Targeting Steny Hoyer for his contempt for the rule of law

Efforts are under way to disrupt the plans of the House Democratic leadership to give the president warrantless eavesdropping powers and the telecom industry full-fledged amnesty.

Published June 17, 2008 7:28PM (EDT)

(Updated below - Update II - Update III

Update IV -- Wed. morning)

It is now definitively clear that House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer is the driving force behind a bill -- written by GOP Sen. Kit Bond -- to vest the President with vast new warrantless eavesdropping powers and to vest lawbreaking telecoms with amnesty. Even as his office dishonestly denies that he is doing so, still more reports yesterday -- this one from the NYT and this one from Roll Call (sub req'd) -- confirm that a so-called "compromise" is being spearheaded by Hoyer and the House Democratic leadership. The ACLU and EFF are holding a joint call tomorrow to denounce Hoyer's "compromise" as nothing more than disguised guaranteed immunity for telecoms and, further, because "the proposed deal could be used to authorize dragnet surveillance of Americans' communications in violation of the Fourth Amendment."

As a result, there is a major new campaign beginning today aimed at Hoyer and a handful of other key members of Congress who enable telecom immunity and warrantless eavesdropping. In order to raise as much money as possible for this campaign -- far more than the $85,000 raised (and still being spent) in Chris Carney's district as a result of his support for warrantless eavesdropping and telecom amnesty -- we are working to create an alliance with numerous organizations and factions across the ideological spectrum which oppose civil liberties erosions, as well as with as many blogs as possible (modeled vaguely after the ideologically diverse alliance that has arisen in Britain in opposition to the sprawling and lawless surveillance state there).

We hope to announce details about the participating individuals and groups very shortly, as well as the exact details of what we're doing. But given the time pressures, it's vital to be able to have as many resources as possible, as quickly as possible, for this campaign. The more money raised, the greater the disruptive impact will be.

For the moment, contributions can be made here. All the money raised will be spent exclusively on ad campaigns aimed at the short-term vulnerabilities of those in Congress responsible for delivering this indescribably tyrannical package of surveillance powers to the President and the accompanying corrupt gift to lawbreaking telecoms.

* * * *

It's vital to note what the Federal Judge presiding over the telecom lawsuits -- Bush-41-appointee Vaughn Walker -- wrote about the allegations made against these telecoms when he refused to dismiss the lawsuits against them [Decision (.pdf) at p. 68]:

As Judge Walker ruled, the alleged actions by the telecoms "violate the constitutional rights clearly established" by prior Supreme Court rulings and "no reasonable entity in [the telecoms'] position could have believed [the spying program] was legal." Beyond that, the telecoms -- by allowing the Bush administration to spy on their customers with no warrants -- knowingly violated at least four separate federal statutes (.pdf).

Despite that, Steny Hoyer and other House Democrats are about to block the court from ever ruling on those issues and, instead, hand the telecoms something that no ordinary citizen would ever receive: namely, complete immunity without their ever having to answer for their conduct in a court of law. It is corruption in its most extreme and transparent form.

The message of the campaign we are going to launch will be that ordinary Americans who run afoul even of the pettiest laws, such as alleged minor drug possession offenses and the like, have the full weight of the criminal justice system smash mercilessly down upon them. People and small businesses who are sued in court are required to defend themselves no matter the expense. Steny Hoyer and his comrades do nothing to oppose that.

Instead, Hoyer spends his time in Washington expending enormous amounts of his political capital and energy working to obtain amnesty for the nation's richest and most powerful telecom corporations which, for years, broke far more serious laws in enabling the Bush administration illegally to spy on Americans. Hoyer is working to perpetuate a two-tiered system of justice in America where rich corporations with lobbyists and big campaign contributions are literally allowed to break our most serious laws and receive retroactive amnesty, while ordinary citizens have their lives destroyed over the pettiest offenses, as America turns itself into the world's largest prison state.

* * * *

What makes this behavior all the more appalling is that it contradicts every claim the Democratic Congressional leadership has made about what they believe. When the Lewis Libby criminal proceeding was pending, the entire House Democratic leadership -- including Hoyer -- wrote a letter to President Bush demanding that he not pardon Libby because -- and this is really what they said -- it is vital that the rule of law apply equally to everyone. Just look at this letter signed by many of the same people -- led by Hoyer -- who are about to violate every single one of the standards they claimed to embrace by vesting telecoms with immunity:

Dear Mr. President:

At the heart of the criminal indictment of I. Lewis Libby, former Chief of Staff to Vice President Cheney, are indications of a serious and reckless disregard for the public trust. We write to you today to request you make efforts to restore this public trust, with a pledge to the American people that no one under investigation in connection with the misuse of classified information involving the identity of CIA officer Valerie Plame will receive special treatment from the White House during the course of the investigation. . . .

