Hillary Clinton came out with her statement explaining why she couldn’t vote today for a version of the new Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act that grants retroactive immunity to telecom companies, a measure that Democrats unsuccessfully tried to remove from the bill. Barack Obama, who she’s having a fund-raiser with tonight, supported the bill.
Her Senate office released a statement on her vote that doesn’t contain any explicit criticisms of the Obama position, but does say, “In my judgment, immunity under these circumstances has the practical effect of shutting down a critical avenue for holding the administration accountable for its conduct.”
Which should provide further fuel, if any was needed, for liberals who have criticized Obama for giving up a useful piece of partisan leverage against the White House.
Clinton’s full statement is here:
The legislation would overhaul the law that governs the administration’s surveillance activities. Some of the legislation’s provisions place guidelines and restrictions on the operational details of the surveillance activities, others increase judicial and legislative oversight of those activities, and still others relate to immunity for telecommunications companies that participated in the administration’s surveillance activities.
While this legislation does strengthen oversight of the administration’s surveillance activities over previous drafts, in many respects, the oversight in the bill continues to come up short. For instance, while the bill nominally calls for increased oversight by the FISA Court, its ability to serve as a meaningful check on the President’s power is debatable. The clearest example of this is the limited power given to the FISA Court to review the government’s targeting and minimization procedures.
But the legislation has other significant shortcomings. The legislation makes no meaningful change to the immunity provisions. There is little disagreement that the legislation effectively grants retroactive immunity to the telecommunications companies. In my judgment, immunity under these circumstances has the practical effect of shutting down a critical avenue for holding the administration accountable for its conduct. It is precisely why I have supported efforts in the Senate to strip the bill of these provisions, both today and during previous debates on this subject. Unfortunately, these efforts have been unsuccessful.
What is more, even as we considered this legislation, the administration refused to allow the overwhelming majority of Senators to examine the warrantless wiretapping program. This made it exceedingly difficult for those Senators who are not on the Intelligence and Judiciary Committees to assess the need for the operational details of the legislation, and whether greater protections are necessary. The same can be said for an assessment of the telecom immunity provisions. On an issue of such tremendous importance to our citizens – and in particular to New Yorkers – all Senators should have been entitled to receive briefings that would have enabled them to make an informed decision about the merits of this legislation. I cannot support this legislation when we know neither the nature of the surveillance activities authorized nor the role played by telecommunications companies granted immunity.
Congress must vigorously check and balance the president even in the face of dangerous enemies and at a time of war. That is what sets us apart. And that is what is vital to ensuring that any tool designed to protect us is used – and used within the law – for that purpose and that purpose alone. I believe my responsibility requires that I vote against this compromise, and I will continue to pursue reforms that will improve our ability to collect intelligence in our efforts to combat terror and to oversee that authority in Congress.