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FISA Debate. Day 4,392. Ever see Groundhog Day?

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July 8, 2008

Yeah, me too. Ever lived it?

The Senate is taking up the FISA Amendments Act once again. Today they’ll be debating it on the floor and then they’ll vote tomorrow morning. Listen. It doesn’t look good. Here’s a quick rundown of the first bit of debate.

Senator Cardin spoke first then Senator Feingold came to the floor giving Senator Dodd props on his immunity work. He called the immunity provision a “rigged process” thereby cementing his place in my heart. Feingold also notes that at least 70 senators have not seen the documents outlining the legal underpinnings of the program that the Intelligence and Judiciary committees have had access to.

The senator from Wisconsin goes on to makes several sound and reasonable points including the fact that current law already grants immunity to phone companies that cooperate with the government. All they need is a court order or a certification from AG that it meets statutory requirements. Little known fact: FISA instructs phone companies to reject anything less. So why didn’t they?

Senator Specter came to the floor and interrupted to discuss Judge Vaughn Walker’s recent decision in the Al Haramain case and its effect on the debate. For a quick wrap up, check out EFF’s site.

(Fun Fact! Judge Vaughn Walker, along with having a pretty sweet name, is also the judge that is sitting before all of these infamous telecom cases. He may have some free time open up if the Senate goes through with this. The gut-wrenching part is the Al Haramain decision gives the indication that Judge Walker may believe the president’s domestic spying program to be as constitutionally sturdy as a two-legged stool. With a vote on immunity less than a day away, the glimmer of court review hope is fading fast.)

Oh, hi Senator Rockefeller. What’s that? You oppose Senator Dodd’s amendment? Would it also be a fair assumption that the Pope is, indeed, Catholic?

(Side note — Allow me to explain why the exclusivity provision that Rockefeller spoke about is backwards. If you rewrite FISA to be toothless, with superficial court review and flimsy standards, and then claim it is the exclusive means of wiretapping you pretty much save any president — present or future — from the temptation to circumvent it. So, nicely done fellas.)

Specter interrupted again to challenge Rockefeller with Feingold’s point that they will be granting immunity for a program many in the Senate do not understand. Rockefeller’s rather, no, incredibly weak response is that those senators who were read into the program at the beginning weren’t even allowed to talk about it so the mere fact that the Intelligence and Judiciary committees have had access to those documents is a huge step forward. Personally, that sounds like what my mother would call “horse pucky.”

Bear in mind, sir, you’re voting on a bill that would essentially – and forever – erase any hope of anyone outside those few senators having anything but a primitive understanding of one of the largest executive power grabs of our time. The fact that ¾ of your colleagues haven’t had the opportunity to peruse those documents is a big deal, got it? Especially when you consider how many of them (Feingold, Wyden, Whitehouse, etc.) have seen the documents and still think the administration’s rationale is bunk.

Speaking of bunk, did you see that Attorney General Mukasey and the Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid yesterday once again letting him know that they would advise the president to veto the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 if it included the Bingaman amendment or anything else stripping blanket immunity?

Ummmmmmmmm. Why would you veto a bill you claim is so painfully vital for our nation’s intelligence community? What kind of logic is that? Maybe because you know if the cases move forward the details of your warrantless wiretapping program will be revealed? Yeah, that’s what I thought. Also, please stop insulting our intelligence by claiming immunity is about national security. It’s about covering your, well, you know.

Debate resumes again around 2:15. More to come…

CORRECTION: A previous version of this post gave the wrong year of the FISA Amendments Act. The correct year is 2008, not 2007.

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