It’s FISA Day in your Senate – amazing how this was scheduled for Potomac Primary Day, huh? – and Matt Browner Hamlin has the agenda up at Holdfast.
My big issue is item #4: retroactive immunity for telecoms. Verizon and AT&T have done all they can to pretend that they had no idea that their participation in warrantless wiretapping might be, you know, a full-monty assault on the Constitution itself. I mean, shucks, they wuz just doing what the president wanted them to, and if you can’t trust the White House who can you trust?
Here’s what Sen. Russ Feingold had to say on the matter:
The telephone companies and the government have been operating under this simple framework for 30 years. The companies have experienced, highly trained, and highly compensated lawyers who know this law inside and out.In view of this history, it is inconceivable that any telephone companies that allegedly cooperated with the administration’s warrantless wiretapping program did not know what their obligations were. And it is just as implausible that those companies believed they were entitled to simply assume the lawfulness of a government request for assistance. This whole effort to obtain retroactive immunity is based on an assumption that doesn’t hold water.
I’d give anything to have a transcript of the conversations that went on in the respective telco legal departments over this, because I’ve dealt with corporate lawyers. Even more to the point, I worked in a telco and dealt with telco lawyers.
I’m with Feingold – I call bullshit. Of all the lies that the American public has been asked to endure since early 2001, this is easily one of the biggest. In terms of plausibility, this far surpasses the whole Iraq/WMD debacle, because in that case there was actually evidence to be fudged. Here we’re simply asked to accept that some of the nation’s finest corporate lawyers saw nothing remotely wrong with a program that a pre-law student with middling marks at a third-rate community college could tell you was iffy at best.
Two responses ought to quickly lay this parade of foolishness to rest. First, I’ve seen telecom lawyers throw up roadblocks over innocuous official communications due to little more than arguments over comma placement. Legal departments in these kinds of companies are legendary in their aversion to risk, and they can imagine risk in places that wouldn’t bother a textbook paranoid schizophrenic.
Second, Joe Nacchio realized it was illegal and politely declined. Let me repeat: Joe Freakin’ Nacchio, a guy whose epic lust for power and cash has him facing prison and brazilians of dollars in fines. When a deal is too crooked for the devil himself, I don’t want to hear a damned word about how Legal thought it was all kittens and rainbows.
The Senate needs to nard-stomp this immunity crap and then start summoning attorneys at Verizon and AT&T. Bring a stick, too. Somebody will eventually sing, and once you get one on record the dominoes will start to fall.
Meanwhile, stop insulting our intelligence.