ACLU seeks access to 23 secret surveillance laws

Via The Intercept:

THE ACLU HAS identified 23 legal opinions that contain new or significant interpretations of surveillance law — affecting the government’s use of malware, its attempts to compel technology companies to circumvent encryption, and the CIA’s bulk collection of financial records under the Patriot Act — all of which remain secret to this day, despite an ostensible push for greater transparency following Edward Snowden’s disclosures.

The opinions were written by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. On Wednesday, the ACLU and the Yale Law School Media Freedom Clinic filed a motion with the court requesting that those opinions be released.

“The people of this country can’t hold the government accountable for its surveillance activities unless they know what our laws allow,” said Patrick Toomey, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s National Security Project. “These secret court opinions define the limits of the government’s spying powers. Their disclosure is essential for meaningful public oversight in our democracy.”

Some of the opinions identified by the ACLU offer interpretations of Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, a controversial provision that allows the government to conduct mass surveillance on American’s transnational communications. The authority is set to expire in December 2017.

Disclosure of the opinions would shed light on how the government understands the boundaries of its spying power. Earlier this month, for example, after Reuters reported that Yahoo is secretly scanning every customer’s incoming email, anonymous officials told the New York Times that that action was based on an individualized order from the secret court. Disclosure of the order would offer insight into why the government thinks that is legal. Yahoo, for its part, on Wednesday urged the Director of National Intelligence to release and explain the court order in question.

The ACLU identified the 23 still-secret opinions by combing through press clippings and publicly released opinions. A report released Tuesday by the Brennan Center for Justice, which was based on documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, similarly found that the government has kept classified 25 to 30 significant court opinions and orders dating from 2003 to 2013.

Citizens should be entitled to read the law. Secret laws have no place in a civilized society.

Joe Scarborough calls for GOP reform

Via The Washington Post:

The “Morning Joe” panel had a discussion this week about the reckoning that some on our show believed should take place about Donald Trump’s sins against American democracy. One guest suggested that Thanksgiving dinners across America should be used as a forum for Hillary Clinton supporters to lecture Trump-supporting family members on how their vote promoted racism and xenophobia.

“Please pass the cranberry sauce, you white-privileged bigot.”

No thanks.

Since our family makes it a habit to not talk politics at holiday gatherings, I will leave it to others to pollute their Thanksgivings with such unpleasant talk. The better place for such nasty political forums might be at Republican meetings across the country. After all, it is past time that my party confront the ugly undercurrents that led us to this point and have been allowed to fester in the Party of Lincoln for too long.

This November will mark the 50th anniversary of the GOP’s cracking of the Democrats’ “Solid South.” In 1966, voters across Dixie rebelled against Lyndon Johnson’s landmark civil rights laws and began electing Republicans to posts they had not held since the 1870s during Reconstruction. Next month will also mark the 50th year since the Reagan revolution was launched in California by the former actor’s stunning victory over Democratic legend Pat Brown.

* * *

This year, [an] undercurrent exploded to the surface of the 2016 campaign with the nomination of a candidate who dismissed many Mexicans as rapists and murderers, called for the banning of a billion Muslims from the United States, feigned ignorance on the topic of David Duke and the Ku Klux Klan, and spit out other racially charged comments that diminished his chances in the general election while seemingly feeding into his support in the Republican primary.

As Mika Brzezinski, Willie Geist and I have said for a year now, there are not enough white guys in America to elect Trump president without the support of others. His narrow strategy worked in a 17-person primary fight, and it may have even gotten him elected president had their been a few other legitimate third-party candidates. But Trump’s rhetoric seems to have limited his vote percentage to about 40 percent from the start of his campaign, and in 2016, that will not be enough to win.

Will the Trump candidacy serve as a wake-up call to Republicans? Did Romney’s loss and the party postmortem do any good four years later? Of course not. But it is past time that someone in the Republican Party leadership uses his or her position of influence to hammer into the heads of recalcitrant members that a half-century later, Reagan’s party is about to lose a presidential race’s popular vote for the sixth time in seven elections.

The Republican Party must reform or die. Because if it stays on its current course, George W. Bush’s fear may be proven right. He may be the last Republican ever elected to the White House.

Warning signs for the GOP in New Hampshire

Via The Washington Post:

Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) is eight points behind her Democratic rival, Gov. Maggie Hassan, in a race that could determine whether Republicans will retain control of the Senate, according to a poll from WMUR and the University of New Hampshire released Thursday.

The poll, which was conducted between Oct. 11 and 17, shows 38 percent of respondents would vote for Ayotte if the election were held today, compared with 46 percent for Hassan. Ayotte’s favorability rating also dropped to 39 percent, down from 47 percent in February. Her sharp decline in support is the latest sign that the unpopularity of GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump could put Republican control in Congress in serious jeopardy.

Trump is trailing Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton by 15 points in New Hampshire, according to a WMUR poll released Wednesday. That poll, which was conducted during the same time frame as the Senate survey, showed voters locking in their decisions with 71 percent of voters saying they have “definitely decided” who they will choose on Election Day.

Ayotte is one of a half dozen vulnerable GOP senators up for reelection in 2016 but her high popularity in New Hampshire has kept the race at a near tie for weeks. Clinton has led Trump in the state for months with little impact on support for Ayotte. But Ayotte has been caught in a firestorm of controversy in recent weeks as she has struggled to respond to the release of the 2005 tape of Trump talking about kissing and grabbing women without their permission and accusations that he sexually harassed and abused women.

In a debate held days after the tape was leaked Ayotte said Trump was “absolutely” a role model, a comment she later walked back. Later she announced that she would no longer be voting for Trump and would write in a vote for his running mate, Mike Pence.

Democrats seized on the debate gaffe with a series of ads attacking Ayotte for backing Trump. One such ad, from the Pro-Clinton group Priorities USA, accused Ayotte of “running away [from Trump] to save her political career.”

“New Hampshire voters see clearly that everything’s a political calculation with Kelly Ayotte, from her calculated move to retract her support for Donald Trump after reiterating her support for him more than 35 times to her voting record that favors the special interests who fund her campaign,” said Hassan Communications Director Aaron Jacobs in response to the latest poll.

More here.

GOP braces for Trump loss

Via The Washington Post:

A wave of apprehension and anguish swept the Republican Party on Thursday, with many GOP leaders alarmed by Donald Trump’s refusal to accept the outcome of the election and concluding that it is probably too late to salvage his flailing presidential campaign.

As the Republican nominee reeled from a turbulent performance in the final debate here in Las Vegas, his party’s embattled senators and House members scrambled to protect their seats and preserve the GOP’s congressional majorities against what Republicans privately acknowledge could be a landslide victory for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

With less than three weeks until the election, the Republican Party is in a state of historic turmoil, encapsulated by Trump’s extraordinary debate declaration that he would leave the nation in “suspense” about whether he would recognize the results from an election he has claimed will be “rigged” or even “stolen.”

The immediate responses from GOP officials were divergent and vague, with no clear strategy on how to handle Trump’s threat. The candidate was defiant and would not back away from his position, telling a roaring crowd Thursday in Ohio that he would accept the results “if I win” — and reserving his right to legally challenge the results should he fall short.

For seasoned Republicans who have watched Trump warily as a general-election candidate, the aftermath of Wednesday’s debate brought a feeling of finality.

“The campaign is over,” said Steve Schmidt, a Trump critic and former senior strategist on George W. Bush’s and John McCain’s presidential campaigns.

Calling a refusal to accept the election results “disqualifying,” Schmidt added: “The question is, how close will Clinton get to 400 electoral votes? She’ll be north of 350, and she’s trending towards 400 — and the trend line is taking place in very red states like Georgia, Texas and Arizona.”

More here.

Wall Street Journal calls out Donald Trump

Via The Wall Street Journal opinion on Trump’s performance in the debate:

[Clinton] made [Trump] look especially small on the matter of his women accusers, as Mr. Trump lashed back at her and accused the women of being set up by the Clinton campaign. Even if they were, Mr. Trump needs to do far better than he is doing among women voters to win on Nov. 8. And those voters would like to have seen some humility, if not remorse, instead of a boast that “nobody has more respect for women than I do.” After the Billy Bush video, that doesn’t wash.

Mr. Trump’s biggest mistake was his refusal to say he would accept the election results if he loses. “I will look at it at the time,” Mr. Trump said in reply to Mr. Wallace. Asked again by Fox News’ Mr. Wallace—by far the best moderator of this election year with his focus on substance—Mr. Trump made it worse by saying “I will keep you in suspense, okay?”

