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Committee chairman expects compromise as early as this week on eavesdropping law

Monday, March 3, 2008

WASHINGTON -- The House Intelligence Committee chairman expects a compromise soon on renewal of an eavesdropping law that could provide legal protections for telecommunications companies as President Bush has insisted.

Rep. Silvestre Reyes, in a television interview broadcast Sunday, did not specifically say whether the House proposal would mirror the Senate's version. The Senate measure provides retroactive legal immunity to the companies that helped the government wiretap U.S. computer and phone lines after the Sept. 11 attacks without clearance from a secret court.

Bush wants the House to agree to the Senate bill.

Reyes, D-Texas, said he was open to that possibility after receiving documents from the Bush administration and speaking to the companies about the industry's role in the government spy program.

"We are talking to the representatives from the communications companies because if we're going to give them blanket immunity, we want to know and we want to understand what it is that we're giving immunity for," he said. "I have an open mind about that."

Regarding a compromise deal, Reyes said: "We think we're very close, probably within the next week we'll be able to hopefully bring it to a vote."

Rep. Roy Blunt, the second-ranking Republican in the House, said Sunday he was not "quite that optimistic yet."

"I am committed to the idea that we have to work this out," said Blunt, R-Mo. "It's easy to solve this problem if the Democrats decide they want to solve it. The Senate proved it was easy and enough Democrats in the House believe it's easy that it's just up to the leaders to do this."

The eavesdropping law makes it easier for the government to spy on foreign phone calls and e-mails that pass through the United States. The law expired Feb. 16 after Congress did not quickly renew it. Bush opposed a temporary extension and has warned that failure to renew the law would put the nation at greater risk.

But House Democrats worried the legal protections would erode civil liberties protections and accused Bush of fear-mongering. A quirk in the temporary eavesdropping law adopted by Congress last August allows the government to initiate wiretaps for up to one year against a wide range of targets.

Reyes, whose interview was taped Friday, appeared on CNN's "Late Edition," as did Blunt.


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