The ACLU of Massachusetts, along with national leadership, is rejecting House Republicans' claims of government surveillance wrongdoing outlined in the controversial Nunes memo.
Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts, and Rahsaan Hall, director of the organization's Racial Justice Program, joined Boston Public Radio Tuesday to discuss the ACLU's stance on the memo, which House Republicans declassified and released last week. The memo, written by Rep. Devin Nunes (R-California), alleges the FBI and Department of Justice abused its surveillance powers to improperly obtain a warrant to spy on President Trump's former foreign policy advisor, Carter Page, during the 2016 election.
House Speaker Paul Ryan called for the release of Nunes' memo, citing possible misconduct by the FBI. During a press conference Tuesday, he was asked if the Nunes memo was an attempt by Trump to undermine the Mueller investigation.
“Look, let me go back to what I just said. This is about FISA abuse, and this is about holding our government accountable, and this is about Congress doing its job and conducting oversight over the executive branch, which in this particular case, has been given great power over us as citizens,” Ryan told reporters. “We need to make sure that that power is used correctly.”
Below is an excerpt of Rose's conversation with Boston Public Radio host Jim Braude. It has been edited for clarity.
JIM BRAUDE: The Civil Liberties Union is famous for defending unpopular people. Why didn’t Carter Page deserve the support of the ACLU? Were his rights not violated by the FBI when they went to the FISA court?
CAROL ROSE: Everybody’s rights are violated when they go to the foreign intelligence surveillance court, in general, so sure. I think the position here was that Devin Nunes and the Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee were picking and cherry-picking the facts that they wanted to release and not releasing the whole picture. If you’re going to release some information about what’s going on with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, let’s release the whole thing. Beyond that, really concerning is just that days ago, Devin Nunes was leading the charge to reauthorize section 702 of [FISA] and was rejecting efforts by other legislators to put in some protections for Americans.
What this 702 does is to say that the intelligence agencies can basically spy on Americans. Any American who is speaking with somebody who might be overseas, international, so whether that’s an international journalist or human rights worker or someone from a community that might have relatives overseas, they don’t have the protections of the Fourth Amendment.
JB: Because they’re on the other end of the line, while the target is the foreign whomever, if you’re an American citizen on the other end of the line, they get surveilled as well?
CR: You get swept up in and you get surveilled as well, and without the protections that a lot of people are trying to push for, then all Americans are basically — because it’s seven degrees of separation, right? — then all of us can get swept up in this intelligence surveillance net.
So it’s really hypocritical that Devin Nunes, who was fighting [not] to have any reforms of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, should suddenly find himself very concerned about Carter Page’s rights.
JB: One thing about the FISA thing that has gotten no attention — there was a piece in The New York Times a few years ago that showed that judges rarely deny applications for wiretaps, government statistics show. So essentially 100 percent of the warrants or wiretaps are approved anyway, so the whole conversation is almost ridiculous.
CR: It’s a total rubber stamp. And that’s the failing of it — it’s not really a warrant at all. What [the ACLU] thinks should happen is there should just be a warrant requirement. If you think there’s probable cause that a crime has been committed or is about to be committed, you can track it. But what they’re doing is blurring the line between intelligence collection and criminal activity. And when that wall goes down, our civil liberties are at risk.
Carol Rose is the executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts. Rahsaan Hall is the Director of the Racial Justice Program for the ACLU of Massachusetts.