That again is Mr. Trump’s ego talking, a man who doesn’t like to lose refusing to take responsibility for his campaign. Voters on the right and left want to have faith in the electoral system. Mr. Trump’s statement makes us wonder if Mr. Trump and adviser Steve Bannon are planning to blame everyone else if he does lose. It’s true that Al Gore tried to steal the 2000 election from George W. Bush until the Supreme Court finally intervened, but that is not an example any Republican should want to follow.

The hard reality of this campaign is that it was set up for a Republican victory. A divided and unhappy country wants to move in a new direction. Even Mr. Trump, after all his mistakes, had essentially tied the race before the first debate. Win or lose in three weeks, the result will be one that he has earned.

Political quote of the day, part two

Via The Washington Post:

The highlight of the night may have been [Chris] Wallace’s follow-up question:

There is a tradition in this country — in fact, one of the prides of this country — is the peaceful transition of power and that no matter how hard-fought a campaign is, that at the end of the campaign that the loser concedes to the winner. Not saying that you’re necessarily going to be the loser or the winner, but that the loser concedes to the winner and that the country comes together in part for the good of the country. Are you saying you’re not prepared now to commit to that principle?

Trump’s response? “I’ll keep you in suspense.”

Much more here.

Political quote of the day

When Clinton called Trump a Putin puppet, he unraveled, once more proving how malleable he is with anyone from Vladimir Putin to Clinton, who either praises him or pokes him.

“No puppet. No puppet. You’re the puppet,’’ he said, going into what the former Obama chief speechwriter Jon Favreau tweeted was “a full Baldwin.’’ Talking about Putin, Trump once more offered the simple reason he has flipped his party’s wary stance toward the Evil Empire, subjugating his party’s ideology to his own ego: “He said nice things about me.’’ Similarly, he reduced a debate about the Supreme Court to the fact that Ruth Bader Ginsburg had attacked him and had to apologize.

He was so unnerved, he said one of the most shocking things ever heard in a debate, putting his ego ahead of American democracy. Asked by the admirable debate moderator, Fox News’ Chris Wallace, if he would accept the results of the election or reject it as rigged, Trump replied coyly and self-destructively: “I will tell you at the time,’’ adding, “I will keep you in suspense.”

The inanity continued, naturally, when Trump spinners talked to the press after the debate.

As The Washington Post’s Robert Costa tweeted, Sarah Palin told reporters that Trump will accept only a “legitimate” election, and anything else would betray those who “died” for freedom.

And the Post’s Phil Rucker tweeted that “Giuliani just predicted Dems will ‘steal’ the election in Pennsylvania by busing in people from out of state to pose as dead people to cast ballots.’’

Trump tried to give what one of his biographers, Timothy O’Brien, calls his “Clint Eastwood ‘High Plains Drifter’ glare’’ and spaghetti Western talk. “We have some bad hombres here that we’re gonna get ’em out,’’ he said about illegal immigrants who commit crimes.

But he was all hat, no cattle. He gets so easily distracted by belittling statements — even though he dishes them out so easily — that he could not focus to make points in areas where Hillary is vulnerable.

In order to stop losing, he would have to stop losing it.

But he didn’t. He got egged on. Bigly.

Maureen Dowd, writing in the New York Times, on Trump’s performance last night.

Ross Douthat on a Trump loss

Ross Douthat, writing in the New York Times, offers predictions of the actual events that would transpire should Donald Trump lose the election.

We are in the last days of Donald Trump, presidential candidate. But as his defeat becomes more assured, the anxiety about his political afterlife is mounting. Liberals fear a world where he refuses to concede and his supporters turn to violence. Conservatives fear a world where the Republican Party remains imprisoned in his short-fingered grasp. Fox News executives fear a world where Trump starts a cable channel and steals their audience out from under them. And his supporters imagine that like a populist Obi-Wan Kenobi, he will rise more powerful than before.

There is no question that Trump will haunt the country, and especially the Republican Party, long after the votes are counted on Nov. 8. But the Trump phenomenon will not sustain itself automatically at anything like this scale, and there are ways in which Trump could fade into the celebrity-industrial background of our culture rather more swiftly than many people think.

