Bush says he'd delay Africa trip to help with vote; Bolten, Miers cited for refusing to cooperate in U.S. attorneys inquiry.
Friday, February 15, 2008
WASHINGTON — In two political showdowns Thursday, Democrats in the House of Representatives refused to bow to presidential pressure to pass a broad surveillance law and voted to hold two Bush aides in contempt of Congress.
Early in the day, President Bush said he'd delay his trip to Africa to persuade the House to approve a Senate-passed bill that would give the government authority to monitor e-mails and phone calls.
But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., refused to hold a vote, saying the House needed more time, and Bush put his trip back on schedule for a departure today.
Democrats and Republicans in the House also tangled over whether to hold former White House Counsel Harriet Miers and current Chief of Staff Josh Bolten in contempt for refusing to cooperate with an inquiry into whether nine U.S. attorneys were fired for political reasons.
Democrats prevailed 223-32 in a party-line vote after Republicans walked out in protest, saying the House should be voting on the surveillance bill instead of what Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, called a "fishing expedition."
The resolution was the first time in more than two decades that a full chamber of Congress had backed a contempt-of-Congress citation. It also marked an escalation of a dispute between House Democrats and the White House over the breadth of the doctrine of executive privilege.
The White House has said that the Justice Department won't act on the criminal contempt request, setting up what's expected to be a long court battle.
Pelosi said that she wanted to work with the White House on the surveillance bill, but that the House needs more time to find ways to protect Americans' civil liberties.
"The president believes he has the inherent authority from the Constitution to do whatever he wishes, not necessarily under the law. We respectfully disagree," she said.
The Senate bill is an update of a law that's due to expire tonight. Existing surveillance could continue for a year after the law expires.
Bush said the Senate bill would allow the intelligence community to "effectively monitor those seeking to harm our people" and that the House should pass it so he could sign it before he departs.
"Failure to act would harm our ability to monitor new terrorist activities and could reopen dangerous gaps in our intelligence. Failure to act would also make the private sector less willing to help us protect the country, and this is unacceptable," Bush said.
Congress passed the Protect America Act in August, giving the government broader surveillance powers. It was intended to remain in effect only for six months, giving Democrats time to revise it.
Intelligence officials can continue to eavesdrop on approved targets for a year after the law expires. The government also can get an order from the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to start new surveillance.
The Senate's revision of the Protect America Act also would grant immunity to telecommunications companies that complied with the administration's requests for surveillance without court approval after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
The House didn't include the retroactive immunity provision in its version of the bill.
The House voted to hold Bolten and Miers in contempt for refusing to testify in last year's investigation of the firing of nine U.S. attorneys.
The investigation has produced suspicions but no proof that the ousted prosecutors were targeted because they rebuffed demands that they bring weak voter fraud cases against Democrats or because they mounted corruption investigations of Republicans.
The vote authorized the House Judiciary Committee to ask a court to order Miers and Bolten to testify if the Justice Department fails to issue criminal contempt citations.
The administration has denied any wrongdoing, and maintains that Congress has no compelling interest to see internal White House deliberations on the matter. Democrats said they recognize the president's right to assert executive privilege but maintain that Bush overreached illegally.
A veto of the FISA bill endangers Americans
The president is demanding immunity for the telecoms yet, he can’t confirm they did anything for which they need to be cleared
A part of what I will say, was said here on Jan. 31. Unfortunately it is both sadder and truer now than it was then.
“Who’s to blame?” Mr. Bush also said this afternoon, “Look, these folks in Congress passed a good bill late last summer.... The problem is, they let the bill expire. My attitude is: If the bill was good enough then, why not pass the bill again?”
Like the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. Or Executive Order 90-66. Or The Alien and Sedition Acts. Or slavery.
Mr. Bush, you say that our ability to track terrorist threats will be weakened and our citizens will be in greater danger. Yet you have weakened that ability!
You have subjected us, your citizens, to that greater danger! This, Mr. Bush, is simple enough for even you to understand.
For the moment, at least, thanks to some true patriots in the House, and your own stubbornness, you have tabled telecom immunity, and the FISA act.
You. By your own terms and your definitions, you have just sided with the terrorists. You’ve got to have this law, or we’re all going to die. But, practically speaking, you vetoed this law.
It is bad enough, sir, that you were demanding an ex post facto law that could still clear the AT&Ts and the Verizons from responsibility for their systematic, aggressive and blatant collaboration with your illegal and unjustified spying on Americans under this flimsy guise of looking for any terrorists who are stupid enough to make a collect call or send a mass e-mail.
But when you demanded it again during the State of the Union address, you wouldn’t even confirm that they actually did anything for which they deserved to be cleared.
“The Congress must pass liability protection for companies believed to have assisted in the efforts to defend America.”
