Wednesday, June 04, 2008

What the heck are they hiding? House Dems move closer to accepting the GOP's frantic cover-up of the Bush regime's electronic-surveillance activities


"It's about finding middle ground, and we have middle ground. It's not going to please everyone, but let's get on with it."
--House Intelligence Committee Chairman Silvestre Reyes, quoted by CongressDaily, on "a Republican-brokered deal to rewrite the nation's electronic surveillance laws" which Reyes "disclosed late Tuesday that he is ready to accept"

"There just isn't enough money at stake to explain this. Nobody's suing for the money, they are suing for the discovery. Something bad happened here and the Democrats are helping the Republicans cover it up."
--Digby, in "FISA Zombie," a post of the CongressDaily article

I wasn't originally going to pass on this CongressDaily article about the new "compromise" on a replacement for the expired FISA laws which Chairman Reyes has now signed on to. I know how complex and technical this whole issue is -- both in its substance and in the politics of it. I know people's hair tends to hurt when they hear mere mention of FISA, not to mention "retroactive telecom immunity."

Then I saw that Digby had posted the CD article, and noted in particular the above paragraph that she appended. As usual, she's got it exactly right.

The crucial "compromise" -- negotiated, curiously, with the ranking Republican, Kit Bond of Missouri [right], on the Senate Intelligence Committee (not that the Democratic chairman, Jay Rockefeller, is any more enlightened on the issue) -- concerns the ever-contentious issue of telecom immunity, which is neither granted nor denied. Instead it is to be determined, in secret of course, by the always-secret FISA court.

As regards the politics of the issue, it's still impossible to know from the CD article where matters stand. If we accept that Chairman Reyes is prepared to sign on to the "compromise," that doesn't mean that either House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer or Speaker Nancy Pelosi is, which means we still don't know what the Democratic leadership position is. It's just not an encouraging step that the Intelligence Committee chairman has decided that the crucial issue is "getting on with it."

But as regards the substance, allowing the telecom companies to get their "get out of jail free" cards in secret means the Bush regime, or whoever is working so hard to make sure that no proper investigation of illegal surveillance ever takes place, have won their case. Because contrary to the usual Republican obfuscation, which has it that FISA-related lawsuits, like most lawsuits, are just money-grubbing opportunities promoted as usual by sleazy lawyer-loving Democrats, as Digby notes, the importance of the FISA lawsuits has nothing to do with money. Such suits may in fact be the only way to force public disclosure of . . . well, whatever the people who are hiding stuff are trying so hard to hide.

Again as Digby notes, "Something bad happened here and the Democrats are helping the Republicans cover it up." And the more ferociously the behind-the-scenes negotiators work to obliterate those lawsuits, the badder we may guess that something is that happened. The working hypothesis has to be that it's so bad, there are people who will do whatever it takes to make sure it never becomes public.

That said, since CongressDaily is a subscription deal, here is the full text of the article:

House Chairman Open To Republican Compromise On FISA
by Chris Strohm

The House Intelligence Committee's top Democrat disclosed late Tuesday that he is ready to accept a Republican-brokered deal to rewrite the nation's electronic surveillance laws, signaling that a long-running congressional impasse could soon be coming to an end.

House Intelligence Chairman Silvestre Reyes told CongressDaily that he is "fine" with language offered by Senate Intelligence ranking member Christopher (Kit) Bond and other Republicans to overhaul the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Notably, the GOP language, which was offered a day before the recent congressional recess, would leave it up to the secret FISA court to grant retroactive legal immunity to telecommunications companies that have helped the Bush administration conduct electronic surveillance on the communications of U.S. citizens without warrants.

About 40 civil lawsuits already have been filed against the companies. The administration, Bond and other Republicans had backed a Senate-passed FISA bill that would have shielded the telecom firms from the lawsuits upon enactment.

"It's about finding middle ground and we have middle ground," Reyes said of the compromise offered by Republicans. "It's not going to please everyone but let's get on with it."

Reyes said he believes enough Democrats will support the proposal to pass it in the House.

But he said House Majority Leader Hoyer told him that House Democratic leaders want to have the liability of the telecoms reviewed in federal district court as opposed to the FISA court.

A senior Reyes aide clarified his boss' positions by saying that while Reyes thinks Bond's proposal is a positive one, he remains supportive of Hoyer's efforts to improve on it.

A FISA reform bill passed by the House earlier this year would have had the cases heard in district court.

Efforts to obtain comment from Hoyer's office were unsuccessful at presstime and Reyes' assertion that the GOP language would pass the House could not be confirmed.

Public interest groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union have criticized the GOP language on the immunity issue, saying it does not empower the FISA court to determine if the administration or the telecom firms broke the law. They say the court review would be too limited to give plantiffs in the lawsuits a fair hearing.

On another issue, the proposed GOP compromise would require the administration to submit its procedures and certifications to the FISA court for review before surveillance could begin, except in exigent circumstances. This would apply to wiretaps involving the communications of a U.S. citizen inside the United States.

Republicans also have said they will accept, for the most part, language from House Democrats making FISA the exclusive means for conducting wiretaps to collect foreign intelligence. House Speaker Pelosi has said that having such language in a final FISA bill is her top priority.

And Republicans have agreed to accept a Democratic demand that the inspectors general of the intelligence agencies conduct audits of the terrorist surveillance program.

The House-passed FISA bill included a provision that would have established an independent commission to investigate the administration's warrantless wiretapping activities.

"We knew we weren't going to get everything, but we need to get this done," Reyes said.

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At 3:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Someone commented on the "anger in the room" at a democratic meeting last night. NewsFlashâ„¢.

... for the past 6.5 months, we've all been royally pissed. This is but one of hundreds of reasons.

At 6:07 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

It's absurd for Congressional Democrats to give this lawbreaking, felonious Administration [sic] any more powers to spy on our citizens. There's no reason to pass any legislation at all!

Why can't Congressional Democrats understand that they've WON on this issue, stop the negotiating, and end the discussion?

Giving in to GOPs on this issue is exactly why Congressional Democrats get a reputation for being craven wusses -- they act just like losers!

At 12:26 PM, Blogger KenInNY said...

"Why can't Congressional Democrats understand that they've WON on this issue, stop the negotiating, and end the discussion?"

Um, er, good question, Teddy. In fairness, we should note again that we still haven't heard from Speaker Pelosi or Majority Leader Hoyer about this latest "compromise." What makes me think, though, that we'll be asking this same question after we have heard from them?



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