Thursday, November 8, 2007
Feinstein Pushing Hard For Telco Immunity
Phone companies hoping to win legal protection from lawsuits filed against them over their role in the Bush administration's secret surveillance program would appear to have won around one key Democratic senator: California's Dianne Feinstein.
In recent weeks, Feinstein, a key swing vote on the Senate Judiciary Committee, has been equivocal in her statements concerning whether phone companies should get immunity.
Although she voted for the intelligence committee's version of the bill, which includes an immunity provision, Feinstein had expressed doubts about it and had discussed in public the possibility of imposing damages caps as an alternative.
That changed this morning, when the committee took up the bill for the first time (although no progress was made as Republicans asked it to be held over until next week).
Feinstein read a lengthy statement in which she outlined why the phone companies deserve protection.
She said that the Bush administration is responsible for any incorrect calls as to the legality of the program and that the phone companies were merely trying to help prevent future terrorist attacks.
"I believe the continuing cases [against the phone companies] are not the right remedy," Feinstein said. "It was the administration that made the flawed legal determination."
She added that the phone companies are also prevented from defending themselves in public because the government has asserted its state secrets privilege.
"In effect, they are handcuffed and gagged," Feinstein said.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs suing AT&T for its role in the program, who were at this morning's meeting, questioned Feinstein's conclusions.
"It's disappointing," said Cindy Cohn, legal director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. "We are hoping we can educate her."
It's still unclear what action the committee will take as both the chairman, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and ranking member, Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., are skeptical about immunity.
At this morning's meeting Sen. Jeff Sessions, D-Ala., and Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah., both pledged to support a push for immunity, while Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wisc., said he would oppose it.