Bush on Telco Immunity: No Compromise

By Roy Mark  |  Posted 2008-02-22 Print this article Print

title= Majority Leader: We're Not the Senate's Rubber Stamp}

When Republicans refused to meet on Feb. 21 with Democrats to begin working on a compromise bill, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland said in a statement that Republicans "prefer to have a political issue rather than a strong new FISA bill in place as quickly as possible. Certainly Republicans do not really believe that the role of the House is to simply rubber-stamp whatever bills the Senate passes."

House Republican Whip Roy Blunt of Missouri dismissed Hoyer's comments in his own press statement.

"This meeting was nothing more than an attempt to give the majority political cover for irresponsibly allowing the Protect America Act to expire," Blunt said. "We already have a bipartisan bill that was supported by more than two-thirds of the Senate and enjoys the support of a majority of members of the House. The only remaining issue is how long House Democrat leadership will delay before scheduling this bipartisan bill for a vote."

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, the co-lead counsel in the nearly 40 pending lawsuits against the major telephone carriers, contends the carriers broke the law by providing the National Security Agency with the full content of billions of e-mails, text messages and VOIP (voice over IP) calls. The EFF claims it is an issue for the courts to decide.

The carriers insist that the real issue is between the White House and Congress. "Current law ... provides a complete defense to any provider who in good faith relies on a statutory authorization," AT&T wrote in an Oct. 12 letter to lawmakers. "If the government advises a private company that a disclosure is authorized by statute, a presumption of regularity attaches."

Bush said that without immunity for the carriers, "We may not be able to secure the private sector's cooperation with our intelligence efforts. If you cooperate with the government and then get sued for billions of dollars because of the cooperation, you're less likely to cooperate. And obviously we're going to need people working with us to find out what the enemy is saying and thinking and plotting and planning."


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