Dianne Feinstein — Bush’s key ally in the Senate — to support telecom amnesty

The Democratic Senator from California is single-handedly enabling one extreme Bush policy after the next.

Topics: Washington, D.C.,

(updated below)

Two months ago, Dianne Feinstein used her position on the Senate Intelligence Committee to enable passage of Bush’s FISA amendments, granting the President vast new warrantless surveillance powers.

Last month, Feinstein used her position on the Senate Judiciary Committee to ensure confirmation of Bush’s highly controversial judicial nominee Leslie Southwick, by being the only Committee Democrat to vote for the nomination (The Politico: “Sen. Dianne Feinstein had emerged as a linchpin in the controversial nomination”).

This week, Feinstein used her position on the Senate Judiciary Committee to enable confirmation of Bush’s Attorney General nominee by ensuring that the frightened Chuck Schumer didn’t have to stand alone (Fox News: “Schumer’s and Feinstein’s support for Mukasey virtually guarantees that a majority of the committee will recommend his confirmation”).

And now, Feinstein is using her position on the Senate Judiciary Committee and Senate Intelligence Committee — simultaneously — to single-handedly ensure fulfillment of Bush’s telecom amnesty demands, as her hometown newspaper, The San Francisco Chronicle, reports:

Feinstein backs legal immunity for telecom firms in wiretap cases

Sen. Dianne Feinstein said Thursday that she favors legal immunity for telecommunications companies that allegedly shared millions of customers’ telephone and e-mail messages and records with the government, a position that could lead to the dismissal of numerous lawsuits pending in San Francisco.

In a statement at a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is considering legislation to extend the Bush administration’s electronic surveillance program, Feinstein said the companies should not be “held hostage to costly litigation in what is essentially a complaint about administration activities” . . .

Feinstein, D-Calif., plays a pivotal role on the Judiciary Committee, which has a 10-9 Democratic majority. If she joins committee Republicans in voting next Thursday to protect telecommunications companies from lawsuits for their roles in the surveillance program, the proposal — a top priority of President Bush — will become part of legislation that reaches the Senate floor.



There is nothing worth critiquing in what Feinstein specifically said, since she just recited the administration’s standard pro-amnesty talking points, leading with its most deceitful ones. As but one example, Feinstein — echoing John Aschroft’s NYT Op-Ed from this week — said in her statement that “suits are unfair to the companies, which are ‘unable to defend themselves in court’ because the government has insisted that their activities be kept secret.” That is just false. As the Chronicle reported: “federal law allows such defendants to present secret evidence in private to the judge, a practice [EFF's Cindy Cohn] said has been carried out for decades without any leaks.”

Oddly (or not), the Chronicle article quotes Feinstein as saying that telecoms “should not be ‘held hostage to costly litigation in what is essentially a complaint about administration activities’” — the same exact phrase, verbatim, featured in Fred Hiatt’s Editorial two weeks ago urging telecom amnesty (Hiatt: “we do not believe that these companies should be held hostage to costly litigation in what is essentially a complaint about administration activities”).

I wrote about Feinstein at length a month ago here, including all the ways her administration-coddling and courting of intelligence officials benefits her defense-contractor-husband. But still, this recent behavior is really amazing.

Feinstein is not merely voting reliably for the most extremist Bush policies, though she is doing that. Far more than that, she has become, time and again, the linchpin of Bush’s ability to have his most radical policies approved by the Senate.

Could the universe be any larger between what Feinstein’s constituents want and what she is doing in the Senate? Here are the latest views of California voters of the President to whose agenda Feinstein is displaying such ferocious fidelity:

Do you approve or disapprove of the job George W. Bush is doing as President?

Approve — 28%

Disapprove — 70%

Among California Democrats, a grand total of 9% approve of Feinstein’s beloved President; 90% disapprove. Obviously, nothing could be less relevant to Feinstein than the views of her constituents, but still, the disparity between what they believe and what she is doing is just striking, even for the Beltway.

Let us close with the very emotional and undeniably moving scene that took place after Feinstein stood up for Bush’s judicial nominee, Leslie Southwick of Mississippi:

She even showed up at the press conference, where Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) asked her to speak before the Mississippi senators who lined up the votes for Southwick.

“This may be out of precedent,” Specter said, “but if I may, with the concurrence of the home-state senators, yield to the hero — the lady — of the day, Sen. Feinstein.”

“I don’t know about this heroine business,” Feinstein demurred.

Moments later, Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) got choked up talking about her.

“She took a tough stand and showed a lot of courage,” Lott said, tears collecting in his eyes and his voice quivering. “It is emotional for me because this is a good man, and he will make a great judge on behalf of my state, which I feel has been maligned in this and other instances.”

He later accepted a congratulatory call from President Bush.

Fred Hiatt concurs wholeheartedly: “It is reassuring when not one but two lawmakers show the moral fortitude to defy party politics to take a stand on principle. Democratic Sens. Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.) and Dianne Feinstein (Calif.) showed such courage Friday when they announced their support for attorney-general nominee Michael B. Mukasey.”

Dianne Feinstein may be betraying the overwhelming majority of her constituents. But as a result of her “heroic” work in the Senate, her husband sure is getting richer. And she is beloved — just beloved — by Arlen Specter, Trent Lott, Fred Hiatt and George W. Bush. And in Beltway World, that is far, far more important.

UPDATE: Feinstein herself spent inordinate sums of money from corporate donors in 2006 to ensure she was re-elected, so she is not up for re-election until 2012 (when she’ll be 80). Hopefully, though, the ethics process relating to her highly questionable behavior in directing multi-billion-dollar defense contracts to her husband’s companies will proceed in earnest.

While Feinstein is not up for re-election, there are many Bush-enabling Democrats who are. And as this rather good Washington Post article this morning details, liberal blogs are doing what is, in my view, the most important thing they can be doing — targeting for defeat those incumbent Democrats who deserve it by supporting and funding primary challengers.

The article details the highly successful campaign by bloggers such as Jane Hamsher, Matt Stoller, Duncan Black, Digby and others to counteract fundraising efforts by Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic establishment for any Democratic incumbents — including those who continuously support the Bush agenda — by raising equal amounts (and, in many cases, more) for the primary challengers. The article documents how bloggers raised more than $100,000 over the last week for Donna Edwards, the primary challenger to the pro-war, pro-Bush Democratic Rep. Al Wynn (and you can aid their effort by donating to Edwards here). That is exactly what is needed — incumbent Democrats knowing that they will be targeted and will face credible primary challenges for following in Joe Lieberman and Dianne Feinstein’s Bush-enabling footsteps.

Glenn Greenwald

Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

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