- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 3, 2006

President Bush yesterday began to pressure lawmakers into renewing the Patriot Act, meeting in the Oval Office with 19 U.S. attorneys, some of whom cited specific cases in which the anti-terror law protected Americans from attack.

Key provisions of the Patriot Act were to expire Dec. 31, but after an acrimonious civil liberties debate, Senate Democrats who had threatened to filibuster renewal allowed an extension of the law only through Feb. 3.

“This Patriot Act was passed overwhelmingly by the United States Congress in 2001,” the president told reporters yesterday. “And now, when it came time to renew the act, for partisan reasons, in my mind, people have not stepped up and have agreed that it’s still necessary to protect the country.

“The enemy has not gone away — they’re still there. And I expect Congress … to give us the tools necessary to win this war. … The American people expect to be protected, and the Patriot Act is a really important tool for them to stay protected,” Mr. Bush said.

After the meeting, several U.S. attorneys cited cases in which the act had enabled law-enforcement agents to thwart attacks, from staging an undercover sting on California weapons dealers attempting to sell Stinger missiles, to securing convictions of major terrorist financiers in New York.

“We told him that we use it each and every day to protect our country against terrorists and criminals,” said Kenneth L. Wainstein, U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia.

Roslynn Mauskopf, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, said the law was instrumental in convicting two persons of funneling $20 million to the terror groups al Qaeda and Hamas.

The Patriot Act, enacted after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, expanded the authority of the federal government to conduct secret searches, obtain private records and intercept telephone calls to track suspected terrorists.

But Senate Democrats — and a handful of Republicans — opposed extension of the Patriot Act after the revelation last month that Mr. Bush authorized the National Security Agency to monitor international calls among suspected terror group members, including al Qaeda.

The White House yesterday condemned Senate Democrats for playing politics.

“They were engaging in obstructionist tactics to try to kill the Patriot Act, as they said in their own words,” Bush spokesman Scott McClellan said, noting that Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, had boasted “about killing the Patriot Act.”

Sen. Russell D. Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat, said Mr. Bush should spend more time negotiating about the Patriot Act with Democrats and others on Capitol Hill and less on “staged meetings with hand-picked participants” at the White House.

“We want common-sense changes to the act that would give the government the power to combat terrorism while protecting the rights and freedoms of law-abiding citizens,” Mr. Feingold said.

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