WILLIAM BARR: WORKING...

WILLIAM BARR: WORKING FOR YOU. My good friend Brian Beutler just published an explosive piece at Raw Story potentially implicating Verizon in the NSA wiretapping scandal and illuminating a fascinating nexus between the company's legal department and the Republican Party. It turns out that William Barr, Bush 41's Attorney General and a top Reagan advisor, is the head legal counsel and a VP for Verizon. Not surprisingly, given his experience in government, he's routinely called up by the Senate to testify on legal and intelligence matters. Here are a few choice samples:

"I believe that the critical legal powers are granted directly by the Constitution itself, not by Congressional enactments. When the Nation itself is under attack by a foreign enemy, the Constitution vests the broadest possible defense powers in the President...No foreign threat can arise that the Constitution does not empower the President to meet and defeat."

"While the PATRIOT Act was a major step forward and remedied FISA's most severe problems, I believe FISA remains too restrictive in a fundamental respect. It still requires that the government establish 'probable cause' that an individual is either 'a foreign power' or an 'agent of foreign power'"

In other words, a Vice President and head legal advisor of Verizon is a longtime Republican appointee who has repeatedly appeared before Congress to advocate for greater executive powers, dismiss FISA as "too restrictive," and deride the idea that "the government [should] go to a judge to obtain an order" as making "absolutely no sense since it is precisely in the terrorism context that the need for speed is most acute." To appreciate the full hackishness of that quote, you need to remember that wiretaps can be placed immediately, and the judicial order can be granted retroactively within three days.

The questions this raises regarding Verizon's role and transparency are obvious. As a Verizon customer, I don't feel particularly protected knowing my bills are going to pay William Barr's salary so he can assure the company's top brass and the United States Senate that warrantless wiretapping is A-OK. And I'd like a clear answer from the company as to what their privacy policies are, and whether they too think "probable cause" is too restrictive a standard.

--Ezra Klein

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