The Senate Judiciary Committee's top Democrat and Republican expressed reluctance Wednesday to granting blanket immunity to telecommunications carriers sued for assisting the government's warrantless-surveillance program.
Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and the ranking Republican, Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., had said that before even considering such a proposal, they would need to see the legal documents underpinning the program, which began after the Sept. 11 attacks and were put under court oversight in January.
On Tuesday, the committee was given access to some of the documents. But Leahy said Wednesday that he had a "grave concern" about blanket immunity. The activities seem to be "in violation of the privacy rights of Americans" and of federal domestic-surveillance law, he said.
The immunity provision sought by the White House would wipe out about 40 lawsuits that accuse AT&T, Verizon Communications and Sprint Nextel of invading Americans' privacy and constitutional rights by assisting the government in domestic surveillance without a warrant.
Specter agreed that the "courts ought not to be closed" to such lawsuits.
I'm almost sorry Leahy and Specter telegraphed their concerns before they were given access to all of the documents. It seems unlikely now that the Bush administration would allow them access now, and will probably move into its standard campaign of rhetoric, charging opponents with "playing politics with Americans' security."