Friday, November 30, 2007

Screw the sex, NYC was charged for Rudy’s campaign expenses

Sex sure does get a lot of attention, and, in this case, rightfully so, since, as others have so ably reported, Rudolph Giuliani tried to hide fiscal evidence of his tryst with Judi Nathan by billing his security detail and travel expenses to several obscure New York City agencies. We now also know that Giuliani assigned his mistress her own city car and driver at NYC taxpayer expense. All very improper, if not, as yet, proved to be specifically illegal.

But, if we all can take our eyes off of America’s little mayor for a minute, we might see something that is more overtly against the law.

Buried in Ben Smith’s original story, posted Wednesday on Politico, is a brief mention of similar, non-Hamptons-related travel, most of which “also was billed to obscure agencies.”

[NYC Comptroller Bill] Thompson also warned that travel costs had increased by 151 percent in Giuliani's final fiscal year, to more than $618,000, a number which also includes police security on campaign swings for Giuliani’s abortive 2000 Senate run and trips to Los Angeles by Donna Hanover, who remained Giuliani's wife and the city's official first lady, in the fall of 2000.

That New York City’s mayor was billing the city for travel related solely to his campaign struck me as odd and wrong, but since the article made no further mention of this, I, like everyone, returned my attention to the sex. But, on Thursday, Smith again made reference to the campaign travel during an appearance on WNYC’s Brian Lehrer Show, this time adding a little more detail (I transcribed the audio, leaving out some cross-talk):

Ben Smith: The total of expenses. . . include expenses related to his 2000 campaign for senate—some of the upstate travel for that campaign—the total is between four-hundred and five-hundred thousand dollars, but a lot of that is not the trips to the Hamptons. . . .

Brian Lehrer: You’re not saying that city taxpayers footed the bill for his political senate campaign trips, are you?

BS: Yes.

BL: Yes?

BS: Yes. His chief of staff told me yesterday that they had offered to reimburse the NYPD and the NYPD wouldn’t accept reimbursement for security on those trips.

To refresh and recap: Prohibited from standing for New York City mayor a third time because of term limits, Giuliani was actively exploring a run for the Senate before a combination of prostate cancer, a bitter divorce, an ugly police shooting, bad poll trends, and personal disinterest caused him to abort his campaign in May of 2000. Before that, however, while serving as mayor of NYC, Giuliani made campaign swings upstate. Expenses for that campaign-related travel were billed to New York City, even though these trips presumably had nothing to do with Rudy’s responsibilities as mayor. That the Giuliani team felt these expenses should not be charged to city taxpayers seems clear, since Giuliani’s chief of staff reportedly told Smith that they had offered to reimburse the NYPD.

According to Rudy’s chief of staff, again as reported by Smith, “the NYPD wouldn’t accept reimbursement for security on those trips.”

All of this raises a host of questions:

  • Isn’t it illegal under New York City law to bill the city for campaign expenses—especially campaign expenses for trips that are outside of NYC, and extra especially for trips that have no relation to city business? (We know from the flap over State Senator Joe Bruno’s use of New York State helicopters that this type of billing is against state law.)
  • If it weren’t illegal, or at least improper, why would Giuliani offer to reimburse the NYPD?
  • On what grounds would the NYPD have cause to refuse reimbursement?
  • When exactly did the mayor offer to reimburse the NYPD? Was it during the campaign, after Rudy pulled out, or after the city comptroller spotted the charges?
  • Was the reimbursement refused by the NYPD under the direction of Giuliani crony Howard Safir, or was it done by the NYPD under the direction of Giuliani crony Bernard Kerik?
  • And, do we know that Giuliani actually offered to reimburse the NYPD, and do we know that the NYPD actually said, “no thanks,” or are we just going on the say-so of Rudy’s chief of staff?

As of this writing, I don’t know the answers to any of these questions—but I would sure like to. I would think others might, too.

. . .

As it turns out, these are not the first questions asked about expenses related to Giuliani’s 2000 senate run. As the New York Times reported in January of 2004:

The Federal Election Commission has asked former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani to explain more than $8,000 in expenditures last summer from campaign funds left over from his United States Senate race in 2000. The commission said some of the money appeared to have been used for ''personal'' expenses.

