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. Joy Orlando FL

    The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

    4th Ammendment – nuff said

    November 15, 2007 12:26 am at 12:26 am |
  2. Trollmaster, CA

    FISA was put into law in 1978 to curb confirmed government abuses. Bush has done nothing to assure Americans their privacy won't be violated or abused besides saying "trust me" and their lemming lesser citizen followers saying "if you've done nothing wrong, you have nothing to hide".

    Democrats should tell Bush to sign the bill then work with Congress on what should be done to modify it, not the other way around. And American citizens need to tell Bush they won't be scared into losing their freedoms. (and please no one give the lame "there's no time to get a warrant" excuse, one can wiretap, then get a warrant later when time is a factor)

    We need to heed the wisdom of our founding fathers and demand a warrant before invading the privacy of Americans, as opposed to putting blind trust in Bush (or any president) not to abuse his power, when he has been proven to do nothing and ignore countless scandals within his own party and administration.

    If Bush can't balance freedom and safety, then he needs to admit he can't do his job and step down.

    Just as we don't want to be attacked by terrorists, it's just as important we don't want to be governed by tyrants.

    November 15, 2007 05:04 am at 5:04 am |
  3. David Branch, Waco, Texas

    Yawn, thanks Joy. Your point is what, exactly?

    You probably support the right to bear arms, too.

    November 15, 2007 05:44 am at 5:44 am |
  4. jw, canadian,ok

    I knew Mukasey was an arse kisser, why else would Dubya nominate him. At least Janet Reno did her job relative to investigating President Clinton. But, this is what we have come to expect from this President, he'll not let us down. No immunity for the stupid phone companies, they knew they were being ask to break the law, oh, but King George said it was ok.

    November 15, 2007 06:18 am at 6:18 am |
  5. Roger Uville oh

    We traded one political prostitue for another.

    November 15, 2007 07:53 am at 7:53 am |
  6. Alice Newman Center Harbor NH

    yadda, yadda, yadda ... what else did you expect from a Bush flunky ...

    November 15, 2007 08:01 am at 8:01 am |
  7. WDRussell, East Liverpool, Ohio

    This is what Americans were trying to tell the fools in Congress when Mukasey was put before them. He was only put in his position to promote GOP politics and not defend Americans or the Constitution.

    November 15, 2007 08:08 am at 8:08 am |
  8. partisanpatty

    This wonderul 110th Congress send a bill to the president that would get an automatic veto?? No......

    November 15, 2007 08:37 am at 8:37 am |
  9. Jim Topeka, Kansas

    Our new Attorney General already appears confused as to his role. It looks like its time for another Congressional showdown, hopefully this one shall result in a override of any Presidential VETOs.

    Mukasey's concerns should be does the law pass consitutional muster. Other than that it is his job to follow the law and enforce the law.

    I agree with Joy the 4th Amendmend says it all.

    November 15, 2007 08:58 am at 8:58 am |
  10. Andy J, Upstate, NY

    Amen, Joy.

    Read the 4th Amendment.
    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.
    This is scary, scary stuff.

    November 15, 2007 09:13 am at 9:13 am |
  11. Avedon Carol, London


    "No bill of attainder or ex post facto Law shall be passed."

    November 15, 2007 09:15 am at 9:15 am |
  12. Michael Germain Apple Valley, MN

    What a shock, Waterboarder Mukasey waited a whole day before demonstrating what a wingnut hack he is. Thank you Chuckie Schumer and Diane "Democrat in name only" Feinstein for giving us this fascist.

    Why do the Democrats keep carrying the water for these clowns?

    That is a question that we will never hear the answer to.

    Mukasey, McConnell, and the rest are just a bunch of power hungry neocons whose only interest is power power power.


    November 15, 2007 09:15 am at 9:15 am |
  13. maringouin

    read more closely – Mukaskey is opposed to the bill cause if it passed the White House would be subject to surveillance too – now Bush wouldn't want that now, huh?

    November 15, 2007 09:15 am at 9:15 am |
  14. lonesomerobot

    somehow i'm getting that creeping feeling that this "showdown" is going to end like ALL of the other showdowns between the democrats in congress and this administration.

    afraid of being perceived as "weak on national security," the dems will fold and the chimp will live to smirk again.

    when are they going to realize that our constitution and bill of rights ARE our national security? these documents define america, and if they are meaningless, then so is america.

    the most unpopular president in the history of the country and still they won't stand up to him. this is the opposition?

    November 15, 2007 09:17 am at 9:17 am |
  15. T Hayes, Northfield, MN

    The White House wants a retroactive law? I may not know the ins and outs of the constitution, (although I recall one passage was: "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.") but I don't recall that changing laws after the fact has been considered valid.

