STEWART: The next time anyone tells you no one can make a difference in Washington, that no one person can get anything done, tell them about what happened today. In our number three story tonight, the senate began debating a bill that would strip you of the right to sue phone companies for eavesdropping on you.
President Bush is pushing to give blanket immunity to any phone company that agreed to let the government listen in on phone and track e-mail traffic passing through its lines without going through the special top secret courts known as the FISA courts. It is far more than a legal battle for several reasons. One, the three dozen lawsuits against phone companies offer one of the only ways America can hope to find out exactly what Mr. Bush has done. Two, immunity for the phone companies could set a precedent for other companies assisting the government in certain activity, such as renditioning.
Democratic presidential candidates oppose immunity, but when the FISA debate began today, only one had left Iowa to fight the battle in Washington. Senator Chris Dodd vowed to filibuster as long as he could to block the immunity provision from the overall FISA bill which is intended to bring the government‘s electronic eavesdropping within shouting distance of constitutionality. Despite the absence of other candidates, Dodd did get help on the floor today.
SENATOR EDWARD M. KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: The president said that American lives will be sacrificed if congress does not change FISA. But he has also said that he will veto any FISA bill that does not grant retroactive immunity. No immunity, no FISA bill. So if we take the president at his word, he‘s willing to let Americans die to protect the phone companies.
SENATOR CHRISTOPHER J. DODD (D), CONNECTICUT: Don‘t tell me the legal departments of AT&T and Verizon didn‘t know what the law was. Of course, they knew what the law was. To suggest that, somehow, first year law students are pro bono operation here advising them is, of course, phony on its face. They knew exactly what the law was, as the Qwest company did when they said, “No, give me a court order, and I‘ll comply.”
STEWART: Tonight, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, unable to move the bill forward, pulled it from consideration for now. The fight will start up again next month, just one month before the current FISA law expires.
From the date today—the debate today, excuse me—is Sam Seder whose show airs on Air America Radio. Hi, Sam.
SAM SEDER, CORRESPONDENT, AIR AMERICA RADIO: Hi, Alison. How are you?
STEWART: Flesh this out for us a little bit, this immunity issue.
Why is it so important to both sides?
SEDER: Well, for those people who believe in the constitution and believe that the government shouldn‘t have an unfettered right to spy on Americans, the idea that a corporation would go along with this plan and not be subject to any type of oversight from the courts is absolutely contrary to every American principle. And for those on the other side, frankly, I have no idea other than some type of notion that we need to bow down to George Bush as some type of king or that the corporations have the ability to do whatever they want and profit on lawbreaking.
STEWART: I think, they would say they need to do it to enable the NSA to get the job done, to be able to track communications that would make the country safe. I think, that would be their argument?
SEDER: Well, Alison, they can get a court order. They can get a FISA court warrant to do all those things.
STEWART: The House already passed a version of the FISA bill without immunity, so why didn‘t Harry Reid just follow suit and debate the senate version that also didn‘t give immunity?
SEDER: Look, you have a tremendous amount of pressure from the Washington establishment and from, frankly, from the media establishment. People like Joe Klein from “Time” magazine, “The Washington Post” editorial board saying that somehow Democrats would be weak on national security if they don‘t allow these lawbreakers to spy on us illegally. And, so I think he capitulated to that, but, thank goodness, that activism and American people rising up were able to essentially rally around one principal politician and, for the moment, we were able to stop this retroactive immunity.
STEWART: Senator Dodd did get help from Senators Kennedy and Russ Feingold, but to sustain a real classic overnight filibuster, he needed as many allies as he could get. So why didn‘t his supposed allies, Senator Clinton, Obama, and Biden, return from Iowa to help him?
SEDER: Well, they said, they supported the filibuster, but you‘re right, they should have returned to Iowa. And, again, all I can say is thank gosh that we had one principled politician who was willing to stand up and thank gosh we had hundreds of thousands of Americans grassroot activists who were willing to contact the Senate and tell them, you cannot pass this retroactive immunity. We cannot have lawbreaking be granted a blanket amnesty.
STEWART: The numbers were not in Senator Dodd‘s favor. Only 10 Democrats voted against culture(ph): you‘ve Boxer, Hearken, Kerry. Why so few?
SEDER: Like I say, you have the Washington political establishment and the media establishment telling them that if they do this that the narrative is going to be that Democrats are somehow letting Osama Bin Laden run through everybody‘s house or something. The fact of the matter is we have a perfectly legitimate process in which people can get warrants and there‘s no reason to condone lawbreaking. If there was no lawbreaking, there‘s no reason to have immunity.
STEWART: With 76 senators voting for the protection and the NSA‘s broad reliance on private companies—telecommunications companies—for help in the sector, shouldn‘t the companies get some kind of protection in some way?
SEDER: Absolutely not. Senator Dodd said this very well. He said, “Look, these people have lawyers. They have attorneys. They know what the law is. And so, there‘s no reason for them to get immunity. If they did nothing wrong, then let the courts adjudicate it.”
STEWART: So, what happens between now and January?
SEDER: Hopefully, we‘ll see more activism, more of the American people rise up and say, “We are not going to give a president with a 24 percent favorability rating, someone who is trampling over the constitution, free rein.”
STEWART: Sam Seder of Air America Radio. Thanks, Sam.
SEDER: Thank you, Alison.
See Related Video Here:
Keith Olbermann Stuff From 2007 and Earlier
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Was this the story where Chris Dodd was the only candidate to come back to filibuster for? (I could look it up, I guess, but I'm not sure what the Newshole is - sounds a little obscene to me, but that's okay - and I'd have to wade through the CD video or transcript or something, and I'm running out of patience with - okay, deep breath, now.) Anyway, thank you, Sen Dodd, for caring about our civil liberties at a time when they're vanishing at the rate of the polar ice cap, which is enough to send me off on another rant, but - okay, deep breath, here.) Anyway, thanks, Chris Dodd.
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