Under our system of law, all are innocent until proven guilty. But another fundamental tenet is that of equal treatment under the law. It is only by allowing the special prosecutor's essential investigations to continue without interference, and abiding by the results of any legal determinations based on the facts of those investigations, that we can reassure the American people that the White House officials are not above the law.

Perjury and obstruction of justice are serious crimes. . . . We ask that you uphold the rule of law by making clear that no one who has been charged, or is being investigated in the Plame matter, will be pardoned.

We look forward to your earliest response on this vital matter.


Nancy Pelosi

House Democratic Leader

Steny Hoyer

Democratic Whip

Robert Menendez

House Democratic Caucus, Chair

James E. Clyburn

House Democratic Caucus, Vice Chair

The telecom amnesty they're about to hand to companies that are major contributors of theirs violates every one of these principles exactly to the same extent, and for exactly the same reasons, as Bush's pardon of Libby would have (and as Bush's commutation of Libby's sentence did). By compelling the dismissal of lawsuits against telecoms even if they broke our domestic spying laws, Hoyer and other House Democrats are about to trample on what they called -- when it came time righteously to rail against George Bush -- the "fundamental tenet [] of equal treatment under the law."

More amazingly still, Hoyer himself -- back in March of this year -- pointed to the above-cited ruling from Judge Walker and argued that amnesty for telecoms would be corrupt and wrong. This is what Hoyer himself said back then:

Let me remind my colleagues of the statement by Judge Vaughn Walker, the chief judge of the Northern District of California, in a case involving AT&T's participation in this warrantless program.

Judge Walker, a Republican appointee, wrote: "AT&T cannot seriously contend that a reasonable entity in its position could have believed that the alleged domestic dragnet was legal."

I submit that a reasonable –- responsible -– Congress would not seek to immunize conduct without knowing what conduct or misconduct it is immunizing.

What Steny Hoyer back in March called unreasonable and irresponsible is exactly what he is now about to do.

Finally, just listen to this lecture Hoyer gave on the House floor back in March when speaking out against telecom amnesty. In it, he said "the most important thing this body does" is "uphold the law. Not just pass the law. Uphold the law." Yet now, he's about to betray what he said is the "most important thing" the Congress does -- "uphold the law" -- by giving immunity to companies that Hoyer himself said very likely broke the law and violated the Constitutional rights of Americans, and by vesting the type of domestic spying powers in the President which -- as our own Government repeatedly has said -- are the hallmark of tyrannical regimes.

* * * * *

No matter what, the Democrats are going to control the House and Senate after the 2008 election. What people like Hoyer and Rahm Emanuel are pursuing is the consolidation of their power so that they become entrenched and can control Congress for the next decade, at least. That's obviously their first and only objective, and they are willing to sacrifice anything that they perceive at all threatening to that goal -- including efforts to stop the war in Iraq, basic constitutional liberties, protections against warrantless eavesdropping, and the equal and firm application of the rule of law.

This isn't about whether Republicans or Democrats should control the Congress. That is already a settled matter. The Democrats are going to have control over both houses of Congress after 2008, and nobody disputes that. This is about whether the Democrats who control the Congress are even minimally accountable in how they exercise that control, whether they'll be permitted to trample upon the most basic principles in order cravenly to preserve their own power.

Right now, they perceive that the only political cost comes from opposing the Far Right on matters of constitutional protections and civil liberties. Thus, they're willing -- eager -- to trample on those protections and liberties in order to protect their own power. That dynamic needs to be reversed. They need to know that there is a bigger price to pay when they betray the promises they repeatedly make, the principles they continuously espouse, and the duties that they have to preserve basic precepts of equality under the law and core constitutional protections. I expect to post a lot more details about this campaign throughout the rest of the day and tomorrow. For now, contributions can be made here.

UPDATE: A few additional points:

* There are reports from very reliable sources that Hoyer, after engineering this "compromise" and ensuring it has enough votes to pass, will then vote against it so he can claim it's not his fault (as will Pelosi). Worse, the Democratic leadership in the Senate (Reid and Durbin) have been saying that while they oppose the "compromise" and will vote against it, they will do nothing to impede its passage. From The Hill just now (after I wrote this update):

Senate Democratic leaders said Tuesday that they would not stand in the way of a compromise overhaul of the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), despite their concerns with the impacts of the sprawling measure.