    November 15, 2007 09:36 am at 9:36 am |
  16. Phil Nashville, Tn

    Imagine, a London native knows the law better than


    "No bill of attainder or ex post facto Law shall be passed."

    Posted By Avedon Carol, London : November 15, 2007 9:15 am

    November 15, 2007 09:49 am at 9:49 am |
  17. NoOneYouKnow

    Rockefeller supports telecom "retroactive immunity"; Feinstein and Schumer support Mukasey. How can the Dems possibly be called an opposition party, and why are they so happily helping Bushco dismantle the Constitution? More to the point, what can we do when our representatives refuse to represent us?

    November 15, 2007 09:50 am at 9:50 am |
  18. Les M. Tpa, FL.

    Republican't are reigning supreme at the current time and are put in place all this precedence that they will spend year opposing once they loose the white house.
    Like the saying goes; "be careful of the weapon that once won you your freedom for it may one day take it away from you". People just watch, they will soon be screaming bloody murder.

    November 15, 2007 10:12 am at 10:12 am |
  19. Kate, Aurora CO

    Are we all that terribly suprised? This is why I don't understand why the American public time after time after time keeps voting for either party. Why not try a new party? The Republicans in office today are extremists and are shredding the constitution to fit their own faith based agenda. The Democrats are afraid of being labeled "Anti-American" or accused of "not supporting the troops". Both parties are a failure and continue to let the country down. Can we really be all that suprised to hear this? This from a man who believes waterboarding is not torture? Wake up America. Before its too late.

    November 15, 2007 10:13 am at 10:13 am |
  20. nellieh/Amherst

    Lucy pulled the football away for the umpteenth time! The administration is undefeated against the Democratic majority! THIS is what we voted for last November? Pitiful

    November 15, 2007 10:24 am at 10:24 am |
  21. Dave, New York, NY

    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!

    November 15, 2007 11:12 am at 11:12 am |
  22. WW - Minooka, IL

    I'm looking at you Chuck Schumer with a face of disgust. We all knew Muklasey was bad, but for all his toughness during the Fredo sessions he had a chance to do something about this corruption and he caved. This is why apathy exists. There is no party line representing the common man anymore.

    November 15, 2007 11:29 am at 11:29 am |
  23. Farrell, Houston, Tx

    Personally, I've never believed all this debate about wire tapping was about spying on American citizens. This smells like Watergate all over again and the question is, who is the target and what do they know that this adminstration is trying to shut down.

    November 15, 2007 11:31 am at 11:31 am |
  24. Chris, Pensacola FL

    Yawn, thanks Joy. Your point is what, exactly?

    You probably support the right to bear arms, too.

    Posted By David Branch, Waco, Texas : November 15, 2007 5:44 am

    I sure do. Someone has to protect the US from comments like yours.

    November 15, 2007 11:37 am at 11:37 am |
  25. Raman, Plano TX

    99.9% of people who AG Michael Mukasey would keep under electronic surveillance are crooning love at their homes or office or over the telephones.

    The 0.01% whom AG Michael Mukasey has under surveillance, who in fact, are the real culprits, know very well how to dodge electronic surveillance.

    A case in point is people like Zacarias Moussaoui, Richard Reid, Cho (University Shooter) have all avoided AG Michael Mukasey's surveillance. In fact Cho's sister was employed with sensitive government agency and still no one had a clue that Cho was in process of committing the University shootings. Similarly the 9/11 hijackers and UK train bombers and Spain bombers all bucked surveillance, because they had intent to kill and knew their job. The extensive surveillance could not prevent these offenders from committing a crime they intended to commit. There is nothing enforcement agencies could do about such major crimes.

    Today's new that inspectors were able to carry bomb equipment pass the airport security is proof of point.

    Another factor that affects effective implementation of surveillance, is the fact that people who enforce surveillance are just working for a salary from 9 to 5. These enforcers are not driven by patriotic principles, just like AG Michael is driven by political reasons rather than patriotism.

    So AG Michael's position on Electronic surveillance is very weak. Electronic surveillance is just a pain in the neck for people who are genuinely free, have no intent to commit a crime, and is a great tool for enforcement agencies to hackle people at will.

    Sen. Leahy has the right intent in his bill and all Electronic surveillance should be conducted with Courts approval and under preview of Congress. President Bush's reason that sharing information with Congress jeopardizes national security rings hollow, because members of Congress are in place at trust of people who elect them.

    November 15, 2007 11:37 am at 11:37 am |
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