Al Franken vs. the War on Terror

On Friday, Byron York of the Washington Examiner  focused attention on an unfolding story the liberal media doesn't want to highlight.

Some key parts of the Patriot Act are set to expire in December. When the anti-terrorism law was passed in the days after 9-11, Congress put eight-year time limits on the most far-reaching provisions. Since the Democrats didn't really favor a War on Terror, their preference for the civil liberties of terrorist suspects over the civil liberties of future terrorist victims is becoming clear. York looked at one exchange in the Senate with freshman Sen. Al Franken:

Even roving wiretaps, a widely accepted, common-sense feature of the Patriot Act, have come under question. At a Sept. 23 committee hearing, Sen. Al Franken, the newest member of the committee, challenged the constitutionality of such wiretaps, and in the process left an Obama Justice Department official -- who supports the law -- muttering in frustration.

That official, Assistant Attorney General David Kris, tried to explain to Franken that the law allows, and the courts have held, that investigators can wiretap a suspect based on a specific description of that suspect's activities, even if investigators don't know his name.

Franken, who pointed out that he is not a lawyer, was unimpressed. "That's what brings me to this," he said, pulling a copy of the Constitution from his coat pocket. He read aloud the Fourth Amendment: "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue but upon probable cause supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched and the persons or things to be seized."

Is the Patriot Act's roving wiretap provision consistent with the Constitution? Franken asked.

"I do think it is," Kris answered, "and I kind of want to defer to that other, third branch of government. The courts, in looking at -- "

"I know what they are," Franken joked, as the audience laughed.

Kris seemed taken aback. "This is surreal," he said under his breath.

Indeed it was. Maybe Franken was serious, and maybe he was just clowning around. But it didn't make for an enlightening exchange -- or bode well for the Patriot Act.

Now the committee is down to the business of crafting an actual bill to reauthorize the act. Republicans believe they can beat back some of the more sweeping changes, but they are under no illusions about the Democratic majority's power to chip away at the government's ability to fight terrorism.

"I'm very worried that we could end up weakening the act," says [GOP Sen. Jeff] Sessions, "when we should be considering what we can do to make it stronger."

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis