...consider such an apparatus [NSA] under a President Chris Christie. If Christie's thugs will shut down a bridge to punish a Democratic mayor for not supporting Christie's re-election, imagine what they would do with access to NSA spying data on Democratic members of Congress. That's the bigger lesson here.Yeah, the thought crossed my mind. It scares the bejeesus out of me. But lets break it down a bit more, shall we?
The Chris Christie scandal is important on multiple levels. And one of those levels is what it tells us about the danger of the NSA's vacuum spying.
What we know is that NSA stores metadata on every phone call made in the U.S. - including those of members of Congress. In order to get access to the content of those phone calls, NSA must demonstrate that they meet search criteria that adhere to the guidelines set by the FISA Court. So if a potential future President Christie were to attempt to get access to the content of phone calls made by members of Congress, that would be illegal.
We have to acknowledge that previous presidents have done things that are illegal. Of course Nixon comes to mind. He eventually resigned rather than face a Senate decision to remove him from office for doing so. And for most of us, the Bush/Cheney administration's use of torture was clearly illegal according to both national and international law.
What we learn from this is that laws don't always stop presidents from doing illegal things. In the coming months there will be an investigation into whether or not Christie has already crossed the line of doing something illegal in order to punish his political opponents. If it comes to that, not only will he forfeit any chance of being elected president, he's likely to lose his governorship.
But beyond all that the real question this raises is the extremely fuzzy one about the role of trust in electing politicians. Sure, we can do more to craft laws and policies that will reduce the possibility that a future president will misuse the NSA. But we're fooling ourselves if we think that would stop a vindictive sociopath from crossing the line...been there, done that. The only thing we have to guard against it not happening again is to not elect the bastards in the first place.