US Senator Rand Paul appeared at the Berkeley Forum on March 19, 2014. Senator Paul discussed the implications of NSA’s surveillance activities on liberty and his potential plans to run for the 2016 Republican nomination for President. The event was moderated by Matthew Freeman.
Matthew Freeman: Conservative activist, Larry Clayman, and the ACLU have also filed similar lawsuits against the NSA. And both resulted in either failure or a stayed ruling. What makes you think that you’ll have any more success than these groups that have tried before you?
Rand Paul: I am supportive of all the other lawsuits, so it isn’t exclusive that mine is the best, but it is slightly different. The ACLU lawsuit was ruled against. The judge either threw it out or said that the program was constitutional. The Clayman suit is in the same court that mine will go to. And the judges previously ruled it unconstitutional, stayed the ruling, and I think it will be appealed. So, I think the Clayman suit is still active. Ours is going to the same court because it has a similar subject. Our case is slightly different, and we think, for some legal reasons, that it may have a change of going all the way to the Supreme Court.
To me, it’s not so much that my case has to go, but I think a case needs to go to the Supreme Court. Because currently, many people believe that the Fourth Amendment doesn’t apply to all. They think that the reason why you can give a single warrant to Verizon is that you don’t own those records. I think they’re jointly held. I think if you sign a privacy agreement, Verizon agrees not to tell your neighbor who you’re calling. So, they kind of acknowledge that. I think it’s acknowledging that you still have an interest in those records.
But to me, the most important thing is… And there’s at least, we think, four or five Supreme Court justices that have indicated that in this digital age, think about it, it’s a lot different than 1975. That’s when the last case, Smith versus Maryland, was held on records. It’s also different. That was about one suspect’s phone tap. We’re now talking about 300 million Americans’ phones. So, I think it’s a big deal, and it is different than what we’ve ever had before. So, I’m hoping that we will get all the way to the Supreme Court.
Matthew Freeman: So, earlier, you condemned director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, for allegedly lying in front of Congress. You said he’s very explicitly broken the law. Does that mean that you think he should be sent to prison?
Rand Paul: I think he should be. You don’t get sent to prison until you’re found guilty. So, we should have a trial. He deserves a trial. But the interesting thing is I’m not an outlier on this in the sense that I think seven members of the Intelligence Committee or Judiciary Committee in the House have signed a letter saying the same thing. And I think it hurts us because we do have to rely on some things being secret. And it’s an extraordinary power. It’s a power to capture people, incarcerate people. It’s even a power to kill people. So, that power needs to be overseen, and they have to be honest with us. If the people in charge of the Intelligence Committee are not being honest to Congress, and they’re actually spying on Congress, I have grave doubts about everything they’re telling me.
So, yeah, I think it is important. And one of the reasons I bring it up is that many of these people, they want to throw the book at Snowden. And I have mixed feelings what should happen, because I think you can’t release secrets all the time. That would lead to chaos. But at the same time, I think he also wanted to reveal something he thought was unconstitutional. But for all the people that want to throw the book and the letter of the law at Snowden, I like the contrast. They don’t want to do a thing…not a peep out of them for Clapper. So, you’re not really being consistent if you want to throw the book at Snowden, but you don’t want to do a thing to Clapper. They both broke the law technically. And then you have to decide what justice is. But yeah, I think Clapper should be tried for perjury.
Matthew Freeman: So, you say you’re asked this all the time, but we want to get in here, too. Would you classify Edward Snowden as on the one hand a hero or a traitor? And to phrase that slightly differently maybe, if there were another Edward Snowden out there, would you encourage him to speak up?
Rand Paul: I think the ultimate decision of hero or villain in history is going to sort out. And I think there are pros and cons to a lot of it. And I know people have a strong feeling about it. I think that his intentions were good. But here’s the problem – let’s say we have 400, 500 people here, and let’s say you all are… We’re talking to you, and you’re the new recruits for the CIA or for the intelligence for our army. Should I tell all 500 of you, “Just decide when you think it’s unconstitutional and just reveal secrets any time.” You could see how it could lead to chaos. But at the same time, I’m very upset about what our intelligence community is doing, and we might not have ever known about it had Snowden not leaked it. Some say Snowden should have tried to become a whistleblower.
