With the Senate Judiciary Committee scheduled to mark-up the FISA Amendments Act tomorrow, a movement against immunity for telecoms hasn’t translated into legislative promises by even traditional Bush foes.
Currently four of the 19 committee members (Delaware’s Joe Biden, Wisconsin’s Russ Feingold, Massachusetts’s Ted Kennedy and Maryland’s Ben Cardin) have vowed to oppose immunity. Chair Pat Leahy, top Republican Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, Illinois’s Dick Durbin and Wisconsin’s Herb Kohl are taking a wait-and-see approach to whether telecommunications companies deserve retroactive immunity for going along with the National Security Agency’s illegal spying program. The other members of the committee have not issued statements and did not respond to The Nation’s request for their position on immunity.
So after approving Attorney General nominee Michael Mukasey yesterday, Senators on the Judiciary Committee, particularly Democrats and the moderate Specter, are once again agonizing about whether to defy the President.
Two weeks ago, it appeared the Senate would essentially offer no resistance. The Senate Intelligence Committee passed the FISA Amendments Act of 2007, 13-2, which included immunity. Intelligence Committee Chairman John Rockefeller, who has received a combined $42,000 from AT&T and Verizon this year, penned a Washington Post editorial arguing that the heat should stay solely on the Bush Administration. “[If] the government were to require [telecoms] to face a mountain of lawsuits, we risk losing their support in the future,” Rockefeller wrote.
But the matter became a cause celebre by Net Roots activists like MoveOn.org who pressured Democratic Presidential candidates to filibuster a FISA bill with immunity. Chris Dodd positively responded to the charge and soon the other Democratic Senators running for President-Biden, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama- followed his lead.
Then, at a Judiciary Committee hearing last week both Leahy and Specter expressed their skepticism about granting immunity without knowing the extent of the companies complicity. And this week Mark Klein, a former AT&T technician, has come to Capitol Hill telling lawmakers that AT&T worked with NSA to compile a database of e-mail and phone calls of ordinary Americans.
What’s discussed at the mark-up tomorrow may provide clues on whether committee members will scrutinize the role of telecoms in the abuse of executive power, or, ahem, let the companies off the hook.