Leading Democrats support and enable Trump’s warrantless domestic spying

Given that Donald Trump has deep authoritarian tendencies and sees the government as existing to serve his personal needs and attack his opponents, you would think that Democrats would seize every opportunity to limit his powers. But although they have been deeply critical of him, when it comes to the national security state, the Democratic leadership seems willing to extend to him the sweeping domestic spying powers that Congress gave president Obama.

Glenn Greenwald points out that leading Democrats like Nancy Pelosi, when they had the opportunity to side with some Republicans and defeat it, instead sided with Donald Trump and canvassed Democratic votes against a joint Republican/Democratic move to limit warrantless domestic spying, thus ensuring its defeat. This should not be that surprising because Pelosi, for all her liberal posturing, is very much a neoliberal and has long been a staunch supporter of the national security state and its enforcement arms, the FBI, CIA, and NSA. Greenwald explains what happened.

Back in the summer of 2013, as the Snowden revelations of mass domestic surveillance sparked a global debate about privacy and abuse of spying powers, an extraordinary bipartisan alliance formed in Congress to impose serious limits on the NSA’s power to spy on Americans without warrants. Back then, a bill that would have imposed real limits and safeguards on the NSA, one jointly sponsored by Conyers and Amash, unexpectedly picked up large numbers of supporters from both parties – despite opposition from both parties’ Congressional leadership – to the point where it looked like it was unstoppably headed for passage.

Official Washington and its national security community began to panic over what looked to be the first rollback of government national security power since the 9/11 attack. Fortunately for the NSA, CIA and FBI, they found a crucial ally to kill the bill: the liberal icon Nancy Pelosi. Behind the scenes, she pressured and coerced enough House Democrats to oppose the reform bill, ensuring its narrow defeat. The Conyers/Amash bill – which would have severely limited domestic mass surveillance – was defeated by the razor-thin margin of 217-205. Foreign Policy magazine correctly identified [Pelosi as] the key author of its defeat, the person who single-handedly saved NSA mass surveillance in the U.S.

For anyone who believes in the basic value of individual privacy and the dangers of mass surveillance, Pelosi deserved all the criticism she received back then for single-handedly saving the NSA’s mass surveillance powers from reform. But at least then, her partisan defenders had a justification they could invoke: at the time, the NSA was under the command of Barack Obama, a President they believed could be trusted to administer these powers responsibly and lawfully.

Now, four years later, Pelosi has reprised her role as key protecter of domestic warrantless eavesdropping – but this time with the benevolent, magnanimous, noble Democratic President long gone, and with those agencies instead under the leadership of a President whom Pelosi and her supporters have long been maligning as an enemy of democracy, a criminal, a despot, and a racist cretin. For anyone (including Pelosi, Schiff, and Swalwell) who genuinely believes anything they’ve been saying about Trump over the last year, what conceivable justification can be offered now for Pelosi and her key allies blocking reasonable safeguards and limits on Trump’s warrantless domestic spying powers?

[T]he Amash amendment containing the proposed reforms (including a warrant requirement) was defeated by a much smaller margin: 233-183. While 125 Democratic House members were joined by 58 GOP members in voting for these reforms, 55 Democrats – led by Pelosi and Schiff – joined with the GOP majority to reject them, ensuring defeat of Amash’s amendment by a mere 26 votes.

The next time you see Nancy Pelosi, Adam Schiff, or Eric Swalwell waxing indignantly on cable TV about how Trump is a grave menace to the rule of law and American democracy, focus less on their scripted talking points and more on their actions, beginning with their vote yesterday to vest in him these awesome powers while blocking safeguards and checks. That will tell you all you need to know about who they really are and what they really believe.

The bill now goes to the senate where it is likely to pass

The Senate voted 69 to 26 Thursday to start debate on the bill, which would extend for six years the National Security Agency’s ability to collect from U.S. companies the emails and other communications of foreign targets located outside the United States. The vote came hours after the House voted 256 to 164 to approve the legislation and is a sign that lawmakers intend to move swiftly to pass the measure before the program’s statutory authority expires Jan. 19.

The intelligence community considers the program — known as Section 702, named for its place within the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Amendments Act that established it in 2008 — to be its key national security surveillance tool. But privacy advocates oppose the law, arguing that there are not enough limits to federal law enforcement agencies’ ability to scour the communications of Americans in touch with foreign targets.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said Thursday that he intended to do “everything in my power, including filibuster,” to impede the bill next week, although that is unlikely to block its passage. A House effort to amend the bill and require the federal government to obtain warrants before searching for Americans’ information failed Thursday by a vote of 233 to 183.

At one point Trump, confused by what he had seen on Fox News, tweeted opposition to the bill but he later walked that back.

Instead, the greater threat to the fate of Section 702 came from the president, in a pair of contradictory and seemingly misinformed tweets posted after watching a segment about the bill on Fox News Channel.

Before Trump’s tweets, it was the opposition of privacy advocates that presented the chief obstacle to renewing Section 702. They had rallied around an alternative measure from Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) that would have required law enforcement agencies to obtain warrants before being able to sift through the NSA’s records database. The underlying bill requires only that the government seek a court order when it wants to use information about Americans in criminal cases.

“The government will use this bill to continue warrantless intrusions into Americans’ private emails, text messages, and other communications. No president should have this power,” American Civil Liberties Union policy counsel Neema Singh Guliani said in a statement after the House’s vote, calling on the Senate to “reject this bill.”

The Democratic leadership may hate Trump but the leadership of party loves the national security state more and seems to be willing give the FBI, CIA, and the NSA whatever powers they seek, even if Trump can abuse them.


  1. says

    Congress has always facilitated the police state. They only get upset (or pretend to care) when they realize that they are being spied on, too.

    I don’t expect any of that legislation matters. NSA and FBI are pretty clearly going to do whatever they want; and will continue to do so -- they’ll just classify it. Americans don’t realize that being under surveillance goes back to the Yardley days (pre-WWI) and has never stopped. It’s only enlarged as the technology improves.

  2. says

    By the way, I don’t think it’s appropriate to call this “Trump’s warrantless spying.” At best, it’s Bush’s, though it seems to go back to Clinton. Obama expanded it considerably and indemnified the Bush white house for any possible criminal aspects (thanks, Obama!)

    It’s not Trump’s shit-show. It’s a uniquely American shit-show -- a bipartisan shit-show.

  3. lanir says

    Meh. I don’t think they care if they’re being spied on either. They’re too invested in this idea. Even when the spies are grossly incompetent and get caught spying on the senate intelligence committee, the same politicians who just got spied on rubber stamp their approval on everything the spooks want anyway.

    It’s not even “screw you all, I’ll be fine” anymore, it’s just… stupid. Lots and lots of stupid paired with wishful thinking.

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