In a 73-24 vote, the US Senate confirmed the nomination of Valerie Caproni as New York’s newest District Court Judge on Monday. The position is a step up for Caproni, but perhaps not so much for New York citizens interested in maintaining the system of checks-and-balances on which the US has long prided itself.
Prior to her current position as Vice President and Deputy General Counsel at Northrup Grummond, Caproni served in the FBI’s general counsel’s office for 8 years and, according to some lawmakers, illegally expanded the scope of the PATRIOT Act to enable federal law enforcement agencies to collect metadata on US citizens —including records of telephone and email communications.
While many NSA spying programs have only recently come to light, Caproni’s role in authorizing these actions was questioned as far back as 2010. As head of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) called for her termination, saying “The FBI broke the law on telephone records privacy and the general counsel’s office, headed by Valerie Caproni, sanctioned it and must face consequences.”
Caproni’s disregard for privacy concerns was noted by former Department of Justice official Lisa Graves, who recalled a 2007 conversation when Caproni pointed out the myriad channels through which the US government could secure phone records, from a “215 Order” (part of the PATRIOT Act) to a grand jury subpoena — all of which would remain secret. This, said Graves, illustrates Caproni’s “lack of regard for Americans’ countervailing interest not to have records about their communications or business transactions swept up in secret by government agencies without any indication that they themselves have done anything wrong.”
Perhaps more egregious, we have since learned that Caproni at best misled, at worst blatantly lied, to Congress when she testified in 2008 that, after a thorough review of data collected by the FBI ensured that it “retained only exigent letter-related telephone records for which we had a lawful basis.” Further, if phone records obtained by the FBI were found to be unrelated to an open investigation, and there was no emergency rationale for their retention, “we purged the telephone records from our files and databases.” The nation has since learned that such records are routinely stored for 5 years.
Opposition to President Obama’s nominee particularly from Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Dick Durbin (D-IL), prompted Caproni to write to Durbin in July, pledging to recuse herself from any case “where my impartiality could be reasonably questioned” and those where “I had personal or supervisory involvement in a matter while at the FBI.”
That appears to have been sufficient for Senate Committee confirmation. It remains to be seen whether the full Senate will demand further inquiry. In June, Sen. Grassley implied that he might hold up the nomination if Caproni didn’t provide copies of unclassified emails that the Senator requested in 2008. “I only received a few of these emails, and they were heavily redacted,” said Grassley. “Ms. Caproni was general counsel of the FBI at the time and told me that the documents I was waiting for were on her desk, awaiting her review. Well, it’s now 2013 and as of her hearing, I had never received these documents.”
Far from questioning her on the issue, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) praised Caproni as “a woman with impeccable credentials. This country needs more women like her.” Gillibrand, who represents the very people who were subjected to NYPD Chief Kelly’s (wholly unsuccessful) witch hunt, may want more women who flout the Constitution, reject Congress’ authority, and find it acceptable to spy on innocent American citizens. I’d prefer judges who put those kind of women in jail.