It's worse than you think.
For the Congressional leadership, the threat of prosecution for 4 trillion warrantless wiretaps is more than enough to pass an immunity bill. A self-immunization bill.
But, nobody calls it a self-immunization bill. All the better.
For the membership, the unspoken threat of retaliation by the senior leadership (against those who don't vote for immunity) suffices in more than enough cases to pass the self-immunization bill. By about 60-30, with notable absences.
Blackmail of individual Senators by Bush-Cheney wasn't even necessary.
Self-Immunization? Congress? What am I going on about?
Clarification below . . .
The House and Senate leadership, both sides of the isle, was read-in when they started The Program and when they began waterboarding prisoners.
That makes Harry and Nancy, along with the senior members of the Intel Committees and half a dozen others in Congress, potential co-conspirators in war crimes and assorted other felonies. Well, lots of felonies, actually.
And, you thought all those Democratic Senators voted yes on the FISA bill yesterday because they were being blackmailed by the NSA? Come on, it crossed your mind. Or, maybe you thought they were afraid of Bush and what's left of the GOP making a big election-year issue about terra, terra. No. No. The Senators were just afraid for their cushy assignments and privileges. Afraid of Harry. Wimpy, wimpy. Especially the ones who didn't show up. You know who you are.
In intelligence lingo, to be "read-in" means that a classified program is revealed to you, and you agree to keep it secret under the terms of a standard government security agreement.
By law, all officially acknowledged covert programs are revealed to Congressional leaders designated to hold an intelligence oversight role. This group is known as "The Gang of Eight".
It's a very exclusive club, the keepers of the secrets. But, being read-in sometimes holds some risk. If the classified intelligence program isn't entirely legal, that potentially makes you a co-conspirator in a crime along with Administration officials. Unless, you can make the crime go away.
So it is for all involved in approving NSA Warrantless Wiretapping and CIA Torture, as well as those who carried it out. Nasty concept, that command responsibility. Nuremberg was a dangerous precedent.
It came out about six weeks ago that key Democratic leaders -- the senior Dems on the House and Senate Intel Commitees (Harmon and Rockefeller) and the Minority Leaders in the House and Senate (Pelosi and Reid) -- were read into the detainee torture program back in 2003. Along with four of their Republican colleagues. Harman claims, when she was told about it, she opposed destruction of the torture tapes. Similarly, Jay Rockefeller recently produced a dated, hand-written letter from a locked safe about the warrantless wiretapping Program after he was informed about that in 2002 (the letter basically says he didn't really understand what he was being told and agreed to).
The fact is, the FISA revision law that contains wiretapping immunity is CYA by the leadership. Inter alia. Everyone focused on telco immunity. But, the Bill also effectively grants immunity to the Gang of Eight, as well as Messrs. Bush, Cheney, et al. The rest of the members know what the leadership will do to them if they don't go along with passage of the immunity legislation.
Forget your conspiracy theories about the NSA having bedroom tapes of Senators. Not necessary (this time).
The House leadership has considerably less discipline over the membership than the Senate, so there may be some chance that immunity doesn't make it through to a conference Bill.