In the Loop

By Al Kamen
Monday, October 19, 2009

They call it the World's Greatest Deliberative Body (WGDB), Part I.

The Senate Judiciary Committee last week was reviewing an amendment by Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) to the USA Patriot Act to clarify the legal standard needed for an investigation under the act. The amendment was intended to provide greater protections from abuse by investigators.

His colleague, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), spoke in opposition, agreeing with committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and ranking Republican Jeff Sessions (Ala.) that additional protections are not needed.

"I would just point to the actual language in here," Klobuchar said, "which is, it's not like this is some pie-in-the-sky standard here. I mean, it specifically says," she noted approvingly, reading aloud from the bill, that there have to be "reasonable grounds to believe that the information sought is relevant to an authorized national security investigation," and you can't investigate someone just for exercising free speech rights and there's got to be some suspected foreign agent involved.

"So I just, for anyone listening to this, it is not like there is no standard," she concluded. "There is a standard in place here."

"That's the standard that is in the bill now?" Sessions asked.

Klobuchar nodded that it was.

No it's not, Durbin interrupted. "Senator Klobuchar, you just read my amendment," not the bill, he said -- "and I think it's critically important that you understand what we're establishing here."

Whatever. Klobuchar voted against the amendment, which got only a handful of votes anyway.

Blame the gatekeeper

The usual pattern at the State Department is that the new secretary arrives at Foggy Bottom for the first day of work and enters to rousing cheers from career Foreign Service folks hoping the new boss will actually heed their expert advice. (They are, by nature, an optimistic crowd.)

Then, after 7 months, 8 days and 12 hours, on average, the grumbling begins that the secretary is "not accessible" to senior career folks, that she's overly protected by her personal staff, that the promised "open door" has slammed shut. The fingers start pointing, usually at the secretary's chief of staff. These days, that's Cheryl Mills, who holds that post for Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

We're hearing complaints even from members of the inner circle that the overworked Mills -- chief of staff, counselor, overseer of Haiti policy and food security policy and the department motor pool (okay, not really) -- has made entry to Clinton's suite something like penetrating the Green Zone in Baghdad.

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