I don’t know if he did try or what the process is. But I think on the one hand, you have chaos. Bradley Manning released 24 million pages. There’s a chance that people could die from that. There’s a chance that intelligence could get out, and it could endanger our agents. And I’m not against spying. We will have people gathering intelligence around the world. And I don’t think that we can allow willy-nilly indiscriminate release of documents. But at the same time, I’m sympathetic to what was released, because I think it’s a real problem. So, I have mixed feeling is the bottom line.
Matthew Freeman: So, you posed a very interesting question during your address. You asked about potential CIA spying on Senate computers. To quote you, “If the CIA is spying on Congress, who exactly can or will stop them?” So, what would be your answer to this question?
Rand Paul: Well, see, here’s the interesting thing. And this is worth everybody reading about. The way I understand it… And this is what Senator Feinstein said in her speech. They came across something… They were given access to the CIA computers by the CIA. The search engine was created by the CIA. They say… And I’m just going from what they’re telling me. They say they found a report called the Pennetta Review which looked into some previous activities in the CIA – interrogation and detention. And they got it through the search engine. If that’s true, the CIA then may have said, “Oh, whoops. We didn’t want you to read that.” But think about that. If it was a mistake by the CIA, you can say, “Well, that was a mistake.”
But why should the CIA be allowed to withhold an internal review from the people overseeing the CIA? So, that, to me, is the arrogance that they think they’re in charge, and it’s too important to let members of Congress know about. Well, if your members of Congress don’t know about it, the people you have some interaction with and can get rid of or elect, then who is in charge? You can’t have people who are not elected in charge of your government. And that is really, I think, the very definition of tyranny. So this, to me, is a very important thing. And I also want to make the point that I’m not saying that any of these people are necessarily evil or that they have bad motives. I think a lot of them have good intentions. And maybe they’re not even abusing their power at all. The danger, though, is allowing that much power to go unchecked and not have review by Congress.
Matthew Freeman: So, we obviously don’t have all the information yet. It’s a recent scandal. But if these allegations of the CIA hacking into Senate computers do prove to be true, then who do you think should be held responsible? Would it be just CIA director, John Brennan, or perhaps some official higher up in the federal government?
Rand Paul: Yeah, that’s a good question. I’m not sure I know the answer. Brennen was approved about a year or two ago. That’s when I actually did the filibuster was to his nomination. And so whether or not it’s Brennen or someone who proceeds him. But Brennen oversees it now, and he’s defending the program and saying it didn’t happen. But here’s the real direction question if there’s some media here, you all need to ask, is ask Brennen, “What about the Pennetta Review? Why should Congress not be allowed to read the Pennetta Review of the CIA interrogation program?” If I’m not allowed to look at it… And this is something you also need to realize – much of this that goes on in the Intelligence Committee, I’m not allowed to read. Okay? The Intelligence Committee is allowed to read things I’m not allowed to read.
And then the head of the Intelligence Committee is allowed to read some things that the rest of the Intelligence Committee isn’t. Some of the revelations that have come forward have come forward. And the day before they came forward, the CIA calls up Senator Feinstein, and says, “Oh, by the way, we’ve been collecting email for the last ten years. It’s going to be revealed tomorrow.” So, we’re really not in the loop on this stuff. And we’re not overseeing it. They’re doing what they want. And then when they get caught, they inform us. But that’s not oversight. That’s not representative government. This is incredibly important, not just because of abuse that may be occurring but because of abuse that could happen if someone took the reigns of power and really wanted to use this for malevolent purposes.
