WASHINGTON — Dianne Feinstein got out of her chair, grabbed a 54-page federal court opinion and poked her finger at the bullet points buried inside, insisting a visitor read each carefully as the busy senator watched and waited.
The opinion described terrorist bombing plots — aimed at New York’s subways and stock exchange and at a newspaper office in Denmark — that, according to the judge, had been foiled by the government’s collection of data on billions of American phone calls.
To many, the findings are in dispute. But not to Feinstein, the San Francisco Democrat who, as chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, has emerged as one of the Capitol’s staunchest defenders of the nation’s spy agencies.
“Let me ask you,” she said. “Supposing the program is knocked out and, God forbid, a year down the pike something happens? I’d never forgive myself.”
In more than 40 years in public life, Feinstein, 80, often has zigged as other Democrats zagged. In her unsuccessful run for governor in 1990, for example, she famously departed from liberal orthodoxy of the day to support the death penalty, drawing sustained boos at a state party convention.
But her crusade to preserve the National Security Agency‘s massive tracking programs stands out. Rarely has a senator fought so hard for something that dismays so many of her erstwhile supporters.