In today’s snoopgate news, the FISA court itself has decided to look more closely into what exactly Bush has been doing:
Presiding Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly…told fellow FISA court members by e-mail Monday that she is arranging for them to convene in Washington, preferably early next month, for a secret briefing on the program, several judges confirmed yesterday.
….The judges could, depending on their level of satisfaction with the answers, demand that the Justice Department produce proof that previous wiretaps were not tainted, according to government officials knowledgeable about the FISA court. Warrants obtained through secret surveillance could be thrown into question. One judge, speaking on the condition of anonymity, also said members could suggest disbanding the court in light of the president’s suggestion that he has the power to bypass the court.
If Bush won’t reconsider his decision to bypass federal law the entire court may follow James Robertson’s lead and resign in protest. Anybody who knows an example of Bush reconsidering anything is invited to share it in the comments – snark, irrelevancies, anything. Bush gives me the impression of a man who cannot or will not change course once he’s made up his mind, and I’d be glad to be proved substantially wrong. That might not be an issue if he had an infallible judgment or a tendency to think things through fully, but he doesn’t so it is.
Let me make one point about momentum. Certain stories start out as what seems like an evenly-matched debate but pick up an inexorable momentum forcing one side or the other to retreat from point a to point b to, finally, total capitulation. Think of the London shooting story, or the WP debate. In both cases the slow drip of news eventually made it impossible to defend the perspective that the police did nothing wrong, or that the US used chemical weapons in Fallujah (easy with the outrage – I’m just talking about whether WP qualifies as a banned chemical weapon, not whether it’s good).
From the White House perspective this FISA story seems to have taken on that most dreaded kind of momentum, Joementum [thanks to Masson’s blog for the link]. Joementum is that inexorable political quicksand where every effort to push back only embarrasses you further. Joementum is the classical tragedy in which the hero’s own character flaw seals his unhappy fate before the high-flying first act has closed. The White house saw this story coming for over a year, and yet their explanations range from wrong (“Congress had oversight,” “the 9/11 resolution allowed Bush to bypass legislation.”) to disingenuous (“FISA courts ruled in 2002 that it was ok“) to embarassingly trite (“Clinton did it“).
I may be wrong. But judging by the gravity of the accusations and the quality of the defense mounted so far, I doubt it.
Some confusion remains about a semi-relevant appeals court decision from 2002. See here for relevant commentary. Post rebuttals in the comments.