On Patriot Act, Franken forgot the 4th, Klobuchar rhetoric careened


Minnesotans disgusted by insipid Twins-Yankees TV commentators might find comic relief in civil libertarians’ online kibbitzing about U.S. Sens. Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar, who last week voted to renew the Patriot Act without reforms in the Senate Judiciary Committee. In so doing, Minnesota’s senators committed the legislative equivalent of calling a plainly fair ball foul or overrunning third base. 

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) singles out Franken for forgetting the very Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution with which he so recently bludgeoned an Obama Administration witness before the same committee:

A special disappointment at yesterday’s hearing was freshman Senator Al Franken’s vote for the bill, which amongst other things renewed PATRIOT’s “roving” “John Doe” wiretap authority allowing the government to get a wiretapping order that doesn’t name the wiretapping target or specify the phone lines and email accounts to be wiretapped. Just two weeks ago, Senator Franken was lecturing a Justice Department official on how the Fourth Amendment requires that search warrants specify with particularity the persons and places to be searched. He was right, then; he was wrong, yesterday.

EFF has Klobuchar, a co-sponsor of the Patriot Act-renewal bill, delivering an unwitting punchline in the tragicomic defeat of new limits to the far-reaching law:

Another sad but humorous moment of disappointment came from Senator Klobuchar, who opposed Senator Durbin’s amendment to ensure that the FBI only use National Security Letters to obtain records related to a spy or terrorist. Thinking that she was reading the text of the bill that she was about to vote for, Klobuchar recited instead Senator Durbin’s proposal to defend the reasonableness of the NSL standard in the bill. In other words … Senator Klobuchar praised the NSL standard in Durbin’s amendment immediately before she voted to help kill it.


Irregular Times piles on: “Klobuchar … does not keep her mouth shut, even when to do so might be in her best interest. … Nobody would have known that she didn’t understand the legislation in front of her if she hadn’t decided, seemingly on the spur of the moment, to speak up.”

This is Irregular Times’ transcript of Klobuchar’s unwarranted speechifying (watch video here, starting at 95:00):

KLOBUCHAR: Yeah, thank you, um, Mr. Chairman, and I, I agree with you Mr. Chairman, and, uh, Senator Sessions, in opposing the amendment. And I would just point to the actual language in here, which is, uh it’s not like this is some pie in the sky standard here. I mean, it specifically says that there has to be, for this letter to issue, “reasonable grounds to believe that the information sought is relevant to an authorized national security investigation provided that such an investigation of the United States person is not conducted solely on the basis of activities protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution and pertain to a foreign power or an agent of a foreign power, is relevant to the activities of a suspected agent of a foreign power who is subject of such authorized investigation, or pertains to an individual in contact with, or known to, a suspected agent of a foreign power.”

So I just, for anyone listening to this, it is not like there is no standard! There is a standard in place here.

SEN. JEFF SESSIONS: That’s the standard that is in the bill now?

KLOBUCHAR: [nod and smile]

SEN. DICK DURBIN: Senator, that’s the standard of the amendment. It’s not in the bill now.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: Clerk will call the roll.

DURBIN: Mr. Chairman, can I have a moment?

LEAHY: Senator Durbin.

DURBIN: I’d like to make that point to Senator Klobuchar!

LEAHY: Oh, I’d like to make it very clear, I’m not going to cut off anybody who wants to, obviously, I…

DURBIN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. It’s rare we get a chance to talk about issues of this gravity, and I think we ought to take a few moments to do it. And I would say to Senator Klobuchar, you just read my amendment, and I think it’s critically important that you understand what we’re establishing here.

Wisconsin is the only other state with both its senators on the Judiciary Committee. That state’s Sen. Russ Feingold, a leading Patriot Act reformer, took to the Daily Kos web pages with a post titled “It’s Not the Prosecutors’ Committee, It’s the Judiciary Committee” after the committee voted down his alternative Justice Act.

Feingold is too polite to call out his neighbor-state colleagues in his blog post.