Talk Of Impeachment From The Brookings Institution, A Democratic Congressman, And A Major Democratic Donor

There has been talk of possible impeachment of Donald Trump starting even before he took office, but the topic seems to be coming up more this week, along with reports of a dysfunctional White House. Yesterday the Brookings Institution released a report on the obstruction of justice by Donald Trump. Following is from the Executive Summary, raising the question of impeachment but leaving it as premature pending the outcome of Robert Mueller’s investigation:

There are significant questions as to whether President Trump obstructed justice. We do not yet know all the relevant facts, and any final determination must await further investigation, including by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. But the public record contains substantial evidence that President Trump attempted to impede the investigations of Michael Flynn and Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, including by firing FBI Director James Comey. There is also a question as to whether President Trump conspired to obstruct justice with senior members of his administration although the public facts regarding conspiracy are less well developed.

Attempts to stop an investigation represent a common form of obstruction. Demanding the loyalty of an individual involved in an investigation, requesting that individual’s help to end the investigation, and then ultimately firing that person to accomplish that goal are the type of acts that have frequently resulted in obstruction convictions, as we detail. In addition, to the extent conduct could be characterized as threatening, intimidating, or corruptly persuading witnesses, that too may provide additional grounds for obstruction charges.

…Special Counsel Mueller will have several options when his investigation is complete. He could refer the case to Congress, most likely by asking the grand jury and the court supervising it to transmit a report to the House Judiciary Committee. That is how the Watergate Special Prosecutor coordinated with Congress after the grand jury returned an indictment against President Nixon’s co-conspirators. Special Counsel Mueller could also obtain an indictment of President Trump and proceed with a prosecution. While the matter is not free from doubt, it is our view that neither the Constitution nor any other federal law grants the president immunity from prosecution. The structure of the Constitution, the fundamental democratic principle that no person is above the law, and past Supreme Court precedent holding that the president is amenable to other forms of legal process all weigh heavily in favor of that conclusion. While there can be debate as to whether a sitting president can be indicted, there is no doubt that a president can face indictment once he is no longer in office. Reserving prosecution for that time, using a sealed indictment or otherwise, is another option for the special counsel.

Congress also has actions that it can take, including continuing or expanding its own investigations, issuing public reports, and referring matters for criminal or other proceedings to the Department of Justice or other executive branch agencies. In addition, there is the matter of impeachment. We describe the articles of impeachment drafted against Presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton, as well as those drafted against Judges Harry Claiborne and Samuel Kent to show that obstruction, conspiracy, and conviction of a federal crime have previously been considered by Congress to be valid reasons to remove a duly elected president from office. Nevertheless, the subject of impeachment on obstruction grounds remains premature pending the outcome of the special counsel’s investigation.

While they are probably right that it is too early to begin impeachment proceedings, one Democrat did write an impeachment resolution. From The Hill:

Green’s articles of impeachment state that Trump “is fueling an alt-right hate machine” that’s “causing immediate injury to American society.”

The Texas lawmaker, who represents a district that covers part of Houston, read aloud his articles on the House floor and stressed that Trump should not have to be convicted of a crime in order to be impeached.In his articles of impeachment, Green cited Trump’s equivocating response to the violence at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va.; attacks on NFL players kneeling during the national anthem to protest police brutality; and since-debunked accusations that former President Obama ordered a wiretap of Trump Tower as examples of how Trump has “undermined the integrity of his office” and “brought disrepute on the presidency.”

Another article of impeachment states that Trump engaged in “perfidy” by making the false claim that millions of people voted illegally in the 2016 presidential election. Trump won the Electoral College and therefore the presidency, but Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton won the popular vote.

Green stopped short of forcing the House from taking a vote on the measure, to the relief of Democrats who did not want to have to take a firm position at this time. The Washington Post reports:

A Democratic congressman stopped just short of forcing a House vote on President Trump’s impeachment Wednesday, pulling back under apparent pressure from his own party.

Rep. Al Green (D-Tex.) read his impeachment resolution on the House floor Wednesday afternoon, bringing it up under rules that would force a rapid vote. But when, less than an hour later, the House’s presiding officer called the resolution up for action, Green did not appear on the floor to offer it.

Green said to reporters afterward that he had wanted to allow more time for his colleagues to review the resolution before it was voted on, and he suggested that the House floor staff had misled him about the timing of that vote.

While Democrats do not want to vote on impeachment at this time, Tom Steyer, one of the party’s largest donors, is demanding that Democratic candidates pledge to support impeaching Trump:

One of the Democratic Party’s most prominent financial backers is demanding that lawmakers and candidates on the left support removing President Trump from office, putting pressure on Democrats to make Mr. Trump’s ouster a defining issue in the 2018 midterm elections.

Tom Steyer, a billionaire California investor who spent more than $91 million supporting Democrats in the 2016 elections, issued the demand to his party in a letter on Wednesday. In his message, Mr. Steyer described Mr. Trump as a “clear and present danger to the republic” and called on Democrats to pledge that they would seek to remove him from office if they take control of Congress next year.

Mr. Steyer — who is considering a run for Senate, perhaps against Senator Dianne Feinstein, a fellow Democrat — cited a range of acts by Mr. Trump to justify impeachment, including the president’s “relationship with Vladimir Putin and Russia,” allegations that Mr. Trump has used the presidency to “promote his own business interests” and his “seeming determination to go to war.”

While such a desire to impeach Donald Trump is understandable, I would prefer that donors from the left do more to get Democrats to take a firm stand against neoconserative interventionism and the surveillance state after the Democratic Party nominated a candidate who was firmly behind the Bush/Cheney agenda in 2016.

Records Released Through FOIA Request Back Up Snowden Against NSA Attacks

Edward Snowden We The People

Defenders of NSA surveillance have tried to discredit Edward Snowden by claiming he there were official channels he could have gone through, and denied that Snowden had made such attempts. Email received through a Freedom of Information Act request from VICE News verify that Snowden had attempted to tell the NSA about the illegal surveillance being conducted:

Snowden’s leaks had first come to light the previous June, when the Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald and the Washington Post’s Barton Gellman published stories based on highly classified documents provided to them by the former NSA contractor. Now Snowden, who had been demonized by the NSA and the Obama administration for the past year, was publicly claiming something that set off alarm bells at the agency: Before he leaked the documents, Snowden said, he had repeatedly attempted to raise his concerns inside the NSA about its surveillance of US citizens — and the agency had done nothing.

Some on the email thread, such as Rajesh De, the NSA’s general counsel, advocated for the public release of a Snowden email from April 2013 in which the former NSA contractor asked questions about the “interpretation of legal authorities” related to the agency’s surveillance programs. It was the only evidence the agency found that even came close to verifying Snowden’s assertions, and De believed it was weak enough to call Snowden’s credibility into question and put the NSA in the clear.