The commission, in a letter to Mr. Giuliani's Senate fund-raising committee, said a financial report issued last fall by the committee, which had $2 million in residual assets, listed disbursements ''that appear to constitute personal use of campaign funds by the candidate,'' which would violate federal law.

The letter, published on the commission's Web site and described as routine by a commission spokesman yesterday, asked for explanations of 15 expenditures totaling $8,250. Nearly all were for airline tickets, car rentals and other travel expenses, a hotel bill and $560 to ''Yankee-Nets, Inc.''

Though this article quotes Giuliani spokesperson Sunny Mindel calling this “much ado about nothing,” and attributing the charges either to a trip taken on behalf of the Bush Administration or to a “bookkeeping mix-up,” I can find no report on Giuliani’s official response to the FEC, or on how the case was finally resolved.

At the very least, though, it appears that Rudy let New York City foot the bill for some of his campaign-related expenses while he retained some $2 million for future use.

. . .

And, finally, from the “with friends like these” department:

Bernard B. Kerik, who was Mr. Giuliani’s police commissioner when some of the charges were billed, said in an interview yesterday that the security detail’s travel expenses would normally come out of the Police Department’s budget.

“There would be no need for anyone to conceal his detail’s travel expenses,” said Mr. Kerik, who was indicted earlier this month on unrelated federal tax fraud and corruption charges. “And I think It’s ridiculous for anyone to suggest that the mayor or his staff attempted to do so.”

Ah, but because the expenses were distributed around several obscure city agencies rather than billed to a single account, it appears that “conceal” is exactly what the mayor tried to do. Yet, as Kerik says, “there would be no need to conceal his detail’s travel expenses”—so, what’s up with that?

(cross-posted to The Seminal and Daily Kos)

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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The ultimate in procrastination: rally for writers!

Rather than spend several hours this morning writing about how smart Stephanie Coontz is, or how stupid Joe Klein is, or how greedy Trent Lott is, I am going to just pass this information along so that I can catch a few winks before I show my support for the WGA:

Labor Solidarity with Writers:
Rally on Tuesday, November 27 at Washington Square Park.

Solidarity Rally
Tuesday, November 27
Washington Square Park
12:00 - 1:30 p.m.

Join your fellow members of the Writers Guild of America, the labor community, and supporters and fans, as the WGA begins week four of its strike against the media conglomerates of the AMPTP.

Recently confirmed participants include:

Senator John Edwards, Congressman Jerry Nadler, Tim Robbins, Michael Emerson, Joe Pantoliano, Colin Quinn, Aasif Mandvi, Tony Goldwyn, Evan Handler, Gilbert Gottfried, Randi Weingarten (UFT), Gary Le Barbera and Ed Ott (Central Labor Council), Denis M. Hughes (NYS AFL-CIO), Sam Freed (SAG NY President), Richard Masur (former national president of SAG), WGAE leaders, and more.

We are expecting a huge showing of solidarity from other New York Unions. Joining the striking WGAE members at the rally will be leaders in the labor community, politicians, and exciting speakers from the entertainment community.

Meet us at Washington Square Park for a Solidarity Rally. We’re expecting a large attendance from the union community -- including SEIU, AFTRA, SAG, UNITE-HERE, AFT, NYS AFL-CIO, national AFL-CIO, and the New York City Central Labor Council among others -- as well as some exciting speakers, music and entertainment.

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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Katie writes a hit piece

I’m short on time, so I’m going to cut back on what could be a point by point refutation of many of the assertions published in today’s New York Times in a story by Kate Zernike about the relationship between John Kerry and John Edwards during the 2004 campaign—let me just say that the article is rife with unnamed sources, ignores the role of Bob Shrum in counseling Kerry not to disavow his vote to authorize the Iraqi incursion, and is filled with reductive statements that clearly represent opinion rather than a logical conclusion based on the evidence laid out in prior paragraphs.

