone on the staff who’s as well-versed in these matters as you are.

  4. Of all the sitting Senators running for Pres., Dodd has been more out in front on many of the progressive issues. I’m so glad he is doing this on the FISA bill. It’s a real action. But is it leadership? Has he convinced other Senators to take stands with him? Since I won’t get my Gore run, I’m still “flirting” with the other candidates. I read I think at TPM, that Harry Reid was going to do an end run around Dodd and have the bill Rockefeller negotiated put up for a vote next month. It should remain unsaid that Rockefeller and Reid both get monies from Telecoms. If Dodd can get a few more Senators to stand with him, I don’t see how Harry can bring it up. But Chris has got to put pressure on Clinton and Obama on the campaign trail. I think he’s got Leahy and he can prolly get Whitehouse. I imagine there are a few more Constitution loving liberals in the Senate. So let this be a test of his leadership ability. But good on him for putting the hold on it.