Matthew Freeman: All right, so we have time for just one more question for this interview. This is on sort of a different topic. There has been pretty extensive media coverage of your recent visits to places that don’t usually vote Republican like students at Howard University.
Rand Paul: You mean like Berkeley?
Matthew Freeman: And at UC Berkeley.
Matthew Freeman: There has been quite a lot of speculation that these efforts constitute an attempt on your part to broaden your personal appeal in anticipation of a 2016 presidential run. How do you reply to these claims?
Rand Paul: Maybe.
Rand Paul: Part of it might be that. Part of it might be that the Republican Party is… I’ve said they have to either evolve, adapt, or die. It’s a pretty harsh thing. I think… I was telling somebody the other day, you remember Dominos finally admitted they had bad crust?
Rand Paul: I think the Republican Party admitted. “Bad crust. We need a different kind of party.” But I think some of…
Rand Paul: One of the things that really upset me in the last couple years was that we passed legislation really done by republicans and democrats, frankly, that allows an American citizen to be indefinitely detained without a trial. And I had a conversation with another senator, and I said, “Does this mean an American citizen could be accused of a crime and sent to Guantanamo Bay with no trial and no lawyer?” He said, “Yes, they’re dangerous.” And I said, “Well, it kind of begs the question, doesn’t it, who gets to decide whether you’re dangerous or not?” The reason why I think this is important is many sort of libertarians, libertarian leaning republicans, people who believe in individual rights, this really bothers us.
But I think it’s a bigger audience than that, because think about it. If you’re African American, Japanese American, Jewish American, Hispanic, have there ever been times when the government didn’t treat you fairly? Have there ever been times when you said, “You know what? The war on drugs has had a racial outcome.” Three out of four people in prison are brown or black. So, something has gone wrong. Maybe a candidate who would stand up and say, “Everybody deserves their day in court. The law should not have a racial outcome.” Maybe then people would say, “You know what? I always hated those republicans, and their crust sucks. But maybe there is some new republicans. Maybe there will be a new GOP.” We’ll see.
Matthew Freeman: So, we also have some questions from the audience. We passed out notecards before, and you guys have submitted some questions. So, I was going to read a few of them to the Senator. This actually relates to your last point. Do you think the issues of privacy and civil liberties could be used to bridge the partisan divide in Congress?
Rand Paul: Yes. And I think there’s also…there’s a right/left nexus on this. One of the persons I work most closely with in Washington on NSA, spying abuse, more oversight needed is Ron Wyden. He and I don’t agree on some economic liberty issues. He’s not so much for lower taxes or less regulations. But on this, we’re almost in 100% agreement on some of these intelligence issues. I think it’s a way you could actually get things done. That compromise isn’t always splitting the difference, but compromise means meaning that your party label isn’t as important as the issue is.
So, to me, I honestly would tell you whether this was a republican or a democrat president, I would give exactly the same speech. And I think Ron Wyden would, too. I think he’s an honest progressive. In fact, I rib some of the other by saying, “Whatever happened to the good liberals around here? All right.” Because you can be, I think…even someone who isn’t a progressive be progressives who are honestly good or, I think, very good on civil liberties. In fact, the president was. When he was a Senator, President Obama was much better on civil liberties than he is now.
Matthew Freeman: Next question from the audience, if elected president, how would you respond to the recent increase of executive power?
Rand Paul: I think one of the biggest problems in the last 100 years, not republican, not democrat, but last 100 years, has been the increase in power of the executive. We have thousands of orders written by the executive. Montesquieu wrote and said… He was big on the separation of powers, and the checks and balances. He said when the executive begins to legislate, that becomes a form of tyranny. The check and balance is that the executive, the president, is not allowed to legislate, only the legislature can. But it’s a messy process, and everybody has got to just come to grips with that. It’s a messy process. It’s not easy. But that’s why you have to convince people on the other side that they ought to vote for your stuff.
