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Times: 'Democrats scrambling to expand eavesdropping'
By Nick Juliano, Raw Story
President Bush is pressuring Democrats in Congress to expand his administration's authority to eavesdrop on international communications without a warrant and Democratic leaders seem more willing to give him at least part of what he wants, the New York Times reports.
Democratic leaders emerged from a breakfast meeting at the White House Wednesday and appeared willing to pass a limited expansion of spying powers before Congress leaves for a month-long recess at the end of this week, Reuters reported.
"What we committed to was to work closely with the administration to come to agreement," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said.
Pelosi expected the House to pass legislation updating the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act this week, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was less optimistic his chamber would adopt legislation in the next few days.
"We would like to do that. We hope we can do that and I'll try to do that but there's no guarantees," Reid said.
The proposal to amend FISA would be the first change in the eavesdropping power since Bush's warrantless wiretapping program was revealed in December 2005.
The Bush administration wants Congress to remove hurdles in the law and make it easier for the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on some purely foreign telephone calls and e-mail. Some civil liberties groups, however, warned Congress not to move to quickly in changing the law because there could be unforeseen consequences.
"Congress needs to take its time before it implements another piece of antiterrorism legislation it will regret, like the Patriot Act," American Civil Liberties Union executive director Anthony Romero told the Times. "The Bush administration clearly has abused the FISA powers it already has and clearly wants to go back to the good old days of warrantless wiretapping and domestic spying. Congress must stop this bill in its tracks."
In recent days, the Times reports, Bush and Mike McConnell, director of national intelligence, have publicly called on Congress to expand FISA powers, and McConnell met with Congressional leaders of both parties Tuesday to try to reach a compromise.
Members of the Senate Intelligence and Judiciary committees met Tuesday, along with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, to discuss proposed legislation, and similar talks are underway in the House, the Times reported.
“We hope our Republican counterparts will work together with us to fix the problem, rather than try again to gain partisan political advantage at the expense of our national security,” Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, said in a statement Monday night.
A key point of disagreement between Congress and the administration involves how to audit the wiretapping of calls between two people outside the United States that are routed through US telecommunications switches.
Democrats have proposed secret FISA courts review the records to ensure Americans aren't being spied upon, but the White House wants to give sole oversight authority to the attorney general. That option is not sitting well with Congress's majority party because of the scandals Alberto Gonzales is involved in regarding what some say is his misleading testimony about firing of US Attorneys and the wiretapping program.
Tuesday's discussions among Congressional leaders came the same day McConnell sent a letter to Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) that acknowledged for the first time that the president's authorization of the wiretapping program encompassed "a number of" intelligence activities that have not yet been made public.