Litt disagreed. “I’m not sure that releasing the email will necessarily prove him a liar,” Litt wrote to Caitlin Hayden, then the White House National Security Council spokesperson, along with De and other officials. “It is, I could argue, technically true that [Snowden’s] email… ‘rais[ed] concerns about the NSA’s interpretation of its legal authorities.’ As I recall, the email essentially questions a document that Snowden interpreted as claiming that Executive Orders were on a par with statutes. While that is surely not raising the kind of questions that Snowden is trying to suggest he raised, neither does it seem to me that that email is a home run refutation.”

Within two hours, however, Litt reversed his position, and later that day, the email was released, accompanied by comment from NSA spokesperson Marci Green Miller: “The email did not raise allegations or concerns about wrongdoing or abuse.”

Five days later, another email was sent — this one addressed to NSA director Mike Rogers and copied to 31 other people and one listserv. In it, a senior NSA official apologized to Rogers for not providing him and others with all the details about Snowden’s communications with NSA officials regarding his concerns over surveillance.

The NSA, it seemed, had not told the public the whole story about Snowden’s contacts with oversight authorities before he became the most celebrated and vilified whistleblower in US history.

Hundreds of internal NSA documents, declassified and released to VICE News in response to our long-running Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit, reveal now for the first time that not only was the truth about the “single email” more complex and nuanced than the NSA disclosed to the public, but that Snowden had a face-to-face interaction with one of the people involved in responding to that email. The documents, made up of emails, talking points, and various records — many of them heavily redacted — contain insight into the NSA’s interaction with the media, new details about Snowden’s work, and an extraordinary behind-the-scenes look at the efforts by the NSA, the White House, and US Senator Dianne Feinstein to discredit Snowden.

The trove of more than 800 pages [pdf at the end of this story], along with several interviews conducted by VICE News, offer unprecedented insight into the NSA during this time of crisis within the agency. And they call into question aspects of the US government’s long-running narrative about Snowden’s time at the NSA.

There is considerably more information in the remainder of the article and attached pdf.

The Freedom of Information Act is a valuable means to find out the truth as to what the government is doing. There is a reason for the open-government laws which Hillary Clinton violated when Secretary of State.

Senate Bill Allows FBI To Obtain Email Without Warrant

bill of rights

First we found, thanks to Edward Snowden, that the NSA was collecting mass amounts of metadata on email. Some discounted this, downplaying the significance of metadata. Hillary Clinton has called for more government surveillance to fight terror. It looks like her wish will come true. The Senate Intelligence Committee approved a bill which would allow the FBI to obtain email without a warrant. CNET reports:

The 2017 Intelligence Authorization Act, if enacted into law, would let the FBI obtain email records without a court order. All the agency would need is a National Security Letter, which lets the FBI get information from companies about their customers without alerting the person being investigated. Currently, the FBI can access phone records that way, but not emails…

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-NC) and Vice Chairman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said Tuesday in a joint statement that the 2017 Intelligence Authorization Act makes it easier for the government to keep Americans safe.

It is not surprising that conservative Democrat Dianne Feinstein would approve of this, but certainly there must be other Democrats who would protest this if there really is still a difference between the parties. One, and only one, Democrat objected. Ron Wyden released this statement:

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., today voted against the 2017 Intelligence Authorization Act in the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. The bill includes provisions to expand warrantless government surveillance and takes aim at a valuable independent oversight board.

“This bill takes a hatchet to important protections for Americans’ liberty,” Wyden said following the vote. “This bill would mean more government surveillance of Americans, less due process and less independent oversight of U.S. intelligence agencies. Worse, neither the intelligence agencies, nor the bill’s sponsors have shown any evidence that these changes would do anything to make Americans more secure. I plan to work with colleagues in both chambers to reverse these dangerous provisions.”

Wyden opposes multiple provisions to the bill, including;

-Allowing the FBI to obtain Americans’ email records with only a National Security Letter. Currently, the FBI can obtain email records in national security investigations with an order from the FISA Court. The bill would allow any FBI field office to demand email records without a court order, a major expansion of federal surveillance powers. The FBI can currently obtain phone records with a National Security Letter, but not email records.

-Narrowing the jurisdiction of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB), for the second consecutive year. The bill would limit the PCLOB to examining only programs that impact the privacy rights of U.S. citizens.  Wyden has supported the PCLOB’s focus on the rights of US persons.  Wyden opposed this provision, however, since global telecommunications networks can make it difficult to determine who is an American citizen, and this provision could discourage oversight of programs when the impact on Americans’ rights is unclear. Furthermore, continually restricting a small, independent oversight board sends the message that the board shouldn’t do its job too well.

The bill does include one proposal from Wyden, which would allow the PCLOB to hire staff even when the board’s Chair is vacant. Currently the PCLOB is prohibited from hiring staff unless a Senate-confirmed Chair is in place.  This proposal is also included in separate bipartisan legislation introduced by Wyden and Representative Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii.  PCLOB Chairman David Medine is scheduled to step down on July 1.

The Intercept has further background information on the bill.

Of the current presidential candidates, only Bernie Sanders has stood up for civil liberties. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have similar views supporting restrictions on civil liberties to fight terrorism. I am not aware of any statements from the candidates specifically on this bill, but actions such as this from Congress demonstrate the need for Sanders, as opposed to Clinton or Trump, to have the veto pen in the White House.

Edward Snowden Continues To Bring Out Differences Between Civil Libertarians And Advocates Of The Surveillance State

Edward Snowden We The People

The recent vote by the European Parliament calling on member states to protect whistle blower Edward Snowden from extradition and  prosecution, while largely symbolic, demonstrates how the United States government is conservative by international standards. This was seen again in the past week when, with absolutely no evidence to back them, some in the intelligence community used the recent terrorist attack in Paris to make Snowden the scapegoat. Glenn Greenwald has debunked these arguments:

The CIA’s former acting director, Michael Morell, blamed the Paris attack on Internet companies “building encryption without keys,” which, he said, was caused by the debate over surveillance prompted by Snowden’s disclosures. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) blamed Silicon Valley’s privacy safeguards, claiming: “I have asked for help. And I haven’t gotten any help.”

Former CIA chief James Woolsey said Snowden “has blood on his hands” because, he asserted, the Paris attackers learned from his disclosures how to hide their communications behind encryption. Woolsey thus decreed on CNN that the NSA whistleblower should be “hanged by the neck until he’s dead, rather than merely electrocuted.”

