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Patrick Leahy in Big Rush to Reconfirm the Guy Who Won’t Solve Leahy’s Attempted Murder

By now, it should be clear that, contrary to their claims, the FBI has not solved the anthrax killings. Sure, Bruce Ivins can’t be ruled out as having been involved. But the FBI has offered no plausible explanation for the following:

  • How a small sample of anthrax from Ivins’ flask was cultured into at least two larger samples of anthrax with a number of materials added
  • How those samples were dried
  • When that happened and how long that took
  • How and why the anthrax got sent from Princeton (I consider the KKG story implausible)
  • Why Leahy and Daschle were targeted

The FBI hasn’t even offered an explanation for several of these questions (they’ve offered weak explanations for the Princeton mailing and the Leahy and Daschle targeting).  And yet, based largely on Bruce Ivins’ long hours in a lab that was not amenable to producing the anthrax used in the attack, the FBI insists he’s the culprit (his lab hours are close to being an alibi at this point).

Which is why Patrick Leahy’s push to reconfirm Robert Mueller–particularly Leahy’s citation of urgency surrounding the 9/11 anniversary (which after all means the 10 year anniversary of the unsolved anthrax attack is approaching as well)–is so odd. In comments on the Senate floor on Monday, Leahy pressured Rand Paul to release his hold on Mueller’s reconfirmation.

“There is no good reason for delay. At first it was reportedly Senator Coburn who was holding up consideration of the bill, then Senator DeMint, and now apparently it is an objection by Senator Paul of Kentucky that is preventing the Senate from proceeding. This sort of delay is inexplicable and inexcusable.”

Leahy continued, “Given the continuing threat to our Nation, especially with the tenth anniversary of the September 11, 2001, attacks approaching, and the need to provide continuity and stability on the President’s national security team, it is important that we respond to the President’s request and enact this necessary legislation swiftly. I urge the Senate to take up this critical legislation and pass it without further delay.”

We’ve gotten the people behind 9/11. We have not yet gotten the people behind a government-connected terrorist attack on its own people. And yet Leahy–one target of that attack–is unquestioningly pushing the guy who refuses to solve the case (much less allow an independent review of the FBI’s investigation into it) for two more years.

Leahy’s pressure on Paul is all the more weird considering that Leahy, with his support for PATRIOT Act improvements in the past, has basically ceded the legitimacy of a number of the questions Paul wants answered before Mueller is reconfirmed, notably those about how the PATRIOT Act is used and abused.

I don’t often think Rand Paul is smarter than Patrick Leahy, but in this case, Leahy’s rush to reconfirm Mueller without asking any questions or getting any commitments on these issues is “inexplicable and inexcusable,” not Paul’s efforts to exercise a tiny bit of oversight.

Rand Paul’s Timely Questions

Charlie Savage has a report describing how Rand Paul’s hold the reconfirmation of Robert Mueller threatens to push the process beyond the time when Mueller’s ten year appointment date.

[A] necessary first step — enacting legislation that would create a one-time shortened term and make an exception to a 10-year limit on the amount of time any person may serve as director — has been delayed by Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, a libertarian-leaning Republican who was elected last year. He is invoking a Senate rule that allows any member to block a swift vote on a bill.

There may be significantly less time to complete the steps necessary to avoid a disruption at the F.B.I. than had been generally understood.

The widespread understanding has been that Mr. Mueller’s term will expire on Sept. 3, because he started work as F.B.I. director on Sept. 4, 2001.

But the administration legal team has decided that Mr. Mueller’s last day is likely to be Aug. 2, because President George W. Bush signed his appointment on Aug. 3, 2001. Coincidentally, Aug. 2 is also the day the government will hit a debt ceiling if Congress does not raise it.

