Tuesday, February 14, 2006
Nat Hentoff sees the circle closing after 330 years:
Congress appeared ready to launch an investigation into the Bush administration's warrantless domestic surveillance program last week, but an all-out White House lobbying campaign has dramatically slowed the effort and may kill it, key Republican and Democratic sources said yesterday.
The Senate intelligence committee is scheduled to vote tomorrow on a Democratic-sponsored motion to start an inquiry into the recently revealed program in which the National Security Agency eavesdrops on an undisclosed number of phone calls and e-mails involving U.S. residents without obtaining warrants from a secret court. Two committee Democrats said the panel -- made up of eight Republicans and seven Democrats -- was clearly leaning in favor of the motion last week but now is closely divided and possibly inclined against it.
They attributed the shift to last week's closed briefings given by top administration officials to the full House and Senate intelligence committees, and to private appeals to wavering GOP senators by officials, including Vice President Cheney. "It's been a full-court press," said a top Senate Republican aide who asked to speak only on background -- as did several others for this story -- because of the classified nature of the intelligence committees' work . . . .
In an interview yesterday, [Olympia Snowe, R-ME, who had previously supported an investigation] said, "I'm not sure it's going to be essential or necessary" to conduct an inquiry "if we can address the legislative standpoint" that would provide oversight of the surveillance program. "We're learning a lot and we're going to learn more," she said.
She cited last week's briefings before the full House and Senate intelligence committees by Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and former NSA director Michael V. Hayden.
"The administration has obviously gotten the message that they need to be more forthcoming," Snowe said . . . .The White House characterized last week's closed-door briefings to the full committees as a significant concession and a sign of the administration's respect for Congress and its oversight responsibilities. Many Democrats dismissed the briefings as virtually useless, but senators said yesterday they appear to have played a big role in slowing momentum for an inquiry.
One morning, in his Supreme Court chambers, Justice William Brennan was giving me a lesson on the American Revolution. "A main precipitating cause of our revolution," he said, "was the general search warrant that British customs officers wrote—without going to any court—to break into the American colonists' homes and offices, looking for contraband." Everything, including the colonists, was turned upside down.The answer is almost certainly no, as law professor and Maryland state senate candidate Jamin B. Raskin concedes in the column below. But just means we need a new approach to restoring "constitutional law and order":
He added that news of these recurrent assaults on privacy were spread through the colonies by the Committees of Correspondence that Sam Adams and others organized, inflaming the outraged Americans.
Now, the Congressional Democratic leadership has finally found an issue to focus on—the vanishing of Americans' privacy, as happened before the American Revolution, but currently on a scale undreamed of by Sam Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and the other patriots in the Committees of Correspondence . . . .
At the core of Rumsfeld's own remarks is this admission: "Compelled by a militant ideology that celebrates murder and suicide with no territory to defend, with little to lose, they will either succeed in changing our way of life, or we will succeed in changing theirs." (Emphasis added.)
But our enemies are changing our way of life, beginning with the 2001 Patriot Act that, among other invasions, expanded the FBI's ability to use National Security Letters—without going to judges—to collect personal information about us. This marked the return of the "general search warrant" of our colonial past . . . .
Will the Democrats become a truly serious opposition party before privacy disappears entirely?
Yet Democrats in Congress have pulled down a curtain of silence over the I-word. They believe that, with mounting corruption woes at home and spiraling war worries from Iraq, the Republicans are about to get their comeuppance anyway in the 2006 midterm elections. With all the stars aligned for victory in November, Democratic leaders in Washington do not want the inexorably nasty politics of impeachment distracting the nation, mobilizing the Republican base and possibly driving away Independent voters at the last minute. They remember the terrible image that stuck to Republican House managers who brought the puritanical case against Clinton—not for political crimes against the state but personal ethical lapses—while most Americans were indeed eager to simply “move on.”
And Beltway Democratic strategists say that introducing a bill of impeachment is a fool’s errand anyway because the Republicans control both the House of Representatives, which brings impeachment charges, and the U. S. Senate, which tries the case. Having just poured a lot of energy and money into the losing fight against Justice Alito, why hit our heads against the wall demanding something Republicans won't possibly allow? . . . .
The pressing question now is how to reconcile the seemingly irresistible logic for impeachment with the Republican lockdown on all of our national political institutions—from the White House and the House of Representatives to the Senate and the Supreme Court, whose chief justice would preside over a presidential impeachment trial in the Senate. Impeachment, by design of the Framers, is not a remedy imposed by the courts but a set of charges brought by a majority in the House of Representatives and heard in a trial by the Senate, which can convict only with a two-thirds vote. It is a legal-style judgment emerging from our most political and partisan institutions.
We obviously need a strategy to close the gap between citizen Democrats, who see impeachment proceedings as a moral imperative for the return of democratic legitimacy, and congressional Democrats, who see impeachment as an implausible diversion from a practical political agenda . . . .
In American politics, our sense of what is possible and what is practical can turn on a dime, and we, the people, are usually the force that makes it happen. In my dictionary, the word “impeachment” is immediately preceded by “impatience” and comes right before the appearance of “imperative.”