Monday, June 9, 2008

John McCain and the Telecoms

It's been a while since I've addressed the issue of telecom immunity, as not much headway has been made in either direction, aside from the occasional wind-testing proposal tied to the starter's block. The contention, however, is beginning to bubble again, if only slightly, because of John McCain's public wavering on the issue.

Although previously on record as saying the President is not above the law, McCain and his advisers have backtracked in the past week.

A top adviser to Senator John McCain says Mr. McCain believes that President Bush’s program of wiretapping without warrants was lawful, a position that appears to bring him into closer alignment with the sweeping theories of executive authority pushed by the Bush administration legal team.

In a letter posted online by National Review this week, the adviser, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, said Mr. McCain believed that the Constitution gave Mr. Bush the power to authorize the National Security Agency to monitor Americans’ international phone calls and e-mail without warrants, despite a 1978 federal statute that required court oversight of surveillance.

McCain, as with every other about face he's made in the process of this campaign, denies he's changed his stance. But McCain said this to Charlie Savage six months ago:

There are some areas where the statutes don’t apply, such as in the surveillance of overseas communications. Where they do apply, however, I think that presidents have the obligation to obey and enforce laws that are passed by Congress and signed into law by the president, no matter what the situation is.

It strains credulity to imagine what, if any, Constitutional power would grant the President the power to ignore written law. In saying so, McCain shows an increasing attraction into the orbit of President Bush's flawed legal justification of the NSA program, a justification a wide array of legal experts have declared "fails to offer a plausible legal defense of the NSA domestic spying program." Indeed, it appears an insurmountable task to find a lawyer of any import outside of the current administration who can find any legal backing for the program.

An examination of McCain's advisory team, however, leaves little want of an explanation for the waffling. The list of advisers reads like a telecom dream team, with more than a third of the 66 lobbyists on McCain's team having lobbied for the telecom industry in the past decade, with many, such as chief political adviser Charlie Black, fighting until very recently for ratroactive immunity. Three leading lobbyists for AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint listed in a September Newsweek article are now members of McCain's campaign. EFF continues to list and expand upon numerous other lobbyists involved with the Arizona Senator, eliminating any mystery surrounding the sudden shift in position.

[Note: The 66 lobbyists is a dated number from a March USA today article. As the number is inexact and fluctuates, the numbers above are meant as an anecdotal estimate giving a general perspective, not an exact statistic. At one point, McCainSource had listed as many as 134 lobbyists involved. Again, those numbers shouldn't be taken as precise.]

Whatever you think about John McCain, the only thing that has become exceedingly evident in the process of the campaign is that however principled he has been imagined throughout his career, he has ceased to be. He has changed course on nearly every significant issue except the Iraqi occupation, be it taxes, Roe v. Wade, or telecom immunity. Sure, he still throws in the occasional token environmental reference, but the only thing 'maverick' about John McCain these days is his staunch commitment to a thoroughly-reviled status quo.

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