23 February 2008

Is the sky falling yet?

We now approach the one week mark since the expiration of the Protect America Act. Yesterday, the "nonpolitical" Attorney General Michael Mukasey and Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell, wrote a letter to Silvestre Reyes, Chair of the House Intelligence Committee, in which they said:

Our experience in the past few days since the expiration of the act demonstrates that these concerns are neither speculative nor theoretical. Allowing the act to expire without passing the bipartisan Senate bill had real and negative consequences for our national security. Indeed, this has led directly to a degraded intelligence capability.

Yet, despite this situation with "negative consequences for our national security", Republicans have refused to meet with Democratic leaders of the House and Senate who have been trying to reconcile the differences between the bills passed in the two bodies. The chief difference is that the Senate has passed retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies that have broken the law in providing warrantless wiretaps while the House bill does not contain immunity. A joint statement by Reyes, John Conyers, Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, Jay Rockefeller, Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee and Patrick Leahy, Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee reads:

Today, our staffs met again in what should have been a bipartisan, bicameral meeting with our Republican colleagues’ staffs and Administration officials to continue working through the recess period on important reforms to FISA. Again, the Republicans refused to join the dialogue. And today, neither the Justice Department nor the director of National Intelligence sent representatives. Today was another missed opportunity.

Further politicizing the debate, the administration today announced that they believe there have been gaps in security since the Protect America Act expired. They cannot have it both ways; if it is true that the expiration of the PAA has caused gaps in intelligence, then it was irresponsible for the President and congressional Republicans to block an extension of the law. Accordingly, they should join Democrats in extending it until we can resolve our differences.

We continue to be disappointed in the failure of the administration and Republican members of Congress to participate in these very important discussions, but we remain extremely committed to this process. Americans deserve a carefully thought out bill, and we will continue to work to put America's security first.

The real reason for the failure to negotiate is that President Bush has made it clear that the only bill he will sign is one with retroactive immunity. On Thursday, while flying back from Africa on Air Force One, he had this to say: "I would just tell you there's no compromise on whether these phone companies get liability protection".

Finally calling out Bush and the Republicans on the cynicism of their claiming that we are at risk because the Protect America Act has expired, but refusing to consider any version of a FISA revision that does not contain retroactive immunity is a welcome development for the Democrats. The heart of the Republican argument is aimed at covering up massive lawbreaking on the part of the government and the telecommunications companies that were coereced into going along. Surveillance of terrorists continues without significant interruption, but exposure of wrongdoing by Bush and his cronies is lurking in the shadows.

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