In place of that tome, I’d like to make a couple of quick observations:

Almost every single line in Zernike’s story relates to 2004. It is highly critical of Edwards vis-à-vis his time on the campaign trail with John Kerry, but the article barely begins to explain what the three-and-a-half-year-old anecdotes have to do with today, here, now, in 2007. There are maybe three or four paragraphs, and one of them is mostly a quote that, if anything, reveals how little any of this story’s preoccupations matter today:

“There’s no question John Edwards is different now than he was in 2004,” said Peter Scher, whom Mr. Kerry recruited to run Mr. Edwards’s vice-presidential campaign. “There’s a great deal more confidence in his own instincts and his own judgment. You see much less reliance on consultants and pollsters and media advisers, and more of a willingness to say what he believes and let the chips fall where they may.”

Write this story for the Week in Review section in December of 2004, fine—interesting even—but what makes this even remotely worthy of front page coverage now? I can’t answer that question—if Kate could, she should have put it in print (though probably on the opinion pages).

However, even more importantly, as little as there is in this piece to tie it to the current campaign, what there is dwarfs the amount of reporting Zernike does on today’s issues. There is zero—not one line is devoted to what the 2008 election is, you know, about. Not a word about Edwards’s positions or proposals, not a word about his stump speech, not a word about his campaign today. There is nothing describing what Edwards proposes to do about healthcare, about poverty, about domestic security, about ending torture and rendition, about restoring the Constitution, about fixing the VA—nothing! Even when it comes to Iraq, the only discussion is about whether Kerry or Edwards renounced their 2002 votes first; Zernike has seemingly no interest in informing her readers about where Edwards stands today, or what he says he will do in 2009.

In fact, it appears that Kate Zernike and her Times editors have no interest in informing us readers about Edwards at all. I know I live in Clinton country here in New York, so maybe I shouldn’t expect better from the New York Times, but the Times is called “the paper of record,” and for the record, the only stories I’ve seen about Edwards this month have been about his campaign (how it’s in trouble), his fundraising (how it’s in trouble), and now, about how troubled his relationship was with Sen. Kerry back in 2004.

Isn’t it about time the Times got with the times? Isn’t about time they used today’s front page to inform us readers about today’s concerns? Isn’t it about time we got some campaign coverage that didn’t reduce everything to a cat fight, a horse race, a game show, a beauty pageant, or a coronation?

Maybe Zernike sees issues as nothing more than political footballs, and perhaps she is betting on Clinton to win this one by a couple of touchdowns, so the other campaigns are just the halftime show. But because the Times still claims to be a newspaper, isn’t it about time they really covered this year’s Edwards campaign, instead of just covering the spread?

(cross-posted on guy2k, The Seminal, and Daily Kos)

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Thursday, November 15, 2007

Clinton condemns dead license proposal; shows us her idea of leadership

In what can only be called a miracle of multitasking, Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) managed to grandstand, close the barn doors after the horses escaped, then still beat a dead horse, and kick a man while he’s down, all while trying to catch the train after it had already left the station.

Caught last week with not one, not two, but really three hard to discern positions on New York Governor Elliot Spitzer’s proposal to provide state driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants, Clinton caught a break when the National Democratic Party, taking the rather wrongheaded and cynical advice of Rep. Rahm Emanuel (via J-Ro), failed to provide much support at all for Spitzer’s simple step forward toward a rational immigration policy. After meeting with the New York congressional delegation (a meeting that Clinton skipped), Spitzer announced that while he still thought his original proposal was a good idea, this was clearly not the time to press ahead.

I am disappointed that Spitzer felt the need to first waffle, and then back down. I am disappointed that the Democrats opted for bowing to the conventional political wisdom rather than standing tall behind a forward-thinking idea. But, needless to say, I am most disappointed in the putative Democratic presidential “frontrunner” (ironic title, really) for exhibiting what I find to be the very antithesis of leadership:

[Clinton] issued a statement Wednesday afternoon in which she expressed support for Mr. Spitzer’s decision [to withdraw his proposal] and stated that licenses for illegal immigrants would not be on her own future agenda.

“As president, I will not support drivers’ licenses for undocumented people and will press for comprehensive immigration reform that deals with all of the issues around illegal immigration,” Mrs. Clinton said.

