Dallas Morning News
October 3, 2001

Anti-terrorism Bill at Impasse


WASHINGTON -- Negotiations over an anti-terrorism measure stalled Tuesday in the Senate, delaying progress on President Bush's attempt to give law enforcement officials more tools to go after suspected terrorists.

An agreement to allow greater sharing of grand jury information with federal authorities broke down during a meeting involving Attorney General John Ashcroft, White House Counsel Al Gonzales, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., chairman of the Judiciary Committee, and Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, several people who attended the meeting said.

Mr. Leahy said administration officials backed away from a weekend compromise that would have allowed grand jury testimony and wiretap information to be shared quickly with intelligence agencies and other federal officials, including political appointees, if terrorism was involved.

"Apparently last night the administration changed its mind and [is] not going to go forward with changes in grand jury proceedings," said Mr. Leahy, who added that without that hitch "we could have wrapped this up within two or three hours."

But Mr. Ashcroft said Senate Democrats were impeding a deal.

"I'm deeply concerned about the rather slow pace," Mr. Ashcroft said. "I think it is time for us to be productive in behalf of the American people, so that our protection of the American people can in fact be effective."

Under the proposed compromise, a court would have to be notified after federal officials were given access to grand jury testimony and wiretap information in terrorism cases. Now, a court must grant permission to release such information.

Mr. Ashcroft has advocated granting federal authorities access without any court oversight. But Mr. Leahy and other critics have said such unfettered access, especially by political appointees, could open the door to abuses.

Meanwhile, House Judiciary Committee leaders said they expected to approve an anti-terrorism package on Wednesday.

Administration officials have sought expanded power to monitor the phone, e-mail, and other communications of suspected terrorists, share information about suspects among federal agencies, and indefinitely detain non-citizens suspected of terrorism.

Copyright 2001. Dallas Morning News . All rights reserved.

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