Senate Democrats

Reid: I Oppose Immunity For Companies That Helped The Bush Administration Illegally Spy On Americans

Washington, DC—Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid made the following statement today on the floor of the U.S. Senate regarding the FISA bill the Senate will consider Wednesday:

“The Senate will soon vote on a FISA bill that represents the final result of negotiations among the White House and Democrats and Republicans in Congress.  I opposed the version originally passed by the Senate.  And although improvements have been made in the version now before us, this legislation continues to contain provisions that will lead to immunity for the telecommunications companies who cooperated with the Bush Administration’s illegal warrantless wiretapping program.

“For that reason, I will vote no.

“Having said that — I am pleased that President Bush and Congressional Republicans finally agreed to negotiate a better bill with us.  For months, the President insisted it was his way or the highway.  The White House refused to come to the negotiating table, repeatedly demanding that the House of Representatives simply pass the Senate’s bill.

“I commend our Democratic colleagues in the House for standing up to insist on more protections for the privacy of innocent Americans.  This debate has shown once again that protecting the American people is not a Democratic or Republican issue. 

“Democrats want to provide our intelligence professionals all the tools they need to fight terrorism.  But we must also protect the privacy of law-abiding Americans and protect against abuses of the Constitution. 

“We all know that in the darkest corners of earth lie evil people who seek to harm our country and our people.  We all agree on the need to monitor the communications of terrorists in order to protect the American people.  But despite what the President insists, America is strengthened by our reverence for our laws and Constitution. 

“I am grateful for the efforts of the Congressional leaders who have worked tirelessly – and at times it may have seemed endlessly – to craft this compromise bill.  Chairmen Rockefeller and Leahy did a tremendous job under difficult circumstances   .  Senators Feingold and Dodd also deserve special recognition for reminding us that our Constitution must always come first.

“This version is better than the bill the Senate passed in February and better than the flawed ‘Protect America Act’ signed by the President last summer:

  • This bill now includes Senator Feinstein’s amendment to reaffirm that FISA is the exclusive means by which the executive branch may conduct surveillance.  This provision is Congress’s direct response to the strained argument of President Bush’s lawyers that Congress meant to repeal the very clear and specific requirements of FISA when Congress passed the Authorization for the Use of Military Force in Afghanistan.  Congress flatly rejects that argument as having no basis.
  • This bill includes Sen. Leahy’s important amendment requiring a comprehensive Inspector General review of the President’s program, as well as greater judicial supervision.
  • This bill requires the United States Attorney General to develop guidelines to ensure compliance with the Fourth Amendment, and to prevent ‘reverse targeting’ – that is, targeting someone abroad when the real purpose is to acquire the communications of a person in the United States.    
  • This bill provides for increased Congressional oversight, requiring extensive reporting to the Judiciary and Intelligence Committees about the implementation of the new provisions and their impact on U.S. persons. 
  • This bill rejects changes to the definition of ‘electronic surveillance,’ a change sought by the administration that could have had unforeseen and far-reaching consequences for FISA’s protections for the privacy of law-abiding Americans.
  • And this bill ensures that the law expires in four years, requiring the next President and Congress to evaluate its effectiveness.

“These changes add checks on the expansive executive powers contained in the original bill.  But as I said – despite these improvements, this legislation needs more work.  That is why I oppose it, and why I am committed to working with a new President to improve it.  

“Congress should not wait until the 2012 expiration to improve this bill.  I will work to ensure that Congress revisits FISA well before 2012, informed by the oversight that will be conducted in the coming months by the Judiciary and Intelligence Committees and by the reports of the Inspectors General.

“Next year, for example, Congress will be required to revisit a number of provisions of the Patriot Act.  That may provide a suitable occasion to review the related issues in this FISA bill.

“While this bill does include some improvements to Title I’s intelligence collection procedures, I strongly oppose Title II.  Title II establishes a process where the likely outcome is immunity to the telecommunications carriers who participated in the President’s illegal warrantless wiretapping program. 

“The bill does not provide any protection for the government officials who designed and authorized this program.  It also, of course, does not preclude a challenge to the constitutionality of this legislation in federal district court. 

“Nobody should read the Title II provision of this bill as a judgment on the legality of the President’s warrantless wiretapping program.  It is not.  And nobody should expect that a grant of immunity is anything other than a one-time action.  This was made clear in the Senate Intelligence Committee report that accompanied an earlier version of this legislation. 

“Service providers should clearly understand that no grant of immunity will be forthcoming if they cooperate with future government requests that do not comply with the procedures outlined in this legislation. The current lawsuits against the telecomm companies seek accountability.  These lawsuits could have been a vehicle to achieve a public accounting of the President’s illegal warrantless wiretapping program.  That is why it is important that Democratic negotiators forced the President to submit his program to a comprehensive Inspector General review.  That review should finally provide a full airing of this entire sorry episode. 

“The bill requires the Inspectors General of the relevant agencies to complete a comprehensive review of the President’s surveillance program within a year.  By the time that report is issued, President Bush will have left office.  Although his term will have come to an end, the work of uncovering his Administration’s abuses of power is just beginning.  Future Presidents, Congress and the American people will learn from President Bush’s abuses of power.

“The debate on this FISA legislation may be nearing an end, but the history books are yet to be written.  Throughout this fight, a small number of lonely voices insisted that there is no contradiction between liberty and security.  As new facts have become known, their numbers have swelled and their voices have grown louder.

“I am confident that when all is known, the condemnation for President Bush’s blatant disregard for our Constitution will be deafening.  And I hope that because those voices refused to be silenced, the next president – and all future presidents – will not waver from a path that protects the American people without compromising our core American values.”