I was on the air doing my radio program two weeks ago when the story came down the wire that the killer of JonBenet Ramsey had been captured in Thailand just hours earlier. I opened the microphone and said words to the effect of, "Today there must be something really awful going down for the Republicans. Maybe Rove really will be indicted. Maybe Cheney. Maybe some terrible revelation about Bush. And if there isn't, today will be the day they'll toss out the unsavory stories - like gutting an environmental law or wiping out pension plans - that they don't want covered."
Apparently it was worse than I'd imagined.
That same morning - just hours after the JonBenet information hit the press and just after I got off the air - it was revealed that US District Court Judge Anna Diggs Taylor had ruled that George W. Bush and now-CIA Director Michael Hayden had committed multiple High Crimes, Misdemeanors, and felonies, both criminal and constitutional. If her ruling stands, Bush and Hayden could go to prison.
As Judge Taylor said in her "ACLU v. NSA" decision (available here): "In this case, the President has acted, undisputedly, as FISA [the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] forbids."
When somebody acts "as FISA forbids," the law is pretty clear about the penalties. As you can read here, when somebody - anybody - breaks the FISA law, they are subject to "a fine of not more than $10,000 or imprisonment for not more than five years, or both."
Further, in the case of a president or NSA director, the law specifies that federal agents and courts have the authority to arrest and prosecute: "There is Federal jurisdiction over an offense under this section if the person committing the offense was an officer or employee of the United States at the time the offense was committed."
Judge Taylor went on to point out that Bush had not only broken the law, but that he had also violated the Constitution - which many legal scholars would suggest is clearly an impeachable offense. In Judge Taylor's words:
"The President of the United States, a creature of the same Constitution which gave us these Amendments [the Bill of Rights], has undisputedly violated the Fourth in failing to procure judicial orders as required by FISA, and accordingly has violated the First Amendment Rights of these Plaintiffs as well."
But the media didn't notice. They were too busy with the story of the child-killer who had finally, after a decade, been found and captured. As the Think Progress blog noted:
Yesterday, a federal judge in Michigan issued "a sweeping rebuke of the once-secret domestic-surveillance effort the White House authorized following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001." The ruling was "a significant blow to Bush's attempts to expand presidential powers," but you wouldn't know that by watching last evening's network newscasts.
Think Progress went on to chronicle how much time the three big networks had devoted to the two stories that first night:
NBC - 7 minutes 39 seconds on the Ramsey story, only 27 seconds on the NSA
CBS - 3 minutes 23 seconds on the Ramsey story, only 25 seconds on the NSA
ABC - 4 minutes 3 seconds on the Ramsey story, only 2 minutes on the NSA
Within a few days, the story of the President being found guilty of both imprisonable felonies and impeachable violations of the Constitution had vanished from the mainstream media altogether.
This isn't the first time bad news for Republicans has been coincidentally eclipsed by Suddenly Huge Stories.
Keith Olbermann first compiled, almost a year ago on his "Countdown" program on MSNBC, a list of ten "coincidences" wherein bad news for the Bush administration (or, during the election, good news for John Kerry) was immediately followed by terror alerts that grabbed the headlines and diverted the attention, Teflon-like, away from Republicans and into a media frenzy.
Olbermann's list is now up to 13 of these odd "coincidences." An administration that would out a CIA agent and bring down an entire counterterrorism operation just to punish a former ambassador who dared to speak out about administration lies may well be easily capable of cooking up news-grabbing "coincidences."