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Constitutional scholar pans Clinton for fleeing from FISA fight
David Edwards and Nick Juliano
Published: Thursday February 14, 2008

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Constitutional lawyer Jonathan Turley criticized the Senate for bowing to President Bush's demands for more spying power and amnesty for potentially law-breaking telecommunications companies.

"The fix has been in for some time on the unlawful surveillance program and the torture program," he said Wednesday on Countdown with Keith Olbermann. "Many Democrats and Republicans were aware of the program and they are actively helping the White House to try to shut down any confrontation on the issue. This is also helped by the fact the telecoms are one of the five most powerful lobbying forces in Washington, and many of these members have close ties to those lobbyists."

Turley panned presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, who skipped the politically tricky and controversial Senate vote on the spy law Tuesday even though she had been campaigning in Washington that day.

"It really, I think is symbolic of this disconnect ... here you've got someone who is campaigning for the President of the United States, making pitches to civil libertarians, but doesn't even show up -- when she's in the neighborhood -- to vote against telecom immunity," Turley charged. "I'm not just dumping on her. The fact is there has been a lot of really duplicitous work being done by both parties."

Republican John McCain and Barack Obama both voted on amendments to the measure; Obama opposed telecom immunity, while McCain supported it. Clinton left town early to get to a campaign stop in Texas.

Although he voted to sustain a filibuster on the FISA update, Obama left Washington for a campaign stop in Wisconisn without voting on the final bill.

It is up to the House to decide whether to let telecoms off the hook in about 40 civil lawsuits alleging their participation in President Bush's warrantless wiretapping program. A temporary extension of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance act expires at midnight Saturday, and the House on Wednesday failed to extend that deadline.

The ACLU is urging the House to let the temporary FISA extension, the Protect America Act, expire rather than let itself be bullied into caving again to Bush.

Olbermann and Turley had some especially harsh words for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

"Harry Reid made some decisions that made it virtually impossible for civil libertarians to win," Turley said.

This video is from MSNBC's Countdown, broadcast February 13, 2008.

Transcript via closed captions

:: when the original secretary of homeland security said he dint know why they told him to raise the terror level, we must acknowledge we live not in an age of terror, but when it's exploited by politicians sworn to protect us from terror. we have not had exploitation of terrorists since this morning. the senate legalized ease dropping and to cover it up by not saying how it happened. unlike the senate, democratic leaders in the house passed a version of the wiretapping law fisa, last year. this morning, mr. bush said if the house does not yield and give them immunity, we will all die. i'm para phrasing, but not by as much as you might think.

:: good morning, at this moment, somewhere in the world, terrorists are planning attacks on our country. their goal is to bring deskrux to our shore that is make september 11th pale by compareson. there's no reason, we cannot pass the senate bill immediately. to not pass it will jeopardize the security of our citizens.

:: this afternoon, the house leadership failed to pass the fisa act. republicans want it to expire. they also think the presidents statement was an exploitation of terrorist attacks.

:: put the senate vote in perspective for us in terms of protecting the constitution for covering up white house crimes.

:: the bill is trying to preserve. it was designed to circumvent the fourth amendment. it has no public interest value. it's there to extinguish dozens of suits before federal court. it's in contempt before they can say what the president did is illegal. the senate is working with the white house to cover up a crime and you have this bizarre situation with the executive and legislative branch to shut down and keep judges from declaring an unlawful program.

:: so, if every plausible argument got a proposed amendment yesterday, the fisa court would vet the lawsuits. these are all rejected by the republicans. is it purely to stop the lawsuits and stop information from getting out? there's been some estimation that this is spinning forward to protect whatever the white house has next?

:: it's not just republicans. in case you noticed, there's more than 31 democrats in the senate. only 31 people voted against the immunity program. the fix has been in a long time. many democrats and republicans were aware of the program and they are actively helping the white house sto shut down a confrontation on the issue. it's helped by the fact the telecoms are one of the largest forces in washington. many of them have ties to the lobbyist.

:: if it passes, it may be unstoppable at this point, could the next congress revoke it and number two, could a democratic president have his or her attorney general investigate the bush officials who ordered the wiretapping in the first place?

:: it's going to be hard to get it to walk back wards. the question about the next president is a good one. hillary clinton didn't show up to vote. she was in the area campaigning. her opponents mccain and obama showed up. here you have someone campaigning for the president of the united states, but doesn't show up when she's in the neighborhood to vote against telecom immunity. i'm not just dumping on her. there's been a lot of work being done by both parties to shield what has been a very fixed deal from the beginning on telecoms.

:: let's point the finger at one of the parties. senator dodd has a filibuster. harry reed let a democratic fail even though it has 57 votes. a virtual filibuster without making them a filibuster. where's the democratic party on this.

:: you're right. this is a case where the democrats couldn't make a claim they couldn't block the vote. they could have done it easily. the republicans do it all the time. harry reed made decisions that made it virtually impossible for them to win. he favors the intel committee. they concealed the program and he let them take the lead. it made it difficult for them to prevail.

:: jonathan, great thanks.

:: thanks, keith.