Well, gosh, that sounds, well, almost, um, clear. It completely lacks any specific proposals for how she will “press” or what she means by “comprehensive immigration reform,” but hey, she has finally expressed her unequivocal opposition to the Spitzer proposal NOW THAT IT IS NO LONGER ON THE TABLE.

America is at a turning point. The damage done by two terms of Bush Administration and over a decade of Republican congressional rule has left this nation in a very bad position on so many fronts—domestic, fiscal, global, and moral. The next president is going to have to get out in front of this mess, make big, bold proposals, and risk a little political capital to elect Democrats down ticket, and then convince them and their constituencies to join her or him in restoring America’s values and standing. Leading from behind ain’t gonna get it done. Triangulating isn’t going to motivate an electorate. Incrementalism does not make for a stimulating platform or an inspirational rallying cry.

Hillary Clinton’s sad attempt to appear “Presidential” on this issue has provided another window on what that job means to the junior Senator. Or, more accurately, how little it means outside of simply getting elected president.

(cross-posted on guy2k, The Seminal, and Daily Kos)

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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Meanwhile, back here at home. . .

While it is all well and good that a “very ruly crowd” of some 500 lawyers gathered yesterday outside the county courthouse in lower Manhattan for a brief rally to show solidarity with lawyers and judges jailed and persecuted since General Perves Musharraf declared martial law in Pakistan, I can’t help but wonder why a crisis abroad has them so hot and bothered.

After all, for more than six years now, the law has been under assault here at home. Where were the lawyers when the ironically named “USA Patriot Act” papered over or watered down about half of the Bill of Rights? Where were the lawyers when it was revealed that the Bush Administration had ignored the Fourth Amendment and the Foreign Intelligence Security Act and illegally spied on their fellow citizens? Where were they when the administration, and then the Republican Congress, eliminated Habeas rights for, well, for practically anyone that The Decider decides is an enemy? Where were they during the politicization of the entire federal justice system, from the US Attorneys, through the Courts of Appeals, all the way up to the Supreme Court? Where were they during the confirmation of Attorney General Ashcroft? Attorney General Gonzales? Attorney General Mukasey?

For that matter, where were they after Justices Scalia and Thomas refused to recuse themselves (because of blatant conflict of interest) in Bush v. Gore?

While some members of the bar in this country fight, and fight hard, every day for an end to torture, to rendition, and unlawful detention, while some fight, and fight hard, for a restoration of Habeas Corpus and FISA, and in defense of the First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Amendments, far too many of those with direct experience and a detailed understanding of the laws of the land have chosen to go about their business as if nothing much has changed here in the United States. And while American jurists are far from the only citizens who have come up light on the outrage scale, I am hard-pressed to think of a group that is better positioned—in terms of education, employment, status, and first-hand knowledge—to make a less than joyful noise about what has happened to this country’s legal principles and protections.

The jurists of Pakistan have been out in the streets everyday, protesting in the face of beatings and mass arrests, so, by all means, stand in solidarity with them--they deserve your support. But beyond shouting “No more Musharraf,” beyond simply supporting the Pakistani lawyers, it might be good to learn from them, too. How about regular gatherings of American jurists to stand in solidarity with our Constitution? How about shouts against the myriad ways that our less than legitimately elected President has abused the law and its practitioners right here at home?

. . .

I heard the head of the New York Bar on the radio speaking in support of Pakistani lawyers because, he said, the Musharraf government had tortured some of them. Well, the American government is torturing people, probably every day, probably for some six years now—do they have to torture lawyers to get you to stage protests of your own government’s behavior?

(cross-posted on Daily Kos and The Seminal)

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Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Ashcroft and the Times: credibility on the line

I didn’t know that the New York Times now ran advertising on its op-ed page.

And free advertising, at that.

Op-Ed Contributor
Uncle Sam on the Line

. . . .

John Ashcroft was the United States attorney general from 2001 to 2005. He now heads a consulting firm that has telecommunications companies as clients.

While I applaud the New York Times for running a disclaimer, of sorts, in the “about the author” space at the foot of the article, my question is why bother to run this “opinion” piece at all?

