Had Schiff and Swalwell been concerned at all with the privacy rights of ordinary citizens, they would have joined with the majority of Democrats in supporting Amash’s bill. They sided with the U.S. security state (and the Trump White House) against the rights of ordinary Americans. When reporting on this repellent act, I wrote under the headline: “The Same Democrats Who Denounce Donald Trump as a Lawless, Treasonous Authoritarian Just Voted to Give Him Vast Warrantless Spying Powers.”
So stunningly craven was this vote from Pelosi, Schiff and Swalwell that they were denounced even by the ACLU, which, during the Trump years, rarely criticized Democrats. Though not calling them out by name, the group clearly referred to them and others when expressing indignation about how the same Democrats who claimed to find Trump so dangerous just ensured the defeat of a bill that would have limited his powers, along with those of future Presidents, to abuse the government’s spying powers against U.S. citizens.
The privacy group Electronic Frontiers Foundation described the bill that ultimately passed this way: “the House just approved the disastrous NSA surveillance extension bill that will allow for continued, unconstitutional surveillance that hurts the American people and violates our Fourth Amendment rights.” Meanwhile, Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA) praised the Republicans who voted to rein in spying powers even under Trump — an effort that would have succeeded if not for the pro-surveillance treachery of Pelosi, Schiff and Swalwell — and pointedly asked:
When @justinamash & @VoteMeadows, chair of the freedom caucus, vote against surveillance, but scores of Democrats vote for it, then its fair to ask what does our party stand for? If we can’t be unified around the principle of civil liberties, then what is the soul of our party?
— Ro Khanna (@RoKhanna) January 11, 2018
Thus do we have Schiff and Swalwell joining the ranks of a shameful club: politicians — usually California Democrats — who cheer for and empower the spying state when they think it will be used only against ordinary Americans, but not important and upstanding figures such as themselves. They then become indignant when they learn that they themselves were targeted with the spying powers they enabled.
In 2009, another long-time pro-surveillance California House Democrat, Rep. Jane Harman, learned that her private communications with an Israeli government agent had been intercepted by NSA wiretaps as she was plotting to pressure the DOJ to reduce the criminal charges against two AIPAC officials. She was absolutely furious to learn of this, telling MSNBC‘s Andrea Mitchell:
I call it an abuse of power…. I’m just very disappointed that my country — I’m an American citizen just like you are — could have permitted what I think is a gross abuse of power in recent years. I’m one member of Congress who may be caught up in it, and I have a bully pulpit and I can fight back. I’m thinking about others who have no bully pulpit, who may not be aware, as I was not, that someone is listening in on their conversations, and they’re innocent Americans.
What Harman forgot to mention during her angry rant was that she had spent years — as the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee and Homeland Security subcommittee — doing everything possible to defend, justify and expand the powers of the U.S. security state to spy on ordinary Americans. Like Schiff and Swalwell, she was delighted to see ordinary serfs spied on by their own government, and discovered her passion for privacy rights only when it was her conversations that were monitored.
Exactly the same thing happened with Sen. Dianne Feinstein, yet another California Democrat who has long been one of the most stalwart defenders of the NSA and CIA. Feinstein, whose oligarchical husband made tens of millions as a military contractor, spent years as one of the security state’s most loyal allies. She has been at the center of virtually every increase in NSA spying powers over the last several decades. Even in the wake of the Snowden reporting, she was fighting to preserve and even increase NSA domestic spying powers, vowing to block any reform efforts.
Yet in 2014, Feinstein learned that the CIA under then-Director John Brennen was spying on her and her Committee as it investigated the CIA’s interrogation programs. And, like Harman before her and Schiff and Swalwell now, she was furious about it, demanding an investigation and warning: “this is plainly an attempt to intimidate these staff and I am not taking it lightly.” As Snowden himself put it at the time after expressing concerns over the Brennan-led CIA’s spying on the Senate:
It’s equally if not more concerning that we’re seeing another “Merkel Effect,” where an elected official does not care at all that the rights of millions of ordinary citizens are violated by our spies, but suddenly it’s a scandal when a politician finds out the same thing happens to them.
And, needless to say, Feinstein, Schiff and Harman were all leading voices in maligning and demanding the prosecution of Snowden for blowing the whistle on the domestic spying abuses they supported against ordinary Americans. These political elites view revelations of illegal spying on ordinary Americans as a crime, but revelations of spying on themselves as a noble journalistic act that require immediate investigations and mass outrage.
There are few attributes more contemptible in a politician than placing themselves above the citizenry they are supposed to be serving, believing that they themselves should be immune and protected from the burdens they impose on ordinary Americans. That this DOJ investigation of Schiff and Swalwell was baseless or abusive may turn out to be correct: time will tell.
But few people have less credibility to express indignation over such spying abuses than these two House members. After playing such a vital role in ensuring that ordinary citizens are vulnerable to these vast and unrestrained surveillance systems, they now want everyone to denounce those same powers since they are the purported victims this time rather than the perpetrators.
Update, June 11, 2021, 12:12 p.m. ET: I neglected to include one of the most relevant examples. In 2019, Schiff, as part of his investigation into Trump’s involvement in Ukraine, subpoenaed the telephone records of various Trump allies and then publicly released them, in the process revealing communications activities of fellow members of Congress and journalists:
Fanatics can justify any action, and House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff this week demonstrated where that mindset leads. In his rush to paint Donald Trump as a lawbreaker, Mr. Schiff has himself trampled law and responsibility.
That’s the bottom line in Mr. Schiff’s stunning decision to subpoena the phone records of Rudy Giuliani and others. Mr. Schiff divulged the phone logs this week in his Ukraine report, thereby revealing details about the communications of Trump attorneys Jay Sekulow and Mr. Giuliani, ranking Intelligence Committee member Devin Nunes, reporter John Solomon and others. The media is treating this as a victory, when it is a disgraceful breach of ethical and legal propriety.
Check to see how many people expressing indignation today over the Trump DOJ’s acquisition of these records on Schiff and Swalwell expressed even a whiff of concern about that, and there you will see the difference between genuine defenders of privacy and those (like Schiff and Swalwell) who feign indignation only when they themselves are targeted.