Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Don't Forget About FISA

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi

The struggle in Congress over the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act is not over. Go back to Friday, March 14, 2008 when the House passed a bill that didn’t include immunity for the telecommunication companies. Earlier the Senate passed a bill that did grant such immunity. Since that time without a new bill, those who gather intelligence have agreed that the sky hasn’t fallen and they have been able to gather intelligence legally under the old bill. The Senate and the House still have to get together if a bill is to be passed this session. The President continues to insist that he will veto any bill that doesn’t provide immunity.

Has it been so long that you have forgotten what’s at stake? Letting big telecoms off the hook for their wrongdoing would derail the pursuit of justice in the ongoing investigations of the wiretapping scandal. Ongoing lawsuits are vital in bringing to light the role of the Bush administration in spying on its own citizens, and granting amnesty would render those cases moot.

During these months, the telecoms have been busy lobbying to have immunity added to the bill. We have only the lobbying report for the first quarter—the one for the last three months won’t be out until after the end of June. For the
first quarter:
Twenty-one organizations reported lobbying for AT&T on FISA, although many of them reported working on behalf of the company on other issues, too. Likewise, 17 reported lobbying on FISA for Verizon, and two more reported the same for Sprint Nextel.

Three firms reported lobbying on the issue for both AT&T and Verizon. That does not count the lobbying of each company’s in-house government affairs team, all three of which reported lobbying on FISA.

Altogether, the companies and some of their allies in the business world spent more than $14 million lobbying in just the first three months of this year. The Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for Legal Reform and the National Cable and Telecommunications Association are among those that have lobbied in favor of retroactive legal immunity from the lawsuits.
We can only guess what the figures for the current quarter will be. As
McJoan of Daily Kos wrote on Thursday
It's not a very fair fight, if you look at it just in terms of money… And on the other side, the ACLU, EFF, and, well, the people. Oh, yeah, and the Constitution. Seems like in an election year like this one is shaping up to be, our friends in Congress might take a chance on trusting the people on this issue.
John McCain, who once opposed illegal wiretapping and immunity for the telecoms, is now humming a
different tune. Go back to November 2007 when he was asked directly if he would support S. 2248 providing immunity.
On November 30, 2007 McCain sent us this response via e-mail:
“When companies provide private records of Americans to the government without proper legal subpoena, warrants, or other legal orders, their heart may be in the right place, but their actions undermine our respect for the law… If retroactive immunity passes, it should be done with explicit statements that this is not a blessing, there should be oversight hearings to understand what happened, and Congress should include provisions that ensure that Americans' private records will not be dealt with like that again.”
A few weeks later, McCain
said this to Boston Globe:
"I think that presidents have the obligation to obey and enforce laws that are passed by Congress and signed into law by the president, no matter what the situation is."
Why the change of heart? Could it have anything to do with his need to curry favor from the right wing of the Republican Party? On Friday, Senate Foreign Relations Chair, Senator Joseph Biden,
called out McCain on the issue.
In his statement, Biden wrote that the FISA statute, which he helped draft, "made clear the exclusive legal steps the President must take in order to conduct national security surveillance." "President Bush chose to ignore the law and now it seems Senator McCain will continue this policy," Biden writes. "Once again – there is no daylight between President Bush and Sen. McCain." "We all share the goal of capturing the terrorists and protecting national security and we can do that without violating the privacy of the American people," he added. "Like President Bush, Sen. McCain is presenting the American people with a false choice—national security or civil liberties. We need a President who understands that we can have both. It’s what our values and our Constitution demands.”
McJoan puts the issue in perspective.
Excellent first start. Hopefully more Dems will recognize what a liability the Bush/McCain position on warrantless wiretapping and telco amnesty, and put an end to any talk of "compromise" with the Republicans on this issue.

There's a very simple solution to the warrantless wiretapping debate: Congress can extend the orders that were established last year under the PAA and are set to expire in August for a period of nine months or a year, letting the next administration and Congress resolve the issue.
Almost six months ago, a few weeks after beginning Milo’s Janus Outlook I wrote my
first piece about FISA as a “battle for liberty.” At the time, there weren't any headlines in the papers or reports on the evening news about it, but I suggested that it just might be “one of those key places to which we will one day look back on as the turning point--for good or ill--in the effort to recover precious civil liberties.” I’m not sure I believed that Congress would stand up to the President on this matter; but the House did because you and thousands of others stood up. The fight still isn’t over. There are still rumblings of compromise that would give the issue away. As Yogi Berra said, “It ain’t over till it’s over.” We’ve come too far to lose now; it is one battle for liberty that we can win.

What you can do today: Call Speaker Nancy Pelosi (202-225-4965, Fax: 202-225-8259) and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (202-225-4131, Fax: 202-225-4300). Tell them not to accept the Bond bill or any other compromise that would give immunity for the telecoms; and that, if any action is necessary, it would be better to vote to extend the PAA for a year than to give up everything they gained in the bill they passed in February.

- Milo

No comments: