Dodd’s emphasis on constitutional and rule of law issues

The presidential candidate's decision to place a "hold" on any telecom amnesty bill is bold and consistent with his campaign's focus on the Constitution.

Topics: Washington, D.C.,

(updated below)

My post concerning the reported rancid deal between Jay Rockefeller and the Bush administration to provide amnesty to lawbreaking telecoms is here, from earlier today. But in light of the superb news today that Chris Dodd — in direct response to calls from bloggers and their readers — has announced he will place a Senate “hold” on any such FISA bills containing telecom amnesty, I wanted to excerpt part of the interview I did with Dodd back in August, regarding why he has decided to make constitutional issues and the rule of law the centerpiece of his presidential campaign:

GG: One of the things that I think could be invigorating about your campaign is that you are making these constitutional issues the centerpiece of your campaign. You said in the debate that one of the most critical issues we face is the assault on our constitution, which you indicated was unprecedented.

Can you talk about why this assault on the constitution is so fundamentally different than anything that has come before it?

CD: Well, it’s so pervasive. I mean, its domestic. It’s foreign. And it is has been so calculated on so many levels. . . .

It saddens me that it even has to be an issue — the fact that “defending the Constitution” even has to be an issue in the presidential race.

But there is an audience for this. This is really important. This is not a narrow audience. This is a broad audience. This is an audience that will surprise you if articulated well. We can win on this.

A campaign for president allows you to have a megaphone here on a national scale to talk about these things, at a time when this crowd, if it continues, can enable you to stop them, do even more than raise the issues. But secondly, if I don’t win this thing, I want everyone else to be talking about these issues.

I think it reaches into a conservative constituency who ought to care about this as much, and does in many ways. So it gives us a chance to do that.

I carry every day, and have for 26 years, a copy of the U.S. Constitution given to me by Robert Byrd [takes Constitution out of his back pocket]. And to me, what could be more fundamental? With all due respect, I care about health care, education, global warming. But if you get this wrong — what do you got? A trade association. Who wants to be president of a trade association?

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And this [holding the Constitution] is the spark, the illumination, it is, if I may so say, the envy of many around the world. We have been a guiding set of principles. What is going on with the rule of law isn’t just happening here. . . Other countries are saying, “We can do this, too.”

So there has been an erosion in the world with the rule of the law. Having led the world in the rule of law in the post-World War II period, and having nations reluctantly moving in the direction we were moving in, and they now see the U.S. has retreated, and they are making a hasty retreat themselves.

Josh Tucker [of NYU] makes the point about the Soviet Union collapse — You can make the case that it was military, and that was part of it, but he believes and I believe that it was the rule of law. It was Eastern European countries recognizing that this was a total sham, beginning with the Prague Spring and 1956. The Soviet Union collapsed because it rotted from within, they just rotted without the rule of law. So in addition to the other factors, this has international reverberations, beyond just what happens in our own country.

GG: Well, it is good to see the real passion and conviction that you obviously have for these constitutional issues.

CD: I will never forget, it was a night in New Hampshire back last fall, and I’m talking about health care and talking about education and something else — and I said “I just want to share with you something I care about.” And I talked about this and the room exploded. And I was startled and I realized, “God, people really do care.” I thought I was the only one who did. You sound very arcane when you talk about the Military Commissions Act. But this really reasonates.

Whatever else is true — about Dodd or anything else — it is imperative that these issues arising from our lawless government and its frontal assault on our constitutional framework be prominently highlighted and addressed. Dodd said in that interview — and I believed his sincerity about this — that finding a way to shine light on those issues was a more important motive in his running than the desire to win (“if I don’t win this thing, I want everyone else to be talking about these issues”). That doesn’t mean he is indifferent to winning, but he is obviously committed to forcing these issues into the limelight regardless of whether it is politically beneficial.

Either way, his actions are what matter, and for the reasons I wrote about in the post this morning, his responsiveness today to our calls for a “hold” to be placed on any telecom amnesty bill is a very significant, commendable and (in the context of Senate custom) rather extreme step. You can express your support for his announcement here, and reward his superb actions with a contribution here. That is not intended as an endorsement of the campaign, etc., but is definitely encouragement to support Dodd’s actions today. It has been a long time since a national political figure exhibited true, principled leadership on an issue of this magnitude.

UPDATE: Just to underscore the reasons why these issues are of unparalleled importance, consider — again — the unbelievable event that happened yesterday at the Senate confirmation hearing of Michael Mukasey. Mukasey is someone who, as a federal judge just a few years ago, ruled in the Padilla case — literally — that the President has the authority to imprison American citizens indefinitely, even when detained on U.S. soil, without so much as having to charge them with any crime.

And when he was asked yesterday explicitly whether he would advise the President that he has the power to “seize U.S. citizens on U.S. soil and detain them indefinitely without charge?,” all he would say in response was: “I certainly can’t say as of now there is clear authority authorizing what I thought there was authority to authorize in Padilla” (a concession he made grudgingly, only after claiming it was an “open” question and only after he made a series of legal arguments as to why the President does have that power).

The very idea that a nominee for U.S. Attorney General is explicitly open to the possibility that the President can indefinitely imprison U.S. citizens on U.S. soil with no charges is unfathomable. That is the most extreme, un-American and tyrannical power that exists. And yet, not only does his answer trigger virtually no mention by our media, it is almost certain that Mukasey will be confirmed overwhelmingly by the Senate without a ripple. That is why there is no higher priority than forcing attention on these issues and supporting and rewarding those rare instances of meaningful action — such as Dodd’s today — in defense of the rule of law and our basic constitutional liberties.

Glenn Greenwald

Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

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