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Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Why Russ Feingold can be the most effective Presidential nominee, given half a chance
Posted by Jill | 7:10 AM

The secret to Republican political success has been their ability to distill complex issues into the quick sound bite, into language that someone with a third-grade education can understand.

Russ Feingold is the only Democrat around who similarly has that ability, and he does it without being at all condescending.

Read how he handles Chris Wallace on Fox News, who in tried-and-true Fox News fashion, tries to exonerate Bush on the NSA spying program because his crimes are different from Nixon's:

WALLACE: Well, Senator, let me explore that comparison with you if I can. Did President Nixon brief members of Congress more than a dozen times before and during Watergate?

FEINGOLD: Certainly not, and that's not the point. In fact, President Bush broke the law when he did not brief the entire Intelligence Committee...

WALLACE: But wait, wait, wait. That's not — but Senator, I mean the fact is, President Bush briefed the congressional leaders, both House and Senate, Republican and Democrat, also the leaders of the Intelligence Committee, Republican and Democrat, both House and Senate, more than a dozen times before and during this NSA wiretap program. Isn't that a big difference?

FEINGOLD: Chris, Chris, where I come from here in Wisconsin, if you break the law and you go tell people you're breaking the law, that doesn't make it OK. If you're breaking the law, you're breaking the law. In this case, the president does not have a legal leg to stand on.

And we have this problem of one-party rule in our system of government right now, where the Republicans in the House and the Senate are not standing up like some Republicans did during Watergate and saying, look, we need to stand together and say that the president needs to return to the law. We all support wiretapping terrorists. But the what the president is doing here is a frightful assault on our system of government, and he has to be called on it.

I could have proposed something more severe. A censure resolution is, in my view, a modest way to acknowledge the illegality and cause the president to return to the law.

WALLACE: Let me explore that Watergate comparison a little bit more. Has President Bush created an enemies list? Has he used the federal government to punish his political opponents? Has he authorized break-ins of his political enemies?

FEINGOLD: Well, again, Chris, this is not a criticism of the president as some sort of criminal law, day-to-day problem, like President Nixon had. This is really a much bigger deal. As George Will has said, this was the very reason for the revolution that we had in this country, is that we did not want a monarchical president. So I think these days, we look at the Nixon impeachment and the Clinton impeachment, we forget what the real reason for high crimes and misdemeanors was, to make sure that the president doesn't cause himself to be involved in personal misconduct, but that he doesn't try to achieve a power that is like King George III. So this is actually, even though in terms of the president's personal conduct not as serious, much more dangerous to our system of government, to our republic, and frankly, Chris, it weakens us in the fight against terrorism, to have a president who's thumbing his nose at the laws of this country. It isn't good for us.

WALLACE: Senator, I want to go back to the briefing of congressional leaders, because, as I say, he did brief congressional leaders of both parties more than a dozen times. It has been reported that when he set up the program, before he had actually started it, that the White House suggested perhaps there should be some legal changes made to the program, and the congressional leaders said no, because if so, the program will be late (ph). In that sense, aren't the congressional leaders complicit in the lawbreaking?

FEINGOLD: Well, of course they're limited in terms of what they can say about it, because of the rules in terms of the members of the gang of eight of the Intelligence Committee people. And I want to remind you that the president broke the statute from 1947 by not fully informing the entire Intelligence Committees. So he didn't even achieve the legal basis there. That's not the main point, but to somehow suggest that the president of the United States gets off the hook because he briefed a few members who couldn't talk about it is to miss the point.

The point is that the president is making bogus arguments about somehow when we authorized the Afghanistan invasion, we agreed to this. You know, that's — that's been laughed at in the halls of Congress. It's a very sad moment when the president can't admit, look — he can say he did it with good faith, he can say he was trying to do the right thing, but he has to admit he went too far here, and he can do what he needs to do under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. We all support that, we just need him to return to the idea of the law and not really create a very divisive situation in our country that weakens us in the fight against terrorism internationally.

WALLACE: Senator, let's talk about what's at the basis of all this, which is the NSA warrantless wiretap program that the president authorized. Have you been briefed on the program?

FEINGOLD: I have been briefed to some degree, but certainly not completely. I am on the Senate Intelligence Committee, and we got somewhat more information than other senators get, but then the full briefing is only being given to a sub-portion of the Intelligence Committee, and that's one of the reasons I decided it was time for the censure resolution, because it became clear that there was not going to be the kind of investigation that had to happen to find out exactly what this program is all about.

WALLACE: Do you know how the NSA decides whom to wiretap? Do you have any evidence that the civil liberties of any innocent Americans have been violated?

FEINGOLD: I know some things about it, but I'm not able to talk about it. What I can tell you is this: Is that I am absolutely convinced, after five hearings, three in the Judiciary Committee, two in the Intelligence Committee, that there is no legal basis for this. I may not know all the details, but it's clear from everything we've heard that you can't sort of create a new law or a new statute or a new constitutional provision.

The president has admitted publicly that he did this outside of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. They have basically been laughed out of the room when they say that the Afghanistan invasion resolution allows this. And all we have left is this idea that somehow the president has inherent power to make up whatever laws he wants. And you know what? That would be the opposite of our system of government.

So we know what we need to know to know that this conduct is illegal, but there's much more to be known about the program, and I think at least all members of the Intelligence Committee, and hopefully more members of Congress, would be carefully briefed on this, because how are we supposed to insert legislation that the president might want here or senators might want if we don't know what this program precisely is.

The Americans who are listening to the news with one ear while making dinner still think that this program is ONLY about listening to Al Qaeda, and may be willing to take the risk of this kind of government intrusion in the name of safety. What Feingold does is throw the "rule of law" meme right back at the Republicans where it belongs, and asks Americans if they want a president who breaks the law on an issue that really DOES affect them.
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