Intelligence Committee Dems: Cash Is King
The New York Times tells us this morning about the collusion between Intelligence Committee Democrats and the Bush Administration to ensure that the administration would never have to justify its actions in a court of law. And as dday tells us over at DailyKos, we know why the Democrats are only too happy to let the telecoms off the hook while the Constitution is being shredded: cash.
Rockefeller told Cheney months ago that there would be no telecom retroactive immunity unless the Senate Intelligence Committee got to see the administration’s legal justifications for warrant less surveillance of Americans. When the White House finally agreed to let the Senate Intelligence Committee, and only that committee (not the House Intelligence Committee or either of the congressional judiciary committees) see the documents Wednesday, Rockefeller went ahead with a bill out of his committee that included the retroactive immunity.
While Rockefeller, Reid, and probably other committee Democrats took cash from the telecoms, they excluded Pat Leahy and Arlen Specter over at Senate Judiciary as well as both House committees from the same review. Worse yet, Florida Democrat Bill Nelson, typically a target of progressives for his willingness to go along with the Cheney cabal, still saw a need to stop the retroactive immunity even after seeing the documents Wednesday, and authored an amendment to do so at Thursday’s behind-closed-doors markup of the bill. Yet Nelson's amendment lost 12-3 when not only by Rockefeller, but also Dianne Feinstein, Evan Bayh, Barbara Mikulski, and even Sheldon Whitehouse voted against it. Those supposedly wavering Republicans Chuck Hagel, Olympia Snowe, and John Warner went along with the White House once again. Only Ron Wyden, Russ Feingold, and Nelson voted to strip the immunity from the overall bill.
In the end, only Feingold and Wyden voted against the overall bill, so the rest of the committee Democrats including Feinstein and netroots favorite Whitehouse went along with the White House to grant the telecoms immunity. Apparently, the argument they are all making after seeing the documents is that it isn’t the telecoms that should be held accountable in the courts for what they did, but rather the administration. Yet the real question is this: just who is going to hold the administration accountable in the courts? And if you exclude the telecoms from plaintiff lawsuits over civil liberty and privacy violations through the immunity, then haven't you also closed off any redress for individual plaintiffs, unless they can show that the national security letters and the new FISA bill are unconstitutional violations of the Fourth Amendment?
But at least this capitulation now allows those Democrats to take even more “thank you” campaign contributions from the telecoms.
You can email some of these Dems here, and for what it's worth, the text of my email to "my" Senator Feinstein is after the jump.
Words cannot adequately express my disappointment in your vote at the Senate Intelligence Committee to grant retroactive immunity for the telecommunication companies. By giving the telecoms such immunity, you are depriving individual plaintiffs of any redress for the violation of their privacy rights against these firms. How can someone not conclude, after reading the accounts and editorial in the New York Times today that you have colluded with the Bush Administration to allow them to escape any court review of their domestic surveillance programs?
If in fact after reviewing the administration’s policies and rationale for the national security letters you believed that the telecoms should not be exposed to litigation for complying with Bush Administration directives, then how exactly do you suggest plaintiffs seek redress against this administration as their only remaining defendant? Did you, Jay Rockefeller, Evan Bayh, Barbara Mikulski, and Sheldon Whitehouse provide such a means in the bill you just approved by at least stating congressional intent that nothing in the bill is intended to trample on Fourth Amendment rights and protections? No, you did not.
What chances do you think any plaintiff will have against an administration that claims a national security or executive privilege defense against even congressional inquiries? And yet you were willing after reviewing these documents to eviscerate pending litigation against these firms, and force plaintiffs to take on an administration that has perfected the imperial presidency and unitary executive at the expense of the separation of powers and now the Fourth Amendment?
I never thought I would see the day when the Democratic Party would abandon the Constitution to avoid a fight with those who would trample upon it to maintain unchecked executive power."