Start with the worst-case scenario for the election, from the point of view of civics and civil peace: Trump refuses to concede defeat, rants about voter fraud, denounces Republican officialdom for betraying him, and urges his supporters to storm polling places and take to the streets. It’s possible to imagine this message leading to spasms of violence, and thence to a future of armed clashes between Trumpist militias and left-wing protesters like the ones who flooded Trump’s Chicago rally earlier this year. (The Week’s Damon Linker imagines something along these apocalyptic lines in a recent column.)

But if Trump loses in three weeks by the largest landslide in post-Reagan political history, it’s also possible that such a “to the barricades” rant could look a bit, well, ridiculous even to his deepest-dyed supporters.

More here.

Stuart Rothenberg predicts it is far to late for Trump to win

Stuart Rothenberg, writing in the Washington Post:

The trajectory of the 2016 presidential race — which will result in a Hillary Clinton victory — remains largely unchanged from May, when Donald Trump and Clinton were in the process of wrapping up their nominations.

But what has changed recently is Clinton’s likely winning margin. For many weeks, even months, I have believed that Clinton would defeat Trump by three to six points. If anything, that range now looks a bit low, with the Democratic nominee apparently headed for a more convincing victory, quite possibly in the four-to-eight point range.

Trump continues to be his own worst enemy, saying or tweeting things that only fuel chatter about his current and past views, values and behavior. His comments about people — from Vladimir Putin and Alicia Machado to some of the women who have accused him of sexual assault — have kept the focus on him at a time when he should be making the election a referendum on Clinton.

No, Trump’s supporters have not turned on him. But he trails badly with only a few weeks to go until Nov. 8, and he must broaden his appeal to have any chance of winning. That is now impossible.

Major national polls show Clinton leading among likely voters by anywhere from as few as four points, in the Oct. 10-13 Washington Post/ABC News poll, to as many as 11 points in the Oct. 10-13 NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey.

Clinton’s personal ratings among registered voters remain terrible. A mind-boggling 62 percent of respondents in the Washington Post/ABC News poll said that she is not “honest and trustworthy,” and 57 percent of those polled said they had an unfavorable view of her.

Yet these numbers help explain why Clinton is ahead in the race and could win by a large margin: Trump’s numbers are even worse.

A sizable 64 percent in the same poll said Trump is not honest or trustworthy, and an identical percentage said that he doesn’t have the temperament to be an effective president. A majority, 58 percent, said Trump is not qualified to be president. Two out of three respondents had an unfavorable view of the GOP nominee.

 More here.

Baseless Trump claims of a “rigged” election

Via The New York Times Editorial Board:

It may be too late for the Republican Party to save itself from the rolling disaster of Donald Trump, but the party’s top leaders still have the duty to speak out and help save the country from his reckless rhetoric. The most frightening example is Mr. Trump’s frenzied claim that the presidential election is being “rigged” against him — a claim he has ramped up as his chances of winning the presidency have gone down.

Instead of disavowing this absurdity outright, Republican leaders sit by in spineless silence. Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, and Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House, are the two most powerful Republicans in the country and should be willing to put the national interest above their own. Both know full well that there is no “rigging,” and yet between them they have managed one tepid response to Mr. Trump’s outrageous accusations: “Our democracy relies on confidence in election results,” Mr. Ryan’s spokeswoman said, “and the speaker is fully confident the states will carry out this election with integrity.”

This is like standing back while an arsonist pours gasoline all over your house, then expressing confidence that the fire department will get there in time.

Mr. Ryan and Mr. McConnell could hardly dishonor themselves more than they already have in this sordid election year, but their refusal to stand up to Mr. Trump’s pernicious lie may be their lowest moment yet.

Other high-profile Republicans have amplified Mr. Trump’s charges and further riled up his angry base. On Saturday, Senator Jeff Sessions, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee from Alabama, told a crowd at a Trump rally in New Hampshire that “they are attempting to rig this election.” On Sunday, Rudy Giuliani, the former New York City mayor and now Mr. Trump’s race-baiting surrogate, told CNN that he would be a “moron” to believe that the voting in cities like Chicago and Philadelphia would be fair to Mr. Trump. “I have found very few situations where Republicans cheat,” Mr. Giuliani said. “They don’t control the inner cities the way Democrats do.”

More here.