The CIA’s blame-shifting game, aside from being self-serving, was deceitful in the extreme. To begin with, there still is no evidence that the perpetrators in Paris used the Internet to plot their attacks, let alone used encryption technology.

CIA officials simply made that up. It is at least equally likely that the attackers formulated their plans in face-to-face meetings. The central premise of the CIA’s campaign — encryption enabled the attackers to evade our detection — is baseless.

Even if they had used encryption, what would that prove? Are we ready to endorse the precept that no human communication can ever take place without the U.S. government being able to monitor it? To prevent the CIA and FBI from “going dark” on terrorism plots that are planned in person, should we put Orwellian surveillance monitors in every room of every home that can be activated whenever someone is suspected of plotting?

The claim that the Paris attackers learned to use encryption from Snowden is even more misleading. For many years before anyone heard of Snowden, the U.S. government repeatedly warned that terrorists were using highly advanced means of evading American surveillance…

Greenwald elaborated more on this, and concluded with a general warning about how the government uses terrorism as an excuse to infringe upon civil liberties:

What the Snowden disclosures actually revealed to the world was that the U.S. government is monitoring the Internet communications and activities of everyone else: hundreds of millions of innocent people under the largest program of suspicionless mass surveillance ever created, a program that multiple federal judges have ruled is illegal and unconstitutional.

That is why intelligence officials are so eager to demonize Snowden: rage that he exposed their secret, unconstitutional schemes.

But their ultimate goal is not to smear Snowden. That’s just a side benefit. The real objective is to depict Silicon Valley as terrorist-helpers for the crime of offering privacy protections to Internet users, in order to force those companies to give the U.S. government “backdoor” access into everyone’s communications. American intelligence agencies have been demanding “backdoor” access to encryption since the mid-1990s. They view exploitation of the outrage and fear resulting from the Paris attacks as their best opportunity yet to achieve this access.

The key lesson of the post-9/11 abuses — from Guantanamo to torture to the invasion of Iraq — is that we must not allow military and intelligence officials to exploit the fear of terrorism to manipulate public opinion. Rather than blindly believe their assertions, we must test those claims for accuracy. In the wake of the Paris attacks, that lesson is more urgent than ever.

The controversy over Edward Snowden’s actions has become apart of this year’s election debates. Hillary Clinton’s comments on Snowden in the first Democratic Debate were just one of many falsehoods from Clinton which went unchallenged during the debate. Nick Gillepsie and Amanda Winkler called Clinton’s comments on Snowden her biggest lie of the debate:

What was Hillary Clinton’s biggest lie during the first Democratic debate?

That NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden could have gone through official channels.

“He broke the laws,” said Clinton. “He could have been a whistleblower, he could have gotten all the protections of being a whistleblower.”

More important is the experience of NSA and intelligence whistleblowers who came before Snowden.

“Tom Drake, Bill Binney, Kirk Wiebe, and Ed Loomis did go through the proper channels,” says Radack. “And all of them fell under criminal investigations for having done so.”

Hillary Clinton has a right her own opinion about the value and damage done by Snowden’s revelations, but she’s simply not credible when she argues he could have worked through official channels.

Martin O’Malley also took a hard line on Snowden during the debate. In contrast, Bernie Sanders has called for clemency or a plea agreement for Snowden. He took the most moderate approach towards Snowden during the first debate:

SANDERS: I think Snowden played a very important role in educating the American people to the degree in which our civil liberties and our constitutional rights are being undermined.

COOPER: Is he a hero?

SANDERS: He did — he did break the law, and I think there should be a penalty to that. But I think what he did in educating us should be taken into consideration before he is (inaudible)

Sanders also defended privacy rights against NSA surveillance during the debate:

Well, I would shut down — make — I’d shut down what exists right now is that virtually every telephone call in this country ends up in a file at the NSA. That is unacceptable to me. But it’s not just government surveillance. I think the government is involved in our e-mails; is involved in our websites. Corporate America is doing it as well. If we are a free country, we have the right to be free. Yes, we have to defend ourselves against terrorism, but there are ways to do that without impinging on our constitutional rights and our privacy rights.

Snowden has received support world wide from civil libertarians and activists against tyranny. The most recent example came from Chinese activist Ai Weiwei:

Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei has expressed alarm about the growth of state surveillance and praised US whistleblower ­Edward Snowden for speaking out about the “technology monster”.

Ai is due in Australia next month for a show at the ­National Gallery of Victoria, where he will share top billing with the late American pop artist Andy Warhol.

Speaking in Berlin, where he runs a studio in tandem with ­another in Beijing, Ai told The Weekend Australian that Snowden was “one of the great heroes” for sharing information about government control.

Ai carries two iPhones, and a picture of Snowden — the National­­ Security Agency contractor who revealed domestic spying in the US — is printed on the back of both.

“This guy should have a Nobel Peace Prize if anybody ­deserves that,” he said. “But, of course, he could not stop it. He just told the people that’s what’s happening.

“Of course, what happened then is a nightmare, this young guy just had to sacrifice everything for saying that.”

Obama White House & Top Freedom Of Information Official Worried About “The Clinton Way”

Time The Clinton Way

Hillary Clinton’s response to reports that she has violated the Federal Records Act at her recent press conference have been throughly debunked by media fact-checkers. The Canadian Press has also discussed this with Daniel Metcalf. He is described as, “The senior-most freedom-of-information official in the executive branch of the United States government for over a quarter-century, whose job it was to help four administrations — including the Clinton White House — interpret the Freedom of Information Act, offer advice, and testify before Congress on their behalf.”

Daniel Metcalfe doesn’t buy her explanation. In fact, he calls it laughable.

“What she did was contrary to both the letter and the spirit of the law,” says Metcalfe, the founding director of the Justice Department’s Office of Information and Privacy, which advised the rest of the administration on how to comply with the law. Metcalfe ran the office from 1981 to 2007.

“There is no doubt that the scheme she established was a blatant circumvention of the Freedom of Information Act, atop the Federal Records Act.”

Metcalfe says he doesn’t have any partisan axe to grind. He’s a registered Democrat, though steadfastly non-partisan. He says he was embarrassed to work for George W. Bush and his attorney general, and left government for American University, where he now teaches government information law and policy…

Metcalfe examined a transcript of her press conference, provided by The Canadian Press.

And he dissected it Wednesday, point by point, annotating it in 23 places where he called her statements “deceptive,” “grossly misleading” and impossible to verify.

His overall conclusion from her public appearance: “Her suggestion that government employees can unilaterally determine which of their records are personal and which are official, even in the face of a FOIA request, is laughable.”

