Sen. Jon Tester has all but said "I told you so" through the national media in the wake of a damning Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court leak earlier this month. The revelation that government officials secured massive amounts of data on calls made by Verizon customers has renewed the debate about sacrificing liberties to chase down potential terrorists. Last week, Tester told MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell that "to have a FISA court basically give a perpetual court order to get telephone records not only of foreign calls but also domestic calls I think goes against what this country's founded upon." It challenges our civil liberties, he said, and marks a serious overreach by the federal government. And it's all thanks to a section of the Patriot Act, which Tester explained was one of the very reasons he first ran for office back in 2006. Here's the full interview:
Indeed, our government's response to the terrorist attacks of 9/11 were at the center of a particularly heated exchange between Tester and then-Sen. Conrad Burns during the 2006 campaign. Even then Tester voiced his concerns with the Patriot Act without hesitation. When Burns shot back, accusing Tester of wanting to "weaken" the law, Tester's reply said it all. "I don't want to weaken the Patriot Act. I want to repeal it ... What it does is this: It takes away your freedoms."
It's nice to see that six and a half years in Washington D.C.—and a seat on the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs—hasn't put out that fire. Tester recently sent an email to his constituents asking them to support a full repeal of the Patriot Act in light of the FISA/National Security Agency leaks. In another MSNBC interview yesterday with The Daily Rundown's Chuck Todd, Tester acknowledged that he's still "very skeptical" of certain provisions in the Patriot Act. "This country is really founded upon freedom and liberty, and we need to be very careful to maintain that," Tester said, adding that an earnest conversation about how to keep the country safe without sacrificing those freedoms is key in making sure that the "pendulum stays in the middle and doesn't swing too far to the side of government overreach." Again, here's the full interview:
Todd's chat with Tester took a more light-hearted near the end, with a question about Brian Schweitzer's potential Senate bid in 2014. Tester was confident enough to say he'd "bet the farm" that the branding-iron-wielding former governor will run, and if there's anything Tester takes as seriously as the Patriot Act, it's his family's farm spread just west of Big Sandy. "My crystal ball is still a little cloudy," he told Todd. "But I anticipate he's going to get in to this thing."