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Dems Ready to Cave on Telecom Immunity

March 3, 2008 - by Donny Shaw

The standoff over FISA and telecom immunity appears to be coming to an end. The Senate passed their version of the FISA reform bill on February 13th, but the House did not approve it in time to keep part of FISA from expiring three days later. The sticking point has been a provision demanded by President Bush to provide retroactive legal immunity to the telecom companies that helped the Bush administration carry out their warrantless wiretapping program. But, over the weekend, Silvestere Reyes (D-TX) said that Democrats are just about ready to give up their opposition to the immunity provision and pass the bill:

>The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee hinted Sunday that a battle over an expired eavesdropping law might be moving toward a conclusion that gave phone companies the retroactive legal protections long sought by President Bush.
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>The chairman, Representative Silvestre Reyes, Democrat of Texas, said in an interview on CNN that the committee had been talking to the companies “because if we’re going to give them blanket immunity, we want to know and understand what it is we’re giving immunity for.”
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>Mr. Reyes did not specify what provisions a House bill might contain. But his use of the words “blanket immunity” suggested that he might be moving toward a Senate bill, backed by Mr. Bush, that would protect phone companies that assisted in a federal program of wiretapping without warrants after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
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>“I have an open mind about that,” Mr. Reyes said.
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>“We’re very close,” he added. “Probably within the next week, we’ll be able to move hopefully to bring it to a vote.”

Crooks & Liars has video of the interview.

The House passed their own FISA reform bill, the RESTORE Act, in November. It’s possible that if Democrats are going to capitulate and accept the telecom immunity provision favored by Republicans and the administration, they’ll use the leverage they gain there to make sure the final bill includes the original House version’s tougher oversight provisions. Think Progress has a rundown of the RESTORE Act that describes how this oversight (court reviews and audits) would work.

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