And it is also why we have so much contention over the healthcare plan. Not one republican voted for it. Had there been some republicans voting for it, or had the democrats come a little bit to our side to have a discussion, I don’t think we’d be having this big war in our country right now. So, really, I think the way I look at issues is we don’t have to agree on everything. We are probably a mixture of people from parties and all different walks of life here. And let’s say we take ten issues. We’re not going to agree on all ten. We might agree on three out of ten. Why don’t we work on the three out of ten issues we agree on rather than spend our whole time fighting on the seven out of ten?
Matthew Freeman: Next question from the audience, you have voiced support for a flat tax system. Are you concerned about the potential increase in inequality resulting from such a system?
Rand Paul: One of the interesting things is some of the wealthy pay no taxes. Some of the corporations… Well, the corporations pay no taxes under the current system. Another interesting fact, over the last five years, income equality has gotten worse, even though we raised tax rates. So, it is something you have to kind of think through as far as how you want to make it better. I’m of the opinion that the way you stimulate the economy and the way you create jobs is by leaving more money in the economy. And you may say, “That sounds incredibly simplistic.” But it’s true. The private economy creates jobs. We have to have a certain amount of government, but we should minimize the size of government because it’s not very good at stuff.
Rand Paul: I’ll often say it’s not that government is inherently stupid, although it’s a debatable point. It’s that they don’t get the same signals. So, for example, we need to have a national defense, and it can’t be done privately. Same with the judiciary, and the legislative branch, and roads, and education, and things like this where the government will be involved. And so I think you can argue that that should occur. But we should keep it and not expand it to all walks of life. Does the government need to sell pizza? Does the government need to deliver the mail? That’s really a problem. They probably shouldn’t be delivering the mail. They’re not very good at that either.
But we should minimize what government does and try to maximize the private sector. And that’s, I think, where jobs are created. But to me though, it’s getting beyond the hurdle. I can go to a poor community in the mountains of eastern Kentucky, and I’ll say, “Bring me the ten richest people in your town because I would like to reduce their taxes.” And you may be horrified and say, “Oh, he cares only about rich people.” No, we all work for rich people. So, I want the people who own the business…
The guy who owns the business in Middleborough, Kentucky who employs 100 people is probably the richest guy in town. How am I going to get him or her to hire 110 people? Reduce their taxes. So, we got to get over this class warfare that rich people are bad people. The top one percent page 40% of the income tax. There are some exceptions to the rule, and we should fix the exceptions. Meaning that if there’s someone in the top one percent that aren’t paying taxes, they should. And in some ways, a flat tax accumulates more of those people, and you lose less of those people by having less deductions and having a flatter, simpler code. But I’m also for reducing everyone’s taxes, not just the middle class. Everyone’s taxes.
Matthew Freeman: This is going to be your very last question. We are here at the number one public university in the world – something we tell ourselves a lot.
Rand Paul: You’re not at all biased, right?
Matthew Freeman: Of course not.
Rand Paul: All right.
Matthew Freeman: Of course not. This relates to that. Do you believe the federal government should play a role in supporting higher education? If so, describe.
Rand Paul: I believe in general that the more local control of education, the better. So, you really are not at the federal University of California Berkeley, you’re at the University of California at Berkeley. You are a state school. And so education has primarily been at the state level. There is some federal influence through Pell grants and things like that. I’ve decided to leave those alone when I’ve created budgets that cut a lot of money, because I think a lot of people are dependent on them. I also think we have to figure a way forward. The biggest problem really isn’t right now in getting an education.
We’ve got plenty of grants. People are getting into school. That’s not the problem. The problem you need to think through is not getting a grant and getting into school, it’s getting a job when you get out of school and how you’re going to pay your loans back. What’s happening is the loans are so big, and the income is not as large that a lot of people are getting out and making something that’s inadequate. I think one of the ways that we could fix and help students is to maybe give tax credits to students as they get out. Not forgive your loans but let you reduce your taxes. Because most people will be working. Let you reduce your tax burden some as a way to pay off your student loans. Thanks, everybody.