Attorney William Stephenson made it clear to U.S. Rep Bob Latta (R-Bowling Green) Thursday the group of conservatives and libertarians in his office were "his constituents," not a Democrat or liberal among them.
|LeRoy Lloyd (from left) and Bryan Young talk to Congressman Bob Latta at Latta’s Bowling Green office Thursday morning. (Photo: J.D. Pooley/Sentinel-Tribune)
Latta made it clear that "in this office," his field office on North Main Street in Bowling Green, partisan and ideological labels don't matter.
The issue that dominated the talks, the National Security Agency's monitoring of telecommunications, has brought together usual ideological foes.
Stephenson asked Latta to join senators Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, both staunch conservatives and Ron Wyden, a liberal Democrat, in calling for congressional investigations into the NSA and "the police state apparatus in this country."
The surveillance of Americans' communications, which Stephenson said goes beyond tracking metadata, delves into the actual content of those communications. "The people in charge in the country, legislative, executive and judiciary, have been asleep at the switch and have allowed this country to be Sovietized. I don't think you can see any difference at all in our secret apparatus and the modern KGB," he said, taking pains to say he was talking about contemporary Russia not the excesses of the Soviet Era.
"There's an opportunity to do something right about this," he said.
That means holding hearings. That means giving immunity to Edward Snowden, the security contractor who released data about NSA programs, so he can testify. Snowden is now in Russia, where he has temporary asylum.
Without Snowden "spilling the beans," Stephenson said, "we wouldn't have known anything about this."
Latta noted that many people, including U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, have called Snowden a traitor.
"In Washington," Stephenson responded. "Not too many people in these parts do."
Stephenson also asked Latta to support the Amash-Conyers Amendment, when it is reintroduced.
The amendment, which curtails NSA surveillance and provides greater judicial oversight, failed 205-217 in late July. Latta voted against it.
Further Stephenson believes Congress should "defund and eliminate the NSA."
"I'm at a loss of what they've actually accomplished other than spying on us," he said.
He called the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Court, that does have oversight of the NSA, "a joke."
Latta, however, contended that the government was only collecting metadata, and to do any more than that would take getting a federal warrant, based on probable cause. "All they're getting is the telephone numbers, length and duration and time of call. There's no tracking of what's said in conversation."
The Supreme Court, he said, has already ruled that such telephone records are not private.
And in the recent revelation from the NSA that from 2008 to 2011 it collected tens of thousands of Americans' emails, Latta said "it self-reported."
But Stephenson insisted, "they are capturing content" in contradiction to the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, which forbids unlawful search and seizure.
"Are you saying they are getting content?" Latta asked Stephenson.
"No question about it. I see it all the time with clients," he responded.
Latta contended the system is necessary, and that it should focus only on foreign activity.
Latta agreed that Congress needs to be vigilant "to make sure that American's constitutional rights are protected."
But he said the government also has to make sure that it can tap into the conversations "from folks that don't like us."
As the 25-minute meeting concluded, one of the others in attendance LeRoy Lloyd regretted that some of the group's other concerns had not been addressed, including problems with the IRS scrutiny of conservative groups and defunding the Affordable Care Act.
Bryan Young also asked that more publicity for town hall meetings, so the public could make its feelings known.
Nathan Eberly, who is active in the local Libertarian Party, said the conversation also did not touch on recent revelations about surveillance of internet traffic.
After the meeting, Stephenson said the group hoped they could persuade Latta to take a more aggressive stand on those issues. If he doesn't, he said, they would consider either finding a candidate to run against him, or fund any opponent who took him on.
Right now, he said he is working to unseat U.S. Congressman Mike Rogers, a Republican from Michigan, who has close ties to the national security system.
Eberly said that the Libertarians were already looking for a candidate for 2014. In 2012, his brother Eric Eberly, ran against Latta and won 3.5 percent of the vote. Notable, his brother said, for a campaign that had virtually no money.
Stephenson reiterated his points in another delivered to Latta later Thursday. In it he wrote: "This issue is not going away, and neither are we."