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Return of the 9/11 President

"How far we've come -- really: disgracefully tumbled -- from the days of the Church Committee, which aggressively uncovered surveillance abuses and then drafted legislation to outlaw them and prevent them from ever occurring again. It is, of course, precisely those post-Watergate laws which the Bush administration and their telecom conspirators purposely violated, and for which they are about to receive permanent, lawless protection."

Here's a White House " Fact Sheet" on telecom immunity: "Companies should not be held responsible for verifying the government's determination that requested assistance was necessary and lawful -- and such an impossible requirement would hurt our ability to keep the Nation safe."

But isn't that the very definition of a police state: that companies should do whatever the government asks, even if they know it's illegal?

Indeed, Democratic Sen. Russell Feingold took to the Senate floor with a little history lesson yesterday: "With the willing cooperation of the telephone companies, the FBI conducted surveillance of peaceful anti-war protesters, journalists, steel company executives . . . and even Martin Luther King Jr., an American hero whose life we recently celebrated.

"Congress decided to take action. Based on the history of, and potential for, government abuses, Congress decided that it was not appropriate for telephone companies to simply assume that any government request for assistance to conduct electronic surveillance was legal. Let me repeat that: a primary purpose of FISA was to make clear, once and for all, that the telephone companies should not blindly cooperate with government requests for assistance.

"At the same time, however, Congress did not want to saddle telephone companies with the responsibility of determining whether the government's request for assistance was a lawful one. That approach would leave the companies in a permanent state of legal uncertainty about their obligations.

"So Congress devised a system that would take the guesswork out of it completely. Under that system, which is still in place today, the companies' legal obligations and liability depend entirely on whether the government has presented the company with a court order or a certification stating that certain basic requirements have been met. If the proper documentation is submitted, the company must cooperate with the request and will be immune from liability. If the proper documentation has not been submitted, the company must refuse the government's request, or be subject to possible liability in the courts."

Bush weighed in on FISA in his Fox News interview: "I think we're going to get a good bipartisan bill and so I applaud those Democrats. I'm not going after those Democrats. But there is a big part of the Democrat (sic) Party that is against giving our intelligence officers the tools necessary to protect America."

E-Mail Watch

The Washington Post editorial board writes: "With each passing week, the fate of e-mails generated by President Bush's staff grows more curious and troubling. While evidence has not emerged of a deliberate effort by the White House to destroy sensitive electronic messages, there's reason to be concerned about the potential loss of historical records. . . .

"Each missing e-mail is one less piece of the puzzle of how policies are made and decisions are reached. In an ideal world, the National Archives would have more than an advisory role in how records are handled during a president's term. An attempt to give it some authority could set up a fight between the legislative and executive branches. When it comes to preserving the nation's history, that's a battle worth waging."

Pete Yost writes for the Associated Press: "A federal judge agreed Monday to allow a private group to delve into the operations of an office at the White House as part of a controversy over whether large amounts of e-mail have disappeared.

"Permitting any private organization to inquire into White House functions is an unusual step, a point U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly underscored in her six-page order.

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