Thursday, March 23, 2006

Specter vs Roberts: This time it's political

Editor's note: for those of you wondering where my esteemed and distinguished colleague Scott has been, he’s been sick the last few days so the job of posting has solely fallen to yours truly. We wish Scott well and hope he is ready to once again dole out his brand of knowledge soon… because my hands are getting very, very tired...

While Iraq war veterans are winning primaries across the country (not good news for the GOP as a majority of them are Democrats – whoo-hoo!), and polling machines are crashing and burning in Cook County (a replay of 2000 looming? I certainly hope not), and Tom Delay’s lawyer’s are trying to expedite his trial (let’s expedite his sorry butt right into jail!) a handful of Republicans are running scared and acting as if they are afraid to act, let alone speak.

Not so for Senate Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter (R-PA). Specter, an outspoken Republican critic of the Bush administration's eavesdropping program, will preside over Senate efforts to write the program into law, but he was pessimistic Wednesday that the White House would even listen, stating, in an AP interview, “They want to do just as they please, for as long as they can get away with it. I think what is going on now without congressional intervention or judicial intervention is just plain wrong.” (Brilliantly put Mr. Specter)

Specter has been the most vocal Republican critic, and one of the first to publicly question the NSA’s authority to monitor international calls without getting court approval beforehand.

Under the program (which was first disclosed, accidentally, last year) the NSA has been conducting the surveillance when calls and e-mails are thought to involve al-Qaida… (or al-Queada… or al-quiada… however you wish to spell it)

Senate Intelligence Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) had expressed interest in handling NSA legislation as well, but the Senate Parliamentarian gave Specter authority over it last week.

(A good thing, or at least a better thing in my eyes as Sen. Roberts has not been as incensed by the plan as Specter has. In fact, it could be argued that Roberts supports the plan and doesn’t want any legislation. Also, it’s fairly well known on K-Street that Roberts – who according to the linked article was unhappy that his committee was bypassed – is a Bush Crony in the highest order)

There are two different bills out there that would provide more checks and balances on the Bush administration's warrantless surveillance program.

Specter is the author of one of the bills, which would require a secretive federal intelligence court to conduct regular reviews of the program's constitutionality. Specter’s bill would also require the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA) to provide a broad constitutional review of the surveillance activities every 45 days and evaluate whether the government has followed previous authorizations that are issued.

The other bill was written, not coincidentally by another Bush crony, by Sen. Mike DeWine (R-OH) That bill would allow the government to conduct warrantless surveillance for up to 45 days before seeking court or congressional approval. If at any moment during that time the attorney general has enough information to go to the intelligence court, he has to.

This is welcome news because it’s doubtful that the Bush administration will cancel the warrantless spying program, so a few checks and balances within the program is definitely needed.

Having said that, it should be noted that neither of the bills holds the President accountable for his lawlessness or protects the 4th Amendment.

The real problem is that Specter's bill poses a snag for the President: the FISA court may rule the program is unconstitutional. That’s why Bush lapdog Roberts is so eager to have any legislation funneled through his Committee, so it can be altered so it poses no threat to the President.

And no, you're not seeing things and hell is not freezing over, we are praising Specter (in a roundabout kind of way) on this blog.

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