Dianne Feinstein

Edward Snowden returned to the news this week when NBC aired an hour-long interview with him, the first on American TV. Anchor Brian Williams met with Snowden in a Moscow hotel. The 30-year-old former computer systems administrator described his motives for releasing an unprecedented payload of classified information about NSA surveillance.

Snowden is vexing. As a person, he seems a mix of likeable and unlikeable traits. He appears earnest, convinced of the rectitude of his choices even if, as he told NBC, “Sometimes, to do the right thing you have to break the law.” Yet he bristles at Obama Administration characterizations of him as a low-level employee, a high-school dropout. (For example, the president told reporters last year, “No, I’m not going to be scrambling jets to get a 29-year-old hacker.”) Even if Snowden is right to resist the connotations of those labels, listening to him defend himself in the interview can be painful. He insists he was “trained as a spy” who lived under an assumed identity and was a powerful operator. He sounds like a young man with a bruised ego. The last thing one wants to have to worry about in a situation of this great national and international importance, though, is one young man’s ego.

Snowden’s case is more important and more vexing. NSA’s surveillance programs are deeply troubling….

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[UPDATE: Hm...well it looks like everyone in D.C. (including Feinstein herself yesterday) was wrong. So she's sticking with her Intelligence chair. This assignment now becomes something of a "what might have been" exercise) Query: what changed? Why would Leahy not take Appropriations? Was he worried about turning Judiciary over to the more conservative Feinstein?]

Daniel Inouye, the second longest serving Senator in history, died on Monday. Inouye had represented the state of Hawaii in Congress as either a Representative or Senator since… well, forever. Inouye took office the day Hawaii became a state and never stopped. He was also an undisputed badass who wasted a German machine gun nest by prying a grenade from his own partially severed arm and throwing it at a guy trying to kill him! This was a more impressive response to having your arm severed that I would have.

But with the loss of Inouye, the Senate has to find a new chair for the powerful Appropriations Committee. Since the Democrats run on strict seniority, noted Batman enthusiast Patrick Leahy of Vermont jumped at that plum assignment.

And here’s where this all comes back to the law. By taking the Appropriations gig, Leahy had to forfeit his role as chair of the Judiciary Committee. Enter Dianne Feinstein, who will take over as the shepherd of the country’s legal policy making for the next Congress.

So what will a Feinstein-led committee look like?

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