On April 3, DOJ submitted a filing that argued that no citizen had the ability to sue if she had been wrongly wiretapped under Bush’s illegal wiretap program. The government, DOJ claimed, had sovereign immunity that protected it from such suits.
As set forth below, in the Wiretap Act and ECPA, Congress expressly preserved sovereign immunity against claims for damages and equitable relief, permitting such claims against only a “person or entity, other than the United States.” See 18 U.S.C. § 2520; 18 U.S.C. § 2707. Plaintiffs attempt to locate a waiver of sovereign immunity in other statutory provisions, primarily through a cause of action authorized by the Stored Communications Act, 18 U.S.C. § 2712, but this attempt fails. Section 2712 does not erase the express reservations of sovereign immunity noted above, because it applies solely to a narrow set of allegations not presented here: where the Government obtains information about a person through intelligence-gathering, and Government agents unlawfully disclose that information. Likewise, the Government preserves its position that Congress also has not waived sovereign immunity under in FISA to permit a damages claim against the United States.
Today, just 11 days later, we learn that,
As part of [presumably Glenn Fine’s Inspector General] investigation [into the warrantless wiretap program], a senior F.B.I. agent recently came forward with what the inspector general’s office described as allegations of “significant misconduct” in the surveillance program, people with knowledge of the investigation said. Those allegations are said to involve the question of whether the N.S.A. targeted Americans in eavesdropping operations based on insufficient evidence tying them to terrorism.
So when Eric Holder’s DOJ made expansive claims arguing that no one could sue federal employees for being wrongly wiretapped under Bush’s illegal program, did he know this revelation from Glenn Fine’s investigation into the wiretapping program? When DOJ claimed sovreign immunity, were they thinking not so much of the Jewel plaintiffs, whose claim was focused on the dragnet collection of US person data, but of the Americans targeted in what Glenn Fine’s office considers "significant misconduct"?
Because if Holder did know (and the timing suggests it is quite likely he did), it makes those cynical claims of sovereign immunity all the more disturbing.
Fine’s investigation will contribute to the larger FAA-mandated Inspector General’s for which there is a presumption of openness. In other words, even if this hadn’t been leaked now, in April, it is supposed to be published in unclassified form in July. At that time, it seems, a lot more people are going to have a concrete basis for which to sue under FISA.
And potentially knowing those lawsuits were coming, Holder’s DOJ crafted their bogus sovereign immunity claim.