Con Carroll of Heritage Foundation debates Bruce Fein of American Freedom Agenda Pt1


Story Transcript

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR: Hello, and welcome to our ongoing coverage of the Republican National Convention. Today, Republican Congressman Ron Paul, the outspoken libertarian and former candidate in the Republican presidential primaries, held his Rally for the Republic in Minneapolis. Ron Paul’s well known for his views on small government, low taxes, free markets, and he was the only Republican presidential candidate who opposed the Iraq War. He’s also a vigorous proponent of civil liberties, breaking with fellow Republicans on the Patriot Act, national ID cards, and wiretapping. Tonight I’m joined by two guests to talk about Ron Paul’s stand on civil liberties and his critique of fellow Republican John McCain. Live from Minneapolis, Conn Carroll, the assistant director of the Heritage Foundation for Media and Public Policy, and Bruce Fein, the founder of American Freedom Agenda and advisor to Ron Paul. Welcome, gentlemen. The slogan of the Republican convention is “Country First.” And I’m not sure this is the official slogan of the Rally for the Republic of Ron Paul, but if I had to give you guys a slogan, it would be “Constitution First.” And first let me ask Bruce the question: is there a difference between “Country First” and “Constitution First?”

BRUCE FEIN, AMERICAN FREEDOM AGENDA: Well, in philosophy, I think it reflects a different conception of what the United States is about. If you read the Declaration of Independence, it says governments are instituted among men to secure the unalienable rights to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. Putting it on its head, it makes it seem like governments are instituted among men to make the country stronger, to go abroad and search for monsters to destroy, as John Quincy Adams would put it. So I do think that there is a difference in philosophy. One presumes that freedom and liberty and individual choice is the presumption, and that government must shoulder a very heavy burden to justify an encroachment. The other presumption is the government can do whatever it wants, unless it reduces the people to a police state or slavery.

NKWETA: Bruce is suggesting, to paraphrase him, that in the last eight years, there’s been a movement towards a kind of police state, and that to talk about country first and not talk about defense of the Constitution loses the substance of what the country’s supposed to be about. What do you make of this?

CONN CARROLL, EDITOR, HERITAGE FOUNDATION POLICY BLOG: Well, you know, I think Bruce’s fears are completely overblown. You know, Ron Paul is a Republican, and all Republicans believe in the Constitution and adhering to the Constitution. And I think we really do a disservice when we try to speak about generalities about a police state and about what has happened in the past eight years. We do a lot better in better informing people when we get to specifics and we talk about specifics of the FISA debate and what actually has been going on. And then, once we get down to the facts of what has happened, what is being done to protect our liberties, and what is at stake, I think we can have a better picture of how civil liberties still are being protected today.

JAY: Okay. So, Bruce, get specific.

FEIN: Well, let’s take the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, what Conn referred to as FISA. That was enacted after 40 years of presidential abuses of warrantless surveillance on American citizens that resulted in blackmail, in openings of mail, in interceptings of telegrams, and burglaries without due process, a clear abuse of the Fourth Amendment and the right of privacy. And the FISA law, enacted in 1978, signed by a president, operated without any president saying it was compromising our ability to get foreign intelligence, requires a judicial warrant, with exceptions for initially emergency situations, 15 days in a time of war, but a judicial warrant in order to spy on an American on American soil for purposes of gathering foreign intelligence. There have been a handful of turn-downs in over 27 years. The president, in the aftermath of 9/11, decided he would flout FISA, the only court that ever ruled on the merits has found the [inaudible] administration has done somersaults and back-flips to avoid getting judicial rulings on the matter. But the president decided no longer would there be warrants; he would just decide on his own whether an American citizen can be spied on, emails intercepted, phone conversations [intercepted]. And this, by the way, is a felony under the FISA law.

JAY: So, Conn, Bruce is getting specific, and he’s making two points, one about FISA itself, but also about presidential orders that seem to bypass the due process in order to bypass FISA. So you have the beginning of what people were calling this “unitary presidency,” Ron Paul talked in his speech. So what’s your response to this?

CARROLL: Sure. Well, Bruce leaves out a huge fact, which is our communication infrastructure has changed radically since the late ’70s. This thing has been invented called the Internet. And when FISA was first passed in the late ’70s, what you had was the NSA was allowed to listen in on pretty much all satellites and radio communications that they wanted. However, they had to get a warrant, like Bruce did say, in order to tap physical lines within the United States. However, since the 1970s, our communication infrastructure has radically changed. Now when a person in Pakistan emails somebody in Germany, that email communication goes through routers in the United States. And if the NSA wants to be able to locate terrorists in Pakistan, they’re going to have to physically tap wires within the United States, and that is going to have to require going through some type of FISA process. Now, after 9/11, President Bush went to the telephone companies and assured them that the federal government could do this in order to suck up all of the emails and then pick out only the foreign ones. So when Bruce said that the president is personally sitting there deciding which emails are going to be opened, that is just laughably untrue.

JAY: But I don’t think that’s quite what he said.

FEIN: The response is twofold. Number one, if a law becomes outmoded, the way in which the Constitution requires that it be remedied is you go to Congress and ask them to change the law. I drafted a law that would have said, simply because a communication transits the United States and is intercepted here, if there’s not a reasonable protection of privacy that’s governed by the Fourth Amendment, you don’t need a warrant. And the president could have done that. And to pass the legislation, you wouldn’t have revealed any sources and methods that would have enabled al-Qaeada to bypass or evade. But that’s what the rule of law is about. The president can’t say, “Oh, technology has changed things, so I’ll just flout the law.” This is what the president did, and he’s confessed he did that for over five years. These are felonies. That’s what the rule of law means in the United States and what following the Constitution means. Secondly, what does it mean when it says the president can decide on his say-so alone? It means the executive branch doesn’t ask for any other branch to vet that particular decision as to whether it satisfies probably cause, reasonable suspicion, or anything else, or whether he selected somebody just at random or because you are conducting a political vendetta. That is one-branch government that the Constitution frowns on and clearly flouted the law.

JAY: In the next segment of our interview, let’s talk about why such a phenomenon as the Ron Paul Rally for the Republic is coming into being. I’m going to ask Conn why he thinks so many Republicans agree with what Bruce Fein and Ron Paul were saying about the move towards a kind of oppressive state.

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