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Monday, August 25, 2008 FULL SHOW | HEADLINES | NEXT: A Debate on Sen. Joe Biden’s Foreign Policy Record...
2008-08-25

AT&T Throws Party to Support Dems Who Voted to Grant Telecoms Immunity for Illegal Domestic Wiretapping

Guests

Glenn Greenwald, constitutional law attorney and political and legal blogger for Salon.com. He is the author of three books. His latest is Great American Hypocrites: Toppling the Big Myths of Republican Politics.

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Democracy Now! goes from the streets to the suites to try and cover one of the first of over 1,200 parties during the Democratic National Convention — this one thrown by AT&T to support Democrats who voted to grant the company immunity for illegal wiretapping of Americans. We also get analysis from Glenn Greenwald of Salon.com. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN:

We go now from the streets to the suites. There are more than 1,200 parties over this five days of the Denver Democratic National Convention. One of the first was the AT&T Blue Dog fundraiser thrown at Mile High Station. It’s one of the closest venues to Invesco Field at Mile High Stadium, where Barack Obama will accept the Democratic presidential nomination Thursday night. While the delegates were coming in and out of the party, it wasn’t quite so easy for the press.

    AMY GOODMAN: Can I just ask a question? If this is open to the delegates, why isn’t it —-

    UNIDENTIFIED: Other side of the property, please. The other side of the property, where the public can stand.

    AMY GOODMAN: But isn’t this open to the delegates?

    UNIDENTIFIED: No, it’s not. You could talk to the police right now.

    AMY GOODMAN: This is not for the Democratic National Convention?

    UNIDENTIFIED: Go ahead. Go to the other side of the property, where the rest of the public can stand, please.

    UNIDENTIFIED: Here comes an officer to talk to you.

    AMY GOODMAN: OK. You know, but we’re confused. We’re press for the DNC to cover the Democratic National Convention, and I’m just wondering -—

    UNIDENTIFIED: Unfortunately, I’m just telling you what I’ve been told.

    AMY GOODMAN: And what have you been told?

    UNIDENTIFIED: I need you guys over there or over there.

    AMY GOODMAN: So are you saying there’s no press allowed in?

    UNIDENTIFIED: Correct. I’m saying that it’s a private party, is what I’m saying.

    AMY GOODMAN: So what is the party about?

    PARTY PARTICIPANT: No idea. Thank you.

    AMY GOODMAN: How did you get invited?

    PARTY PARTICIPANT: No idea.

    AMY GOODMAN: Hi. Can I ask you about the party inside?

    PARTY PARTICIPANT: That’s right. Thank you.

    AMY GOODMAN: Can I ask about the party and who invited you? Are you guys delegates?

    PARTY PARTICIPANT: Hi. How are you?

    AMY GOODMAN: Good

    PARTY PARTICIPANT: No. No.

    GLENN GREENWALD: I’m Glenn Greenwald from Salon.com, and this is Jane Hamsher from FireDogLake, and we were here to try and cover the event, at first, and have press passes, and we’re trying to gain access. And we were told we couldn’t get in even.

    AMY GOODMAN: But you have press passes.

    GLENN GREENWALD: We have a press pass.

    JANE HAMSHER: We have legitimate press passes.

    GLENN GREENWALD: We have legitimate press passes from the convention.

    JANE HAMSHER: Issued by the DNC.

    AMY GOODMAN: Are you going into the party? Are you going into the party?

    PARTY PARTICIPANT: Yeah.

    AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about who invited you?

    PARTY PARTICIPANT: Excuse me.

    AMY GOODMAN: We’re press.

    GLENN GREENWALD: Yeah, it’s amazing. And essentially, we probably tried to interview twenty-five, thiry people going in, and every last person refused to even give their name, identify themselves, say what they’re here for, what the event is for. It’s more secretive than like a Dick Cheney energy council meeting. I mean, it’s amazing.

    AMY GOODMAN: So, what are you here for? Why do you want to interview people?

    GLENN GREENWALD: Well, because, I mean, it’s extraordinary that the same Blue Dogs that just gave this extremely corrupt gift to AT&T are now attending a party underwritten by AT&T, the purpose of which is to thank the Blue Dogs for the corrupt legislative gift that they got. So AT&T gives money to Blue Dogs, the Blue Dogs turn around and immunize AT&T from lawbreaking, and then AT&T throws a party at the Democratic convention thanking them, and then they all go in and into this exclusive club.

    AMY GOODMAN: [inaudible] ask someone. Why don’t you ask this person?

    GLENN GREENWALD: Hi. Can we — are you going to the party?

    PARTY PARTICIPANT: I don’t know.

    GLENN GREENWALD: Can we ask you a couple of questions?

    PARTY PARTICIPANT: Rather not, thank you.

    GLENN GREENWALD: Alright, can we just ask this gentleman here?

    UNIDENTIFIED: That’s private property, right here.

    GLENN GREENWALD: OK, we’ll take care of this, sir. No problem.

    UNIDENTIFIED: OK.

    GLENN GREENWALD: No problem. Remember, we kind of —-

    JANE HAMSHER: Who are you with? Are you going to the party?

    PARTY PARTICIPANT: Yeah.

    GLENN GREENWALD: This is area right here is where it is, right here?

    JANE HAMSHER: Are you going to the party?

    GLENN GREENWALD: This is the magical D line?

    UNIDENTIFIED: No, the next one over.

    GLENN GREENWALD: Oh, I see.

    UNIDENTIFIED: Almost.

    LOBBYIST: You know where the Blue Dog Democrats started out? They all used to meet in Louisiana, in the office of the one conservative Democrat in the state, who had a portrait of a blue dog over his fireplace. And from that point on -— this was in the late 1800s, early 1900s — other conservative Democrats used to come to have this secret meeting in this place in Louisiana, and that’s how they became the Blue Dog Democrats forever more.

    AMY GOODMAN: Are you both delegates?

    LOBBYIST: No.

    REPUBLICAN GUEST: No.

    LOBBYIST: I’m a lobbyist.

    AMY GOODMAN: Oh, a lobbyist?

    LOBBYIST: The other L word.

    AMY GOODMAN: A lobbyist with who?

    LOBBYIST: I do financial services and real estate.

    REPUBLICAN GUEST: I’m just a guest tonight. I’ll tell you a secret: I’m a Republican. We just got invited, so...

    UNIDENTIFIED: Free dinner.

    REPUBLICAN GUEST: Free dinner.

    AMY GOODMAN: Do you feel right at home?

    REPUBLICAN GUEST: Yeah. It’s a party. Hey, what the hell, right?

    AMY GOODMAN: So, Medea Benjamin, why are you all out here?

    MEDEA BENJAMIN: Code Pink is — has always been dogging the Blue Dogs, because the Blue Dogs are supposed to be fiscally conservative, yet they are the ones that keep cheerleading for this war and keep funding the war. But we also see that the Blue Dogs are big into the corporate sponsorship, and we’re here to say that, as the convention starts to begin tomorrow, the Blue Dogs should be ashamed of themselves for taking corporate money and then turning around and giving immunity to the telecoms industry for illegally spying on us.

    CODE PINK PROTESTERS: Blue Dogs take cash from AT&T and give telecoms immunity. So Code Pink is here to give the dogs a bone, tell AT&T don’t tap my phone!

AMY GOODMAN:

And that is the Code Pink singers, outside of Mile High Stadium. In fact, that venue was Mile High Station, where AT&T was sponsoring a party for the Blue Dog Democrats. That report was produced by Rick Rowley of Big Noise Films.

Glenn Greenwald was one of the voices you heard, one of the people you saw in that piece. He was outside AT&T Blue Dog fundraiser last night. Glenn is a constitutional law attorney and political and legal blogger for Salon.com. He joins me here in the Denver studio. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Glenn.

GLENN GREENWALD: Great to be here, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: So, we were there, dogging the Blue Dogs, trying, actually, just simply to get into the party. The delegates and the lobbyists were able to walk in and out, but we had a lot of trouble.

GLENN GREENWALD: Well, one of the things I found so interesting is that there’s a very stringent credentialing process, as you know, in order to obtain press credentials for the convention. And because I write with Salon.com, Salon has obtained press credentials for me and others.

And I expected, quite naturally, that the press passes would enable access to the party. I mean, here is a meeting between the nation’s — one of the nation’s most influential corporations and probably the single most influential faction in the United States Congress, which is the Blue Dog Coalition, meeting at this lavish party with hundreds of people present near where Barack Obama will speak. The last thing that occurred to me was that it would be closed to the press, given the public significance, the fact that members of the United States Congress are meeting. And yet, the first declaration that they announced when asked if we could enter was that press is completely banned. It was an entirely private affair.

I guess only Democracy Now! and us were the only press interested in covering it, in any event, but they certainly, whether that rule pre-existed our arrival or was created specifically for us, it was made very clear and enforced, through layers of security, that press would not be able to access the event.

AMY GOODMAN: The police were there, working in force. They clearly are telling — explaining to protesters what the rules are, the line that they can’t step over. And then when we came up, when Democracy Now! came up, the police very patiently explained this is private property. The security, not the police, but the security, was Mile High, as well as the actual venue of Mile High Station.

GLENN GREENWALD: Right.

AMY GOODMAN: These were big guys, and they weren’t kidding around. It was interesting. The lobbyists were a little more willing to speak than the actual delegates who were being rushed in there. A lot of limousines were coming in.

GLENN GREENWALD: Absolutely. I mean, I found the symbolism of the event very revealing. First of all, as you say, there was a very intended-to-be-intimidating wall of private security surrounding the event, and they were actually infinitely more aggressive and angrier than the Denver police were. And in fact, I was there with Jane Hamsher, the blogger from FireDogLake, who at one point was trying to speak with one of the individuals entering the party, and she was physically pushed by one of the private security members, notwithstanding the fact that the Denver police had been there the entire time, navigating and negotiating where it was that we could stand.

The other aspect of it was, was that what the police had been clearly trained to do is create this façade of being accommodating and cooperative and pleasant, but what it really does is it masks the fact that their strategy is to ensure that any sort of dissident voices, or people off script, are relegated to places where they can’t really be heard.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s very hard to figure out in these situations. You know, you have a sidewalk, which is owned by the private venue, and where the public can use the public sidewalk, they’re showing you the cracks, the crevices in the sidewalk, and they’re saying that’s theirs, this is yours.

GLENN GREENWALD: Right, well, I mean, I found that very odd, too. At first, we were told that we could stand in a certain place that was on one side of one of the cracks that appeared in the sidewalk, and I was kind of amazed that the Denver police knew with such precision, based on the cracks in the sidewalk, where private and public property were demarcated. But when it turned out that where we were told to stand originally still enabled us to accost the people who were exiting the cars and try to interview them, suddenly the cracks in the sidewalk shifted to a place further away, and then suddenly that became the public-private line, and then we were told to stand there.

AMY GOODMAN: And the key was, that for all the people who were driving in in their various limousines and being let off at the front of the AT&T party thanking the Blue Dog Democrats, that was the place that the press couldn’t go, which is the place to talk to the delegates. I thought, actually, we were going to be able to be inside, at least in the lobby, but that’s where the lobbyists are. It gives sort of new meaning to the term “lobbyist.”

GLENN GREENWALD: Right.

AMY GOODMAN: But it keeps the press away from the people we’re trying to interview.

GLENN GREENWALD: Well, that clearly was the intent, and like I said, I don’t know if they expected press and created this rule in advance or created it in an ad hoc way once they saw that we were there with cameras and wanted to keep us away.

But what’s so amazing is, think about how significant this event is to the public interest. I mean, you have, you know, fifteen, twenty, thirty members of Congress meeting with lobbyists and delegates in a matter that’s of great significance to public policy. And not only are they keeping the public out, but they’re keeping the press out, too. And what I found extraordinary, as your video illustrated — and it was really every person — nobody was willing to talk about what their connection was to the event, how they got invited, what their understanding of it was, why AT&T was thanking the Blue Dogs. It was almost as though they knew there was something corrupt and dark about it and didn’t want to be associated with it.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Glenn, the last time we had you on, you were actually blogging from Brazil, but you had discovered the picture of the delegate and press bag that we were all going to get, coming to cover the Democratic convention. I’m just holding it up right now, and for our radio listeners, it says, "Democratic National Convention, August 25-28, 2008, Denver, Colorado." On one side is Coca-Cola, and that’s the symbol. And on the other side, we’ve got, well, that familiar symbol, AT&T. And this was right after the vote by Congress. Explain the vote.