Time calls this The Clinton Way in an upcoming cover story with a subtitle, “They write their own rules. Will it work this time?” Some excerpts, trying to limit to current news and leave out the past history discussed in the full article:

The Clintons play by their own set of rules. And in this case, the former Secretary of State explained, those rules bless her decision to erase some 30,000 emails from the family server despite knowing that the emails had become a subject of intense interest to congressional investigators. These were merely “private personal emails,” Clinton averred, “emails about planning Chelsea’s wedding or my mother’s funeral arrangements, condolence notes to friends as well as yoga routines, family vacations, the other things you typically find in inboxes.” After she finished taking questions, Clinton’s staff disclosed that no one actually read through those 30,000-odd documents before she “chose not to keep” them…

Still, Clinton’s failure to defuse the email issue, along with a growing list of questions about the family’s relentless fundraising and her husband’s choice of companions, has revived hopes among erstwhile rivals in the Democratic Party that the Hillary dreadnought might actually be sinkable. Backbiting inside the Clinton campaign–a hallmark of her failed 2008 presidential effort–has begun to leak into the political press. Republicans who were morose over their presidential chances mere months ago have a spring in their step…

In her press conference, Hillary Clinton described the private email account on the server inside their New York home as a matter of convenience only. “I thought it would be easier to carry just one device for my work and for my personal emails instead of two,” she said. “Looking back, it would’ve been better if I’d simply used a second email account and carried a second phone, but at the time, this didn’t seem like an issue.”

That explanation was not exactly robust. The Q&A had hardly ended before Clinton’s critics unearthed an interview Hillary had given a few weeks earlier with Re/code co-founder Kara Swisher. “I have an iPad, a mini iPad, an iPhone and a BlackBerry,” Clinton said. So much for simplicity. Others remarked on a matter of timing: Clinton did not carry out her business on an existing personal email account. She specifically set up a new private address–hdr22@clintonemail.com–instead of using a government account. This happened on the very day the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held its first hearing on her nomination as Secretary of State.

As for why this might “seem like an issue,” the answer is not complicated. All federal employees have a legal obligation to preserve their work-related email–and the White House advises appointees to accomplish this by using official government addresses. Email sent to and from .gov accounts is generally archived. In this way, a consistent level of security is maintained. The nation’s history is preserved. Open-records laws are honored. And transparency gets a leg up on “Trust me.”

All this once made sense to Clinton. As a candidate for President in 2008, she included “secret White House email accounts” as part of her critique of the Bush Administration’s “stunning record of secrecy and corruption.” Now, however, Clinton is leaning heavily on “Trust me.” For more than a year after she left office in 2013, she did not transfer work-related email from her private account to the State Department. She commissioned a review of the 62,320 messages in her account only after the department–spurred by the congressional investigation–asked her to do so. And this review did not involve opening and reading each email; instead, Clinton’s lawyers created a list of names and keywords related to her work and searched for those. Slightly more than half the total cache–31,830 emails–did not contain any of the search terms, according to Clinton’s staff, so they were deemed to be “private, personal records.”

This strikes experts as a haphazard way of analyzing documents. Jason R. Baron, a former lawyer at the National Archives and Records Administration who is now an attorney in the Washington office of Drinker Biddle & Reath, says, “I would question why lawyers for Secretary Clinton would use keyword searching, a method known to be fraught with limitations, to determine which of the emails with a non-.gov address pertained to government business. Any and all State Department activities–not just communications involving the keywords Benghazi or Libya–would potentially make an email a federal record. Given the high stakes involved, I would have imagined staff could have simply conducted a manual review of every document. Using keywords as a shortcut unfortunately leaves the process open to being second-guessed.”

Politico reports that the White House frets return of ‘Clinton Way’

They thought she’d changed. They thought maybe she’d picked up a little bit from them about how people respond to awkward secret arrangements and contrived ways of not telling the full story.

This has been a surprising two weeks for aides in President Barack Obama’s orbit as they’ve watched Hillary Clinton’s email mess unfold…

With so much on the line, with so much time to prepare, she’s back to classic Clinton? She’s flubbing a campaign kickoff eight years in the making because she somehow thought that no one would ever care that she set up a secret email server? That anyone would then accept her word that it was OK that she deleted 30,000 emails even though the State Department had been asking for some of them? And then go silent again?

After all, 2008’s “Change you can believe in” campaign slogan wasn’t just a reference to George W. Bush. It was also about her, and the uneasy feeling many people had that with Clinton, something else was always going on.

Obama aides had had that feeling themselves, even after she joined the administration and their staffs tried following Obama’s and Clinton’s leads in building mutual trust, almost to the point of suspension of disbelief.

“You never feel like you’re quite getting the full story, because everyone’s got some side deal or some complicating factor,” said one former Obama aide, reflecting on dealing with Clinton and her circle. “I don’t think there was a conscious effort to watch out for scams. It was more just, you know who you’re dealing with.”

Obama put the priority on keeping clear records when he issued guidelines about using official email accounts, one White House aide noted after Clinton’s news conference, while obviously the former secretary of state determined her priority was something else…

A lot of this has to do with what Obama aides refer to as a culture clash. The Clintons look for loopholes, they say, while Obama takes a special pride, particularly on transparency issues, in sticking to the letter of the law: a combination of cockiness that he’s right, so why not let everyone see how he got there, as well as a background awareness that any scandal would be a scandal for the first African-American president.

“The president has been willing to say and implement provocative policies to shake up Washington,” said one current White House aide. “Willingness to send those signals is a good way to make clear to people that this is the way we’re going to do business: differently.”

…What’s confusing to them is how she didn’t acknowledge that herself, or care. They don’t like to admit it around the West Wing, but as a former first lady and Obama’s main opponent in 2008, Clinton did get more latitude than other Cabinet secretaries in all sorts of decisions, from staffing on down. They’re just hoping that this email server — “the president 100 percent would not have done it this way,” the former aide said, “this is such a clearly nontransparent way of going about it” — is the extent of the latitude she took that they didn’t know about.

Then again, the White House didn’t know she deleted 30,000 emails until they watched her announce it at her news conference on Tuesday. And aides acknowledge that they don’t know how much more they don’t know.

It is a legitimate fear that “the extent of the latitude she took” when Secretary of State exceeds what we know about. My bigger fear is the latitude she would take as president.

Frank Rich compared this to an episode of Veep in which the vice-president announced plans to release her correspondence, and points out that Clinton’s explanation “didn’t pass the smell test.”

That it took Clinton as long as it did to respond to the rising chorus of these questions, and that she did so as defensively and unconvincingly as she did, is yet more evidence that she’s not ready for the brutality of a presidential campaign. This hastily called, abruptly truncated press conference was reminiscent of the mistakes she made last year in her ill-fated book tour. She didn’t schedule yesterday’s appearance until after the most senior of Democratic senators, Dianne Feinstein, essentially demanded that she speak up.

