PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR: Here’s what The New York Times had to say about this: [text on screen] “Mr. Bush says without amnesty, the government won’t get cooperation in the future. We don’t buy it." – Says The New York Times – "The real aim is to make sure the full story of the illegal wiretapping never comes out in court.” (The New York Times, January 26, 2008.) I mean, is that part of what this is about is they just don’t want court cases?
MICHAEL RATNER, PRESIDENT, CENTER FOR CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS: I think that’s right, Paul. I mean, if you look at these, these are going to be very hard cases against the telecoms. Even though there’s 40 cases, good attorneys, you know, there’s a million different doctrines that courts put in front of getting liability here. But on the other hand, the discovery is going to be very important. For example, the Center for Constitutional Rights, where I work, has one of these lawsuits, in which we claim that our attorneys at the Center were wiretapped while talking to the families and others overseas who the government alleges may be involved with terrorism or were alleged to be involved with terrorism [inaudible] former Guantanamo detainees. Think about that. If that discovery comes out in a lawsuit, that the government while it’s opposing us in court is also wiretapping all of our attorneys, how embarrassing and how illegal that would be by the government. So I do think exposure of this program will lead to a lot of problems for the people involved in the program. So I think it’s both that they want to protect these companies so they can continue to operate illegally when asked to by the government, and they also want to protect themselves so it doesn’t appear that they went off the rails here and essentially wiretapped and got the e-mail of a lot of people that had nothing to do with terrorism and that were US citizens.
JAY: If one’s looking at the campaign, the election campaign, one does not hear very much about FISA from either Senator Obama or Clinton. Edwards seems to have taken quite a strong stance, saying he’s against this legislation that Reid, the Democratic head of the Senate, plans to support. But what have we heard from Obama and Clinton on the issue of FISA?
RATNER: You know, so far I’ve heard nothing, although I think on the Protect America Act, I know Senator Clinton voted against the act that extended this authority for six months. But the question for all of us is: are Senators Obama and Clinton going to be there on Monday when a crucial vote is going to take place on whether or not they can cut off debate and push through the Reid legislation that is really agreed to by the White House. So they’ve been very quiet about it. As you said, Edwards has been the best on this issue. And it’s again this issue: they’ve been able to intimidate, scare, whatever you want to say, the Democrats, saying they’ll be weak on terrorism. And, you know, it’s one of the things that really gets me on this issue: all that is being asked is that before the administration wiretaps an American citizen or gets their e-mail is they go to a judge that can even be in a secret court to get a warrant to do that. No one is saying that you can never do it. You need a warrant to do it. Put a neutral magistrate in. That’s the heart of our Constitution in this country. And the government’s claim that this is going to stop them from getting Osama or terrorism acts is just BS, because if they have an emergency situation, they’re actually allowed to wiretap me or somebody else for three days without a warrant, during which they can apply to the court. The court, you know, is not exactly an open public court. They’ve given well over 20,000 warrants for wiretapping, mostly of foreigners, obviously, some of Americans. They’ve only turned down, probably, five warrants. So it’s not like we’re talking about a big block here. But we are talking about an essential protection of liberty, which is putting a neutral magistrate in between the government and its people. And that’s absolutely essential.
JAY: Perhaps this is less about real issues going forward as it is about covering up crimes already committed, that is, if this legislation isn’t changed, then the question of accountability for the illegal wiretapping that already happened comes much more to the fore. It’s really tied up with the whole question of impeachment as well, which is: Is this administration going to be held accountable for crimes committed? Which is something the leadership of the Democratic Party seems to have, for their own tactical reasons, decided not to do.
RATNER: Yeah, they’ve taken impeachment off the table. But even on this wiretapping issue you now have Democrats now in control of the various committees in the House and the Senate, and none of them has really yet fully examined the warrantless wiretapping and e-mail program in a way that makes people in the administration accountable. So the administration really believes strongly—they want to both legalize this stuff going forward, immunize it going back, and essentially it would become a closed box where no one ever really discovers how far off the pages this administration went. Former Vice President Gore really condemned this a couple of years ago, calling it “tyranny in America.” He basically said what the president did here was take the executive, legislative, and judicial branches all in his hands and do whatever he wanted, overriding congressional law, not listening or obeying the courts, and essentially saying, “Within my power to fight the war on terrorism I can do whatever he wants.” It’s a lawless administration. Sadly, the Democrats right now, many of them have gone along with it. I want to say you have to look where the legislation is. It’s actually in a slightly complex place. The House has passed legislation that is somewhat better than the Senate’s. The House doesn’t have an immunity provision in it, it limits more the warrantless wiretapping with what’s called an umbrella warrant, but it’s better than the Senate legislation that is going to be considered tomorrow. Assuming the Senate passes this bad legislation, then there’s going to have to be a conference, and they’ll have to reconcile it. But the president says, of course, that he’s going to veto most of this stuff, as far as I can tell. And, of course, the Democrats are too intimidated to fight that.
JAY: So it could be quite a dramatic moment when Dodd tries to filibuster and looks around to see whether his colleagues support him or not.
RATNER: It’s going to be, hopefully, one of the more uplifting moments that we’ve seen in the last five years, when a Democrat actually takes the floor in attempt to filibuster, and the Democrats that don’t like that idea and the Republicans join together to try and stop him with their 60 votes. You know, it could be that the way this technically could work, they could simply vote on cloture tomorrow before the filibuster starts, get the 60 votes. The 60 votes then really stop the filibuster because it limits any debate to 30 hours. It’s controlled by Harry Reid, the Majority Leader in the Senate right now. So it could be that Dodd never really gets his chance, although the cloture motion is really the equivalent of cutting off Dodd’s filibuster.
Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.