Sen. John McCain has long posed as a critic of President Bush’s warrantless wiretapping of phone calls and e-mails of millions of law-abiding citizens. As recently as last November he proclaimed that “private companies that provide records of Americans to the government without proper legal subpoena … undermine respect for the law.”
But now McCain is the Republican presidential nominee, scrambling to secure the blessing of Bush, right-wing extremists and corporate America. So McCain has flip-flopped, embracing Bush’s sweeping power grab including the warrantless spying conducted by the National Security Agency with the collaboration of AT&T, Verizon, SBC, Sprint and other telecommunications corporations.
Douglas Holtz-Eakins, one of McCain’s closest advisers, wrote a letter to the ultra-conservative National Review recently, proclaiming, “Neither the administration nor the telecoms need to apologize for actions most people, except for the ACLU and trial lawyers, understand were constitutional and appropriate in the wake of the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.”
The New York Times, in a front-page story, reported that the Holtz-Eakins letter appears to bring McCain “into closer alignment with the sweeping theories of executive authority pushed by the Bush administration legal team.”
Kurt Opsahl, legal counsel of the San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation, pointed out that McCain’s campaign staff is riddled with lobbyists for the telecom giants. They are trying to get Congress to approve Bush’s extension of the NSA spying program with an amendment that grants these corporations immunity from a flood of lawsuits by angry targets of the spying. These citizens claim that Bush flagrantly violated their Fourth Amendment protection from warrantless surveillance in spying on their phone calls and e-mails.
A survey by USA Today uncovered 66 current or former corporate lobbyists working in the McCain presidential campaign, including 23 who have served as lobbyists for the telecoms. They include Charles Black, chief lobbyist for AT&T; Wayne Berman, lobbyist for Verizon; and former Indiana Sen. Dan Coats, a partner in the King & Spaulding law firm that represents Sprint against a lawsuit on the warrantless spying. The telecoms have reported more than $4.4 million in contributions to McCain’s election campaigns since 1999. McCain has been forced to fire some of these lobbyists to quell a firestorm of criticism that he is an agent of corporate America and the rich.
Opsahl said “a strong majority of likely voters oppose immunity for the telecommunications carriers who participated in the government’s warrantless surveillance program.”
Earlier this spring, the House and Senate stunned Bush by voting to reject telecom immunity. Sens. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) opposed the immunity “but Senator McCain voted for immunity,” Opsahl told the World in a phone interview. “McCain should stop listening to Charlie Black, Wayne Berman, Dan Coats and the other lobbyists in the pending lawsuits on his campaign staff and start listening to the American people.”
Opsahl said the telecom corporate influence helps explain why McCain now offers “unqualified support” for telecom immunity. “His arguments read like the talking points that a telecom lobbyist might employ,” Opsahl wrote in a blog on the Electronic Frontier Foundation web site.
“At a minimum, McCain has not provided straight talk on where he stands on warrantless surveillance,” Opsahl told this reporter. “Previously, he said he does not think the administration is ‘above the law.’ But he also issued statements that adopted the administration’s flawed legal analysis. One of the founding principles of our republic was that people should be free from ‘general warrants’. King George had a practice of using ‘general warrants’ to send his soldiers into the homes of American patriots without individual suspicion. In response, our founders included the Fourth Amendment to safeguard the rights of the people from unlawful government surveillance.”
Bush’s surveillance program, he concluded, “is illegal and unconstitutional.”