THE SENATE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE IS SET TO VOTE TOMORROW, THURSDAY FEB. 16, ON WHETHER TO HOLD FURTHER HEARINGS INTO THE NSA SPYING PROGRAM, AND THE WHITE HOUSE HAS LINED UP THE VOTES TO DEFEAT IT.
Washington Post. MUST READ.
OK, they caught me flatfooted. I had started formulating a "game plan" for pressing for hearings on the NSA program, but a staffer for Sen. Leahy on the Judiciary Committee told me that at least two more hearings were sure to be held, and that the issue was "back burner" on the Senate Judiciary Committee's agenda right now because the asbestos trust fund bill and other matters had their attention. So, I focused for a while on the Cheney-Libby leak instead.
Stupid me. The White House, of course, never rests on stuff like this. And I took my eye off the Senate and House Intelligence Committees.
We already knew that the White House has been doing a "full court press" to get Judiciary's Republicans to support the President's position on the NSA program. What puzzled me then was what, exactly, the White House was asking them to do, since there were no votes scheduled, and I suspected that the pressure might extend to the Intelligence committees too. What I didn't expect was that the Congress might be so utterly in the Administration's pocket that it could be pressured to abdicate its Constitutional role altogether and GIVE UP HOLDING ANY HEARINGS AT ALL. But that's apparently what's in the works, according to the Washington Post.
One place where I DID get it right was in questioning whether Rep. Congresswoman Heather Wilson was really leaving the reservation in questioning the NSA program. Yes, she spoke out against it (and more here) -- but, as I later pointed out, she subsequently issued a statement moderating that position and steering things toward amending the FISA law instead. That worried me then, and those fears have proved well-founded: the Republicans are playing ju-jitsu with us, saying (as they always do, whether the issue is 9-11, Iraq, Abramoff, shooting people in the face with shotguns, or anything else): "Why are you Democrats so fixated on pointing out our mistakes? Let's not play the blame game, let's just solve the problem." As I said about Wilson's backpedaling:
[A]mbiguously, she also calls for amendment of FISA, which could be construed as an indictment (merely moral, not legal, unfortunately) of the current NSA program, but which also could serve as "cover" to avoid a more serious approach. In other words, amending FISA could allow Republicans to say, "no need to investigate further, we've fixed the problem" instead of maturely and seriously addressing the question of whether high crimes or misdemeanors were committed that justify articles of impeachment.
As it turns out, that IS the direction the Republicans are now taking regarding the NSA: stealing our wind by amending FISA so that what was illegal in the past isn't illegal any more, then dropping it. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio) is drafting legislation that would "specifically authorize this program" by excluding it from FISA. Olympia Snow and Chuck Hagel have said they support that approach. Hagel said, "Hagel said: "If some kind of inquiry would be beneficial to getting a resolution to this issue, then sure, we should look at it. But if the inquiry is just some kind of a punitive inquiry that really is not focused on finding a way out of this, then I'm not so sure that I would support that."
Shorter DeWine, Snow and Hagel: "We'll make the illegal legal, then we'll accuse you Dems of playing partisan games with national security when you try to make an issue of it in November."
Of course, merely making the NSA program legal isn't enough, for at least four reasons. First, no one in his right mind should trust that the Administration's briefings to Congress come anywhere close to describing what is actually occurring. The only problems Congress will be fixing are the ones it's been told about, which doesn't mean much. Second, changing the law to give the President additional powers doesn't mean the President actually has those powers under the Constitution: terrorism defendants will still be able to challenge their convictions under the Fourth Amendment. The Administration needs to act in a manner consistent with its limited role under the Constitution, not be given another rubber-stamp by a servient Congress that might not withstand judicial scrutiny and that therefore might let terrorists walk free. Third, it's a mistake to give this President any more power: he's already been given more power than the Constitution allows, and he always takes ten times as much as he's given. Green-light this program, and he'll take it as a mandate to start another, even more intrusive, program as well. Fourth, the Republican approach will remove all accountability for criminal behavior by the Bush Administration. Hagel doesn't want "just some kind of a punitive inquiry"? Well, what the hell were the Whitewater, Travelgate and Lewinski investigations? What was Watergate? When our elected officials commit crimes in office, I WANT "some kind of a punitive inquiry." In other words, I do want criminals to be punished, not to have the laws changed ex post facto to exonerate them.