I mean, honestly, is it still called an opinion if you are getting paid large sums to express it? To me, that sounds like a job.

And the Times is frankly much too happy to augment Ashcroft’s pay.

Worse still, the former attorney general’s column is so filled with sophistry and outright lies as to render its publication the height of journalistic irresponsibility.

First, Ashcroft follows his pal Jay Rockefeller in perpetuating a dangerous myth while running cover for his corporate benefactors. Last week, the Senator from West Virginia shilled for a telecommunications industry that has given him tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions while lying about the origins of the warrantless surveillance program(s) ordered by the Bush Administration. Monday, Ashcroft reiterated the same blatant falsehood with his first sentence:

FOR almost two years, the country has debated whether the Bush administration acted properly and lawfully in undertaking emergency surveillance operations of suspected foreign terrorists on presidential authorization in the wake of 9/11.

By my dictionary, “wake” means “after,” and we now know, as a reportedly outraged Ashcroft knew many years ago, the illegal spying started before the attacks of September 11, 2001. (I provided over a dozen citations for this point in my discussion of Jell-O Jay’s WaPo op-ed.) So, here, Ashcroft, like Rockefeller, is lying.

Next up in Mr. Ashcroft’s bullshit-filled billet-doux to the telcos, this little gem:

Whatever one feels about the underlying intelligence activities or the legal basis on which they were initially established, it would be unfair and contrary to the interests of the United States to allow litigation that tries to hold private telecommunications companies liable for them.

Of course, this comes from a man that threw a shroud over the statue of Justice. Nothing could be more fair than to allow both the plaintiffs and the phone companies their day in court, where both side could air their evidence before an impartial arbiter. In fact, it is the former chief law enforcement officer that prejudges, here—inherent in his plea is the assumption that the telecoms are guilty.

And nothing could be less “contrary to the interests of the United States” than getting this nefarious behavior—certainly in the case of the administration of which Ashcroft was once a part, allegedly in the case of companies like AT&T and Verizon—out in open court, where its legality and efficacy could be debated with both sides under oath. It might be contrary to the interests of the White House, or to the interests of Mr. Ashcroft and his telco clients, but moving forward with the various court cases would benefit this country’s democracy immeasurably.

Ashcroft continues:

Longstanding principles of law hold that an American corporation is entitled to rely on assurances of legality from officials responsible for government activities. The public officials in question might be right or wrong about the advisability or legality of what they are doing, but it is their responsibility, not the company’s, to deal with the consequences if they are wrong.

To deny immunity under these circumstances would be extraordinarily unfair to any cooperating carriers. By what principle of justice should anyone face potentially ruinous liability for cooperating with intelligence activities that are authorized by the president and whose legality has been reviewed and approved by our most senior legal officials?

As a practical matter, in circumstances involving classified intelligence activities, a corporation will typically not know enough about the underlying circumstances and operations to make informed judgments about legality. Moreover, for an initiative like the terrorist surveillance program — which the Office of Legal Counsel made clear was based on the Congressional authorization for the use of military force and the president’s war powers under the Constitution — a telephone company simply has no expertise in the relevant legal issues.

Here, the mind boggles. First, American corporations maintain legions of high-priced lawyers specifically because they don’t believe that they can take government officials at their word. Laws and regulations are interpreted almost daily. And, as the case of Joseph Nacchio, former head of Qwest Communications, proves, corporate lawyers can and have disagreed with the “assurances” of government apparatchiks as to the legality of secret activities.

Qwest’s attorneys seem to have understood something that Ashcroft and so many of his former administration colleagues don’t—we are a government of laws, not of men.

As a practical matter, in these specific circumstances, the telecommunications corporations involved knew plenty about the underlying circumstances and operations to make a judgment—as Qwest, indeed, did. The NSA was quite specific about what they wanted, and in fact drew up rather explicit technical requests, since early on (again, before 9/11), the spy agency had decided to outsource much of its fiber-optic infrastructure. (This is not a secret. Qwest’s expectations of receiving contracts for this project are at the heart of Nacchio’s legal woes.)

