THE BLOG
10/26/2007 04:03 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Hillary Clinton, A Bundle of Telecom Money....And A Strange Silence

It looks like Chris Dodd's hold on any bill that grants retroactive immunity to telecom companies is rather unpopular with Republicans, who seem to think shielding corporate executives from the rule of law is of paramount importance in the war on terror:

As Democrats squabble, the administration and top Republicans are moving to exploit the issue. They accuse Democrats of sacrificing national security for short-term political gain. "Al Qaeda is not going to give us a break just because we're having an election," said Rep. Pete Hoekstra, the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, who demanded last week that Dodd donate to charity any campaign money he raised as a result of his filibuster threat.

I'm not quite clear on how getting a bunch of rich telecom executives out from underneath their lawsuits is going to make us all safe from Islamofacism, but that is in fact the hammer they will attempt to use to drive immunity home:

MoveOn claimed credit for the presidential candidates' opposition to the bill. "This is a great example of progressive voters demanding boldness and principle from Democratic candidates and Democrats responding by being bold," said spokesman Adam Green. But the maneuvering by the contenders--and the role played by MoveOn--also raised concerns among senior Democrats on Capitol Hill that presidential politics might impede efforts to reach a compromise on such a sensitive and important national-security measure. "We need to get things done on this bill," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told reporters Tuesday.

Evidently one of those things Reid does not feel he needs to get done is pass the Emmet Till cold case bill, which called for more money for unsolved civil rights crimes. Tom Coburn put a hold on the bill -- and Reid just let that one go. The bill died.

Reid, on the other hand, has announced his intention to ignore Dodd's hold. I guess we all have our priorities.

Obviously Dodd gummed something up, some game plan Reid had for how this would all play out. What exactly was that?

Well, the current FISA bill was due to sunset in February. The Democrats were apparently going to make some unconvincing noise about concern for civil liberties, rule of law, yadda yadda yadda, but the only part of this bill that deals with national security -- the updating of certain technology issues that allow for eavesdropping on foreign-to-foreign calls that are routed through the US -- is something that everyone, even Russ Feingold, agrees needs to happen. Nobody is opposing that. A bill like that could pass tomorrow.

But George Bush won't sign that bill. He's made it clear he will only sign a bill that grants retroactive immunity, and one can imagine that these erstwhile telecom jailbirds are going to be singing like a flock of canaries about those in the administration who induced them to commit these crimes if they can't shake the charges post haste. So the Democrats planned to argue up until the last minute, and then much like what happened in August, the whole "war on terror" meme would receive a serious right-wing flogging and the Democrats would cave lest they be considered "soft on terror." Or at least enough of them would to get 60 votes, which should be no sweat, what with 49 Republicans plus "Slummy Joe" Lieberman plus 6 Democrats on the Intelligence Committee who already gave it a pass.

This was the brilliant strategy coming straight out of Senate offices. Opponents of retroactive immunity were told we were just going to have to "live" with this eventuality. And it was all going to go quite smoothly, according to script, until Chris Dodd threw a monkey wrench into things.

Now everyone who has been soaking up all that telecom money, who needed that "war on terror" excuse as cover for their vote, is in a bit of a bind. Jay Rockefeller was quite concerned that the poor telecoms were only doing what the government asked them to, and thus cannot be blamed for egregiously breaking the law. But as Judge Vaughn Walker wrote when he dismissed AT&T's petition for immunity in one such case:

AT&T cannot seriously contend that a reasonable entity in its position could have believed that the alleged domestic dragnet was legal.

Now Rockefeller is getting a wee bit touchy because people are noting the sharp uptick in his contributions from telecom executives over the past year and wondering what connection it might have with his deal with the White House, which calls for them to turn over a small fraction of the documents to the Intelligence Committee they are legally required to do anyway in exchange for immunity (a deal obviously made with Majority Leader Reid's blessing). Pat Leahy is apparently about as pleased with this deal as liberal bloggers are, and had made the highly unusual move of calling additional hearings on the matter in the Judiciary Committee.

The threat of fililbuster has apparently upset the delicate balance of comity in the Senate chamber. Oh my.

But one question few are asking -- is it a coincidence we haven't heard anything convincing from Hillary Clinton, who took in $87,130 in telecom contributions in the 2006 cycle -- more than anyone else currently in the Senate? That makes Jay Rockefeller's contributions look like abject chicken feed.

Mike McCurry and Jamie Gorelick, who both served in the previous Clinton administration, have been raking in money as telecom lobbyists (Gorelick has been providing "strategic advice" to Verizon about obtaining immunity). And Howard Wolfson -- currently a senior advisor to the Clinton campaign -- is a partner in Glover Park, who represent Verizon. No doubt they'll all have some s'plainin to do if Hillary joins Dodd in his filibuster -- as Barack Obama and Joe Biden have already said they would do.

If as Hillary Clinton says she accepts lobbyist money and yet it doesn't influence her vote, wouldn't now be a nice time to prove it? I think we're at one of those moments where the rubber meets the road on that particular claim. By making an unequivocal statement and bringing attention to the matter, she could create a groundswell of public support that puts pressure on other Senate Democrats to respect the rule of law.

Then again, maybe that's the problem.

You can sign the petition to Harry Reid asking him to honor Dodd's hold here.

Jane Hamsher blogs at firedoglake.com.