Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Feingold's Quixotic Battle Against an Administration Out of Control

Okay, so I'll admit it, I've been a little behind on this story, but it's pretty important, at least when it comes to politics within the Democratic Party, so I want to catch up on it. I figured it couldn't hurt to share my own discoveries here, for others who might not have been following the story.

First, on Sunday, Russ Feingold announced that he would move to censure Bush on "This Week With George Stephanopoulos". Here's a bit of the transcript, with relevant passages highlighted:

STEPHANOPOULOS: Tomorrow in the Senate, you're going to introduce a resolution to censure George W. Bush. Let me show that to our viewers.

It says, "Resolved that the United States Senate does hereby censure George W. Bush, president of the United States, and does condemn his unlawful authorization of wiretaps of Americans."

That is a big step. Why are you taking it now?

FEINGOLD: It's an unusual step. It's a big step, but what the president did by consciously and intentionally violating the Constitution and laws of this country with this illegal wiretapping, has to be answered.

There can be debate about whether the law should be changed. There can be debate about how best to fight terrorism. We all believe that there should be wiretapping in appropriate cases -- but the idea that the president can just make up a law, in violation of his oath of office, has to be answered .

STEPHANOPOULOS: But as you know, the president says he was acting on his inherent authority under the Constitution -- and even your resolution acknowledges that no federal court has ruled that a president does not have that authority as commander in chief.

So aren't you jumping the gun?

FEINGOLD: Not at all. You know, we've had a chance here for three months to look at whether there's any legal basis for this -- and they're using shifting legal justifications.

First, they try to argue that, somehow under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, they can do this. It's pretty clear that they can't.

Then there's the argument that somehow the military authorization for Afghanistan allowed this. This has basically been laughed out of the room in the Congress.

So the last resort is to somehow say that the president has inherent authority to ignore the law of the United States of America.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Inherent authority...

FEINGOLD: And that has a consequence that the president could even order the assassination of American citizens if that's the law.

So there is no sort of independent, inherent authority that allows the president to override the laws passed by the Congress of the United States.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So if you're so convinced -- if you're so convinced -- that the president has broken the law, why not file an article of impeachment?

FEINGOLD: Well, you know, that's an option that we could look at, if somebody thought that was a really good idea.

There are other options out there.

In fact, this conduct is right in the strike zone. Even though the founding fathers, they didn't have strike zones; they didn't have baseball -- but this is right in the strike zone of the concept of high crimes and misdemeanors.

They also noted, later, that Rep. Conyers will take over the judiciary committee if the Democrats take over the House in November, and he wants impeachment. Can I get a hell yeah?

Frist, genius as always, came on afterwards, and continued to wield the usual weapons of Republicans: appeals to emotion, dodging of the actual issue, and scaremongering. Don't believe me? Read this shit:

STEPHANOPOULOS: You heard Senator Feingold there. He wants Democrats and Republicans to come together on the censure resolution he's going to introduce tomorrow.

I can't imagine you're going to support that.

FRIST: George, what was interesting in listening to my good friend, Russ, is that he mentioned protecting the American people only one time.

And although you went to politics a little bit later, I think it's a crazy political move.

And I think it, in part, is a political move because here we are, the Republican Party, the leadership in the Congress, supporting the president of the United States as commander in chief who is out there fighting Al Qaida and the Taliban and Osama bin Laden and the people who have sworn -- have sworn -- to destroy Western civilization and all the families listening to us; and they're out now attacking -- at least today through this proposed censure vote -- out attacking our commander in chief.

It doesn't make sense.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So you're against it. Are you going to allow it to come up for a vote?

FRIST: Well, George, this is the first I've heard about it. I really am surprised about it, because Russ is just wrong. He is flat wrong. He is dead wrong.

And as I was listening to it, I was hoping deep inside that the leadership in Iran and other people who really have the U.S. not in their best interests are not listening because of the terrible -- the terrible -- signal it sends.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So you're saying that censure resolution actually weakens America abroad?

Well, I think it does because we are right now at a war, in an unprecedented war, where we do have people who really want to take us down. And we think back to 9/11 and that war on terror is out there.

So the signal that it sends that there is in any way a lack of support for our commander in chief who is leading us with a bold vision in a way that we know is making our homeland safer is wrong. And it sends a perception around the world.

And, again, that's why I'm saying -- as leader at least of the Republican side of this equation -- that it's wrong, because leadership around the world of our sworn enemies are going to say, "Well, now we have a little crack there."

There is no crack. The American people are solidly behind this president in conducting this war on terror.

Uggggggh. This coming from a guy who voted to impeach Clinton is rich. "Supporting" the current president means nothing to how people around the world perceive us. Besides, how can Frist say something like this when Bush is hanging low with a 34% approval rating? By his own reasoning almost 2/3 of the country is "sending a bad signal" right now.

Anyway. Monday, Feingold issued a press release detailing his plan for the resolution. Key arguments:

The President Broke the Law by Wiretapping Outside of FISA

It Is Illegal to Wiretap Without the Requisite Warrant or Court Order: The law is clear that the criminal wiretap statute and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) “shall be the exclusive means by which electronic surveillance . . . and the interception of domestic wire, oral, and electronic communications may be conducted.”

