Steny Hoyer’s “highest responsibility”

I received an e-mail today from House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer in response to my concerns about the recent FISA legislation. I’ll print it in full at the end of this post* so you can read for yourself that it is a hollow crock of self-justifying nonsense. The fallacies and failings of this response are numerous. Here are three of the most obvious:

  1. Hoyer trumpets this legislation because it will “protect” civil rights by asserting the authority of the FISA court, but that is an empty assertion. The initial FISA law also asserted the authority of the FISA court, but that didn’t stop Bush from ignoring the law. Nothing in this new legislation does a thing to prevent that again. In fact, because it virtually guarantees the dismissal of civil lawsuits against the telecom companies that aided Bush’s illegal spying program, this legislation actually increases the likelihood that Bush or some future president breaks the law again.
  2. Speaking of the illegal activity of the telecom companies, Hoyer fails to even acknowledge this aspect of the legislation, presumably hoping we’ll just forget about it… which the media already has.
  3. Hoyer proudly thumps his chest as he states that this bill “mandates for the first time ever a robust accounting by the Inspectors General of the warrant-less surveillance program, which Congress will receive and act on.” If Hoyer thinks that the Bush Administration is going to vigorously investigate itself and report honestly and openly to Congress he really is a moron. Although, the IG could tell Congress that Bush had masterminded the events of 9/11 and Hoyer and company would find a way to excuse it.

All this rationalization of his sellout to the telecoms and his spinal failure in the face of pressure from the White House is all old hat, really. Hoyer, Pellosi, Reid and the rest of this pack of shameless corporate lapdogs have been trying to sell this same lot of crap all along. What stood out to me was this telling comment:

This measure provides the intelligence community with strong authority to surveil foreign terrorists who seek to harm this country and our people. Preventing such harm is our highest responsibility, and we intend to meet it.

What? Apparently, Hoyer has forgotten that this is the oath he made when taking office:

“I, Steny Hoyer, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign or domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.”

Hoyer and the rest of them swore to “defend the Constitution” when they took office. Instead, they have made a mockery of the rule of law, thumbing their noses at the Constitution, displaying a great lack of integrity and contempt for the American people.

*Begin text of the response from Steny Hoyer —

Dear Stephen:

Thank you for contacting me to share your views on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).  I certainly appreciate your taking the time to make me aware of your concerns about this important matter.

FISA, as passed in 1978, provided a statutory framework for the use of electronic surveillance for gathering foreign intelligence information.  Subsequent legislation, including the USA PATRIOT Act, expanded federal laws dealing with foreign intelligence gathering to address physical searches, pen registers and trap and trace devices, and access to certain business records.  During the 110th Congress, there have been several efforts to modernize FISA – including two different House measures (both H.R.3773) that I supported and a Senate bill (S.2248) about which I had great concerns, due to the lack of civil liberties protections.

After the Senate made clear they would not take action on the House bills, and under great pressure to pass the Senate bill in the House, I joined several of my colleagues — both Democrats and Republicans, Senators and Members of the House — in a series of negotiations to develop compromise legislation.  On June 20, 2008, the House passed H.R. 6304, a bill to amend FISA to establish a modernized procedure for authorizing certain acquisitions of foreign intelligence.  H.R. 6304, the product of these bipartisan negotiations, will increase the nation’s security by strengthening the ability of the intelligence community to conduct lawful surveillance of terrorists, as well as protect Constitutional rights by requiring individual warrants for American targets both inside  and — for the first time ever – outside the United States.

I believe this bill strikes a sound balance. This measure provides the intelligence community with strong authority to surveil foreign terrorists who seek to harm this country and our people. Preventing such harm is our highest responsibility, and we intend to meet it.  H.R. 6304 provides for enhanced civil liberties protections for Americans and insists on meaningful judicial scrutiny.  It includes critical new oversight and accountability requirements that both address the President’s warrantless surveillance program and ensure that any surveillance going forward comports with the Fourth Amendment and will be closely monitored by the Congress. Of vital importance, this legislation makes clear that FISA is the exclusive means by which the government may conduct surveillance — contrary to the administration’s previous actions, in which it did not comply with the FISA statute.

Notably, this bill does not address or excuse any actions by the government or government officials related to the President’s warrantless surveillance program, nor does it include any statement by the Congress or conclusion on the legality of that program.  Indeed, it mandates for the first time ever a robust accounting by the Inspectors General of the warrantless surveillance program, which Congress will receive and act on.  Also, this legislation includes an expiration date of December 31, 2012.  I believe it is imperative that we scrutinize its implementation in the future and make any necessary changes.

H.R. 6304 is one step in a long, continuing process of updating this critical legislation, which is necessary in order to ensure that our national security and our civil liberties are both protected.  This bill is not perfect, but it is a reasonable compromise – which is why I supported it. In fact, in its editorial on June 20, 2008 the Washington Post stated, “Striking the balance between liberties and security is never easy, and the new FISA bill is not perfect.  But it is a vast improvement over the original law and over the earlier, rushed attempts to revise that law.”  H.R.6304 was approved by the Senate 69-28 on July 9 and signed into law on July 10, 2008.

Thank you again for sharing your thoughts with me on this complicated issue.  I will continue to keep your views in mind.  To stay informed, please visit my website at MajorityLeader.gov. There you can get information about issues important to you, watch videos, and sign up for the Leader’s Report, my weekly report from the Capitol to the American People.  With kindest regards, I am,

Sincerely yours,

STENY H. HOYER

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