In addition, thanks to just the sort of legal proceedings that Ashcroft wants to suppress, we also know the outline of what the Bush Administration asked of the telecoms, and we know that the telecoms understood what was requested—because most of them cooperated. Though it can be debated what was part of the Total Information Awareness program, what was part of project Groundbreaker, and what was part of Pioneer-Groundbreaker, we know that taken as a whole, the White House and the NSA were seeking both to split fiber-optic lines to harvest all the digital data that those lines carry, and also to collect all the call records of Americans that made or received an international call—and perhaps the records of those that had only made domestic calls as well. And the Bush Administration sought to do this without going through the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Court—which is (or was, until Congress capitulated to White House demands in August) a violation of the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Moreover—to borrow Mr. Ashcroft’s transition—the Office of Legal Council does not have the authority to make any such determination as to the legality of this program. John Ashcroft, of all people, should—and does—know this. After all, it was Ashcroft that rose from his hospital bed to rebuff then Bush counsel Alberto Gonzales on Gonzo’s attempt to do an end-run around the Attorney General, or acting Attorney General, as James Comey was for the time that Ashcroft was hospitalized, on one of the aspects of the warrantless surveillance programs now under scrutiny.

Further, it is a matter of public record that allowances for such spying without a court order were not granted by the Authorization for Use of Military Force. The administration came to then Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle for such FISA workarounds, and Daschle specifically excluded this authority from the AUMF. That Ashcroft would again posit such a specious argument is the height of factual dishonesty and personal disrepute.

And the hits keep coming.

Even more important than the inherent unfairness of requiring companies to second-guess executive-branch legal judgments are the acute dangers to which it would expose the country. One of our nation’s most important comparative advantages over our adversaries is the creativity and robustness of the private sector. To cut ourselves off from that advantage would amount to a form of unilateral disarmament.

Yet if we allow the litigation to continue, that is precisely what we will do. The message that will be sent to American companies is that they can be exposed to crippling lawsuits for helping the government with national security activities that they are explicitly assured are legal. The only rational response would be for companies to adopt an attitude of extreme wariness, even in the most urgent or clear-cut situations. To put the matter plainly, this puts American lives at risk.

This might be news to the former head of law enforcement, but the judicial branch, not the executive, makes legal judgments. And, going further, the last thing any American, from the founding fathers forward, would want would be to leave our security to the “robustness of the private sector.” I know that’s something that intrigues the patrons of Blackwater USA and other initiatives to outsource responsibility, but we elect a government and fund all three branches through our taxes so that the public sector will take the lead on national security. And we have a Constitution to make sure that they do so within the rule of law.

As for those purportedly “crippling lawsuits,” I guess the only smart response would be for companies to be extremely wary, especially when, as the Qwest case has shown, an administration that plays fast and loose with the Federal Code will punish you for not cooperating. And, as is too often conveniently forgotten by proponents of breaking surveillance law, the FISA statute allows for three days, and sometimes up to a year, of spying before a FISA warrant must be sought. If a situation is so urgent that spying must start immediately, without going to a secret court, it can. If the urgency persists, than certainly a case could be made for putting an extra lawyer or two on the warrant application to comply with future deadlines.

But, as is often the case with Bush, Cheney, and their comrades, it is lines like that last one in the quote above—the waving of the bloody shirt—that are so thoroughly shameless. . . and shameful.

There is no instance—not one—where the Bush Administration can point to a life lost because of a legal requirement, nor can they show us any lives saved because they have ignored them. If anything, the last two years of revelations about the illegal spy programs prove quite the opposite.

As put forward in the discussion of the Rockefeller op-ed, since these programs began as early as February of 2001, if the warrantless surveillance was intended to catch terrorists, than 9/11 proves the program to be a failure. As is the case in so many instances where administration officials claim it necessary to violate US or international law, all of the information the government needed to foil the September 11 attacks was obtained through conventional, legal means, and was available to Bush, Cheney et al. had they been interested enough to pay attention.

Not content with that insult to our intellect and decency, Ashcroft continues:

Although the lawsuits are couched in the language of accountability and the public’s right to know, they would really have the effect of showing the world and our enemies sensitive secrets about how our national security agencies do their work.