Some of what Clinton said didn’t pass the smell test. It reminded me of an episode in the first season of Veep where the vice-president announces she will release all her internal office correspondence to quell a controversy and then instructs her staff to make sure it’s “Modified Full Disclosure Lite.” That’s what we got here. Why, for instance, would Clinton say that she “didn’t see any reason to keep” her personal emails? Those are precisely the emails that every American keeps.

If she doesn’t become more forthright and less defensive when she’s under fire, this is going to be a very long campaign for her. Though we keep being told that she and those around her are determined not to repeat the mistakes of 2008, so far there’s no evidence of that. And the much tougher questions — starting with those about the donors to the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation — are yet to come.

While a growing number of Democrats are starting to worry about her ability to run a presidential campaign, she maintains the front runner due to lack of serious opposition. For example, Dana Milbank writes that Hillary Clinton has little to fear from Martin O’Malley. I don’t think that the speculation on Al Gore entering the race, which I discussed yesterday, is very likely.

I agree with Jonathan Bernstein, who debunks the claim that the Democrats have no bench. The problem is that so far Hillary Clinton has taken all of the air out of the Democratic nomination battle. If we had an open and competitive primary, more people might run, and some would ultimately look like viable presidential candidates. We would be in a situation comparable to 1992 when several candidates ran until one (in that case Bill Clinton) emerged. A candidate who is victorious in such a primary battle will be taken seriously as a presidential candidate. Democrats do not need to settle for a candidate as flawed by Hillary Clinton due to thinking she is the only choice. Nominating someone lacking so lacking in judgment and ethical character as Hillary Clinton will greatly increase the risk of a Republican being elected president in 2016.

Howard Dean Is Ready For Hillary, But Does Anyone Still Care About What Howard Dean Says?

Howard Dean writes that he is ready for Hillary. He mentions some of her attributes but the most obvious thing in his article is the absence of mention of her support for the Iraq War. Maybe this is not a major factor for everyone (although I think that ones position on one of the major blunders in recent times should be). I just find it more amazing that Howard Dean doesn’t care, considering how he used the Iraq war in his 2004 run for the Democratic nomination.

Although Howard Dean and John Kerry had essentially the same view on Iraq, Dean distorted the issue to give the appearance of a difference. He turned the Senate vote to authorize force in Iraq into far more of a litmus test than it ever should have been. While Kerry, as he later admitted, made a mistake in trusting Bush not to misuse the authorization, the major difference was that Kerry was in the Senate and had to cast a vote while Dean did not. Listening to the statements from the two, both actually had the same position. Both thought that force should be authorized if we were legitimately threatened by weapons of mass destruction from Iraq. Both argued at the onset of the war that no such threat existed and that Bush was wrong to go to war.

If, although having the same position, Kerry’s vote made him subject for constant attacks on the war from Dean, what about Hillary Clinton? Unlike both Kerry and Dean, Hillary Clinton not only voted in favor of the war, but she was enthusiastically supporting going to war at the time. She was on the far right of the Democratic Party, with people like Joe Lieberman, in claiming that Saddam had ties to al Qaeda

Indeed, in Clinton’s October 10, 2002, speech about her vote she said of Saddam: LINK

“He has also given aid, comfort, and sanctuary to terrorists, including Al Qaeda members, though there is apparently no evidence of his involvement in the terrible events of September 11, 2001.”

As Don van Natta and Jeff Gerth have written in their book about Clinton and the New York Times, Clinton’s linkage of Saddam and al Qaeda was unique among Democrats and “was unsupported by the conclusions of the N.I.E. and other secret intelligence reports that were available to senators before the vote.” LINK

Former Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Sen. Bob Graham, D-Florida, said it was a spurious claim: “I don’t think any agency pretended to make a case that there was a strong linkage between Saddam Hussein and 9/11. It wasn’t in the N.I.E.”

“Nevertheless,” van Natta and Gerth write, “on the sensitive issue of collaboration between Al Qaeda and Iraq, Senator Clinton found herself adopting the same argument that was being aggressively pushed by the administration. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and other administration officials had repeated their claim frequently, and by early October 2002, two out of three Americans believed that Saddam Hussein was connected to the Sept. 11 attacks. By contrast, most of the other Senate Democrats, even those who voted for the war authorization, did not make the Qaeda connection in their remarks on the Senate floor.”

Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., “actively assailed the reports of Al Qaeda in Iraq, calling them ‘much exaggerated.’ Senator Dianne Feinstein of California described any link between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda as ‘tenuous.’ The Democratic senator who came closest to echoing Clinton’s remarks about Hussein’s supposed assistance to Al Qaeda was Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut. Yet even Lieberman noted that ‘the relationship between Al Qaeda and Saddam’s regime is a subject of intense debate within the intelligence community.’”

How could Clinton get this key point so wrong?

“My vote was a sincere vote based on the facts and assurances that I had at the time,” she said in February.

But what facts and assurances?

Of course Howard Dean’s reputation on the left has already become tarnished since he sold his soul and became a K-Street lobbyist defending the interests of Big Pharma. Yes, I guess this Howard Dean could be expected to support Hillary Clinton, regardless of her views on Iraq.

Update: Lanny Davis Ready For Hillary–A Couple Of Responses

Hillary Clinton And The Left

Hillary Clinton and the Left

The Hill has an article on Hillary Clinton which, as is the case with many of their articles, recites the conventional wisdom with little real insight or new information. Most of their five points are trivial, such as that anything Hillary says, or doesn’t say (as in the case of Ferguson) makes the news. The only point in the article which I think is worthy of any discussion is the second, their claim that “The left doesn’t really hate her after all.”

In recent weeks, critics and even some Democratic allies have worried that Clinton has failed to satisfy some on the left.

On Vox.com earlier this month, Ezra Klein wrote that “liberals walk away unnerved” after almost every interview Clinton had done around her recent book tour.

“She bumbled through a discussion of gay marriage with [NPR’s] Terry Gross. She dodged questions about the Keystone XL pipeline. She’s had a lot of trouble discussing income inequality,” Klein asserted.

Other progressives have expressed a desire to see a candidate rooted within the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), challenge Clinton.

But poll numbers provide succor to Clinton supporters.

A CNN poll conducted in late July showed that there was essentially no difference in the backing Clinton received from self-identified liberal Democrats over Democrats as a whole. Sixty-six percent of liberal Democrats supported her, as did 67 percent of all party supporters.

Clinton allies object to the notion that the former secretary of State is in trouble with the left.

