Dodd Places Hold on Telecom Immunity

TPM Election Central reports that Chris Dodd is placing a hold on the telecommunications immunity bill. Glenn Greenwald provided background:

Let’s just describe very factually and dispassionately what has happened here. Congress — led by Senators, such as Jay Rockefeller, who have received huge payments from the telecom industry, and by privatized intelligence pioneer Mike McConnell, former Chairman of the secretive intelligence industry association that has been demanding telecom amnesty — is going to intervene directly in the pending lawsuits against AT&T and other telecoms and declare them the winners on the ground that they did nothing wrong. Because of their vast ties to the telecoms, neither Rockefeller nor McConnell could ever appropriately serve as an actual judge in those lawsuits.

Yet here they are, meeting and reviewing secret documents and deciding amongst themselves to end all pending lawsuits in favor of their benefactors — AT&T, Verizon and others. Let me quote again from that 1998 Foreign Affairs essay by Thomas Carothers helpfully outlining the steps required to install the “rule of law” in third-world, pre-democracy countries:

Type three reforms aim at the deeper goal of increasing government’s compliance with law. A key step is achieving genuine judicial independence. . . . But the most crucial changes lie elsewhere. Above all, government officials must refrain from interfering with judicial decision-making and accept the judiciary as an independent authority.

The question of whether the telecoms acted in “good faith” in allowing warrantless government spying on their customers is already pending before a court of law. In fact, that is one of the central issues in the current lawsuits — one that AT&T has already lost in a federal court.Yet that is the issue that Jay Rockefeller and Mike McConnell — operating in secret — are taking away from the courts by passing a law declaring the telecoms to have won (“Senators this week began reviewing classified documents . . . and came away from that early review convinced that the companies had ‘acted in good faith’ in cooperating with what they believed was a legal and presidentially authorized program”). They are directly interfering in these lawsuits and issuing a “ruling” in favor of AT&T and other telecoms that is exactly the opposite of the one an actual court of law has already issued…

Just think about what is really happening here. AT&T’s customers sued them for violating their privacy in violation of long-standing federal laws and for violating their Fourth Amendment rights. Even with the most expensive armies of lawyers possible, AT&T and other telecoms are losing in a court of law. The federal judge presiding over the case ruled against them — ruled that the law is so clear they could not possibly have believed that what they did was legal — and most observers, having heard the Oral Argument on appeal, predicted that they will lose in the Court of Appeals, too.

So AT&T and other telecoms went to Washington and — led by Bush 41 Attorney General (and now Verizon General Counsel) William Barr, and in cooperation with their former colleague, Mike McConnell — began paying former government officials such as Dan Coats and Jamie Gorelick to convince political officials to whom they give money, such as Jay Rockefeller, to pass a law declaring them the victors in these lawsuits and be relieved of all liability — all based on assertions that a court of law has already rejected. They are literally buying a judicial victory in Congress — just like Carothers warned that third-world countries must avoid if they want to become functioning democracies under the “rule of law” (“Above all, government officials must refrain from interfering with judicial decision-making”).

Dodd caught my attention towards the end of the New Hampshire debate when he mentioned restoring our Constitutional rights as a top priority and I was hoping to hear more from him on this subject. I can’t help but wonder if this is an election year ploy, including the increasingly common web site petition or if he does have a longer history on Constitutional issues. I will need to take a closer look at his record, including when he was not a running for the presidential nomination. Glenn Greenwald did write that , “Chris Dodd has been, by far, the most vocal Democratic presidential candidate on the issues of executive power abuses and restoring our constitutional framework.” Hopefully I can find more evidence of this.

Be Sociable, Share!

No Comments

2 Trackbacks

Leave a comment