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Dodd Puts His Foot Down

October 18, 2007 - by Donny Shaw

This morning The Washington Post announced that Senate Democrats have decided to cave to President Bush by providing retroactive legal immunity for telecom companies that participated in the warrantless wiretapping program without even knowing the extent of their lawbreaking.

>Senate Democrats and Republicans reached agreement with the Bush administration yesterday on the terms of new legislation to control the federal government’s domestic surveillance program, which includes a highly controversial grant of legal immunity to telecommunications companies that have assisted the program, according to congressional sources.
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>Disclosure of the deal followed a decision by House Democratic leaders to pull a competing version of the measure from the floor because they lacked the votes to prevail over Republican opponents and GOP parliamentary maneuvers.
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>The collapse marked the first time since Democrats took control of the chamber that a major bill was withdrawn from consideration before a scheduled vote. It was a victory for President Bush, whose aides lobbied heavily against the Democrats’ bill, and an embarrassment for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who had pushed for the measure’s passage.
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>The draft Senate bill has the support of the intelligence committee’s chairman, John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), and Bush’s director of national intelligence, Mike McConnell. It will include full immunity for those companies that can demonstrate to a court that they acted pursuant to a legal directive in helping the government with surveillance in the United States.
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>Such a demonstration, which the bill says could be made in secret, would wipe out a series of pending lawsuits alleging violations of privacy rights by telecommunications companies that provided telephone records, summaries of e-mail traffic and other information to the government after Sept. 11, 2001, without receiving court warrants. Bush had repeatedly threatened to veto any legislation that lacked this provision.

This on the same day that Democrats in the House failed in their much anticipated attempt to override Bush’s veto of the children’s health bill. Not a good day for the majority — but then, suddenly, there’s this:

>Senator Chris Dodd [pictured above] plans to put a hold on the Senate FISA renewal bill because it reportedly grants retroactive immunity to telephone companies for any role they played in the Bush administration’s warrantless eavesdropping program, Election Central has learned.
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>Dodd will send a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid this afternoon informing him of his decision. Dodd also plans to put up a page today at his campaign Web site where opponents of the immunity provision can register their opposition.
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>…
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>By doing this, Dodd can effectively hold up the telecom immunity bill, because bills are supposed to have unanimous consent in the Senate before going forward. One Senator can make it very difficult to bring a bill to the floor by objecting to allowing it to go to a vote.

Democrats agreed to proved immunity to the telecoms so that the President would agree to sign a bill to correct an unpopular bill they passed in August that cemented the administration the ability to eavesdrop on conversations on Americans without a warrant or congressional oversight. By blocking the telecom immunity provision, Dodd will block this too. But since many Democrats consider the new requirements in the correction bill to be too weak anyways, so stalling it will be outweighed by the morale boost from finally having a Democrat in Congress say “no” to the administration.

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Comments

  • Anonymous 10/19/2007 1:49am

    I agree with the immunity. If the federal government can’t make up it’s mind about the legality of the this act then what is a telecom company supposed to do if it receives a request for information. If they give the info they could be breaking the law. If they don’t give the info they could be breaking the law. They are screwed either way.

    If the act is decided to be illegal then the only person that should be held accountable (i.e. sued) is the person who made the decision (i.e. the federal government). You can’t sue the telcom company for just trying it’s best to comply with conflicting messages from washington.

  • Anonymous 10/19/2007 11:52am

    >You can’t sue the telcom company for just trying it’s best to comply with conflicting messages from Washington.

    You can if the conflicting messages are:
    1. The Law
    2. The administration’s requests.

    The law is pretty clear on what kind of information the telecoms can give to the government, and what kind of warrants the government needs or doesn’t need.

    The behaviour of the telecoms is currently being investigated in court, as it should be. This immunity bill looks to go over the head of the courts and just say “Well, since the government asked then it’s ok.” If that were so, why have said laws in the first place?

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