“She is progressive and has support from the vast majority of progressives, which I would argue spans from the left to the middle, including some conservative Democrats along the way, too,” said one longtime aide.

Another ally who has worked for Clinton took it a step further, insisting that the he idea of widespread unease about her on the left was a “fictional plot that people want to believe is true.”

For all practical purposes this might as well be true, but it is an over-simplification. I certainly would not consider Clinton to be a liberal, but the right has moved to so such extremes that she could not be classified as a conservative today either. She may be a former Goldwater girl, but the Republicans have moved far to the right of Barry Goldwater. One significant factor is that while the Republican Party is pulled to the right by a strong conservative movement, the Democratic Party is a centrist party which often ignores liberal influence. Many liberals I discuss politics with  are very concerned about Clinton’s relatively conservative views, but we also make up a tiny percentage of the centrist-dominated voters for the Democrats.

Clinton also benefits from the widespread realization that there is not much choice other than to support her. The faction of the left which would vote for the Green Party or a Ralph Nader like challenge from the left is even smaller than those of us who feel Clinton is too conservative. Most of us anti-Clinton Democrats realize that whatever faults Clinton has, the Republicans will be as bad on foreign policy and far worse on domestic policy.

Clinton also probably benefits from factors such as a favorable view among Democrats of electing the first female president. Plus there is nostalgia for the period of peace and prosperity when Bill Clinton was president. However the times have changed and electing a Clinton will not mean returning to the Clinton economy.

I suspect that these factors also blind many Democratic voters to how conservative Clinton is on many issues, even if given warnings in recent interviews. She is likely to be seen as more socially liberal than she actually is do her position on “women’s issues” but being even Republican women are more liberal than the Republican establishment in this area. While Clinton has received criticism for appearing dishonest and calculating for naming the Bible as the book with the greatest influence on her thinking, that might not really be out of character considering her past participation with the religiously conservative Fellowship while in Congress.

I also suspect that many liberals fail to realize how conservative she is on foreign policy issues. Being Obama’s Secretary of State blurs the distinctions between Clinton and the rest of the Obama administration, but during her tenure as Secretary of State the common pattern was for Clinton to push for a more hawkish position which was countered by others in the administration.

Clinton’s hawkish views on Iraq are also obscured by the fact that many Democrats voted for the Iraq war resolution. However, while all who voted yes were terribly mistaken, there were still significant differences in views within that group. On the left was John Kerry, who voted yes but clearly laid out the conditions under which war would be justified, and then spent the next several months pushing Bush not to go to war. On the extreme right of the Democratic Party there was Joe Lieberman and Hillary Clinton, being unique among Democrats in pushing to go to war based upon the fictitious arguments connecting Saddam to al Qaeda:

Indeed, in Clinton’s October 10, 2002, speech about her vote she said of Saddam: LINK

“He has also given aid, comfort, and sanctuary to terrorists, including Al Qaeda members, though there is apparently no evidence of his involvement in the terrible events of September 11, 2001.”

As Don van Natta and Jeff Gerth have written in their book about Clinton and the New York Times, Clinton’s linkage of Saddam and al Qaeda was unique among Democrats and “was unsupported by the conclusions of the N.I.E. and other secret intelligence reports that were available to senators before the vote.” LINK

Former Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Sen. Bob Graham, D-Florida, said it was a spurious claim: “I don’t think any agency pretended to make a case that there was a strong linkage between Saddam Hussein and 9/11. It wasn’t in the N.I.E.”

“Nevertheless,” van Natta and Gerth write, “on the sensitive issue of collaboration between Al Qaeda and Iraq, Senator Clinton found herself adopting the same argument that was being aggressively pushed by the administration. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and other administration officials had repeated their claim frequently, and by early October 2002, two out of three Americans believed that Saddam Hussein was connected to the Sept. 11 attacks. By contrast, most of the other Senate Democrats, even those who voted for the war authorization, did not make the Qaeda connection in their remarks on the Senate floor.”

Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., “actively assailed the reports of Al Qaeda in Iraq, calling them ‘much exaggerated.’ Senator Dianne Feinstein of California described any link between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda as ‘tenuous.’ The Democratic senator who came closest to echoing Clinton’s remarks about Hussein’s supposed assistance to Al Qaeda was Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut. Yet even Lieberman noted that ‘the relationship between Al Qaeda and Saddam’s regime is a subject of intense debate within the intelligence community.’”

How could Clinton get this key point so wrong?

“My vote was a sincere vote based on the facts and assurances that I had at the time,” she said in February.

But what facts and assurances?

If someone were to mount a serious primary challenge to Clinton I suspect that opposition to Clinton would increase on the left, based upon foreign policy, economics, and social issues, along with questions about her competence and judgment. The 2008 race showed that deep down many Democrats do have reservations about Clinton and would support a viable challenge. Unfortunately, at least so far, I do not see such a challenge emerging. Many liberals who are concerned about Clinton’s Wall Street connections would love to see Elizabeth Warren run, but this is highly unlikely to happen. Bernie Sanders is talking about possibly running.  Joe Biden is traveling to New Hampshire, leading to speculation about him running. While he is far from the ideal candidate, and I never really thought of backing him, as I read about how Biden was a strong voice against Clinton’s hawkish views in the Obama administration, Biden increasingly looks like a far more favorable alternative if he can mount a viable campaign and no better options arise.

Clinton’s Hawkish Statements On Syria Remind Left That Clinton Does Not Share Our Views On Foreign Policy

Obama_clinton_photo

As is far too often the case, I think the mainstream media is getting the story wrong following Hillary Clinton’s interview with Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic  in which she took a different position from Obama. We expect to see Clinton separate herself to some degree from Obama.The real significance is that this has been a wake up call for many on the left who really haven’t thought about Clinton’s hawkish world view. Many liberals who ostracized Joe Lieberman still embrace Hillary Clinton despite holding very similar foreign policy views. I doubt that this will change the outcome of Clinton winning the nomination, assuming she runs, but if by chance she is stopped by a successful challenger, in retrospect we might see this week as the time when things changed for her. David Brooks, while largely agreeing with Clinton from the right, speculates that “I’d bet she is going to get a more serious challenge than people now expect.” These questions are bigger than Politico discussing whether Hillary Clinton is comfortable in her own skin.

Clinton has received criticism for her views on intervening in Syria and for her general disagreement with Obama’s approach:

Great nations need organizing principles, and ‘Don’t do stupid stuff’ is not an organizing principle.

“Don’t do stupid stuff” sounds like a good idea. It reminds me a lot of the Hippocratic Oath to do no harm. Both good ideas, as opposed to Clinton’s history of making big mistakes and not realizing it until later, after the damage is done.

