I was on the air doing my radio program two weeks ago when the story came down the wire that the killer of JonBenét Ramsey had been captured in Thailand just hours earlier. I opened the microphone and said words to the effect of, "Today there must be something really awful going down for the Republicans. Maybe Rove really will be indicted. Maybe Cheney. Maybe some terrible revelation about Bush. And if there isn't, today will be the day they'll toss out the unsavory stories - like gutting an environmental law or wiping out pension plans - that they don't want covered."
Apparently it was worse than I'd imagined.
That same morning - just hours after the JonBenét information hit the press and just after I got off the air - it was revealed that US District Court Judge Anna Diggs Taylor had ruled that George W. Bush and now-CIA Director Michael Hayden had committed multiple High Crimes, Misdemeanors, and felonies, both criminal and constitutional. If her ruling stands, Bush and Hayden could go to prison.
As Judge Taylor said in her "ACLU v. NSA" decision (available here): "In this case, the President has acted, undisputedly, as FISA [the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] forbids."
When somebody acts "as FISA forbids," the law is pretty clear about the penalties. As you can read here, when somebody - anybody - breaks the FISA law, they are subject to "a fine of not more than $10,000 or imprisonment for not more than five years, or both."
Further, in the case of a president or NSA director, the law specifies that federal agents and courts have the authority to arrest and prosecute: "There is Federal jurisdiction over an offense under this section if the person committing the offense was an officer or employee of the United States at the time the offense was committed."
Judge Taylor went on to point out that Bush had not only broken the law, but that he had also violated the Constitution - which many legal scholars would suggest is clearly an impeachable offense. In Judge Taylor's words:
"The President of the United States, a creature of the same Constitution which gave us these Amendments [the Bill of Rights], has undisputedly violated the Fourth in failing to procure judicial orders as required by FISA, and accordingly has violated the First Amendment Rights of these Plaintiffs as well."
But the media didn't notice. They were too busy with the story of the child-killer who had finally, after a decade, been found and captured. As the Think Progress blog noted:
Yesterday, a federal judge in Michigan issued "a sweeping rebuke of the once-secret domestic-surveillance effort the White House authorized following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001." The ruling was "a significant blow to Bush's attempts to expand presidential powers," but you wouldn't know that by watching last evening's network newscasts.
Think Progress went on to chronicle how much time the three big networks had devoted to the two stories that first night:
NBC - 7 minutes 39 seconds on the Ramsey story, only 27 seconds on the NSA
CBS - 3 minutes 23 seconds on the Ramsey story, only 25 seconds on the NSA
ABC - 4 minutes 3 seconds on the Ramsey story, only 2 minutes on the NSA
Within a few days, the story of the President being found guilty of both imprisonable felonies and impeachable violations of the Constitution had vanished from the mainstream media altogether.
This isn't the first time bad news for Republicans has been coincidentally eclipsed by Suddenly Huge Stories.
Keith Olbermann first compiled, almost a year ago on his "Countdown" program on MSNBC, a list of ten "coincidences" wherein bad news for the Bush administration (or, during the election, good news for John Kerry) was immediately followed by terror alerts that grabbed the headlines and diverted the attention, Teflon-like, away from Republicans and into a media frenzy.
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Olbermann's list is now up to 13 of these odd "coincidences." An administration that would out a CIA agent and bring down an entire counterterrorism operation just to punish a former ambassador who dared to speak out about administration lies may well be easily capable of cooking up news-grabbing "coincidences."
And apparently there's some fire to go with that smoke. As USA Today reported ("Ridge Reveals Clashes On Alerts" by Mimi Hall, 10 May 2005):
"The Bush administration periodically put the USA on high alert for terrorist attacks even though then-Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge argued there was only flimsy evidence to justify raising the threat level, Ridge now says. ...
"'More often than not we were the least inclined to raise it,' Ridge told reporters. 'Sometimes we disagreed with the intelligence assessment. Sometimes we thought even if the intelligence was good, you don't necessarily put the country on (alert). ... There were times when some people were really aggressive about raising it, and we said, "For that?"'"
By coincidence, when Boulder District Attorney Mary Lacy made her first announcement, transcribed by the Rocky Mountain News, she mentioned her work with Bush's Department of Homeland Security several times, naming agents of that department, and pointing out that her own investigator, Mark Spray, had been sent off to Thailand a week earlier "with little more than four hours notice."
It probably took Judge Anna Diggs Taylor around a week to wrap up the wording of her decision, and if the NSA were spying on her without a warrant, the timing of sending off a Boulder agent just in time to generate a sensational headline a week later would be no problem.
In a way, it would be nothing new: Republican operatives working out of Utah Republican Senator Orrin Hatch's office successfully hacked into the computers of and spied on several prominent Democrats, most notably Massachusetts Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy, for over a year from the Spring of 2002 through April of 2003. As The Boston Globe noted on January 22, 2004, the memos were then leaked at useful moments to The Washington Times, Bob Novak, and others:
"Republican staff members of the US Senate Judiciary Committee infiltrated opposition computer files for a year, monitoring secret strategy memos and periodically passing on copies to the media, Senate officials told The Globe.
"From the spring of 2002 until at least April 2003, members of the GOP committee staff exploited a computer glitch that allowed them to access restricted Democratic communications without a password. Trolling through hundreds of memos, they were able to read talking points and accounts of private meetings discussing which judicial nominees Democrats would fight -- and with what tactics.
"The office of Senate Sergeant-at-Arms William Pickle has already launched an investigation into how excerpts from 15 Democratic memos showed up in the pages of the conservative-leaning newspapers and were posted to a website last November.
"With the help of forensic computer experts from General Dynamics and the US Secret Service, his office has interviewed about 120 people to date and seized more than half a dozen computers -- including four Judiciary servers, one server from the office of Senate majority leader Bill Frist of Tennessee, and several desktop hard drives.
"But the scope of both the intrusions and the likely disclosures is now known to have been far more extensive than the November incident, staffers and others familiar with the investigation say.
"The revelation comes as the battle of judicial nominees is reaching a new level of intensity. Last week, President Bush used his recess power to appoint Judge Charles Pickering to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, bypassing a Democratic filibuster that blocked a vote on his nomination for a year because of concerns over his civil rights record."
Investigations into the "computer glitch" have been blocked by Senate Republicans for three years now, and the data was used to successfully torpedo several of Kennedy's and other Democrats' efforts against Bush's federal judicial appointments of right-wing extremists.
So we have Republicans who have admitted spying illegally. Who brag about it. And who have evidently - according to Tom Ridge - played the media like a violin for years. Could it be that the Karr/Ramsey case is another Soviet-style manipulation of the media?
Or is that too paranoid to contemplate?
Tragically, there are virtually no investigative reporters left in America, and the few who are still working find incredible roadblocks - and over the past year the threat of imprisonment - when looking into the workings of the Bush administration's intelligence services.
So, at the worst for Republicans who trot out "news" and "terror alerts" to misdirect our attention, this will probably just be chalked up as Coincidence Number 14 on Keith Olbermann's list.