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Specter’s Patriot Games


House and Senate negotiators made a deal on the Patriot Act late on Tuesday night. The next day, however, Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Arlen Specter reneged on the deal because Pat Leahy, the ranking Democrat on the committee, didn’t like it.

There are three major issues outstanding. 1) The House had voted to renew several provisions of the Patriot Act for ten years, the Senate for four. The negotiators had split the difference: 7 years. But Leahy wants to re-open the deal to bring that number down. 2) Recipients of national security letters can’t disclose that they have received them. The bill loosens the rule, but creates penalties for breaking it. Leahy doesn’t want any penalties if the rule wasn’t broken with the specific intent of disrupting an investigation. 3) Recipients of the NSLs are supposed to notify the FBI before they contact a lawyer—just in case the lawyer they’re calling is Lynne Stewart or a Mohammed Atta who’s gone to law school. Leahy wants that provision dropped.

Most Republicans aren’t inclined to give ground on these issues. Specter’s Republican colleagues are furious that he’s gone back on his word, but they haven’t been saying anything to the press because they still want to get his signature on a deal.