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'08 Dems Pressure Reid Over Wiretap Law

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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is under sharp new pressure to bring forward surveillance legislation that would block the Bush administration's warrantless spying program.

All of the Democratic Senators running for president -- Biden, Clinton, Dodd, Obama -- as well as Sens. Russ Feingold, Barbara Boxer, Edward Kennedy and others, have written Reid pressing him to take up the surveillance bill passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Reid has said he plans to take up different legislation passed by the Senate Intelligence Committee. Unlike the Judiciary bill, the Intelligence Committee legislation permits the administration to collect all communications coming in or out of the United States without a warrant. The Intelligence Committee bill also includes legal immunity for telecom firms that have participated in warrantless surveillance of Americans.

From the letter:

We also believe that the Judiciary Committee bill is preferable because it does not provide immunity for telecom companies that allegedly cooperated with the administration's warrantless wiretapping program. As this is such a controversial issue, we feel it would be appropriate to require the proponents of immunity to make their case on the floor.

Important to note that this doesn't actually rule out the possibility of retroactive immunity, merely that immunity will be determined without a Senate-wide debate.

The full list of signatories on the letter to Reid: Russ Feingold (D-WI), Chris Dodd (D-CT), Barack Obama (D-IL), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Joe Biden (D-DE), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Tom Harkin (D-IA), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY), Daniel Akaka (D-HI), Jim Webb (D-VA), Ted Kennedy (D-MA), and Barbara Boxer (D-CA).

The text is below:Dear Majority Leader Reid:

We understand that the Senate will shortly be considering amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. As you know, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and the Senate Judiciary Committee have reported very different version of the FISA Amendments act, S. 2248, and it is up to you, as Majority Leader, to decide how the Senate considers this legislation.

We urge you to make the version of S. 2248 reported by the Senate Judiciary Committee the base bill to be considered by the full Senate. While the structure of Title I of both bills is the same, and both make improvements over the Protect America Act, the reasonable changes to Title I made in the Judiciary Committee ensure that the FISA Court will be able to conduct much-needed oversight of the implementation of these broad new surveillance authorities, and help to better protect the rights of innocent Americans. While we appreciate the hard work that the Intelligence Committee has done on this legislation, the process by which the Judiciary Committee considered drafted, amended and reported out its bill was an open one, allowing outside expert and the public at large the opportunity to review and comment. With regard to legislation so directly connected to the constitutional rights of Americans, the results of this open process should be accorded great weight, especially in light of the Judiciary Committee's unique role and expertise in protecting those rights.

We also believe that the Judiciary Committee bill is preferable because it does not provide immunity for telecom companies that allegedly cooperated with the administration's warrantless wiretapping program. As this is such a controversial issue, we feel it would be appropriate to require the proponents of immunity to make their case on the floor.

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,
Russell Feingold
Christopher Dodd
Barack Obama
Robert Menendez
Sherrod Brown
Bernard Sanders
Benjamin Cardin
Daniel Akata
Edward Kennedy
Bernard Sanders
Joseph Biden
Tom Harkin
Hillary Rodham Clinton
Jim Webb
Barbara Boxer