A couple of days ago I got an email from commenter/blogger bmaz proposing an explanation for this. To be honest, I sort of blew him off at first without reading his argument carefully, which I now think was a mistake. There's some guesswork in what he says, but he's an attorney with considerable experience dealing with wiretapping cases and he suggests that the reason the telcos don't care all that much about the lawsuits being pursued against them is because they almost certainly signed indemnification agreements with the feds back in 2001. Such agreements would force the federal government to pay any legal judgments awarded in suits against the telcos:Now more than a few of us have suggested that the Protect America Act is really the protect the Bush administration act. If the telecoms are taken to trial much of the administration's illegal activities will be exposed. You can bet Karl Rove was spying on political enemies - think Watergate.It is my contention that the telcos have just such indemnification agreements with the Administration/government, that we do not know about because they are classified and hidden, that so protect them for any liability and losses resulting from the litigation they are faced with; thus they do not need immunity to protect them from potential liability verdicts, they are already covered....As someone that has had dealings with such entities regarding bad/illegal wiretaps, I can attest that they always protect themselves vis a vis the governmental entity they are working for and are not shy about the use of indemnity provisions.
In the Washington Post today, Dan Eggen and Ellen Nakashima talk to some of the people behind the telco suits, and they don't seem to think that potential payouts are the issue either — which is why the telcos are remaining fairly low key about the whole thing. Rather, it's the Bush administration that wants immunity, and they want it because they're trying to keep the scope of their wiretapping programs secret:As Kevin states this is guess work but it is Karl Rove and the Bush administration's MO."I think the administration would be very loath for folks to realize that ordinary people were being surveilled," said Kurt Opsahl, senior staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which filed the lead lawsuit, against AT&T.
....Peter Eliasberg, an American Civil Liberties Union attorney involved in cases against AT&T and Verizon, said that if the cases proceed, the plaintiffs could submit an interrogatory to the carriers seeking answers to the questions: Did you turn over customer phone records en masse to the government? Did you receive a warrant or a subpoena?
Answers to those questions, he said, might reveal that "everybody in the country" has had their phone calls "combed through, and lots of people will be outraged."
So listen carefully Democratic members of the House. If you give into the Bush administration on this one you are no better than they are and come November I will just not mail in my ballot or vote for Ralph Nader and the Green Party or Libertarians in the House and Senate elections.
Glen Greenwald nails it:
There's very little point anymore in writing about how the Congressional Democratic leadership is complicit in all of the worst Bush abuses, or about how craven they are. All of that is far too documented and established at this point to be worth spending any time discussing. They were never going to take a stand against warrantless eavesdropping or the destruction of the rule of law via telecom amnesty for one simple reason: many of them don't actually oppose those things, and many who claim to oppose them don't actually care about any of it. That's all a given.