FISA Has an Emergency Exception: The Administration has indicated that it ignored FISA because the application process takes too long. In fact, in an emergency where the Attorney General believes that surveillance must begin before a court order can be obtained, FISA permits him to immediately authorize the surveillance as long as the government goes to the court within 72 hours. Prior to 2001, the emergency wiretap period was only 24 hours. The Administration requested and received the increase to 72 hours in intelligence authorization legislation that passed in late 2001.

FISA Provides for Wartime Situations: FISA also permits the Attorney General to authorize warrantless electronic surveillance in the United States during the 15 days following a declaration of war, to allow time to consider any amendments to FISA necessitated by a wartime emergency.

The Administration Has Used FISA Thousands of Times Since 9/11: Administration officials have criticized FISA, but they have obtained thousands of warrants approved by the FISA court since 9/11, and have almost never had a warrant request rejected by that court.

The President Made Misleading Arguments Defending his Wiretapping Program

Military Force Resolution Did Not Authorize Wiretapping: The President has argued that Congress gave him authority to wiretap Americans on U.S. soil without a warrant when it passed the Authorization for Use of Military Force after September 11, 2001. There is no language in the resolution and no evidence to suggest that it was intended to give the President authority to order these warrantless wiretaps. Warrantless domestic surveillance is not an “incident of war” akin to detaining an enemy soldier on the battlefield as the Administration has argued.

In fact, Congress passed the Patriot Act just six weeks after September 11 to expand the government’s powers to conduct surveillance of suspected terrorists and spies. Yet the Administration did not ask for, nor did the Patriot Act include, any change to FISA’s requirement of judicial approval for wiretaps of Americans in the United States.
Prohibition on Wiretapping Limits Executive Power: The President’s assertion of inherent executive power is also wrong. The President has extensive authority when it comes to national security and foreign affairs, but given the clear prohibition in FISA, that authority does not include the power to wiretap American citizens on American soil without a warrant.

Executive Branch Review of Wiretapping Is Not Enough: The President has argued that periodic executive branch review provides an adequate check on the program. But Congress when it passed FISA explicitly rejected the idea that the executive branch should be fully entrusted to conduct national security wiretaps on its own – a power that the executive had abused in the past. In addition, the Administration has said that NSA employees decide whose communications to tap. Executive branch employees are no substitute for FISA Court judges.

Congress Did Not Approve This Program: The extremely limited briefings of the President’s warrantless surveillance programs to a handful of Congressional leaders did not constitute Congressional oversight, much less approval. In fact, the failure of the President to keep the Congressional Intelligence Committees “fully and currently informed of all intelligence activities” was a violation of the National Security Act.

Then came the ever-surprising news that, yet again, the Democrats were shying away from a necessary battle. Sigh.

Feingold Draws Little Support for Censure
By LAURIE KELLMAN, Associated Press Writer
Mon Mar 13, 6:04 PM ET

WASHINGTON - Democrats distanced themselves Monday from Wisconsin Sen. Russell Feingold's effort to censure President Bush over domestic spying, maneuvering to prevent a vote that could alienate swing voters. Republicans dared Democrats to vote for the proposal.

"Some Democrats in Congress have decided the president is the enemy," Vice President Dick Cheney told a Republican audience in Feingold's home state.

Feingold, a potential presidential candidate, said on the Senate floor, "The president has violated the law and Congress must respond."

"A formal censure by Congress is an appropriate and responsible first step to assure the public that when the president thinks he can violate the law without consequences, Congress has the will to hold him accountable," Feingold said.

Even as he spoke, Democratic leaders held off the immediate vote that Majority Leader Bill Frist requested. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said he didn't know if there ever would be one.

Throughout the day, Feingold's fellow Democrats said they understood his frustration but they held back overt support for the resolution.

Several said they wanted first to see the Senate Intelligence Committee finish an investigation of the warrantless wiretapping program that Bush authorized as part of his war on terrorism.

Asked at a news conference whether he would vote for the censure resolution, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada declined to endorse it and said he hadn't read it.

Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., said he had not read it either and wasn't inclined simply to scold the president.

"I'd prefer to see us solve the problem," Lieberman told reporters.

Across the Capitol, reaction was similar. Feingold's censure resolution drew empathy but no outright support from Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi.

Okay, I'm cutting this one off here and finishing later, because this is getting long, but one little stinger Lieberman's statement again, then look at what he had to say about impeaching Clinton:

Lieberman of Connecticut said he was angered and disappointed in Clinton's behavior, and what he called Clinton's "premeditated" deception.

Lieberman said Clinton "apparently had extramarital relations with an employee half his age and did so in the workplace in the vicinity of the Oval Office. Such behavior is not just inappropriate. It is immoral."

Said Lieberman: "I was disappointed because the president of the United States had just confessed to engaging in an extramarital affair with a young woman in his employ and to willfully deceiving the nation about his conduct."

Guess blowjobs are worthy of scolding, but illegal wiretapping of US citizens: not worth scolding.

Posted by crimnos @ 1:28 PM