Believed? Don’t you know? Don’t you even have the guts Dick Cheney showed in admitting they did collaborate with you? Does this endless presidency of loopholes and fine print extend even here? If you believe in the seamless mutuality of government and big business, come out and say it! There is a dictionary definition, one word that describes that toxic blend.
You’re a fascist — get them to print you a T-shirt with fascist on it! What else is this but fascism? Did you see Mark Klein on this newscast last November?
Mark Klein was the AT&T whistleblower who explained in the placid, dull terms of your local neighborhood IT desk how he personally attached all AT&T circuits, everything, carrying every one of your phone calls, every one of your e-mails, every bit of your Web browsing into a secure room, room No. 641-A at the Folsom Street facility in San Francisco, where it was all copied so the government could look at it.
Not some of it, not just the international part of it, certainly not just the stuff some spy, a spy both patriotic and telepathic, might be able to divine had been sent or spoken by or to a terrorist.
Everything! Every time you looked at a naked picture. Every time you bid on eBay. Every time you phoned in a donation to a Democrat. “My thought was,” Mr. Klein told us last November, “George Orwell’s ‘1984.’ And here I am, forced to connect the Big Brother machine.”
And if there’s one thing we know about Big Brother, Mr. Bush, it is that he is — you are — a liar.
“This Saturday at midnight,” you said Thursday, “legislation authorizing intelligence professionals to quickly and effectively monitor terrorist communications will expire. If Congress does not act by that time, our ability to find out who the terrorists are talking to, what they are saying and what they are planning will be compromised.” You said that “the lives of countless Americans depend” on your getting your way.
This is crap. And you sling it with an audacity and a speed unrivaled by even the greatest political felons of our history.
Richard Clarke — you might remember him, sir: He was one of the counterterror pros you inherited from President Clinton, before you ran the professionals out of government in favor of your unreality-based reality — Richard Clarke wrote in the Philadelphia Inquirer:
“Let me be clear: Our ability to track and monitor terrorists overseas would not cease should the Protect America Act expire.
“If this were true, the president would not threaten to terminate any temporary extension with his veto pen. All surveillance currently occurring would continue even after legislative provisions lapsed because authorizations issued under the act are in effect up to a full year.”
You are a liar, Mr. Bush. And after showing some skill at it, you have ceased to even be a very good liar.
And your minions like John Boehner, your Republican congressional crash dummies who just happen to decide to walk out of Congress when a podium-full of microphones await them, they should just keep walking, out of Congress and, if possible, out of the country.
For they and you, sir, have no place in a government of the people, by the people, for the people.
The lot of you are the symbolic descendants of the despotic middle managers of some banana republic to whom “freedom” is an ironic brand name, a word you reach for when you want to get away with its opposite.
Thus, Mr. Bush, your panoramic invasion of privacy is dressed up as “protecting America.”
Thus, Mr. Bush, your indiscriminate domestic spying becomes the focused monitoring only of “terrorist communications.”
Thus, Mr. Bush, what you and the telecom giants have done isn’t unlawful; it’s just the kind of perfectly legal, passionately patriotic thing for which you happen to need immunity!
Richard Clarke is on the money, as usual.
That the president was willing to veto this eavesdropping means there is no threat to the legitimate counterterror efforts under way.
As Sen. Edward Kennedy reminded us in December:
“The president has said that American lives will be sacrificed if Congress does not change FISA.
“But he has also said that he will veto any FISA bill that does not grant retroactive immunity.
“No immunity, no FISA bill. So if we take the president at his word, he’s willing to let Americans die to protect the phone companies.”
And that literally cannot be. Even Mr. Bush could not overtly take a step that actually aids the terrorists. I am not talking about ethics here. I am talking about blame. If the president seems to be throwing the baby out with the bath water, it means we can safely conclude there is no baby.
Because if there were, sir, now that you have vetoed an extension of this eavesdropping, if some terrorist attack were to follow, you would not merely be guilty of siding with the terrorists. You would not merely be guilty of prioritizing the telecoms over the people. You would not merely be guilty of stupidity. You would not merely be guilty of treason, sir.
You would be personally, and eternally, responsible.
And if there is one thing we know about you, Mr. Bush, one thing that you have proved time and time again — it is that you are never responsible.
As recently ago as 2006, we spoke words like these with trepidation.
The idea that even the most cynical and untrustworthy of politicians in our history, George W. Bush, would use the literal form of terrorism against his own people was dangerous territory. It seemed to tempt fate, to heighten fear.
We will not fear any longer. We will not fear the international terrorists, and we will thwart them. We will not fear the recognition of the manipulation of our yearning for safety, and we will call it what it is: terrorism. We will not fear identifying the vulgar hypocrites in our government, and we will name them. And we will not fear George W. Bush. Nor will we fear because George W. Bush wants us to fear.
We salute this voice of rational outrage.
A sane shrill scream against the prevailing cheneyBu$hco. maddness.
Keith called them "fascists".
May All that is Holy bless Keith Olbermann.