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Did Susan Collins Switch Parties? Cause She Wanted OLC Memos, Too

I hate to waste an entire post on this.

But the NYT’s report last night that President Obama was going to capitulate to the Benghazi truthers rather than turn over memos revealing who and where he has been killing people — as well as all the secondary reporting on it — has made this claim.

Rather than agreeing to some Democratic senators’ demands for full access to the classified legal memos on the targeted killing program, Obama administration officials are negotiating with Republicans to provide more information on the lethal attack last year on the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, according to three Congressional staff members.

The strategy is intended to produce a bipartisan majority vote for Mr. Brennan in the Senate Intelligence Committee without giving its members seven additional legal opinions on targeted killing sought by senators and while protecting what the White House views as the confidentiality of the Justice Department’s legal advice to the president. It would allow Mr. Brennan’s nomination to go to the Senate floor even if one or two Democrats vote no to protest the refusal to share more legal memos. [my emphasis]

On February 4, Susan Collins was among the 11 Senators who signed a letter asking for “any and all legal opinions that lay out the executive branch’s official understanding of the President’s authority to deliberately kill American citizens.”

Perhaps Collins has been satisfied with the brief glimpse at the two memos it shared with the Committee back on February 7. Perhaps she — the Senator on the Intelligence Committee who asked the best questions about targeted killing efficacy — is not all that interested in the other memos the Administration is hiding, presumably along with uses of targeted killing she isn’t being briefed on. Perhaps she no longer supports the hinted hold-up for national security nominees.

But even on the Senate Intelligence Committee, the call for the targeted killing memos was a bipartisan affair (among those not on the committee, Mike Lee and Chuck Grassley also signed the letter, and Rand Paul sent his own demand for the memos). Heck, once upon a time, John Cornyn wanted to legislatively demand the memos.

Demanding that the President reveal what kind of targeted killing programs it supports is no hippie fetish. It is something that members of both parties have supported.

Will Senators Filibuster Chuck Hagel’s Nomination to Get the Targeted Killing Memo?

Eleven Senators just sent President Obama a letter asking nicely, for at least the 12th time, the targeted killing memo. They remind him of his promise of transparency and oversight.

In your speech at the National Archives in May 2009, you stated that “Whenever we cannot release certain information to the public for valid national security reasons, I will insist that there is oversight of my actions — by Congress or by the courts.” We applaud this principled commitment to the Constitutional system of checks and balances, and hope that you will help us obtain the documents that we need to conduct the oversight that you have called for. The executive branch’s cooperation on this matter will help avoid an unnecessary confrontation that could affect the Senate’s consideration of nominees for national security positions. 

And asks — yet again — for “any and all memos.”

Specifically, we ask that you direct the Justice Department to provide Congress, specifically the Judiciary and Intelligence Committees, with any and all legal opinions that lay out the executive branch’s official understanding of the President’s authority to deliberately kill American citizens.

But perhaps the most important part of this letter is that it refers not just to John Brennan’s nomination, but to “senior national security positions.”

As the Senate considers a number of nominees for senior national security positions, we ask that you ensure that Congress is provided with the secret legal opinions outlining your authority to authorize the killing of Americans in the course of counterterrorism operations.

There are just 11 Senators on this list:

  • Ron Wyden (D-Ore.)
  • Mike Lee (R-Utah)
  • Mark Udall (D-Colo.)
  • Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa)
  • Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.)
  • Susan Collins (R-Maine)
  • Dick Durbin (Ill.)
  • Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.)
  • Tom Udall (D-N.M.)
  • Mark Begich (D-Alaska)
  • Al Franken (D- Minn.)

And just three of these — Wyden, Mark Udall, and Collins — are on the Intelligence Committee. That’s not enough to block Brennan’s confirmation.

But it may be enough to block Hagel’s confirmation, given all the other Republicans who are opposing him.

