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House Committee to Friends: "Immunity? Really?"

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February 8, 2008

In a 12th-hour plea today, key members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee urged their fellow members to reject telecom immunity when legislation “updating” the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) heads back their way after the Senate passes its bill. The letter, sent by Chairman John D. Dingell (D-Mich.) and Congressmen Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), really expresses the frustration felt by the committee and is a definitely worth a look.

The letter says, in part:

By tying the question of lawsuit immunity to questions of national security and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) reform legislation, the President has created a false choice for Congress. The issue of immunity for phone companies that chose to cooperate with the President’s warrantless wiretapping program deserves a separate and more deliberate examination by Congress. No special urgency attaches to the question of immunity other than the present Administration’s general eagerness to limit tort liability and its desire to avoid scrutiny of its own actions, by either the courts or the Congress.

We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.

It goes on to take President Bush and his administration to task for keeping Congress in the dark and repeatedly ignoring requests for information and briefings.

The Senate is currently moving through debate on its FISA bill. Remaining amendment votes and – the big one – final passage are expected on Tuesday. The Senate bill will then have to be reconciled with the House’s RESTORE Act (which contains no immunity) by February 16. Senate Majority Leader Reid just filed for another 15-day extension to give both chambers more time to figure out a compromise. President Bush has said that he will not sign another extension, so stay tuned next week for what promises to be an interesting couple of days.

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