John McCain Supports Telecom Amnesty

24 May 2008

You may remember that back in February, John McCain voted to grant amnesty to the telecommunications companies that illegally participated in domestic surveillance programs.

Chuck Fish, one of John McCain's campaign volunteers, recently suggested that John McCain might not be willing to grant amnesty in the future unless there were hearings and a public apology for spying on Americans. Even though this suggested position is still pretty weak, and absolves those who knowingly broke the law without even a slap on the wrist, the McCain campaign has responded to clarify its position:

John McCain through his votes and statements has shown a commitment to winning the battle against Islamic fundamentalists whose quest is to destroy the United States. John McCain believes that as part of this battle, companies who assist the government in good faith should not be punished, but he also believes that Congress must put forth clear guidelines for requesting the participation of private companies, provide proper Congressional oversight of any such participation and protect all Americans privacy.

After careful and deliberate consideration, fact-finding, and exploration of options, John McCain has continued to support renewal of the Foreign Intelligence and Surveillance Act. The granting of retroactive immunity supports the continuing efforts of participating companies yet should be done with explicit statements that this is not a blessing for future activities.

I'd just like to point out two tired, dishonest tactics used in this response. First, with regard to "good faith," AT&T has an army of lawyers, and they were fully capable of determining what the law was, and how to comply with it. "They thought it was legal" is no excuse. Second, FISA is not set to expire, and it is all too common for people to suggest that it requires renewal. This is a question of retroactive immunity, not a question of whether or not we will have any domestic surveillance laws at all.

But there you have it. Retroactive immunity. Given McCain's position here, I would like to once again highlight some very important conflicts of interest regarding McCain's top adviser, lobbyist Charlie Black:
Last year, AT&T paid $400,000 to Black's firm. Black was taking money from AT&T to lobby on FISA and simultaneously advising McCain. McCain, needless to say, voted in favor of granting amnesty to AT&T and the other telecoms at exactly the time that his close adviser, Black, was taking money from AT&T to influence Congress on its behalf. And, of course, AT&T and Verizon are among McCain's top donors.

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