Today's the big day: the Senate debates a permanent overhaul of surveillance law to replace the administration's sweeping
Protect America Act, which expires February 1. (Didja see Sen. Feingold's TPMCafe post on all this?
One milestone on the road to today's debate was a White House agreement to let the Senate intelligence committee and the leaders of the judiciary committee see the legal justifications
for its constellation of warrantless surveillance programs. Now Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV), the Democratic leader, wants the full Senate to be able to review the closely-held documents. He wrote to intelligence czar Michael McConnell yesterday:
We appreciate that you have provided access to the documents necessary for evaluation of this issue to the Senate Intelligence and Judiciary Committees, as each has in turn considered it. As the debate now moves to the full Senate, I believe it is of critical importance that all Senators who will be called upon to vote on this important question have an opportunity to review these key documents themselves so that they may draw their own conclusions. In my view, each sitting Senator has a constitutional right of access to these documents before voting on this matter.
I strongly urge you to make the documents previously provided to the Intelligence and Judiciary Committee regarding retroactive immunity available in a secure location to any Senator who wishes to review them during the floor debate
One Senator who read those documents, Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), has already said in a recent speech
that the legal basis for the program spelled out in the documents made him "increasingly dismayed and amazed." They amount, in Whitehouse's view, to a legal doctrine for presidential lawbreaking. Maybe Reid, who's said
he opposes retroactive immunity, is pushing a gambit to kill the telecom immunity provisions of the surveillance bill through the disinfecting power of sunlight.