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June 13, 2008

FISA: What’s In It For Steny?

Posted in: FISA

I’m hearing from the ACLU that Steny Hoyer and Kit Bond presented a FISA deal to a limited number of members and staffers on the Hill today. And that Hoyer is representing this as a "done deal" for FISA that includes district court review (which, as we’ve already discussed, would be set up so that there is a pre-determined outcome) and a sunset of 6 years.

What I’m hearing is that Hoyer and Kit Bond want debate to begin in the Senate next week…but I heard from another source that they didn’t bother going through the leadership channels to set this up before they started pushing it. Potentially a big mistake in the land of egos.

Especially since Hoyer, Bond and Rockefeller appear to be going behind the backs of both Pat Leahy and John Conyers — cutting both Judiciary Committee chairs out of the discussions altogether in a massive turf refutation. Talk about trying to cut the legal legs out from underneath a civil liberties question. Will Leahy and Conyers allow themselves to be gelded this way? Guess we’ll see. As CQ reports:

Congressional leaders and the Bush administration have reached an agreement in principle on an overhaul of surveillance rules, sources familiar with negotiations said Friday….

Under the last version of the Bond proposal, the FISA court would get to review, in advance, the process by which the administration chooses foreign surveillance targets who may be communicating with people in the United States. No warrants would be needed in such cases, though, and the executive branch could begin its warrantless surveillance program before the FISA court review in "exigent," or urgent circumstances.

Caroline Fredrickson, the Washington director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said that sources told the ACLU the deal would sunset after six years unless Congress renewed it.

The deal was hammered out Thursday night at a meeting that included Hoyer, Bond, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman John D. Rockefeller IV, D-W.Va., House Minority Leader Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and representatives from the Bush administration.

The fact that we are hearing about the backstage maneuvers at all says a lot of things, but it squares up with another rumor I heard earlier in the week from a Hill staffer — that Hoyer and Rockefeller have tied their egos into getting something passed because their names have become synonymous with a cave-in on this issue.

But according to my source at the ACLU, Rockfeller did not attend Hoyer and Bond’s presentation. Trouble in paradise?

Also from my Hill staffer source, I hear that Steny has been pushing this issue awfully hard, and that’s been rubbing a number of Democrats in the House the wrong way — particularly in light of the stronger stand they took the last time this issue came up. Including the stand that Hoyer took at the time. Especially since what it sounds like is that Steny doesn’t have the votes in the House for his current machinations, that this is all about the Blue Dogs making CYA demands, and Hoyer’s trying to pawn off his failure to sell this in the House onto the Senate.

I have disagreed all along with Rockefeller’s position on this, but I get where he is coming from given his personal propensity toward deal-making, comity, and having his "protect national security in a bi-partisan manner" buttons pushed all at the same time by the intel community on this.

The YouTube above is a clip of Hoyer on the House floor talking about how the FISA law is in place, protects the American public, and how the Bush Administration chose to break the law. What’s changed since March 15, 2008? Why sing a new tune now?

The big question in my mind: what’s in it for Steny?

UPDATE: KagroX has a thorough post on this as well. Do read it!

UPDATE #2:  From the ACLU:

“This FISA deal looks like the unconstitutional Senate bill in sheep’s clothing. Whatever silk purse Hoyer tries to make of Bond’s sow’s ear and no matter how they try to sell it, the end result of all this negotiating will be exactly what the administration has wanted from the beginning – FISA rewritten to delete court oversight of surveillance and immunity for its pals at the telephone companies.”

“From the language we’ve seen, we’re back at square one, looking at a bill just like the old Senate bill that lacks meaningful judicial involvement.  The Fourth Amendment requires prior and individual court review before the government digs into our private conversations.  It is clear the next vote will be on a bill that fails this test – by permitting the government to conduct mass untargeted surveillance, sometimes without prior court review, and sometimes with prior court review – and then only when the government unilaterally decides that it is willing and able to answer to the judicial branch.”

“It is also clear that the deal is intentionally designed to grant immunity to companies that facilitated illegal wiretapping.  If the only role for the court – be it District or a FISA court – is to determine whether the companies received a request from the Administration, and not to determine whether those requests were legal, it’s a sham review.  The president has publicly acknowledged that the companies were repeatedly sent authorizations to turn over Americans phone calls and emails.  It is absolutely guaranteed that current and future cases will never determine whether this administration and its friends in the telecom industry broke the law.”

“The ACLU urges Senators to vote against this deal if it is brought to a vote next week.”



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