Dem candidate: Warrantless wiretaps a 'victory' for terrorists
Senator vows to block telecom immunity as Judiciary Committee stands up to Bush
Democratic presidential candidate Chris Dodd, who has taken a hard-line in opposing Bush administration proposals to modify a foreign surveillance law, says the president's willingness to trample Constitutional rights hands terrorists a "victory" beyond what they could achieve through another attack.
"When you give up basic Constitutional rights, you give terrorists a far greater victory in ways," Dodd said during an online video chat.
The Connecticut senator explained his efforts to block a proposed bill that would grant immunity to telecommunications companies that critics say broke the law in allowing the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on Americans without warrants.
Dodd repeated his promise to filibuster any surveillance law that included immunity for telephone and internet providers, while he acknowledged that sustaining such a blockade would not be easy.
Although he has registered little more than a blip in national opinion polls, Dodd's stand against telecom immunity has dramatically raised his profile among progressive bloggers, and his campaign raised $100,000 in 36 hours when he vowed to put a "hold" on the bill.
In August, Congress rushed to pass a temporary expansion of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act that was assailed for not providing enough court oversight of surveillance methods authorized by the administration. That measure expires in February, and the House and Senate are considering long-term legislation to modify the act.
Dodd said he was encouraged by indications that the Senate Judiciary Committee would not include telecom immunity in a proposal expected to emerge from the committee in coming weeks. Last week, the Senate Intelligence Committee voted 13-2 in favor of a FISA update that would spare from civil litigation companies that cooperated with the administration.
As Roll Call reports Tuesday, the administration has refused to share internal documents outlining the legal justifications behind the warrantless wiretapping program with the Judiciary Committee. Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy and Ranking Member Arlen Specter called those conditions "unacceptable" in a letter to White House counsel Fred Fielding Monday.
The Judiciary Committee may introduce its own FISA-update proposal or refuse to act on the Intelligence Committee's bill, sponsored by Chairman John Rockefeller (D-WV). However, according to Roll Call, if the committee fails to act, the Rockefeller measure could proceed unchanged. Majority Leader Harry Reid has said he will work with Dodd and other critics to correct flaws in the bill and he called on the administration to hand over requested documents, but he has not committed to honoring Dodd's proposed hold.
"The Judiciary Committee has an important role in making sure the final protect is constitutional and legally sound," Reid said from the Senate floor Monday. "Unfortunately, the Administration has chosen again to stonewall Congress in providing all the information and documents needed for Congress to properly consider this legislation."
Dodd said he was hopeful that telecom immunity would be excised from a Senate bill; companion legislation in the House did not contain an immunity provision, but Republicans have succeeded in blocking floor consideration of that measure for now.
Dodd spoke live from Iowa today in the following video posted on UStream.tv: