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House Holds Rare Secret Session on Spy Bill

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The House of Representatives postponed a vote on a spy bill Thursday after Democrats agreed to a request from Republicans to hold a rare secret session to discuss what they termed classified security matters. It marked the first time a secret session was held in a quarter of a century and only the sixth time in the House’s history. We speak with Ohio Congressmember Dennis Kucinich, who refused to attend the secret session. [includes rush transcript]

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StoryMar 05, 2008Democrats Prepare to Grant Telecoms Immunity for Illegal Spying
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressman Dennis Kucinich joins us right now, though. The Ohio congress member, former presidential candidate, has just come from Washington, where he refused last night to attend a secret session of Congress.

Welcome to Democracy Now!

REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: Thank you, Amy. I also, yesterday on the floor of the House, spoke in support of the winter soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan, and what they’re doing, I think, is so important here in Silver Spring.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, talk about what happened, only the sixth time in history did Congress, in a sense, go dark. C-SPAN went black, the screen.

REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: Right. Well, the — one of the Republican leaders said that he had some secret information that he had to communicate with rest of Congress, and so he asked the Congress to go into secret session. I went to the floor of the House in that preliminary session and pointed out that this hasn’t happened but five times in 182 years, and I said that there should be a very high bar that has to be passed before we go into secret session. As soon as I said that, the member of Congress who asked for it started to backpedal a little bit. It will be interesting to see what kind of gravity came out of that meeting. My guess is that it had more to do with the desire of the administration to try to push for the passage of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act than it had to do with any compelling new information about national security.

AMY GOODMAN: The President and the Republicans wanting to push through legislation that would grant immunity to the telecom companies for spying on Americans?

REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: Well, that’s part of it, of course, but I’m thinking that yesterday there really was an attempt to try to basically use the procedure of a secret meeting to ratchet up the pressure to pass FISA and by — essentially, the Democrats called the bluff of the Republicans. And we’ll see if anything was produced in that meeting, because, actually, at any time Congress can vote to release the transcripts, make them public. And if that happens and it wasn’t a serious enough matter, there could be really extreme political repercussions, because we shouldn’t be going into secret session. I mean, there’s a reason why you don’t. You have a House of Representatives; it’s the people’s House. Transparency, it’s essential for a democracy. It’s very dangerous to have these things.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain how it works. 7:30, they sweep the Congress, all the members, to make sure you have no wires on you?

REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: Right. Well, everyone asked — you know, now, I haven’t been in one of these for years. I do not sign the pledge of, quote, “confidentiality,” unquote, because what you essentially do is you give up your conscience. And when you go into these meetings, if something is being told that’s a lie, you can’t go outside and say they lied to you.

But I will tell you this, Amy, that in the times that I went to these — when I was an early member of Congress, I’d go to these sessions, and, you know, they were lying to members. And they would — so then you would be told this information, they’d try to propagandize the members. You can’t go outside and talk about it, because you’d be violating the confidentiality. I just stopped going to them, because I realized that they were attempts to try to spin the members of Congress under the pretext of a national security secret. I think democracy functions much better in sunlight than in the dark.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Congressman Kucinich, I want to thank you very much for being with us today. We’re spending the hour with soldiers, with veterans, who have come here to the National Labor College to talk about their own experiences. Again, this against the backdrop, the surprise last night of the secret session of Congress.

REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: Well, you know, they’re telling their stories about a war that’s based on lies and the war that was concocted in secret. Here we are.

AMY GOODMAN: Can I ask you a quick question? In this presidential year, you were a presidential candidate. Big debate over Michigan and Florida. Your name, together with Hillary Clinton’s name, was on the Michigan ballot. What is your take on what should happen there and why Barack Obama, John Edwards did not have their name on the ballots then and what should happen now?

REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: Well, you know, I basically, you know, ignored the directive of the party leaders.

AMY GOODMAN: And so did Hillary Clinton.

REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: Yeah, right. And so, I think, you know, this is something that’s going to have to be worked out. I mean, the Democratic Party is going through a very dangerous period right now. Keeping that party together so it can be competitive in November is going to be a great challenge. And so, both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have a lot of work to do.

AMY GOODMAN: Are you going to endorse someone?

REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: You know, I reserve the right to do that. I haven’t made any decision yet.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressman Kucinich, thanks very much for joining us, the congressman from Ohio. He’s just won his Democratic primary in Ohio. He’s here at the Winter Soldier hearings that are taking place in Silver Spring, Maryland.

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