Specter NSA Bill A Free Pass For Administration genre: Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

Eavesdropping

Arlen Specter, the master of bait and switch, is once again touting his efforts to champion a bill that he characterizes as meaningful reform and substantive cooperation on the part of the Bush administration with regard to the NSA domestic surveillance program that has been operating outside of FISA court oversight.

In reality the bill is written to foreclose any future scrutiny of the program that might leave the President legally or politically vulnerable. Further, the bill would only apply to the identified surveillance program, would provide for the President to voluntarily submit the program for FISA review, and would not prevent any future program from being conducted outside the purview of the FISA court. Read the full article here.

"You have here a recognition by the president that he does not have a blank check," said Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa. As a leading critic of the program, he had broken ranks with his party.

When the program was disclosed in December, it outraged Democrats and civil libertarians who said Bush overstepped his authority. On Thursday, advocacy groups dismissed the prospect of a judicial review as a sham.

"This new bill would codify the notion that the president is not bound by the laws passed by Congress or the Constitution," said Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said the agreement with Specter recognizes the president's constitutional authorities and updates the 1978 law to meet current threats.

"What is happening today is that the president and Congress are coming together to codify the capacity for future presidents to take action to protect our country," she said.

Gonzales said the bill gives Bush the option of submitting the NSA program to the intelligence court, rather than requiring the review.

Essentially, the bill is crafted such that it will not reverse the Bush administrations actions to expand executive authority and to operate in some instances without the involvement of congress or the judiciary. Thought Theater previously reported on these efforts by the Bush administration here.

Gonzales said the legislation would allow him to consolidate legal challenges to the eavesdropping program at the intelligence court, which he described as a one-time test of the program's constitutionality.

More than 100 lawsuits have been filed in courts across the country.

Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, the Judiciary Committee's top Democrat, said Bush could submit the program to the court right now, if he wished. He called the potential legislation “an interesting bargain."

"He's saying, if you do every single thing I tell you to do, I'll do what I should have done anyway,"Leahy said.

By allowing the administration to consolidate the existing lawsuits, the bill will limit the potential for exposing further details about the program as they will be heard collectively by the FISA court...which may well prevent the release of much, if not all of the relevant specifics. It seems clear that the administration has decided this specific method of review may well avoid some of the political fallout that took place as a result of the recent Supreme Court decision with regard to the treatment of foreign detainees.

The Republicans can ill afford another far reaching policy rebuke so close to the November elections. This bill would also allow them to manage the potential damage of a negative ruling from the FISA court since the administration would be able to characterize the reform portion of the bill as addressing and providing long overdue changes necessary to meet the evolving needs presented by the current terrorist threats and to deliver adequate security to the American citizenry. They would be able to say that they simply conducted the surveillance operation outside of the FISA court as a matter of necessity...but the bills comprehensive changes have brought a close to the dispute...while in the meantime the President fully honored his constitutional duty to protect America.

Daniel DiRito | July 13, 2006 | 4:49 PM
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