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Senate to save Bush's bacon on illegal wiretaps

No felony when the rules change after the crime

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The Republican-controlled Senate is convinced that US President George W. Bush committed a crime when he ordered wiretaps outside of the provisions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), because it about to undertake legislation to make them legal. Naturally, it would not be necessary to make them legal if they were already, as the White House and Justice Department have lamely insisted.

But as for a proper investigation, that's off the table. Instead, the Senate will draft a bill allowing the Administration to wiretap anyone it chooses for 45 days without a warrant, and create a special oversight committee that will be privy to whatever counterterrorist doings the Administration elects to reveal to it.

"We are reasserting Congressional responsibility and oversight," US Senator Olympia Snowe (Republican, Maine) trilled.

US Senator John D. Rockefeller (Democrat, West Virginia) saw matters in a different light. "The [Senate Intelligence] Committee, to put it bluntly, is under the control of the White House," he observed.

The House has not weighed in on the proposal, but it's reasonable to assume that even the token oversight proposed by the Senate will grate on its redneck nerves. House Republicans might well object to legalizing extra-FISA wiretaps formally, because that implies that they are indeed illegal. Which of course they are, but it's immensely more convenient to ignore this fact than it is to fix it, with the implications of wrongdoing that fixing it necessarily entails.

If anything resembling a final bill is to emerge from conference committee, the Senate proposal will have to be watered down beyond recognition. The House is a prole outfit that hasn't got the imagination to worry about what these executive powers will mean in a couple of years, when the President and Mr. Clinton occupy the White House, and Democrats control Congress. They are foolishly fixated on letting their redneck boy king, whose handling of national security and public safety has already resulted in the loss of an American city, get away with anything he pleases to do - because, hey, terrorism.

What a rude awakening they are destined to confront. ®

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