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There’s A New Spin On Presidential Spying But It’s The Same Old Suck-Up From Susan Estrich

Reported by Ellen - January 24, 2006

Susan Estrich looked absolutely fabulous last night (1/23/06) when she substituted for Alan Colmes on Hannity & Colmes. Too bad she seemed more interested in looking good for the FOX News camera than in representing Democrats.

The topic was Bush’s latest spin on spying. The only guest was Mary Matalin, former advisor to President Bush and counselor to Vice President Cheney. She was there to back up Bush’s remarks in a speech earlier in the day. It’s hard to think how FOX News could have had a more one-sided approach but they threw in “PRESIDENT MAKES HIS CASE” across the bottom of the screen for most of the discussion for extra measure. Then there was Susan Estrich’s lackluster (to say the least) debating style.

Estrich is a professor of law and political science, so it’s hard to imagine that her failure to provide any kind of vigorous advocacy against warrantless spying came from anything other than a desire to buddy up with the conservatives.

After accusing Democrats of sounding like Bin Laden last week, Sean Hannity suddenly had a new message. It’s not that Democrats are unpatriotic, it’s that they are “mired” in a pre-9/11 mentality.

Matalin, of course, agreed. “The whole world changed on 9/11 and the Senate then gave the president all the tools he needed – most of the tools he needed to combat this new enemy, the most critical tool being to monitor the intelligence… So why would we be restricting those tools now, fighting over the Patriot Act and making a big political fight which is a terrible strategic fight for the Democrats and liberals to be having now, when this very tool has produced results. It is effective.”

Hannity, citing the Echelon program, and Matalin, referring to the physical search of Aldrich Ames’ home, each cited the “Clinton did it, too” defense. Both of these justifications have been discredited.

Hannity, head tilted at an especially acute angle, said, “This is not about domestic spying… This specifically is a narrow focus on people that we believe are associated with terror groups. It’s like Osama bin laden calling America. Are we supposed to not listen?” This is another Republican canard. Nobody has said that the government shouldn’t listen to terrorists. It’s the fact that the government does it without getting a warrant that is problematic.

Matalin, smiled and nodded. “It is completely – not only legal and limited – but it’s targeted but just using the words ‘domestic spying’ is how the left frames these debates… It’s completely not that… If you’re calling your Aunt Sadie in Paris, we don’t care.”

Comment: Maybe not, but then why were the Quakers in Lake Worth, Florida targeted by the Pentagon?
Estrich had so much material to work with not the least of which should have been that the Administration has broken the law and that the “pre-9/11 mentality” goes all the way back to 1776 because our Constitution did not get blown to bits along with the World Trade Center.

But Estrich, in a foretaste of what was to come started off by saying, “First of all, Mary, you look gorgeous.” Matalin was not so cozy in return. Earlier she had said to Estrich, “We go back to the days when you could actually be sincere friends with Democrats.” In response to that smear, Estrich grinned broadly and enthusiastically.

Estrich’s “argument” was to attack Karl Rove first. “So what’s Karl Rove doing, he barely escapes indictment, you got Abramoff who’s looking at, you know, God knows how many years. You got the rule of law going down the tubes. Why didn’t Bush simply go to congress and ask for the authority he needed under the rule of law.”

Matalin said because “they” thought he already had the authority based on Article 2 of the Constitution. “He did go to the Congress – this program, it’s not only targeted, it is monitored, it is re-authorized every 4 to 6 weeks by the president and was briefed to the Congress. You know that is so and why you led off, Susan, with that cheap shot about Karl…”

“I like Karl but I don’t understand why he attacks Democrats as having a pre-9/11 mentality. That’s just not fair.”

Oh, come on! First of all, the issue is warrantless spying, not Karl Rove attacking Democrats. Secondly, if Estrich can’t understand why Rove is attacking Democrats, she does not deserve to be sitting in the co-host seat, however briefly.

Finally, Estrich addressed the legality but in a rambling, abstract way. “Because here’s the issue. If Congress were to pass a law – restricting, saying you have to go to a court and get a warrant – that there’s some check or balance here – under your theory, Mary, that law would be unconstitutional. You’re saying there’s no check at all on the president. Where’s the rule of law here?”

Matalin claimed, “When we are at war, Article 2 says that there’s inherent authority in the president to protect Americans. Your former president – our president, President Clinton used this to good effect in the Aldrich Ames case. President Lincoln has used it. President Roosevelt has used it. There’s no president at war who hasn’t used the inherent authority reposed in him by the Constitution to protect us. Congress further re-authorized specifically for this war, in this president, by virtue of their authorization, this ability to do this.”

Is that true? Senators from both sides of the aisle seem to disagree. But Estrich didn’t seem to have much of a problem with the legality. Her only concern: “But where’s the limit, Mary?”

“The limit is common sense… You think the president is calling your Aunt Sadie or listening in on your conversation? He could care less. It is very limited, targeted to terrorists… You liberals think – you continually impose on the president a motivation that’s sort of J Edgar Hooveresque - some cross-dressing, blackmailing crazy person from another era. He only cares about protecting Americans. He doesn’t care about spying on anybody and the evidence of that is there’s not been one single complaint registered since the inception of the Patriot Act.”

It’s hard to know what Matalin means by no complaint registered because there have been many. A member of the Quaker group in Lake Worth didn’t seem too happy testifying last week in front of Rep. John Conyers’ informal hearings, the ACLU has sued the Bush Administration over its program, and a Connecticut library has sued the Justice Department in a challenge to one of the provisions of the Patriot Act.

But Estrich either didn’t know or didn’t care about any of that. As the music started, signaling the end of the discussion, Estrich said, “Mary, you’re wonderful. I’m not questioning his motives. I just believe in judges.”

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