This might come as news to Ashcroft (though it shouldn’t), but terrorists realized long ago that talking on telephones and sending e-mail was not a secure way to communicate. How did they find this out? Mostly because time after time, Bush and various high-ranking administration officials spoke in public about ongoing investigations in order to score political points. In fact, Ashcroft himself has been accused of just such a misstep.

Today, it is believed that alleged terrorists more often carry data by hand, or coordinate via an assortment of websites. These websites are published for all the world to see, but it takes good, old-fashioned intelligence work to find, watch, and translate these sites. The intel community has complained on previous occasions that such productive methods have been given short shrift while the administration dedicated personnel and financial resources to high-tech and often warrantless surveillance. (There was also a recent case in which an on-going investigation that relied on website intelligence was compromised by an eager to scare, blabbermouth Bush.)

Ashcroft has more:

For domestic purposes, proper accountability already exists — through the people’s elected representatives on the House and Senate Intelligence Committees. It is through the legislature, not lawsuits, that we as a nation have tried to balance the need to let our intelligence agencies operate in secret, as they must if they are to be effective, and the need to ensure that they do so lawfully.

Again, the former head of the Justice Department fails to understand or at least acknowledge the role of the courts as explicitly outlined in the Constitution. It is through the checks and balances exercised by all three branches of government that we as a nation moderate the excesses of any one branch. The matter of determining whether any one program or pursuit is lawful or constitutional is expressly given to the Judiciary. Any C student should be able to fill-in Ashcroft on these finer points of high school civics.

And, speaking of civics, Ashcroft informs us:

The Senate Intelligence Committee has voted 13-2 to grant immunity to telecommunication carriers that have been sued for helping the country after 9/11. Unlike most everyone else, this committee had the necessary and relevant facts when it rendered judgment.

Well, what Ashcroft fails to disclose is that, first, it was the Senate Judiciary Committee that had requested that they be availed of these “necessary and relevant facts,” but the Bush Administration prevented them from seeing this information, instead favoring the much friendlier eyes of the Jay Rockefeller-lead SSCI. (The administration finally relented and allowed Judiciary Chair Patrick Leahy and Ranking Member Arlen Specter to see documents last week, and it should be noted that they still oppose immunity.) Second, the House Intel Committee passed a revised FISA bill that specifically did not include retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies. Third—again, a civics lesson—it requires the entire Senate (and the entire House) to vote for a bill before it has a chance at becoming a law (someone needs to send John a DVD of Schoolhouse Rock). Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) has placed a hold on the bill, and says he won’t allow a draft that contains immunity to come to a vote, so the future (and general acceptance) of Ashcroft’s much-loved workaround is, at the very least, still an open question.

And, finally, Ashcroft sums it up for us:

Assuming that the country’s communications companies helped the National Security Agency track Qaeda operatives and other terrorists after being assured that their conduct was lawful, they acted as patriots, not privacy violators.

Alas, poor Ashcroft, a judge (remember those, John?) has already ruled on this assumption:

[F]ederal judge Vaughn Walker ruled against AT&T in Aug. 2006, specifically citing the fact that the company was not operating in “good faith” when it participated in the warrantless wiretapping program. Judge Walker wrote:

AT&T cannot seriously contend that a reasonable entity in its position could have believed that the alleged domestic dragnet was legal.

I believe there’s some fancy Latin term that’s appropriate here, but I’ll put it in plain English, so that legal half-wits like John Ashcroft can understand: By your definition, the conduct of the telecoms and the government that coerced them was unlawful. They were not patriots, they were violators of our privacy, of the FISA law, and of the Fourth Amendment. Q.E.D. (I couldn’t resist.)

Once again, as he did so many times when he was Attorney General, Ashcroft has exhibited a zealous pursuit of personal interests and a glaring ignorance of the law. He is, as someone once admonished, entitled to his own opinions, but not his own facts. When we as readers of the New York Times turn to the opinion page, we are entitled to informed, thoughtful, and earnestly argued opinions; we should not be subject to columns of calumny for cash.