The Weekly Standard did have an amusing take on this, running a story composed of quotes from the interview under the headline, “Special Guest Editorial: Obama’s Foreign Policy Failures By HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON”

Response to Clinton’s statements on getting involved in the quagmire in Syria were largely negative from the liberal blogosphere. Digby’s response to the interview:

This is a very scary interview. Much more hardcore than I expected…

It’s possible she’s doing this to speed things up so an agreement can be struck before Obama leaves office — kind of a Reaganesque  madman move — but considering her hard line on everything else, I’d guess not.

Yikes.

Booman looked at the substance of Clinton’s argument and concluded, ” Had we made that mistake, too, we’d be in an even deeper hole.”

From Balloon Juice:

…my major concern about HRC is her hawkishness. That’s why I supported Obama instead of HRC back in 2008 — he recognized the Iraq War as “stupid shit” from the beginning; she didn’t.

The remark highlighted above doesn’t tell us much about Clinton’s organizing principles. When Goldberg questioned her directly on it, her response was “peace, progress and prosperity,” which could have come from a Miss World pageant script.

A supporter of Clinton in 2008 at Cannonfire wrote, “It’s Obama vs. Hillary — again — and this time, I’m on HIS side”

Not surprisingly, Andrew Sullivan was quite hard on Clinton:

And the greatest throwback to 2003 in this respect is Hillary Clinton. So far as one can tell from her interview with Jeffrey Goldberg, there is no daylight between her and John McCain or even Benjamin Netanyahu – but a hell of a lot of space between her and Barack Obama. The interview confirms my view that she remains neoconservatism’s best bet to come back with bells on. It appears, for example, that her boomer-era pabulum about foreign policy on the Jon Stewart show – “We need to love America again! – was not an aberration. She actually means it. And once we believe in ourselves again – don’t look at that torture report! – it will be back to the barricades for another American century of American global hegemony. And why not start in Syria and Iraq? I mean: she’s already hepped up about the threat of Jihadism – and what could possibly go wrong this time? If only we believe in America!

You know, when you’re down on yourself, and when you are hunkering down and pulling back, you’re not going to make any better decisions than when you were aggressively, belligerently putting yourself forward. One issue is that we don’t even tell our own story very well these days.

Just forget that this country destroyed its military deterrence and its moral authority by the war that Clinton favored and has never fully expressed remorse for. Forget the trillions wasted and the tens of thousands of lives lost and the brutal torture we authorized and the hapless occupation that helped galvanize Jhadism, let’s just feel good about ourselves! And do it all again!

And so try and find a real difference between John McCain and Hillary Clinton on these topics. It’s certainly the same “fight them over there so we don’t fight them over here” fear-mongering:

One of the reasons why I worry about what’s happening in the Middle East right now is because of the breakout capacity of jihadist groups that can affect Europe, can affect the United States. Jihadist groups are governing territory. They will never stay there, though. They are driven to expand. Their raison d’etre is to be against the West, against the Crusaders, against the fill-in-the-blank—and we all fit into one of these categories. How do we try to contain that? I’m thinking a lot about containment, deterrence, and defeat.

Well, actually, their raison d’etre is not to be against the West. Right now and for the foreseeable future, it is about defeating the apostates of Shia Islam and wimpy Sunni Islam. It’s about forcing other Muslims to submit to their medieval authority – with weapons left behind from the last American interventionist project. The West for these Jihadis is a long, long way away. But not for Clinton or for McCain who see every struggle anywhere as involving the US because … America! And that’s when you realize how fresh Obama was and how vital he has been – and how in foreign policy, a Clinton presidency is such a contrast to his.

MoveOn issued this warning to Clinton:

Secretary Clinton, and any other person thinking about seeking the Democratic nomination in 2016, should think long and hard before embracing the same policies advocated by right-wing war hawks that got America into Iraq in the first place and helped set the stage for Iraq’s troubles today. These hawkish policy stances are also threatening to undermine the peaceful international resolution of Iran’s nuclear program.

Voters elected President Obama in 2008 to bring the war in Iraq to an end. MoveOn members will continue to stand with elected officials who oppose military escalation that could put us back on a path to endless war.

I rarely agree with The American Conservative to the degree I agree with much of this analysis:

Clinton has “brilliantly” identified herself as the hawk that she has always been, which puts her sharply at odds with most people in her own party and most Americans of all political affiliations. That’s not triangulation at all. The old Clintonian triangulation was driven by an obsessive focus on public opinion and on finding mostly minor issues that obtained support from a large majority. The purpose of it was to co-opt popular issues and deprive the opposition of effective lines of attack. The goal was not to poke the majority of Americans in the eye on major issues and tell them that they’re wrong. Clinton’s foreign policy posturing politically tone-deaf and focused entirely on what will please people in Washington and a few other capitals around the world. It is evidence that Clinton thinks she can get away with campaigning on a more activist foreign policy on the assumption that no one is going to vote against her for that reason. She may be right about that, or she may end up being surprised–again–to find that her horrible foreign policy record is still a serious political liability.

Now it’s true that the vast majority doesn’t vote on foreign policy, and most Americans normally pay little or no attention to it, but one thing that does seem to get their attention is when they are being presented with the prospect of new and costly conflicts. If Obama is faulted in Washington for being too cautious, Clinton is making clear that she will err on the side of being too activist and aggressive, and she gives us every reason to expect that she will err quite often on that side. That isn’t going to gain Clinton any votes, and it could easily lose her quite a few. Her twin hopes at this point have to be that she won’t face a significant challenge from the left on these and other issues and that the next Republican nominee will be even more irresponsibly hawkish than she is. That’s not brilliant. It’s called wishful thinking.

Clinton’s current hawkish views today are hardly new, as in 2002 when she backed the Iraq war based upon claims of a tie between Saddam and al Qaeda:

Indeed, in Clinton’s October 10, 2002, speech about her vote she said of Saddam: LINK

“He has also given aid, comfort, and sanctuary to terrorists, including Al Qaeda members, though there is apparently no evidence of his involvement in the terrible events of September 11, 2001.”

As Don van Natta and Jeff Gerth have written in their book about Clinton and the New York Times, Clinton’s linkage of Saddam and al Qaeda was unique among Democrats and “was unsupported by the conclusions of the N.I.E. and other secret intelligence reports that were available to senators before the vote.” LINK

Former Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Sen. Bob Graham, D-Florida, said it was a spurious claim: “I don’t think any agency pretended to make a case that there was a strong linkage between Saddam Hussein and 9/11. It wasn’t in the N.I.E.”