I’ll be curious, though, whether the questions Paul has submitted to be answered before the vote might also lead to a delay, too In addition to questions about:

Circumstances implicating the Iraqis indicted in Bowling Green, KY
Investigative lapses of Zacarias Moussaoui that happened under Mueller’s predecessor
A Resource Guide: Violence Against Reproductive Health Care Providers calling boycotts “intimidation” (that might be more easily answered if the government would get over its squeamishness about calling Scott Roeder a terrorist)
A Missouri fusion center report suggesting support for Ron Paul (and Bob Barr!) might be a political risk factor for domestic terrorism

Paul also asks for the FBI to describe how many time it used each of the following tools, whether against citizens or non-citizens, and how many convictions resulted:

John Doe roving wiretaps
Section 215 orders (including its use for library records)
National Security Letters
Suspicious Activity Reports

He also asked, with respect to SARs, whether they got minimized after being investigated.

Now, Paul did not ask for this data in the most savvy fashion. For example, he did not specify on his Section 215 request that he wanted details on the secret program that uses cell phone data to collect geolocation. Nor did he ask generalized questions about minimization. Nor did he specify he wanted this data in a form which he could release publicly.

But these questions are, to a significant extent, the kind of disclosures that Democrats and Paul had been pushing to add to the PATRIOT Act.

In the past, DOJ has not exactly been forthcoming with some of this information. Even assuming they’ll answer Paul in classified form (particularly his question about SARs minimization), it’s not clear how quickly they’ll be able to produce some of this information.

All of which adds to the possibility that Paul’s request might hold up Mueller’s re-confirmation past August 2. If that happens–Tom Coburn has suggested–there are a range of surveillance authorizations that might be open to challenge because no confirmed FBI Director had approved them.

Nice to see someone wring some transparency out of this silly reconfirmation process.

 

The PATRIOT Act Vote: One Quarter of the Way to a Fourth Amendment

The final vote in the Senate opposing yet another sunset of the PATRIOT act was 72-23-5, meaning we’re almost a quarter of the way to regaining some semblance of a Fourth Amendment.

Heh.

Those voting against the forever PATRIOT?

Akaka (D-HI)

Baucus (D-MT)

Begich (D-AK)

Bingaman (D-NM)

Brown (D-OH)

Cantwell (D-WA)

Coons (D-DE)

Durbin (D-IL)

Franken (D-MN)

Harkin (D-IA)

Heller (R-NV)

Lautenberg (D-NJ)

Leahy (D-VT)

Lee (R-UT)

Merkley (D-OR)

Murkowski (R-AK)

Murray (D-WA)

Paul (R-KY)

Sanders (I-VT)

Tester (D-MT)

Udall (D-CO)

Udall (D-NM)

Wyden (D-OR)

Though note we’re not really a quarter of the way to a Fourth Amendment. Most of these Dems, I suspect, oppose the passage of another sunset without a debate. Some are particularly pissed about the latest interpretation of Section 215. But most still support the concept of PATRIOT powers.

Which means we’re not really making all that much progress.

One aspect of today’s vote I did find interesting, however, was that five Republicans voted against tabling Rand Paul’s gun amendment (limiting the use of Section 215 to get gun records), but voted in favor of the overall sunset. These five are: Barrasso (WY), DeMint (SC), Enzi (WY), Moran (KS), and Shelby (AL).

In other words, these men seem to object only to the use of super government powers when it threatens their gun rights, but not their First Amendment, nor their financial privacy, nor their associations.

While I happen to think figuring out what kind of guns suspected terrorists are buying is a reasonable use of a counter-terrorism law, if we have to have one, I am curious whether this vote will make gun nuts realize that their privacy’s at stake, too (though Saxby Chambliss got up to make it clear that domestic terrorists–like the right wing terrorists who might most object to using PATRIOT to collect gun purchase records–were not at risk). This vote also has the makings of one that TeaParty politicians might use to distinguish themselves from other Republicans.

Because right now, opposition to PATRIOT excesses is still mostly a Democratic issue (though Rand Paul definitely took the leadership role Russ Feingold would have had in the past). Until more Republicans join Paul, Heller, and Lee in opposing PATRIOT, it’ll remain on the books, particularly so long as we have a Democratic President whom Democratic Senators are happy to have wielding such power.

Update: After a half hour of debate, the extension passed the House 250-153.