I was going to simply call it advertising, but advertising is actually required to back up its assertions. Because his opinion has been commissioned rather than researched, Ashcroft—and, so, the Times—cannot.

(h/t hhex65)

(cross-posted to Daily Kos and The Seminal)

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Sunday, November 04, 2007

Warrantless surveillance: Jay rocks the 9/11 lie. . . again

It was apt that West Virginia Senator Jay Rockefeller chose Halloween to publish an op-ed in the Washington Post that once again tried to justify warrantless surveillance of US citizens by invoking the specter of 9/11.

In the immediate aftermath of Sept. 11, the Bush administration had a choice: Aggressively pursue potential terrorists using existing laws or devise new, secret intelligence programs in uncharted legal waters.

. . . .

Within weeks of the 2001 attacks, communications companies received written requests and directives for assistance with intelligence activities authorized by the president. These companies were assured that their cooperation was not only legal but also necessary because of their unique technical capabilities. They were also told it was their patriotic duty to help protect the country after the devastating attacks on our homeland.

Though I for one am not scared by the regurgitated talking points of the cowardly and oft-bunkered Vice President Dick-in-a-Box, I am terrified that a purportedly fully briefed Senator—a Democrat, no less—thinks that any of us should be satisfied with his contorted explanations for illegal spying and retroactive immunity.

Glenn Greenwald does a fine job of debunking the circular logic used by Jell-O Jay as he tries to distract us from his cozy relationship with the people and companies that he’s indemnifying, but he misses what is to me the most glaring fabrication.

In case you missed it, let me reprise a select sentence:

Within weeks of the 2001 attacks, communications companies received written requests and directives for assistance with intelligence activities authorized by the president.

Well, I’m tired of niceties on this one, so I’m just going to state it plain; THIS. IS. A. LIE.

As has been noted in books, newspapers (and here), magazines (and here, and here), wire services, and blogs (and here, and here, and here, and here, to link to but a handfull) repeatedly over the last two years, the Bush Administration, directly from the White House or through the NSA, approached telecommunications companies about eavesdropping and data-mining on US citizens within the United States over six months before the attacks of 9/11/01. This assessment has now been confirmed by documents unsealed in the case of former Qwest head Joseph Nacchio.

Since we believe that J-Rock, as a then ranking member of the SSCI, was briefed on some or all of these warrantless spy programs early on, and since he now assures us that he’s seen all appropriate documents concerning telco involvement, unless by “within weeks of the 2001 attacks” Rocky means within 27 weeks before the attacks, Senator Rockefeller is lying. He is not only invoking 9/11 to once again scare Americans into accepting unfettered violations of their privacy, he is using the terrorist acts of 2001 to directly deceive us about the nature and intent of the illegal surveillance programs.

I perhaps am not overwhelmingly shocked that another senator has been compromised by administrations bullying and corporate cash, but I am a little dismayed that critics of Rockefeller, the new Senate FISA re-write, and the Bush Administration’s domestic spying programs in general, still often fail to cite this very disturbing and revealing truth.

It is not simply a matter of scheduling; it goes to the root of all arguments both for and against the surveillance programs. Since the telecommunications companies were approached by the administration in February of 2001, then none of this is a response to the attacks of 9/11. And, since the spying is not a response to those events, then what were the NSA and the White House looking for?

If they were looking for terrorist conversations, then the September ‘01 attacks prove that the program was a flop. In fact, it is possible to go so far as to say that the giant dragnets cast by the intel/telco partnership flooded the NSA with so much data that it actually overwhelmed the system and buried much more valuable and readily apparent terrorist signal intelligence.

As I struggle to remain up to speed on illegal surveillance issues, I know all too well that there is a heck of a lot to read out there, but I think it essential that on this key point, all off us, the SSCI, the establishment media, and the blogosphere, need to be on the same page. Warrantless domestic surveillance of US citizens by the Bush Administration started long before the 2001 hijackings. Bush, Cheney, their attorneys, their intelligence bureaucracy, and the telecom industry may all have their reasons for collecting signal intelligence on Americans without a court order, but, back when the spying started, 9/11 wasn’t one of them.

(cross-posted on The Seminal and Daily Kos)

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