“Nevertheless,” van Natta and Gerth write, “on the sensitive issue of collaboration between Al Qaeda and Iraq, Senator Clinton found herself adopting the same argument that was being aggressively pushed by the administration. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and other administration officials had repeated their claim frequently, and by early October 2002, two out of three Americans believed that Saddam Hussein was connected to the Sept. 11 attacks. By contrast, most of the other Senate Democrats, even those who voted for the war authorization, did not make the Qaeda connection in their remarks on the Senate floor.”

Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., “actively assailed the reports of Al Qaeda in Iraq, calling them ‘much exaggerated.’ Senator Dianne Feinstein of California described any link between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda as ‘tenuous.’ The Democratic senator who came closest to echoing Clinton’s remarks about Hussein’s supposed assistance to Al Qaeda was Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut. Yet even Lieberman noted that ‘the relationship between Al Qaeda and Saddam’s regime is a subject of intense debate within the intelligence community.’”

How could Clinton get this key point so wrong?

“My vote was a sincere vote based on the facts and assurances that I had at the time,” she said in February.

But what facts and assurances?

It is not just a single view. The problem is Hillary Clinton’s entire history on foreign policy. I trust Obama far more than Clinton in answering that hypothetical 3 am phone call.

NSA Surveillance: Not Really News To Those Paying Attention, Not Illegal, But Still A Matter of Concern

The major topic of discussion today has clearly been the data mining of cell phone records on numerous blogs and news sites. On the one hand, I share in the opposition to the concept of a government program which we cannot even evaluate because of the secrecy surrounding it. On the other hand, did anyone really think that their cell phone call records were secret items which the government couldn’t review with ease? This is exactly the type of thing which many of us blogged about during the Bush years. From May 11, 2006 USA Today reported:

The National Security Agency has been secretly collecting the phone call records of tens of millions of Americans, using data provided by AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth, people with direct knowledge of the arrangement told USA TODAY.

The NSA program reaches into homes and businesses across the nation by amassing information about the calls of ordinary Americans — most of whom aren’t suspected of any crime. This program does not involve the NSA listening to or recording conversations. But the spy agency is using the data to analyze calling patterns in an effort to detect terrorist activity, sources said in separate interviews.

“It’s the largest database ever assembled in the world,” said one person, who, like the others who agreed to talk about the NSA’s activities, declined to be identified by name or affiliation. The agency’s goal is “to create a database of every call ever made” within the nation’s borders, this person added.

There’s one difference between the program under Obama compare to Bush. Obama is using the FISA courts and following the law, while Bush did not:

Months after the Sept. 11 attacks, President Bush secretly authorized the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on Americans and others inside the United States to search for evidence of terrorist activity without the court-approved warrants ordinarily required for domestic spying, according to government officials.

Under a presidential order signed in 2002, the intelligence agency has monitored the international telephone calls and international e-mail messages of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people inside the United States without warrants over the past three years in an effort to track possible “dirty numbers” linked to Al Qaeda, the officials said. The agency, they said, still seeks warrants to monitor entirely domestic communications.

The previously undisclosed decision to permit some eavesdropping inside the country without court approval was a major shift in American intelligence-gathering practices, particularly for the National Security Agency, whose mission is to spy on communications abroad. As a result, some officials familiar with the continuing operation have questioned whether the surveillance has stretched, if not crossed, constitutional limits on legal searches.

“This is really a sea change,” said a former senior official who specializes in national security law. “It’s almost a mainstay of this country that the N.S.A. only does foreign searches.”

Of course being legal does not mean it is right. While I do prefer to see judicial oversight, there is a huge difference between true oversight and a rubber stamp.

In theory there is also Congressional oversight. The top Senators on the Intelligence Committee say this is to protect America:

The top two senators on the Intelligence Committee on Thursday defended the National Security Agency’s collection of Americans’ phone records after it was reported in The Guardian.

“It is lawful. It has been briefed to Congress,” Senate Intelligence Chair Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) told reporters at an impromptu news conference in the Capitol. “This is just meta data. There is no content involved. In other words, no content of a communication. … The records can only be accessed under heightened standards.”

“I read intelligence carefully. And I know that people are trying to get to us,” Feinstein said. “This is the reason we keep TSA doing what it’s doing. This the reason the FBI now has 10,000 people doing intelligence on counter-terrorism. This is the reason for the national counter-terrorism center that’s been set up in the time we’ve been active.”

“And it’s to ferret this out before it happens,” she said. “It’s called protecting America.”

Senate Intelligence Vice Chair Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) backed up Feinstein, saying, “This is nothing particularly new. This has been going on for seven years under the auspices of the FISA authority, and every member of the United States Senate has been advised of this.”

I guess we can discuss this in thirty years when the information is declassified.

Personally I have no problem with the government seeking a warrant to obtain phone records (and more) regarding individual who they have reasonable cause to suspect of plotting acts of terrorism. Maybe there is even a chance that having these records did put them on the trail of a potential terrorist who they otherwise did not suspect. In a free society it is necessary to place limits on what information the government can obtain and it is necessary to have some degree of transparency about how the information is used, even if we must give up having one-hundred percent security to maintain liberty.

Senate Votes To Double Fines On Marijuana Brownies

Congress has been near paralyzed by the manner in which the Republicans have made 60 the new 50 and have filibustered virtually everything proposed by Democrats. There’s still one thing which was able to pass by unanimous consent–a bill to double the penalties for marijuana brownies. Talking Points Memo reports:

If you thought that the Republican filibuster of the tax-cutting small business bill meant that the Senate didn’t have a particularly productive day Thusday, you’d be wrong. In fact, the Senate authorized the issuance of a conservation stamp, created Polycystic Kidney Disease Awareness Week, gave a little money to the Patent and Trademark office and, oh yeah, doubled the penalties for making pot brownies. Yes, the same week that Congress significantly reduced the racially-charged crack-powder sentencing disparity, they also voted to create one between pot brownies and dime bags.

The Senate voted to pass by unanimous consent (that it, without a roll call vote) S. 258, known colloquially as the Saving Kids From Dangerous Drugs Act of 2010, introduced by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and co-sponsored by Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN) and Charles Grassley (R-IA). While the bill is intended to keep drug dealers from cutting their product with sweets in order to make them more marketable to children, it applies to any drug mixed with with something that modifies its flavor — as making pot brownies does — if the person making the brownies “intends” to give it to someone under 18. At that point, the person making the pot brownies would be subject to twice the normal penalty of any person caught distributing weed.

Michael Whitney of Firedoglake believes that Diane Feinstein’s real goal is to stop medical marijuana. Jacob Sullum at Reason thinks this is giving Feinstein too much credit, not believing that Feinstein put that much thought into the bill she sponsored.