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), who also sits on the Judiciary Committee, said some Democrats are "not happy with that, but there may be enough to get a majority vote."

When asked if he would whip his conference to vote against it, Durbin said: "I doubt if it’s going to be a caucus position."

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) predicted Tuesday that there is enough support within the Democratic Conference to approve a contentious overhaul of the FISA legislation. . . . .

Reid said that he would not ask his members to vote against the bill and that he still had not reviewed the language, pointing out that negotiators have been saying for weeks that they had a deal on the contentious issue.

When Tom DeLay ran the House, and Bill Frist ran the Senate, there wasn't a comma that made it to the floor that they didn't support. The fact that they intend to engage in deceit of this sort -- on top of letting this horrendous bill pass -- makes matters worse, not better.

* Barack Obama has previously expressed emphatic opposition to telecom amnesty and warrantless eavesdropping, but his opposition has amounted mostly to pretty words, not actions. That ought to change.

* Regarding false denials by Hoyer's office that the bill contains amnesty, see here. Regarding speculation as to why Congressional Democrats are doing this -- what their base motives are -- see here.

* Russ Feingold and Chris Dodd have issued a joint statement vehemently condemning this "compromise."

*Just in the first hour 30 minutes after this was posted, so far, almost $8,000 $10,000 $20,000 has been raised. Other blogs and groups are beginning now to raise funds, too, so that number should continue to skyrocket.

UPDATE II: A broad alliance is now forming to raise money for and support this specific campaign, with the intent to work together on an ongoing basis on all civil liberties, constitutional rights and rule of law issues. It now includes the ACLU, as well as the faction that masterminded the online money bombs for the Ron Paul presidential campaign, represented by Break the Matrix, Rick Williams and Trevor Lyman.

We intend shortly to announce the support of a broad-based coalition of office holders and candidates who are devoted to preserving basic constitutional liberties against the ongoing erosion by the Beltway establishment, but for the moment, the goal is to work together to raise as much money as possible for this specific campaign to impede the corrupt FISA/telecom amnesty deal, the enablers in Congressional leadership and various vulnerable supporters of it. Even if they manage to pass this bill -- and everything will be done to stop it -- a coalition of this sort can generate very serious resources to undermine those responsible. For now, contributions can be made here.

UPDATE III: The announcement of this alliance from the Ron Paul/liberty-minded Right (as opposed to the authoritarian-minded Right) is here. The ACLU will distribute its Press Release tomorrow about this campaign. I really do think the British model I referenced above which is battling similar issues in England (which I wrote about a couple of days ago) is a very formidable one for opposing the Beltway Establishment's evisceration of constitutional restraints and the rule of law. As indicated, we expect to put together a wide ranging group of current office holders and Congressional candidates to support this effort, too. As Digby wrote today in encouraging her readers to contribute: "It's a shame it has come to this, but there's really no option. It's impossible to get through to these people any other way."

UPDATE IV (Wednesday morning): In the first 16 hours of this campaign, an extraordinary sum -- more than $60,000 $70,000 -- has been raised. We'll announce more details later today about specifically how Hoyer is being targeted, what other Congressional enablers will be targeted as well, and new members of the alliance we're forming.

Regarding Hoyer's ongoing, false denials that he is engineering the bill to provide telecom amnesty, yesterday's article from The Hill specifically says that "[t]he latest development comes after Rockefeller, Sen. Kit Bond (R-Mo.), House Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and the Bush administration reached an accord late last week to break a weeks-long stalemate over balancing electronic surveillance with the right to privacy for American citizens, according to several people familiar with the talks." And here is what Dow Jones reported yesterday (h/t Joan McCater):

The top two Democratic leaders in the Senate said Tuesday they will oppose a wiretapping deal under discussion with lawmakers and the White House, but they acknowledged that it could pass anyway. . . .

"There is a plan that will pass the House that (Majority Leader) Steny Hoyer, D-Md., is supporting but some members of the Democratic House leadership may not be supporting," said Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin, D-Ill.

The fact that Hoyer is outright lying about his central role in this deal, along with what is obviously the insultingly deceptive plan of Congressional Democrats to pretend that this bill somehow doesn't provide amnesty when the bill makes immediate and conclusory dismissal of the telecom lawsuits a foregone conclusion (without any inquiry into whether telecoms broke our laws) -- a sham process which the ACLU calls "judicial theater" -- only compounds the cravenness and deceit here.

By Glenn Greenwald

Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

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