Our plans for covering the Biden/Putin summit in Geneva today were happily tossed aside late today, with the big news that West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin is apparently willing to compromise on a voting rights bill in the U.S. Senate! Frankly, it's more important right now than Biden/Putin, so they got bumped from today's BradCast. We didn't, however, bump our guest today, who offers some critical insight on the disturbing news that Donald Trump's Justice Department "spied" on House Democrats Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell. [Audio link to full show follows this summary.]
First up, Sen. Manchin has been the only Democrat in the upper chamber unwilling to come on board as co-sponsor of the For the People Act (H.R.1 in the House, where it's already passed and S.1 in the Senate, where Manchin is holding it up.) In fact, he recently declared in a hometown paper op-ed that he opposes the measure (even though he co-sponsored it back in 2019), while also restating his opposition to reform of the filibuster. Such reform would be required to adopt the For the People Act with a simple majority of Democrats in the Senate.
Today, however, Manchin released a memo [PDF] detailing his "Compromise" points for support of the For the People Act! We discuss those points at the top of today's show. They include a whole bunch of stuff that's in the current measure already adopted by the House, along with a few "New" items that he is seeking. Most of them are acceptable (such as "Make election day a public holiday"), where some others (such as a measure for seemingly modest "voter ID" requirements) may be a bit more controversial among some Democrats and voting rights advocates.
All told, however, while the devil remains in the details --- and his simple bullet points offer few --- we see nothing particularly objectionable about Manchin's "Compromise" list. At least nothing that should prevent passage of such a measure ASAP to help counter some of the extreme voter suppression measures currently being adopted by Republicans at the state level around the country in advance of the 2022 mid-terms.
There is still the problem that, as Manchin's memo notes, "federal voting rights legislation must be the result of both Democrats and Republicans coming together to find a pathway forward." He's right, of course, in general. But the fact is that Republicans have zero interest in finding any such path. There is also the problem that, even if Dems can settle on a bill they (and Manchin) all like, there is little chance in hell that even one Republican will come on board to support it, much less the 10 that would be needed to overcome a GOP filibuster. If Manchin won't agree to compromise on the filibuster --- at least to pass democracy related legislation --- the measure would go nowhere.
Still, one step at a time. Today's news, that Manchin is finally willing, at least, to compromise on the For the People Act, is tremendously encouraging for those of us who care about the survival of democracy in the U.S.
Next, we're joined by long-time, independent national security journalist MARCY WHEELER of Emptywheel, with some critical insight on the news that broke late last week revealing the Trump Dept. of Justice secretly subpoenaed phone, email and text message records of House Democrats Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell in 2018. Both were, and are, members of the U.S. House Permanent Selection Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) and both were regarded by our disgraced former President as his political enemies.
In addition to Schiff and Swalwell, the Trump DoJ's shocking secret surveillance also included scores of Congressional aides and even their children, purportedly as part of a probe into leaks regarding a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant taken out during the Obama Administration on 2016 Trump Campaign advisor, Carter Page.
Following the news this week, the House Judiciary Committee announced a formal investigation into what they describe as "a pretext to spy on President Trump’s perceived political enemies". Also, Attorney General Merrick Garland has asked the DoJ Inspector General for a probe into the matter as well.
Wheeler, however, offered some very helpful "perspective on the politicized leak investigation" by Trump's DoJ at her website, which we discuss today. Among the points she notes: This isn't actually "spying"; It isn't actually unprecedented --- well, mostly; and the fact that the secret subpoenas reportedly only sought metadata (records of who and when someone was called, emailed or texted, rather than the actual content of those communications), shouldn't really bother Democratic lawmakers at all, given that they have long defended the collection of "just" metadata in probes by law enforcement officials.
Wheeler notes Schiff has been "championing" the "it's 'just' metadata" claims for years "when he talks about surveilling Americans." But, she explains, "when you get metadata [going back] ten years, that is enormously powerful." Putting limits "on the span on metadata that you can pull without a judicial order" might be "something, maybe that Adam Schiff will have learned his lesson" from here, she quips.
Moreover, the breadth of the secret subpoenas --- for example, obtaining Schiff's records from Apple going all the way back to 2009 for an investigation into a leak that occurred in 2017 --- was wildly broad. And, though the records apparently didn't reveal any of the Congressmembers or their staff (or their children) were guilty of leaking, the FBI and DoJ were legally allowed to hold onto to those records for years, potentially using them for other reasons as well, as it appears Trump's AG Bill Barr may have. As Marcy snarked in her piece on this at Emptywheel: "It’s a pity for Adam Schiff that no one in charge of surveillance in Congress imposed better trackability requirements on FBI’s access of its investigative collections."
Schiff is currently the Chair of HPSCI. At the time of the secret subpoenas, he was the Committee's ranking Democrat and has long been supportive of these types of virtually limitless subpoenas, according to Wheeler.
There are other outrages here, for example, the length of allowable gag orders, preventing companies like Apple from notifying customers, for years, that they are being surveilled, as in this case; the fact that there are no real requirements for narrowly tailoring such broad searches. Wheeler is hopeful that lawmakers may learn from this, now that they have become the targets. Naturally, they are bothered when it happens to them and to journalists, whereas the same invasive practices targeting ordinary Americans receives little attention or concern from lawmakers.
"The standard is there is no probable cause required," for these kinds of searches, she explains. "The FBI could have just said, 'We need all of the phone records for everybody on HPSCI because they are the people who got the document that was leaked,' and that meets the relevant standard. And that is the standard that Adam Schiff has been telling us for years isn't all that intrusive"...
(Snail mail support to "Brad Friedman, 7095 Hollywood Blvd., #594 Los Angeles, CA 90028" always welcome too!)