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Senate Bill To Contain No Telecom Immunity…”Most Likely”

doddpix.JPGLooks like the Senate Judiciary referred a bill to the floor without telecom immunity:

The Senate Judiciary Committee punted on Thursday over whether to shield telecommunications companies from civil lawsuits for allegedly helping the government eavesdrop on Americans.

That decision — the main sticking point in a rewrite of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act — will be left to the full Senate. The FISA law dictates when the government must obtain court permission to conduct electronic eavesdropping, and President Bush has promised to veto any rewrite that does not provide legal immunity to telecom companies. Bush argues that the lawsuits could bankrupt the companies and reveal classified information.

About 40 civil lawsuits have been filed against telecom companies alleging they broke wiretapping and privacy laws.

The Senate panel rejected, 11-8, an attempt to strip the immunity provision out of the bill.

Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said granting immunity would give the Bush administration a “blank check” to do what it wants without regard to the law. Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the panel’s top Republican, also is leery of full immunity. He says court cases may be the only way Congress can learn exactly how far outside the law the administration has gone in eavesdropping in the United States.

As Chairman of the Intelligence Committee Rockefeller made a deal with the White House to put retroactive telecom immunity into the bill, in exchange for seeing a small portion of the documents they were already legally entitled to see. He couldn’t have made that deal without Harry Reid’s approval, and Leahy was understandably unhappy about being cut out of that process (the deal stipulated only the Intelligence Committee could see the documents, not the Judiciary).

It’s a huge victory, but just the beginning of the fight. If the version of the bill that came out of the Judiciary proceeds to the floor, retroactive telecom immunity (which Bush is demanding) will have to be added back in as an amendment — but it will have a much harder time passing if it stands alone without the cover of measures that sound a bit more legitimate in the interest of national security.

It’s safe to say it probably never would have happened if Chris Dodd hadn’t stepped out in a leadership role — the tremendous outpouring of support he got online from a progressive coalition that included the blogs, Blue America, BlogPac, MoveOn, EFF, ACLU, Color of Change and Working Assets certainly emboldened Pat Leahy to flip the bird to the Intelligence Committee.

Greg Sargent:

And a source close to Reid says that this is “most likely” the version that the Majority Leader will file a motion to proceed on. The aide declined to comment when this might happen, however, saying that it could happen next month.

If Reid doesn’t file a motion to proceed on the Judiary version, it’s a huge “FU” back to Leahy.

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Jane Hamsher

Jane Hamsher

Jane is the founder of Her work has also appeared on the Huffington Post, Alternet and The American Prospect. She’s the author of the best selling book Killer Instinct and has produced such films Natural Born Killers and Permanent Midnight. She lives in Washington DC.
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