Can Chuck Schumer Be Trusted?

Pachacutec over at Firedoglake gives 12 reasons not to trust Chuck Schumer. Why is Schumer an issue? Because Harry Reid has asked him to stay on as the Chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) for another two years.

Sources said Schumer has agreed to Senate Majority Leader-in-waiting Harry Reid's request that he stay on as head of the Democratic campaign committee for another two years, partly to counter the growing influence of liberals like Sen. Ted Kennedy and Rep. Nancy Pelosi.

Reid and other party bosses believe Schumer's middle-of-the-road strategy in recruiting a fistful of moderate candidates to knock off GOP incumbents in red states is the only way for Democrats to hold onto or increase their power.

"You have to save the party from not drifting too far over," Schumer told The Post yesterday.

I'll add another reason: Schumer's checkered past endorsement of excessive wiretapping.

Flashback to 1996:

On the eve of the first anniversary of the Oklahoma bombing in April, 1996, Congress passed the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996. The Democrats were very disappointed, however, because the bill passed without proposed expansions of wiretapping authority. In May 1996, Reps. Charles Schumer (D-NY) and John Conyers (D-MI) introduced H.R. 3409 "to combat domestic terrorism."

The bill, titled the "Effective Anti-Terrorism Tools for Law Enforcement Act of 1996," would expand the powers granted to the FBI to engage in multi- point (roving) wiretaps and emergency wiretaps without court orders, and to access an individual's hotel and vehicle and storage facility rental records. It also relaxed the requirements for obtaining pen register and trap and trace orders in foreign intelligence investigations.

A lesser known and far less advertised provision provides for the amendment of the statutory wiretap suppression remedy in 18 U.S.C. 2515. The Section now provides that evidence of intercepted communications may not be admitted in any criminal trial or hearing, or before a grand jury, if disclosure of the information would be in violation of the wiretap chapter. The amendment in H.R. 3409 provides that the suppression remedy in 2515 would not apply unless the violation involved "bad faith by law enforcement."

In July 1996, following the Saudi bombing, the crash of TWA Flight 800 and the Olympic park bombing, President Clinton asked Congress for immediate passage of the new anti-terrorism bill. There was also a renewed push to pass a bill to fund the Digital Telephony Act passed last Congress (the "Communications Assistance to Law Enforcement Act," PL 103- 414, commonly known as the "National Wiretap Plan").

Here's what happened:

The conservative House Republicans came to the rescue. They demanded that new privacy safeguards be enacted as the price for any increased wiretapping authority, which would provide individuals with the right to sue individual law enforcement officers for wrongful collection of private information and increase the criminal penalties for such violations, as well as penalties for the wrongful disclosure of wiretap information.

....Late in the night of August 1, a House Republican agreement was reached. August 2, 1996, the House passed H.R. 3953, the "Aviation Security and Anti-Terrorism Act of 1996." .... The proposals for increased wiretap authority were excluded. The digital telephone funding provision was deleted. Instead, the bill actually enhances privacy safeguards under the Privacy Act and the wiretap laws, by increasing the penalties for illegal use of electronic surveillance information. H.R. 3953 adds terrorist offenses as RICO predicates. It directs the Secretary of State to proceed with the designation of foreign "terrorist organizations," as provided in the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act enacted in April, 1996; and thereafter, directs the Secretary of the Treasury to accordingly freeze the assets of, and the Attorney General to initiate the removal of, known alien terrorists and criminals. The bill also establishes a National Commission on Terrorism to make reports to Congress; and directs a study on the feasibility of using taggants in black and smokeless powder.

The same day the House bill passed, August 2, here's what Schumer did:

August 2, Reps. Hyde (R-IL), Conyers (D-MI), Schumer (D-NY) and McCollum (R-FL), among others, introduced H.R. 3960, the "Anti-Terrorism Law Enforcement Enhancement Act of 1996." Simply put, this bill consists of the wiretap provisions excluded from the just-passed H.R. 3953!

It expands multi-point wiretapping, provides increased emergency wiretap authority, and relaxes requirements for obtaining pen register and trap and trace orders in foreign counter surveillance investigations. It reduces the number of the progress reports the government is required to submit to the judge during a wiretap, from the typical number of one every ten days (or at any other interval, in the discretion of the judge overseeing the case at hand), to a single report after fifteen days. And it adds yet more offenses to the list of RICO predicates.

Flash forward to 2003. Chisun Lee reports in the Village Voice on how Schumer moved to make covert surveillance easier for the Government:

To the consternation of the American Civil Liberties Union, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and Human Rights Watch, among others, the senator [Schumer] is spearheading a bill that would enable federal agents to more easily monitor individuals in the U.S. using powerful foreign intelligence surveillance warrants. His co-sponsorship of the measure, with Republican Jon Kyl of Arizona, has helped assure bipartisan popularity to the extent that, as Schumer told the Voice last week, "there is virtually no opposition to this in Congress."

The senator wants to give federal investigators wider latitude under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which allows the most intrusive surveillance of suspected foreign spies and terrorists, and of individuals who may not be provably suspect themselves but can be linked to a suspect "foreign power" that currently may be as loosely defined as one other person. Schumer wants to redefine "foreign power" to mean the desired surveillance target alone, warning that someone could plot terrorism with no connection to anyone else. This change would obviate the need to make a link, removing one step from investigators' efforts to justify a FISA probe.

One more reason: In 2003, while he opposed Miguel Estrada and Priscilla Owen for judgeships, Schumer pushed Arlen Specter for a seat on the Supreme Court.

To be fair, Schumer challenged John Ashcroft's recommendation for a successor head at Abu Ghraib and Bush's NSA warrantless wiretapping program swayed him against the renewal of the Patriot Act.

Schumer seems all over the map to me. As Pachacutec says, there are lots of reasons not to trust him as continued Chair of the DSCC. Do we want him in charge of funding candidates who are weak on our civil liberties? I'm not sure we can trust him not to go there.

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