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Telecoms writing Their Own Immunity Law?

May 8, 2008 - by Donny Shaw

(Updated Below)

The Protect America Act, part of FISA, was allowed to expire months ago over a disagreement over giving legal immunity to the telecom companies that helped the Administration execute its warrantless wiretapping program. President Bush has insisted that he will only sign a Protect America Act replacement that contains an immunity provision for the companies. But many Democrats see no reason to the issue of legality outside of the court, and have refused to pass an immunity provision, bringing about the current stalemate.

But a deal on a new bill has been developing in the back rooms of the Capitol, and apparently the telecom companies have a seat at the table, helping to craft their own legal protections. The Politico:

>Telecom companies have presented congressional Democrats with a set of proposals on how to provide immunity to the businesses that participated in a controversial government electronic surveillance program, a House Democratic aide said Wednesday.
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>House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) said Wednesday a FISA deal is “still in flux” but he described the latest developments as “promising” and said he hoped to have a solution soon.
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>House officials declined to discuss the specifics of the proposed immunity language by the telecoms.
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>Although it remains to be seen if congressional Democrats will accept the telecom companies’ proposal, the communication between the two sides signifies that progress is being made.
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>[…]
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>Meanwhile, Senate Select Intelligence Committee Chairman John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.) has begun circulating a proposal on the FISA bill to all key stakeholders, hoping to break the deadlock, several members and aides also confirmed on Wednesday.

In late April, Firedoglake reported on the new Rockefeller deal, including details of exactly how much AT&T, one of the telecoms facing lawsuits over the warrantless wiretapping program, is paying for lobbying on the issue. AT&T gave the job of pushing a new FISA bill, which we can assume includes some kind of immunity provision for them, to the Breaux Lott Leadership Group, and paid them $150,000. Compared to what would be at stake if the lawsuits against them went to court, it’s a really good deal.

We’ll be posting as soon as more details of the FISA deal emerge. This, from Glenn Greenwald, seems right:

>Their strategy is to craft a bill that they can pretend is something short of amnesty for telecoms but which, in every meaningful respect, ensures an end to the telecom lawsuits. It goes without saying that no “compromise” will be acceptable to Rockefeller or the White House unless there is a guaranteed end to those lawsuits, i.e., unless the bill grants amnesty to lawbreaking telecoms.

Any guesses on what the deal is going to look like?

UPDATE:

CongressDaily ($) gave this preview yesterday of the FISA compromise being worked out in the House:

>Reyes said the telecom firms have been given proposed legislative language to review. “The key is the telecoms,” he said.
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>He said the language would require a court to determine whether telecommunications companies should be granted immunity from lawsuits arising from their cooperation with the Bush administration’s warrantless electronic surveillance activities since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
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>It is has not been determined whether the cases would be heard in federal district court or before the secret FISA court, Reyes said.

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