Clapper: We Need to Pass PATRIOT to Make Sure Apple Continues to Track Your Location

I’m very sympathetic to what Glenn and bmaz and Spencer and Julian have to say about the stupid fear-mongering around today’s PATRIOT extension. Julian’s explanation of how the grandfather clause would work is particularly important:

. A lapse of these provisions for a few days—or a few weeks—would have no significant effect. First, they’re all covered by a grandfather clause.  And contrary to what the New York Times implies, that doesn’t just mean that orders or warrants already issued under these authorities remain in effect.  Rather, as the Congressional Research Service explains (using the sunset deadline from prior to a short-term extension):

The grandfather clauses authorize the continued effect of the amendments with respect to investigations that began, or potential offenses that took place, before the provision’s sunset date.108 Thus, for example, if an individual were engaged in international terrorism on the sunset date of February 28, 2011, he would still be considered a “lone wolf” for FISA court orders sought after the provision has

expired. Similarly, if an individual is engaged in international terrorism on that date, he may be the target of a roving wiretap under FISA even after authority for new roving wiretaps has expired.

Got that? Every investigation already in progress at the time of sunset gets to keep using the old powers. Every new investigation where the illegal conduct in question began before the sunset date gets to keep using the old powers. Over the span of a few days or weeks, that’s going to cover almost every actual investigation. For the tiny number that don’t fall into those categories, if there are any at all in the space of a short lapse, investigators will be “limited” to relying on every other incredibly broad tool in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act arsenal—with, of course, the option to use plain old criminal investigative authorities as well.

And James Clapper’s fearmongering letter–which was liberated by Sam Stein–is particularly absurd on most counts.

I mean, are we supposed to worry that the government can’t “conduct timely surveillance on a non-U.S. person ‘lone wolf’ terrorist such as an individual who has self radicalized and responds to international terrorist calls to attack the United States,” when the government has never had a need to use this authority, not even with Khalid Ali-M Aldawsari, who was a “a non-U.S. person ‘lone wolf’ terrorist such as an individual who has self radicalized and responds to international terrorist calls to attack the United States”?

I mean, if Clapper wants to make bullshit claims, he just encourages us to treat everything he says as bullshit.

That said, I wonder whether the underlying issue here isn’t the explicit powers–the ability to find out about “terrorist [and non-terrorist] purchases of bomb-making chemicals” with Section 215, for example, but instead the secret collection programs. Clapper says,

Important classified collection programs might be forced to shut down, causing us to lose valuable intelligence information that could be used to identify terrorists and disrupt their plots.

After all, we presume the government is collecting geolocation data not through an actual investigation related to an individual suspect and therefore grandfathered in under the terms Julian laid out. We presume the government is playing fast and lose with the word “related to” in Section 215.

And so it’s not so much that we’ll lose track of Muslims who buy hydrogen peroxide. It’s that the corporations being forced (we presume) to turn over geolocation data are going to respond to the very public lapse of PATRIOT and refuse to keep turning that data over.

(In this way, this fearmongering is precisely like the fearmongering used in February 2008 after the Protect America Act expired; the real issue was the complaints of the telecoms who were legally on the line.)

Of course, none of this means anyone ought to cave to the fearmongering. After all, if the legal basis for this collection is so sketchy that it wouldn’t qualify for the grandfathering that the real authorities do, the government probably ought not be relying on it, right?

Or maybe Reid is just channeling Dick Cheney because he’s anxious to start his long holiday weekend.

 

The Un-Patriot Acts of Harry Reid

As you undoubtedly know by now, the furious rush to extend the Patriot Act is once again in full swing. The Patriot Act is an odious piece of legislation that was birthed by fearmongering and the imposition of artificial drop dead, if we don’t pass this today the terrortists are gonna OWN us, artificial time emergencies. Then it was extended the same way. That is not a bug, it is indeed a feature.

When the government, through its executive and compliant Congress, wants to cut surveillance and privacy corners out of laziness and control greed, and otherwise crush the soul of the Constitution and the 4th Amendment, demagoguery and fake exigencies are the order of the day. And so they are again. Oh, and of course they want to get out of town on their vacation. And that is what has happened today.