(That last point, by the way, might be the best "hook" for spinning this: pointing out that the Republican culture of corruption is so deep that they're even willing to change the laws to exonerate criminals. But that's something for the big kids and talking heads to take up, not the grassroots.)
So what do we do? The same thing we always do, Pinky: call all the Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and the swing Republicans, and insist that the NSA program be investigated, not whitewashed. Call their DC offices, then their district offices.
Will we change the outcome? Probably not. Will we let the Dems know that the grassroots are still paying attention? Yes. Will there be any excuse for even one Dem to defect? Hell, no. And if we can at least prevent any Dem defections to provide political cover to the Republicans, then maybe we can keep the issue alive for the election season. And we may just get lucky and find one or two sincerely patriotic Republicans to vote for real hearings.
Anyway, we would not be patriots if we did not try. It's game time, folks. Let's take this one very seriously and make a very intense effort today.
More background from georgia10 at DailyKos here and here.
Supplement: As always, Glenn Greenwald is on the case!
Supplement 2: The damn House Intelligence Committee has voted, along party lines, NOT to demand the White House produce documents on the legality of the spying program. So much for Heather Wilson being a Republican of principle. But at least the Dems hung together!
Supplement 3: The always-insightful Digby explains why our leaders are such sissies. Digby's right: every political compromise sends the message that Democrats will compromise on everything else. This whole VichyDems effort -- the whole grassroots, stop-triangulating-and-grow-a-set effort -- is about rapping the Dem leadership upside the head with an ax handle to wake them up to the reality that they need to stand for something. Or (ahem): to LEAD, FOLLOW OR GET OUT OF OUR WAY.
ENOUGH BLATHER. HERE'S THE GAME PLAN:
CALL HARRY REID AND TELL HIM YOU CARE ABOUT THIS ISSUE AND WANT A GOD DAMNED PARTY LINE VOTE ON THIS ONE FOR A CHANGE.
THEN CALL EVERY SENATOR ON THE SENATE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE AND TELL HIM OR HER THAT YOUR CIVIL RIGHTS ARE TOO IMPORTANT TO BE WHITEWASHED, AND YOU WANT FULL HEARINGS ON THE NSA SURVEILLANCE PROGRAM WHETHER THE WHITE HOUSE LIKES IT OR NOT.
TO THE DEMOCRATIC SENATORS, ALSO SAY THAT YOU'LL BE WATCHING HOW THEY VOTE NEXT TIME IT COMES TO DONATE MONEY IN PRIMARY RACES.
After tomorrow's vote in the Senate Intel Committee, we can focus on the House Intel Committee and on the Senate Judiciary Committee. But tomorrow's Senate Intel vote is first up.
That's it. Contact info below:
MAIN CAPITOL SWITCHBOARD: ALL D.C. OFFICES CAN BE REACHED TOLL-FREE HERE:
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid:
D.C. and District Office contact info here
U.S. SENATE SELECT COMMITTEE ON INTELLIGENCE:
No email given; Committee telephone (202) 224-1700
Pat Roberts (R-KS) (Chair)
Orrin Hatch (R-UT)
Mike Dewine (R-OH). (Don't waste time calling: DeWine will hew the WH line.)
Kit Bond (R-MO)
Trent Lott (R-MS)
Olympia Snowe (R-ME) (As noted above, Snowe says she'll support amending FISA, but she still may be in play... worth pressing.)
Chuck Hagel (R-NB)
Saxby Chambliss (R-GA)
Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) (Vice Chair)(It's his motion to investigate that they're voting on tomorrow, and he'll strongly support an investigation. But it's still worth calling him so he can tell the others he has strong grassroots support.)
Carl Levin (D-MI)
Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)
Ron Wyden (D-OR)
Evan Bayh (D-IN)
Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) (Mikulski's office says she'll vote for an investigation. AFTER you've called the others, it's still worthwhile calling and telling her how strongly you want this, so she can tell others.)
Russ Feingold (D-WI)