GLENN GREENWALD: Well, one of the most significant political controversies, of course, of the past several years is the fact that not just that the Bush administration was illegally spying on Americans, that they were, but that they were doing so with the active cooperation of the telecommunication giants, led by AT&T. And it wasn’t just illegal for the Bush administration to do it, it was clearly illegal for the private telecoms to do it. It’s a felony for them to allow government access to the communications of their customers without the warrants required by law. So it wasn’t just the President who got caught committing felonies; these corporations, AT&T, Verizon and others, got caught committing felonies, as well.

And for several years, they vigorously lobbied Congress, and the Congress, just recently, led by the Blue Dogs, the very Blue Dogs whom they were thanking, enacted legislation that had little purpose other than to immunize these corporations from the consequences of their lawbreaking, to force the lawsuits that had been brought by customers based on these privacy infringements to be dismissed, and to put an end, a permanent end, to this scandal or any prospect for accountability. It was an enormous and extraordinary gift that Congress gave to the private telecommunications agencies. And of course, at the same time and immediately after, the private telecoms were funding, to the tune of many, many, many millions of dollars, funding this very convention.

AMY GOODMAN: Obama’s role?

GLENN GREENWALD: Well, clearly Obama was — ended up being a prime enabler of that legislation, by announcing in the midst of it that he supported it. He had promised back in December, when he was seeking the Democratic primary, that he would filibuster any bill, as he put it, that contained retroactive telecom immunity. That was an emphatic commitment that he made, in fact, in response to bloggers and readers demanding to know his position. And six months later, when that very bill came before the Senate that clearly contained retroactive immunity, not only didn’t he filibuster it, he led the effort to support it and enact it.

AMY GOODMAN: The tens of millions of dollars that are pouring into this convention are not regulated the way individuals, or even corporations, are allowed to give money to the candidates or to the parties. And we’re not going to know how much money was poured into the Democratic convention or the Republican convention in St. Paul until Election Day.

GLENN GREENWALD: Yeah, absolutely. It’s a complete circumvention, by design, of the campaign finance laws. I mean, there are obviously limits on what these corporations can give to individual candidates. And they still give enormous amounts. But it’s at least limited, and there’s public disclosure requirements. As you say, the sham here, the ruse, is that these conventions are really civic affairs and that by donating tens of millions of dollars to these conventions, they’re not donating to political campaigns, what they’re really doing is promoting Denver. And that’s the ruse by which they do this. And, of course, what ends up happening is, not only is their logo all over the Democratic Party, as it probably ought to be — it’s symbolically appropriate — but they’re here in force with all sorts of key access to all of the very lawmakers who regulate their industries.

AMY GOODMAN:

We are going to have to break, and then we’re having a debate on Senator Biden. But before we go, did you go to the media party on Saturday night at Elitch Gardens?

GLENN GREENWALD: No. And unfortunately, I think is the right word, I missed that.

AMY GOODMAN: But the overall coverage of the media that you’re going to be watching and monitoring this week at Salon.com?

GLENN GREENWALD: Well, what’s interesting is, we had a party at Salon.com, and there were a lot of members of the media, the sort of mainstream media, who were there, and what was interesting to me, interacting with them — I don’t normally do that, thankfully, but I did that that night — is they sort of look at politics from the most cynical and the shallowest perspective, which is, they do what they do on television, which is, they talk about whether certain things are politically beneficial, how it will play in the eyes of the mythical American that they convince themselves they speak for, and it’s completely bereft of any substance. They’re just pageants, and that’s how they cover them.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you for being with us, Glenn Greenwald. I’ll see you out on the streets. Hopefully we can get into one of these events that are supposedly celebrating the Democratic process in this country.

GLENN GREENWALD: We’ll keep trying.

AMY GOODMAN: Glenn Greenwald is a constitutional law attorney, political and legal blogger for Salon.com. His latest book is called Great American Hypocrites: Toppling the Big Myths of Republican Politics.

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