November 14th, 2007
09:08 PM ET
15 years ago

New Attorney General opposes changes to wiretap law

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

Filed under: Michael Mukasey • Patrick Leahy • President Bush
soundoff (40 Responses)
  1. James, Phoenix AZ

    If the Attorney General of the United States has *any* opinions on the FISA laws, he should first show us the Legal Justifications behind the president's position on illegal eavesdropping.

    If the President is so confident spying on Americans is legal, then why is he afraid to prove it?

    In the absence of any legal justification, there is only one answer: the president is Breaking the Law.

    If not, then prove it!

    Posted By Dave, New York, NY : November 15, 2007 11:12 am


    Welcome to America, Dave. The LAW does not require one PROVE their actions are "legal"... rather ... it requires opponents to their decisions to prove the illegality.

    Innocent until proven guilty. Remember that little thing we try to uphold?

    November 15, 2007 11:39 am at 11:39 am |
  2. masaccio

    Veto? Throw me in the briar patch. If this bill is vetoed, we revert to FISA in its current form, no retroactive immunity, no basket warrants, and the Administration will be confronted with its own blatant lawlessness in the FISA Court.

    November 15, 2007 11:44 am at 11:44 am |
  3. Matt, chanute kansas


    November 15, 2007 11:48 am at 11:48 am |
  4. aj huntington ny

    Please allow our government officials to intercept phones calls from abroad that possibly will lead to thwarting terrorist attacks.

    Don't be so self-centered to think that President Bush wants to listen in on your pathetic little conversations !

    November 15, 2007 11:51 am at 11:51 am |
  5. Dave, New York, NY

    Posted By aj huntington ny : November 15, 2007 11:51 am

    yeah, and President Nixon didn't want to either right?

    The FISA law *allows* the president to listen to anyone he wants – he just has to provide a reason.

    Anything less would be unamerican - of course all the scared whiners prefer to live like Communist China then go ahead an keep supporting the president's illegal (and political) eavesdropping!

    November 15, 2007 12:05 pm at 12:05 pm |
  6. Bob, Roxboro, NC

    Golly, imagine an attorney general who wants all the rules slanted in favor of government! I'm not suprised on several counts. First, Bush would never want a freedom lover for the A G job.

    Second, the enforcement arm of our system has always wanted to have an extreme advantage over the field of suspects under their scrutiny. (which at one time or another includes every man, woman, and child in America)

    I just reflect on Kent State when I think of the responsibility of Government and then I shudder to think what will happen next.
    We had a reasonably fair system of doing things without invoking a "because I wanted to" waretap law. However, I see the need for radical surveillance methods when the system is so frought with incompetance.

    November 15, 2007 12:25 pm at 12:25 pm |
  7. John Powalski

    The Constitution applies to Chimpie and Traitor Cheney as well.

    No more free passes for those traitors! They have to obey our laws, and if they've already broken them, they must be punished.

    November 15, 2007 12:27 pm at 12:27 pm |
  8. Fred McMurray, Rouses Point, NY

    IF, as they (Bushco) say, that what the telecoms did was legal then why would they need retoactive immunity? Makes one start to think maybe it wasn't??? Just wondering...

    November 15, 2007 12:30 pm at 12:30 pm |
  9. Dennis A. Rice

    November 15, 2007

    Who of intelligence among us, is surprised that Mukasey is in support of granting immunity to the telecom industry for illegal spying?

    We cannot blame this just on Republicans, but Democrats who also, with feeble excuses ("this is the best we can do at this time"), supported Mukasey's nomination.

    Do the political parties, and the mainstream media, really think the American people do not recognize this for what it is?

    Big Brother IS watching!

    November 15, 2007 12:36 pm at 12:36 pm |
  10. Val Davydov, Agawam, MA

    Amen to that aj huntington ny. I am in complete agreement with you.

    November 15, 2007 01:24 pm at 1:24 pm |
  11. Val Davydov, Agawam, MA

    Amen to that aj huntington ny. I completely agree with you on this.

    It is so incoherently pathetic that some think Bush is listening to millions and millions of telephone conversations per day. Some people are unbelievable!

    November 15, 2007 01:34 pm at 1:34 pm |
  12. Craig Webb, Elizabethtown, PA

    The current FISA law is unconstitutional anyway. There is only one appropriate way to allow such intrusions into privacy. That would mean a Constitutional Amendment to modify the current 4th Amendment. The government would never get the votes and states ratification to do this, so they are circumventing the law. Come on don't give me this urgency bit – FISA is 30 YEARS old.

    November 15, 2007 01:59 pm at 1:59 pm |
  13. David McGlaughlin--Harrisburg, Pa.

    Bravo gutless Dems. This is what you get by confirming this man.

    November 15, 2007 02:41 pm at 2:41 pm |
  14. Terry, El Paso, TX

    How can we have a law that directly contradicts one of the basic principles on which the country was built!??!? I, for one, believe the 4th amendment to be one of the most precious and sacred rights as an American. – Andy J, Upstate, NY

    The Conservative majority on the Supreme Court is much more concerned with maintaining the current class structure of the nation and they apparently think very little about freedom, liberty, rights, etc.

    November 15, 2007 02:57 pm at 2:57 pm |
  15. Robert, New York & Miami, Florida

    We should not be blaming anyone but Charles Schumer of New York, and the new Leiberman, Diane Feinstein, from California. Those are the two that I directly blame for this.

    November 15, 2007 06:32 pm at 6:32 pm |
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