Christine Stuart photo

Independent U.S. Senator Joseph I. Lieberman keeps finding ways to enrage Democrats in Connecticut.

Aside from campaigning in support of Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain, Lieberman also has his hand in a group that is running attack ads on television here targeting Democratic congressmen over the House’s lack of action regarding a terrorism surveillance bill.

Monday in Hartford, Lieberman said he hopes Connecticut’s House members will continue to allow the intelligence community to conduct terrorist surveillance, like the Senate recently did when it voted to renew the Protect America Act.

But Lieberman, as it turns out, isn’t just supporting the Republican position on this issue in spirit. He is listed as an advisor to the Foundation in Defense of Democracy, the special interest group that paid for this television commercial. Some of the other advisors in the group include, Newt Gingrich, Zell Miller, Gary Bauer, and Richard Perle.

“Right now there’s a vulnerability here so the sooner we get it done the better,” Lieberman said after presenting an award at the federal building to two boys who had raised money for the Susan G. Komen Foundation.

The Foundation in Defense of Democracy is run by Cliff May, who was the Director of Communications for the Republican National Committee from 1997-2001.

For those who haven’t seen the commercials, they tell viewers that the House of Representatives refused to vote and instead went “on vacation” as the law that allows the U.S. to intercept Al-Qaeda communications without a warrant expired on Feb. 16. The two commercials are mostly the same, except that toward the end one mentions U.S. Rep. Joseph Courtney, D-2, and the other U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy, D-5. Both are first-term congressmen. According to Congressional sources, the ad only ran in competitive Democratic districts. The commercial ends by urging viewers to call the democrats offices to complain.

It should come as no surprise that Connecticut’s Democratic Congressional delegation disagrees with Lieberman’s position. In fact, Courtney and Murphy voted to extend the Protect America Act for 21 days so that the House, Senate, and White House would have adequate time to negotiate a final bill.

However, House Republicans unanimously blocked that bill, and as a result the law expired.

Lieberman said Monday that the Senate bill essentially “gives the telecommunication companies, whose cooperation the government needs to conduct this surveillance, immunity from lawsuits.” He failed to mention that the legislation continues to give the Executive Branch unprecedented power by not requiring a court order to continue surveillance. The Senate bill only requires a directive from the Attorney General and the Director of National Intelligence.

The House bill does not take up the telecommunications immunity issue. It deals strictly with changes to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which democrats say has been modified numerous times over the last few decades.

And even though the Protect America Act has expired, Democrats say the tracking of terrorists has not been “crippled,” as the commercial suggests. The intelligence community retains the same authority under Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to track terrorist communications that it did before the Protect America Act was signed into law in August 2007.

“Once again we see a coordinated effort by the White House, the Republican minority, and a political group masquerading as educational, attempting to mislead public opinion through fear,” Congressman Courtney’s communications director, Brian Farber, said in an email. “The intelligence community has all the resources necessary to combat terrorism and perform surveillance operations today that it had one week ago before the expiration of the current law. If the concern of the Republican minority is so great, why did they unanimously oppose passing an extension? The tactic is purely partisan and purely shameless.”

In a letter to his constituents, Congressman Chris Murphy said the ad is “eerily reminiscent of an ad that Nancy Johnson ran in 2006, infamously suggesting that I would not allow the U.S. government to intercept ‘a terrorist communication’ from Pakistan to the United States.”

Murphy points out that he believes he won his campaign in 2006 because “in the face of these ads, we refused to bend in our support for basic civil liberties and privacy rights. I support a strong terrorist surveillance law, but I refuse to sacrifice our nation’s hard fought civil liberties in the name of George Bush’s illegal wiretapping scheme.”

Below is CT Bob’s video debunking the claims in the commercial: