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Questioning Mary Jo Kilroy on the FISA Amendments Act

On Sunday August 31, I approached Ohio 15th District congressional candidate Mary Jo Kilroy at a campaign event and with her permission recorded the following conversation about the FISA Amendments Act, a law passed this year that enables wiretaps, searches and seizures without notification or a warrant. Kilroy has no written material on her campaign website regarding the FISA Amendments Act, so I asked her to comment on her position regarding that law:

Jim Cook: Regarding the FISA Amendments Act, if you were in the 110th Congress would you have voted for or against that bill?

Mary Jo Kilroy: Yeah, again, I’ve got to say that I don’t know the final form of the bill, but let me talk about some of the issues. I think that we can have a safe America without trampling on civil liberties, and I think that the FISA courts as constituted now provide the opportunity for immediate wiretaps but then go and get a warrant, and I think that’s important that we don’t have unlimited warrantless searches. The 48 hour period to get a warrant gives the administration time to get evidence and go to court and have that approved by an independent branch of government, which is one of the checks and balances in our constitution.

But the telecom immunity issue for retroactive telecom immunity, I would have opposed.

Cook: OK, if I told you there was a 7-day period in the FISA Amendments Act that passed and that was signed into law…

Kilroy: I can’t say.

Cook: If there’s a period of 7 days in which the president can search electronically and also engage in physical search, because there’s a physical search provision, if you were told that that was part of the FISA Amendments Act and then there was an additional 60 day period…

Kilroy: I’m going to have to take a look at it myself. I don’t really like having people say, “If I told you this…”

Cook: OK. Let’s imagine hypothetically that you found out that there was a bill. OK? I’m not going to say it’s this bill. It allows a 67 day period during which the president could search anyone anywhere without a warrant and then could keep the evidence afterward and use that information they obtained. Is that the kind of thing you’d support?

Kilroy: I’m a strong supporter of our Constitution and our Bill of Rights and I think that we can live within our Bill of Rights including the constitutional protections against unreasonable search and seizure of American homes, invading American zones of privacy, and I think that we can be secure in this country and protect our privacy as citizens.

Cook: OK, so if you found out that it was part of the federal law…

Kilroy: Let me take a look at what the federal law is, actually. I think that the FISA courts are appropriate and they’ve been in use and the FISA court provides for a way to have the administration immediately wiretap and then go to the FISA court and then get a warrant, and I think that is a good way to do it.

Cook: Thank you very much, Ms. Kilroy.

Kilroy: You’re welcome.

So what is Mary Jo Kilroy’s position as a congressional candidate regarding the FISA Amendments Act? It’s hard to say. Kilroy’s remarks about supporting the Constitution and the Bill of Rights are general and include enough wiggle words like “unreasonable” to be compatible with almost any position. Kilroy’s characterization of the structure of the FISA court is actually a description of how the FISA court worked before the passage of the FISA Amendments Act, not how it works now. And when I tried to ask her specifically about her position regarding the FISA Amendments Act, she waved off the questions as hypothetical and said she’d have to read the Act before answering.

I came out of this conversation despite a few attempts still not knowing where Mary Jo Kilroy stands on the provisions of the FISA Amendments Act and her legislative plans regarding warrantless wiretapping. It was a frustrating experience, like trying to eat fog with a spoon.

Fortunately, Kilroy twice said she’d have to take a look at the FISA Amendments Act. This gives me an opportunity for a follow-up. I’m going to draft an annotated one-page summary with bullet point descriptions of the provisions of the FISA Amendments Act, then attach it to the text of the law. Then I’m going to try very, very hard to put that paper right in her hand.

When I’m done writing that one-page summary I’ll be sure to post it so that you can use it in conversations with your candidates, too.

1 comment to Questioning Mary Jo Kilroy on the FISA Amendments Act

  • Excellent work. You’re right–she clearly doesn’t know the law and doesn’t understand that in the current incarnation of the law, the power of the judges on the FISA court is seriously curtailed. Obama capitalized on the same ignorance when in his statement justifying his vote he said he was reassured by the oversight role of the court (I’m paraphrasing). Either Obama didn’t read the bill before voting, or–and I think this is more likely–he’s banking on people reading his statement but not the law itself.

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