- The Washington Times - Friday, September 21, 2001

Congressional leaders in both parties made clear yesterday they are in no rush to approve the expanded powers requested by Attorney General John Ashcroft to fight terrorism.
"They want to have some hearings," House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt said of his fellow lawmakers. "You can argue that in a time of war or in a difficulty like this, that you need to cut through a lot of that. But we are a democracy."
Congress held several hearings yesterday on domestic security issues, and House leaders announced the creation of a House Intelligence subcommittee on terrorism and homeland security, to be chaired by Rep. Saxby Chambliss, Georgia Republican.
The new panel will begin holding hearings next week.
Mr. Ashcroft this week urged Congress to approve as quickly as possible a broad range of powers, from expanded wiretapping authority to stiffer penalties for terrorist conspiracies, to help the Justice Department combat foreign criminals in the United States.
House Majority Leader Dick Armey told reporters that lawmakers probably will approve Mr. Ashcroft's package in two pieces. He said the first segment, calling for longer prison sentences for crimes of terrorism, will likely be approved quickly.
But Mr. Armey said the second, more comprehensive portion including broader authority for search warrants, subpoenas and wiretaps would take more time.
"We are a democracy," Mr. Armey said. "What we are trying to save is our civil liberties."
Rep. J.C. Watts Jr. of Oklahoma, chairman of the House Republican Conference, said he has serious reservations about the attorney general's request.
"We're safe in saying it ain't gonna happen tomorrow," Mr. Watts said. "I'm going to be a tougher sale than any of my colleagues."
Rep. Bob Barr, chairman of the House Judiciary subcommittee on commercial and administrative law, said he is concerned about the administration's haste.
"Clearly, there was a failure in our ability to gather and disseminate intelligence information, and in securing our airports; however, before we rush through legislation giving the federal government even more power, we must first understand why this failure occurred," Mr. Barr said.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., Wisconsin Republican, said the draft of Mr. Ashcroft's proposals is being thoroughly reviewed by the committee and will be the subject of a hearing next week.
"This fair and deliberate schedule will allow for a full debate as well as expedited consideration by the full House," Mr. Sensenbrenner said.
In the Senate, Republican Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi has said he expects quick action on Mr. Ashcroft's requests. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, has proposed his own list of priorities for fighting terrorism, including strengthening money-laundering laws and authorizing "roving wiretaps" for surveillance of suspected terrorists.
Lawmakers express support for Mr. Ashcroft's request to eliminate the statute of limitations for crimes of terrorism. Current federal law bars prosecuting most offenses after five years, with some crimes extended to eight years.
Mr. Ashcroft says such limitations are "patently inadequate in relation to the catastrophic human and social costs that frequently follow from such crimes as destruction of aircraft."

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