The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Face-off on national security

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In case you thought the jockeying for 2016 hadn’t begun, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) launched a salvo at anti-drone libertarians, most clearly Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) on, of all things, foreign policy. Christie was right on the merits and on the politics.

The Post reports:

“As a former prosecutor who was appointed by President George W. Bush on Sept. 10, 2001, I just want us to be really cautious, because this strain of libertarianism that’s going through both parties right now and making big headlines, I think, is a very dangerous thought,” Christie said.
Asked whether he includes Paul — a fellow potential 2016 presidential candidate — in his criticism, Christie didn’t back down.
“You can name any one of them that’s engaged in this,” he said. “I want them to come to New Jersey and sit across from the widows and the orphans and have that conversation. … I’m very nervous about the direction this is moving in.”
Christie acknowledged that there will always be mistakes when it comes to national security and protecting privacy, but said Americans need to stay focused on what’s at stake.
He dismissed some of the current privacy/national security debates as “esoteric.”

He is right on that score and correctly cut to the chase: Rand Paul puts the theoretical and, yes, esoteric possibility of using, for example, drones against an American in a French cafe over the real threats to Americans’ safety.

Paul and his staff responded with their tell-tale snideness and ignorance. His chief of staff asserted Christie didn’t know what esoteric means. Even worse, Paul again displayed his lack of understanding of the Fourth Amendment in a tweet: “Christie worries about the dangers of freedom. I worry about the danger of losing that freedom. Spying without warrants is unconstitutional.” Wrong! Maybe Christie can explain to Paul that overseas terrorists don’t get Fourth Amendment protection and that metadata isn’t covered by the Fourth Amendment, along with other basics of constitutional law.

Paul’s ignorance was on display in another context this week in a letter to FBI director Robert Mueller concerning drone use. Paul wrote in response to a letter from Mueller explaining that the FBI uses drones for anti-terror work, but only when there is “reasonable expectation of privacy” does it get a search warrant.

As most first-year law students find out, a “reasonable expectation of privacy” is the trigger for the Fourth Amendment and has been litigated for decades, with a defined body of casework. Paul seems not to comprehend this and goes on at length demanding to know “the Bureau’s definition of when an individual has a reasonable expectation of privacy.” If Mueller has a sense of humor, he’ll send directions to the nearest law library.

Getting back to Christie, he raises a serious and critical point: Fitness to serve as commander in chief requires many things, but good judgment, a full understanding of the threats we face and an accurate understanding of the Constitution are essential. It is also telling that Christie, in this back-and-forth, suggests that if he runs in 2016, he will use his experience in federal law enforcement. He should; Americans want a commander in chief who is going to look out for them and who knows what he is doing.