Friday, February 22, 2008

Robert Novak's Article "Why Torts Trumped Terrorism"

Picture credit of the Pentagon after 9-11 by Global Security

"It's hard to think of an action that has put as many lives at risk as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's (D.-Calif.) declaration of unilateral disarmament in the War on Terror last week.

By refusing to renew our ability to monitor terrorist communications overseas, Speaker Pelosi has put Americans at risk. She has blinded our counterterrorism capability and shut down America's most sophisticated defenses against the irreconcilable wing of Islam. As of midnight last Saturday, the law governing America's defense is totally inadequate to stop terrorists.

Why? Because the Democratic left believes lining the pockets of trial lawyers is more important than stopping terrorists....

The simple fact is that if a company cooperates with the United States government in tracking down terrorists, it should receive our thanks and gratitude, not a lawsuit...

The United States Congress by its inaction has created a gap in our national defense. A gap we can now only hope will not be filled by our enemies. "---Newt Gingrich

Update: letter to Congressman Reyes from attorney General Michael Mukasey and Director of National Intelligence J.M. McConnell

Robert Novak's 2-18-08 column is called "Why Torts Trumped Terrorism."

Novak reports:

A closed-door caucus of House Democrats last Wednesday took a risky political course. By 4 to 1, they instructed Speaker Nancy Pelosi to call President Bush's bluff on extending the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to continue eavesdropping on suspected foreign terrorists. Rather than passing the bill with a minority of the House's Democratic majority, Pelosi obeyed her caucus and left town for a week-long recess without renewing the government's eroding intelligence capability.

Pelosi could have exercised leadership prerogatives and called up the FISA bill to pass with unanimous Republican support. Instead, she refused to bring to the floor a bill approved overwhelmingly by the Senate. House Democratic opposition included left-wing members typified by Rep. Dennis Kucinich, but they were only a small faction of those opposed. The true reason for blocking the bill was Senate-passed retroactive immunity to protect from lawsuits private telecommunications firms asked to eavesdrop by the government. The nation's torts bar, vigorously pursuing such suits, has spent months lobbying hard against immunity.

The recess by House Democrats amounts to a judgment that losing the generous support of trial lawyers, the Democratic Party's most important financial base, would be more dangerous than losing the anti-terrorist issue to Republicans. Dozens of lawsuits have been filed against the phone companies for giving individuals' personal information to intelligence agencies without a warrant. Mike McConnell, the nonpartisan director of national intelligence, says delay in congressional action deters cooperation in detecting terrorism.

Big money is involved. Amanda Carpenter, a columnist, has prepared a spreadsheet showing that 66 trial lawyers representing plaintiffs in the telecommunications suits have contributed $1.5 million to Democratic senators and causes. Of the 29 Democratic senators who voted against the FISA bill last Tuesday, 24 took money from the trial lawyers (as did two absent senators, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama). Eric A. Isaacson of San Diego, one of the telecommunications plaintiffs' lawyers, contributed to the recent unsuccessful presidential campaign of Sen. Chris Dodd, who led the Senate fight against the bill containing immunity.

The bill passed the Senate 68 to 29, with 19 Democrats voting aye. They included intelligence committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller and three senators who defeated Republican incumbents in the 2006 Democratic takeover of Congress: Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Jim Webb of Virginia and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island.

That opened the door for Pelosi to pass the bill with minority Democratic support. A Jan. 28 letter to the speaker signed by 21 House Blue Dogs (moderate Democrats) urged passage of Rockefeller's bill containing immunity. Democrats supporting it could exceed 40 in a House vote, easily enough for passage.
Instead, the Democratic leadership Wednesday brought up another bill simply extending FISA authority, this time for 21 days. Republicans refused to go along because it did not provide phone companies with the necessary immunity. It still could have passed with support from Democrats alone, and the leadership surely thought that would happen when it was brought to the floor Wednesday. But it failed, 229 to 191, with 34 Democrats voting no despite pleas for support from their leaders. The opponents included three congressmen who signed the letter to Pelosi advocating immunity from lawsuits, but most were Kucinich Democrats who intuitively oppose any anti-terrorist proposal.

Clearly, opposition to the Rockefeller bill shown in the subsequent House Democratic caucus derived less from Kucinich's phobia about tough anti-terror countermeasures than obeisance to generous trial lawyers [Full text].


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