Senators Wyden and Mark Udall had a superb amendment proposed to narrow the Patriots core provisions ever so slightly so as to maintain some Constitutional integrity. Marcy explained the details here. But, because that would engender real and meaningful debate on the efficacy of Patriot, it had to be quashed, and that is exactly what has occurred. Harry Reid and Diane Feinstein gave a couple of hollow and meaningless “promises”, of unknown content, to Wyden and Udall and strongarmed them into withdrawing their amendment. The citizens are simply not entitled to meaningful debate on their Constitution.

Spencer Ackerman, over at Wired’s Danger Room, shredded Reid for his unPatriotic act. Gloriously:

Remember back when a Republican was in the White House and demanded broad surveillance authority? Here’s Reid back then. ”Whether out of convenience, incompetence, or outright disdain for the rule of law, the administration chose to ignore Congress and ignore the Constitution,” Reid said about Bush’s warrantless surveillance program. When Bush insisted Congress entrench that surveillance with legislation in 2008, Reid turned around and demanded Bush “stop fear-mongering and start being honest with the American people about national security.” Any claim about the detrimental impact about a lapse in widespread surveillance were “scare tactics” to Reid that ”irresponsibly distort reality.” (Then Reid rolled over for Bush.)

That’s nowhere near the end of Reid’s hypocrisy here. When the Senate debated renewing the Patriot Act in 2006, Reid, a supporter of the bill’s surveillance procedures, himself slowed up the bill’s passage to allow amendments to it — the better to allow “sensible checks on the arbitrary exercise of executive power.” Sounding a whole lot like Rand Paul, the 2006-vintage Reid registered his “objection to the procedural maneuver under which Senators have been blocked from offering any amendments to this bill” and reminded his colleagues, ”the hallmark of the Senate is free speech and open debate.”

Reid could hardly be more of an opportunist here. He favors broad surveillance authorities — just as long as those scary Republicans stop being mean to liberals. When Attorney General John Ashcroft warned civil libertarians that their “phantoms of lost liberty… only aid terrorists,” Reid told CNN on December 8, 2001 that “people should just cool their jets” — but not that Ashcroft was actually, you know, wrong. By contrast, the ultra-conservative pundit Bob Novak said Ashcroft made “one of the most disreputable statements I have heard from an attorney general.”

Exactly right. But it gets worse. Rand Paul also had an amendment, but he, unlike our fine Democratic Senators, was not willing to quietly go off into the night. Paul stood his ground and now Reid has agreed to let Paul’s amendment to exempt gun purchases from Patriot’s scope have a vote:

Senate Democratic leadership seems poised to acquiesce to Sen. Rand Paul’s (R-Ky.) demand that the chamber vote on an amendment that would restrict national security officials from examining gun dealer records in their efforts to track potential terrorists.

The Kentucky Republican had been insisting that such language at least receive a vote as an addition to the extension of the USA Patriot Act.

So, that is where the Democratic party, Democratic Senate Leadership and the Obama Administration are on protecting the Constitution and its 4th Amendment. Sane and intelligent amendments to narrow focus and appropriately protect American’s privacy are squashed like small irritating bugs under a hail of fearmongering and demagoguery – from Democratic Leadership – and terrorists’ rights to buy guns with impunity and privacy are protected because just one GOP senator has the balls to actually stand up and insist on it.

Hanoi Harry Reid is on point and leading this clown car of civil liberties insanity, and so deserves a healthy chunk of the blame, but he is certainly not alone. For all the noise they made, why cannot Ron Wyden and Mark Udall stand up in a similar fashion? Where are the other Democrats who used to have such alarm when it was the Bush/Cheney Administration doing these things? Where is Russ Feingold, I miss him so, but I am sure that Obama and Reid are glad he is gone on days like today. Exactly why Feingold was, and is, so important.

UPDATE: There is late word Reid may have talked Mitch McConnell and GOP Senate leadership into putting a clamp on Rand Paul and holding up his amendment debate demand. We shall see.