Senator Grassley discussed the pending FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveilance Act) legislation today at a town meeting I attended. He either does not understand the issue or he purposely misleads his constituents. I don't know which explanation is more alarming.
When one woman asked about FISA, the Senator said it had passed the Congress and was going on to the President now. He then rambled on about how FDR intercepted postal mail during WWII and how Obama supports the new bill and how there are Al Qaeda cells in the US. He said the government has to listen to all foreign calls without a search warrant because “by the time you got a warrant the call would be over with.”
Doesn't he know that warrants are typically granted after the fact for calls that were intercepted without warrants? Doesn't he know that calls are not targeted one at a time? If he doesn't know that stuff, he is less informed that many internet readers. If he does know, he has just misled his audience.
He went on to say there had been many terrorist plots uncovered since the warrantless wiretapping began, citing the preposterous plots to bomb the Holland Tunnel and to attack Fort Dix, and reminding us of the “dirty bomber” arrested at O'Hare Airport. Does he know that none of these episodes had anything to do with warrantless wiretaps?
I immediately followed up the woman's question by telling the Senator that the FISA bill was indeed coming before the Senate again next week. I argued against retroactive immunity for wiretapping crimes that had not even been investigated yet and reminded him that the wiretaps had begun before 9/11.
Grassley said that if the President told the phone company to do it then they should not be punished. He said the lawsuits would be more than the entire value of the phone companies. Apparently he thinks they are guilty and face a big penalty.
Luckily he did not say that, “If the President orders someone buried alive, it would be OK to do it.” That question was raised in a Congressional hearing last week and the witness dodged it. It should be put to Grassley.
Our senior senator does not seem to doubt the unlimited power of the President. If the current President wants to secretly violate laws instead of getting them changed by a famously compliant Congress, Grassley has no problem with that.
So why do we even need Senators?