WASHINGTON (CNN) - In his second day on the job, Attorney General Michael Mukasey leaped into the political fray, telling a key Democratic senator he opposes his electronic surveillance plan and would recommend the president veto it if it is passed.
In a letter to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., on the eve of crucial committee votes to update the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), Mukasey was adamant in opposing Leahy's plan for changing the law.
Mukasey and Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell co-signed the letter released Wednesday night by the Justice Department.
"We strongly oppose the proposed substitute amendment. If the substitute is part of a bill that is presented to the president, we and the president's other senior advisers will recommend that he veto the bill," they said.
Leahy last week introduced his substitute to a FISA modernization bill already approved by the Senate Intelligence Committee. That effort, led by Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., won wide bipartisan support and is backed by the administration. It includes retroactive immunity to legally protect the telecommunications companies which cooperated with the administration's classified warrantless surveillance program.
Leahy, who had opposed Mukasey's confirmation last week, is adamantly opposed to the immunity provision.
Mukasey and McConnell listed nearly a dozen other provisions or omissions in the Leahy plan which they said "would not provide the intelligence community with the tools it needs effectively to collect foreign intelligence information vital for the security of the nation."
The White House, meanwhile, released a statement calling Leahy's plan "a step back for our nation's security."
Leahy and many of his Democratic allies back provisions which they believe provide essential civil liberties protections against excessive government intrusion and potential abuse.
The veto threat adds to an already testy atmosphere in which the highly partisan Senate Judiciary Committee has struggled unsuccessfully to reach a consensus on how to update the 30-year-old FISA law, which they agree has been overtaken by dramatic changes in technology.
– CNN Justice Producer Terry Frieden