Sheldon Whitehouse Confirms FISA Amendments Act Permits Unwarranted Access to US Person Content

In the Senate Judiciary Committee’s markup of the FISA Amendments Act, Mike Lee, Dick Durbin, and Chris Chris Coons just tried, unsuccessfully, to require the government to get a warrant before it searched US person communications collected via the targeting of non-US person under the FISA Amendments Act. It was, as Dianne Feinstein said, not dissimilar from an amendment Ron Wyden and Mark Udall had tried to pass when FAA was marked up before the Senate Intelligence Committee.

The debate revealed new confirmation that the government is wiretapping American citizens in the guise of foreign surveillance.

DiFi argued that the amendment would have impeded the government to pursue Nidal Hassan by delaying the time when they could have reviewed his communication (presumably with Anwar al-Awlaki). Of course, the amendment included an emergency provision that would have permitted such a search after the effect.

More telling, though, was Whitehouse’s response. He referred back to his time using warrants as a US Attorney, and said that requiring a warrant to access the US person communication would “kill this program,” and that to think warrants “fundamentally misapprehends the way in which this program operates.”

Now, I’d be more sympathetic to Whitehouse here if, back when this bill was originally argued, his amendments requiring FISC oversight of minimization after the fact had passed. They didn’t. To make things worse, though Leahy repeatedly talked about Inspector General reporting overdue on this program, Congress is not going to wait for these reports before they extend the program for another three years, at least. So Whitehouse’s assurances that we can trust minimization to protect US person privacy seems badly misplaced.

In any case, this represents an admission, as strong as any we’ve seen, that this program is entirely about collecting the US person communication of those who communicate with people (DiFi used the term “person of interest,” which I had not heard before) overseas.

Update: Updated to explain this came in a markup hearing. Thanks to Peterr for pointing out my oversight on that point.

Most Blunt Amendment Supporters Likely to Have Used Birth Control

I confess. I’m contemplating calling all the Senators who voted for the Blunt Amendment yesterday to ask for a statement detailing:

  • What the Senators’ history of reproductive choice has been, including details on what kinds of birth control they’ve used and who paid for it
  • Whether the Senators (or their spouses) have used erectile dysfunction drugs, and who paid for it

Mind you, I think such questions are inappropriate. But given that 48 Senators–including 3 Democrats and 4 women–voted yesterday to say that employers should have really intrusive control over their employees’ healthcare decisions (including, but in no way limited, to reproductive health), it seems fair to at least inquire whether these men and women have been relying on birth control to plan their families, whether their use of birth control violates their religion’s stated doctrine, and whether taxpayers paid for birth control during their child-bearing years.

As you can see from the list below, the vast majority of Senators who voted for the Blunt Amendment are likely to have relied on birth control or sterilization to limit their family size. Just three–Susan Collins, Kay Bailey Hutchison, and Lindsey Graham–have no biological children. And just three–Mike Crapo (5), Chuck Grassley (5), and Orrin Hatch (6)–have more than 4 biological children (McCain and Blunt have more with their adopted kids). Of those likely to have used birth control or sterilization, 22 worked for local, state, or federal government during a roughly calculated “child-bearing” period of their life, meaning taxpayers may have paid for their birth control (though of course their spouses’ employers may have provided health care, too). Of those likely to have used more than the rhythm method, 10 are Catholic.

So I’m going to contemplate this over the weekend. But for the moment, consider that the great majority of the Senators who voted to let employers restrict birth control access seem to have families that have been shaped by birth control.

Note the following details are a first draft–please let me know of any inaccuracies.

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Senate Passes Defense Authorization

The final vote was 86-13. No votes were Lee, Paul, DeMint, Risch, Crapo, and Coburn (the last three not on civil liberties grounds), and Cardin, Wyden, Sanders, Durbin, Franken, Harkin, and Merkley.

I’m sure Obama will sign this in time for us all to be indefinitely detained this weekend.

Update: Senator Franken sent out a statement explaining his no vote. It ends, “Today is the anniversary of the ratification of the Bill of Rights, and this wasn’t the way to mark its birthday.”