(Host) Senator Patrick Leahy says one of his top priorities in the coming weeks is the passage of a bill that requires the Bush Administration to obtain court approval before putting new electronic wiretapping programs in place.
Leahy is also opposed to plans to provide telephone companies with retroactive immunity for their participation in surveillance activities between 2001 and 2006.
VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.
(Kinzel) There’s a lot of pressure to pass a new bill soon because a previous law dealing with this issue expires next month.
Leahy, as chairman of the Senate Judiciary committee, is urging his colleagues to support legislation that allows electronic surveillance if the request is reviewed by a special foreign intelligence surveillance court.
Leahy says he’s concerned that the Bush Administration conducted thousands of illegal searches of private telephone calls between 2001 and late 2006 as part of an anti terrorist program.
A number of phone companies say they made their records available because the Bush Administration requested this information.
That decision has led to litigation in several states including Vermont and, as a result, the phone companies are seeking retroactive immunity.
Leahy opposes this immunity and he also wants to find out who in the Bush Administration authorized what Leahy feels were warrantless and illegal searches:
(Leahy) "I think there has been so much focus on what the telephone companies did that people have ignored the fact that many in the White House, former Attorney General Gonzales and others Dick Cheney and those in his office put together this plan to operate outside the law and I don’t think we should pass legislation that allows them to escape liability and allows them to escape any responsibility for breaking the law."
(Kinzel) Leahy says he’s willing to find a compromise on the retroactive immunity issue involving the phone companies as long as the White House accepts responsibility for its actions in this case:
(Leahy) "The telephone companies I think something could be written that makes some sense but I am not going to vote for a bill that allows the Administration to sweep under the rug all their own illegal activity."
(Kinzel) Leahy says he’s not opposed to electronic surveillance efforts but he wants to be certain that an independent judge reviews these cases:
(Leahy) "I do not believe in allowing any administration Republican or Democratic to be able to on their own determine who’s going to be spied upon there has to be a court review."
(Kinzel) The ranking minority member of the Senate Judiciary committee, Pennsylvania senator Arlen Specter plans to offer a compromise amendment that would provide the phone companies with immunity but the plan would allow consumers to sue the federal government for any illegal activity that took place as part of the surveillance program.
For VPR News, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.