- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 3, 2001

Vice President Richard B. Cheney and Attorney General John Ashcroft stepped up their pressure on Senate Democrats yesterday to approve broader powers for the FBI to fight terrorism.

A visibly frustrated Mr. Ashcroft told Republican senators in a private luncheon that his "eyeball-to-eyeball" meeting with Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, consisted mostly of fruitless talk.

"Talk won't prevent terrorism; tools can help prevent terrorism," Mr. Ashcroft told reporters. "I met with Senator Leahy … again, and expressed to him my deep concern over the pace at which we are making progress."

But Democrats say the White House, under fire from conservatives who object to giving the government sweeping new wiretap and search powers, backed out of one agreement and has shifted its position in negotiations.

"They've got to get their act together," said Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., Delaware Democrat. "This has kind of been a moving target."

The House Judiciary Committee is expected to approve an anti-terrorism package today that includes expanding from two days to seven days the FBI's authority to detain "suspected terrorist aliens" without filing charges, granting the use of "roving" wiretaps and increasing the penalties for terrorist acts.

To ease some lawmakers' concerns about curtailing civil liberties, negotiators agreed to phase out these new provisions at the end of 2003.

"Most people frankly are quite comforted by the two-year sunset," said House Majority Leader Dick Armey. "We expect to have … most of this terrorist threat resolved in a two-year period."

The House could vote on the bill on the floor as early as Friday.

Leahy spokesman David Carle said Mr. Leahy "fully expected" to agree with Mr. Ashcroft and White House Counsel Al Gonzales on an anti-terrorism package yesterday. But Mr. Leahy said the White House backed away from a deal that negotiators had struck Sunday night. It required federal authorities who obtain secret grand jury information on terrorism to notify a court.

"We were literally within two or three hours of wrapping up the package," Mr. Leahy said. "The attorney general told me … that the White House changed its mind, and they were not willing to continue with their agreement on how we would share grand jury information."

At a luncheon of Senate Democrats yesterday, Mr. Leahy asked Mr. Cheney to "please go back and find a way to solve this problem." Mr. Cheney met with the Democrats to urge them to finish work on the attorney general's proposals.

But Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican, who has participated in the negotiations, said Democrats are holding up the package and have yet to agree on several other issues, including expanding the use of wiretap devices and sharing information between law enforcement and intelligence agencies.

"Some of these are no-brainers," Mr. Hatch said. "I don't know how many more times I have to kneel" before the Democrats.

But Democrats said the White House and Republicans were sending mixed messages on the anti-terrorism package. They noted that Mr. Ashcroft initially asked for indefinite detention of illegal immigrants suspected of terrorism, while the House is proposing seven days of detention and Mr. Hatch suggested no more than 30 days.

Mr. Carle said the administration also has refused to include money-laundering provisions in the package, but President Bush yesterday told congressional leaders he could accept that proposal.

"They're making it up as they go," said one Senate Democrat.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle said he is optimistic a proposal will be worked out in the next few days. Mr. Cheney last week gave senators a deadline of Friday to finish work on the package.

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