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House Judiciary Questions Ashcroft
CNSNews ^ | April 3,2003 | Jeff Johnson

Posted on 04/03/2003 4:59:56 PM PST by ninenot

( - A letter to Attorney General John Ashcroft Monday from the House Judiciary Committee asked more than 125 questions about implementation of the USA PATRIOT Act by the Department of Justice, including queries about secret search warrants and detention of suspected terrorists.

"As the Chairman and Ranking Member of the House Committee on the Judiciary, it is our responsibility to conduct oversight of the Department of Justice's efforts to combat terrorism," wrote Reps. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), chairman of the committee, and John Conyers (D-Mich.), its ranking member, "which includes implementation of the USA PATRIOT Act ("Act") signed into law by President Bush on October 26, 2001."

The pair acknowledges that the Department of Justice (DOJ) "has also been faced with significant new challenges to which it has responded using existing authorities, as well as those contained in the Act."

The 18-page letter asks Ashcroft to provide specific details about how the DOJ in general, and specifically the FBI, has used the new powers provided by the act to conduct wire taps, surveillance, data mining and secret searches, as well as detain "suspected alien terrorists" and register citizens of certain other countries living in or visiting the U.S.

PATRIOT Act 'Most Invasive Violation' of Civil Liberties

John Whitehead - president of the Rutherford Institute, a human rights and civil liberties public interest law firm in Charlottesville, Va. - called the inquiry "definitely a move in the right direction.

"The PATRIOT Act is, in my opinion, the most invasive violation of constitutional liberties I've seen in my 28 years practicing law," he said.

Whitehead is less than optimistic about the prospects for congressional oversight to reign in the powers given to federal law enforcers in the act.

"Do I think you can stop the train of constitutional and civil liberties abuses at this point? No," Whitehead continued. "It's a little late because everything is set in motion."

An analysis of the PATRIOT Act by the Rutherford Institute brought up many of the same issues Sensenbrenner and Conyers inquire about in their letter.

Congress has not been aggressive enough overseeing law enforcement activities of the federal government in the past, according to Lisa Dean, director of the Center for Technology Policy at the Free Congress Foundation.

"This [inquiry] is Congress behaving responsibly," she said. "The Justice Department is pretty much aware that they have raised a lot of red flags with a lot of the tools that they want, some of the programs that they want implemented."

Sensenbrenner 'Has a Right to Play Hardball' with Ashcroft

The Judiciary Committee's queries are reasonable, according to Phil Kent, president of the Southeastern Legal Foundation, especially given the behavior of the Justice Department in the past.

"James Sensenbrenner...has every right to play hardball with Attorney General John Ashcroft," Kent said. "The history of the Ashcroft Justice Department in this one area has been deficient. They have, time and again, been stalling on giving answers to the appropriate oversight committee on some very, very vital privacy and Fourth Amendment concerns."

Dean shared Kent's assessment of past DOJ responses to congressional supervision.

"They're going to have to be more cooperative than they have been in the past," she said, "if they want to continue to get funding for some of these projects."

Questions Should Have Been Asked Before Law Was Passed

While he welcomes any scrutiny of the law, George Getz, communications director for the Libertarian Party, agreed that the time for members of Congress to ask such questions was before they passed the legislation.

"These politicians who voted for the bill are just as guilty as the FBI, which is abusing the powers given in the bill," he said. "It's way too late to be asking these questions. What they ought to do, instead, is repeal this PATRIOT Act. That's how we can be sure those powers won't be abused."

Whitehead doubts that will happen and, in fact, predicts little will change as a result of the inquiry, especially while the country's attention is focused on Iraq.

"It's law until it's challenged. I think that, the way the country is now, while we're in the middle of a war, with the tenor of the country now, it could be very, very difficult to challenge," Whitehead said. "Once this all dies down and the abuses become apparent - and there will be abuses - then you can start challenging it in the courts."

An additional opportunity to focus on alleged problems with the law will come when its sunset provision takes effect.

"The big debate will come in 2005, when a portion of the PATRIOT Act will expire, unless Congress votes otherwise," Kent predicted. "That's even more of a reason for the attorney general and the Bush administration to build public support for the PATRIOT Act."

Justice to Seek Even More Power in 'PATRIOT II'

The Justice Department is already planning to request additional powers beyond those granted by the PATRIOT Act in draft legislation its opponents call "PATRIOT II."

"The PATRIOT II bill - which was, again, written in secret by Ashcroft and others over at the Justice Department - is going to be sprung upon Congress, maybe, any day now, and it's got powers that are even more frightening than PATRIOT I did," Getz warned.

"So, we're going to find out if Congress is serious about this. If they are, if they're serious about preserving freedom, they'll vote down PATRIOT II," he said.

Dean remains somewhat optimistic that, despite the less-than-aggressive oversight of federal law enforcement in the past, lawmakers are realizing that they have a responsibility to keep a check on the powers they have given federal law enforcement.

"The passage of the PATRIOT Act, and a lot of the questions and the unexplained procedures that have gone along with the USA PATRIOT Act, I think, have made Congress start to wonder," she speculated: "'What exactly is law enforcement going to be doing with these new tools that we gave them?'"

Ashcroft has until May 13 to respond to the Sensenbrenner/Conyers letter.

TOPICS: Constitution/Conservatism; Culture/Society; Front Page News; Government; News/Current Events; Politics/Elections; US: Wisconsin; War on Terror
KEYWORDS: ashcroft; civilliberties; conyers; fbi; johnwhitehead; patriotact; rutherfordinstitute; sensenbrenner
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Civil Liberties BUMP!!! Sensenbrenner never DID like this garbage. Good to see him on the trail...
1 posted on 04/03/2003 4:59:56 PM PST by ninenot
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To: RJCogburn; BlackElk
2 posted on 04/03/2003 5:00:33 PM PST by ninenot
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To: ninenot
Thanks for the ping. Clearly frightening in some ways....especially if evil people get the power.
3 posted on 04/03/2003 5:05:24 PM PST by RJCogburn (Yes, it's bold talk)
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Comment #4 Removed by Moderator

To: RJCogburn
Ashcroft and Bush we can trust, however the groundwork has been laid for such people as the Clintons. Americans will rue the day they sat complacently by as Ashcroft shredded the Constitution.
5 posted on 04/03/2003 5:09:16 PM PST by cynicom
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To: ninenot
Asscroft is a dork chasing after Tommy Chong.
6 posted on 04/03/2003 5:11:07 PM PST by Sir Gawain
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To: ninenot

7 posted on 04/03/2003 5:13:30 PM PST by Sir Gawain
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To: cynicom
Voting for the lesser of evils always begets evil. That said, thank goodness Bush is President and not Gore. How can so many people thinking they're right be so wrong? Here's an example...

"Ashcroft and Bush we can trust... as Ashcroft shredded the Constitution."

8 posted on 04/03/2003 5:14:18 PM PST by Zon
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To: ninenot
Knee-jerk legislation is what it was.

9 posted on 04/03/2003 5:14:28 PM PST by Ymani Cricket
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To: ninenot
Ashcroft is a travesty as AG. He is already a major liability. He must go before the 2004 election campaign begins in earnest.
10 posted on 04/03/2003 5:18:37 PM PST by thoughtomator (We're winning! We're winning!)
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To: Ymani Cricket
Extra Liberty Bump
11 posted on 04/03/2003 5:19:10 PM PST by Ymani Cricket
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To: thoughtomator
thoughtomator signed up 1998-10-04.

Hey your Freeper birthday is right by mine...Two days my senior :)

12 posted on 04/03/2003 5:22:26 PM PST by Ymani Cricket
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To: thoughtomator
In what way is he a liability?
13 posted on 04/03/2003 5:29:58 PM PST by Hazzardgate
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To: Zon
I am a Conservative American. Allegiance to no party. Been voting for 50 years and in that time only once voted "for" a candidate and did so with full confidence, that was Reagan.
14 posted on 04/03/2003 5:35:19 PM PST by cynicom
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To: cynicom
Doesn't change this gem you wrote...

"Ashcroft and Bush we can trust... as Ashcroft shredded the Constitution."

15 posted on 04/03/2003 5:38:59 PM PST by Zon
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To: cynicom

Let's all just sit back and think for a minute how she WILL use the "Patriot" Act when she scams her way back into the White House.

And don't say "It's not going to happen". Voters don't decide presidential elections anymore...the courts do. And we can't count on having the same Supreme Court in 2004 and 2008.

16 posted on 04/03/2003 5:39:06 PM PST by Orangedog (Soccer-Moms are the biggest threat to your freedoms and the republic !)
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To: Hazzardgate
He is a liability because of the secret arrests and detentions in violation of the 4th Amendment, as well as his unreasonable and undiscriminating application of immigration laws (which is costing the gov't huge amounts of money btw).

For example, he has placed requirements on the Board of Immigration Appeals that essentially eviscerates the purpose of that Board; the result is that Circuit Courts are now flooded with cases previously handled by the BIA. When the BIA rubber-stamps an unreasonable Immigration Judge decision (which it is being forced to do now by Ashcroft), not only does it drive up the cost of the government lawyers and clog the courts, but it also forces the government to often pay the costs of litigation to the petitioners in these cases. It's a huge waste of time and resources, and makes a lot of people very justifiably angry (and incidentally sends more than a few asylum applicants back to their nations of origin where they are tortured and killed). I'm as aware of the necessities of defending the nation from terrorism as anyone, and even in this context I find the actions of the A.G. to be outrageous.

For a conservative trying to convince a nonpolitical person of the virtues of voting R, the AG's actions in this and other arenas validate the stereotype of conservatives as hateful, provincial, and cruel.
17 posted on 04/03/2003 5:41:40 PM PST by thoughtomator (We're winning! We're winning!)
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To: ninenot
The questions are surprisingly intelligent!

Here's a copy of the letter:

18 posted on 04/03/2003 5:42:21 PM PST by mrsmith
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To: Orangedog
I took a lot of heat here on FR by saying the Hag would win as senator of NY. All the "experts" here allowed that I was stupid etc etc. Stupid perhaps but I saw her campaign stops in republican upstate NY, it was a given that she would win easily.
19 posted on 04/03/2003 5:49:10 PM PST by cynicom
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To: cynicom
Too bad you don't live in Sensenbrenner's district. I've watched his votes (through Human Events) for years--he's only been wrong on one that I recall.

He opposed the Patriot Act (as did Feingold, ultra-lib Dem Senator from Wi.) but got taken to the woodshed by Bush and Ashcroft. Sensen caved, which is too bad.

Now we have to look forward to an HRC interpretation of this law--retroactively will bless Waco, I suppose...
20 posted on 04/03/2003 6:05:22 PM PST by ninenot
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