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How senator Patrick Leahy made wiretap bill worse, from TNR


   Personal Time
   by Michael Crowley
   Post date 11.08.01 | Issue date 11.19.01


   Leahy's prickliness is starting to have national policy
   ramifications. Consider what happened during negotiations last month
   over emergency anti-terrorism legislation. At the outset, the Bush
   administration was confident it would get enhanced law enforcement
   authority from the GOP-controlled House. It was Leahy and the
   Democratic-controlled Senate they worried about. After all, last year
   Leahy, a former prosecutor deeply wary of broad law enforcement
   powers, almost single-handedly sank a similar anti-terrorism bill
   crafted by Feinstein and Arizona Republican Jon Kyl (See "Sin of
   Commission," by Franklin Foer, October 8). And the September 11
   attacks appeared to do little to change his mind. When Attorney
   General John Ashcroft asked Congress for swift passage of expanded
   wiretapping, detention, and evidence-sharing powers, Leahy insisted on
   opening up detailed negotiations with Justice Department and White
   House officials before advancing a bill out of his committee.
   Few people objected to such consultation. But Leahy proceeded to
   alienate his colleagues by limiting the talks to a narrow circle
   consisting of himself, Ted Kennedy, ranking Judiciary Republican Orrin
   Hatch, and Justice Department officials. When other Judiciary
   Committee senators-- primarily Feinstein and New York's Chuck
   Schumer-- suggested changes, Leahy and his famously thorny chief
   counsel, Bruce Cohen, closed ranks further, implying that the
   negotiations were his responsibility alone. "I think it was a mistake
   to go ahead with that view of the world," says one civil liberties
   And, in a sad irony, Leahy's insularity appears to have made the bill
   less protective of civil liberties. Had Leahy been more open to
   working with his fellow senators, some observers say, he might have
   had enough support in his committee to alter the bill more to his
   liking. Instead he went it largely solo. At an October 2 press
   conference, Ashcroft, joined by Hatch and Senate Minority Leader Trent
   Lott, implied that Leahy was stalling the legislation and leaving the
   public "susceptible" to more attacks. It was a startlingly partisan
   move--and one that appalled Leahy, who accuses the White House of
   shifting its own time-consuming delays--but it worked. Without allies
   on his committee, and quite likely under pressure from Senate Majority
   Leader Tom Daschle, who was concerned about the Democrats looking weak
   on terrorism, Leahy was forced to cave, according to observers.
   The outcome: The Senate, as The Wall Street Journal put it, "produced
   a bill whose vast expansion of law-enforcement powers delivers almost
   everything the Bush administration sought." In the House, by contrast,
   a coalition of ACLU liberals and anti-government conservatives
   succeeded in adding a sunset provision phasing out expanded wiretap
   authority after five years, along with other restraints. (The final
   bill includes a four-year sunset.)


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