August 6, 2007 - The day after President George W. Bush marshaled political forces in Congress to grant him greater authority to engage in counterterrorism-related spying, the president stated that he would seek greater changes to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act when the legislative branch returns to work in September.
"While I appreciate the leadership it took to pass this bill, we must remember that our work is not done," the President said in his Sunday statement. "This bill is a temporary, narrowly focused statute to deal with the most immediate shortcomings in the law."
The President said next month he would focus on further immunizing private companies that cooperate with government wiretapping. However, he used complicated language to describe these activities.
"When Congress returns in September the Intelligence committees and leaders in both parties will need to complete work on the comprehensive reforms requested by Director McConnell, including the important issue of providing meaningful liability protection to those who are alleged to have assisted our Nation following the attacks of September 11, 2001," he said.
One constitutional scholar derided Bush's reasoning, particularly the tortuous language in his statement.
"Apparently 'allegedly helped us stay safe' is Bush Administration code for telecom companies and government officials who participated in a conspiracy to perform illegal surveillance," wrote Yale Law Professor Jack Balkin in a Monday morning blog post. "Because what they did is illegal, we do not admit that they actually did it, we only say that they are alleged to have done it."
Balkin also offered another amusing interpretation of Bush's words.
"Or perhaps the Administration is suggesting that although such parties are alleged to have helped the country stay safe, there's no evidence that their repeated violations of federal law actually did much to promote our security," he quipped.
Last week, National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell made a related appeal, appearing to acknowledge that telecommunications companies had not only 'allegedly' assisted the government in its wiretapping activities.
"[T]hose who assist the Government in protecting us from harm must be protected from liability," he said in a Friday statement. "This includes those who are alleged to have assisted the Government after September 11, 2001 and have helped keep the country safe....I appreciate the commitment of the congressional leadership to address this particular issue immediately upon the return of Congress in September 2007."
And for one top Congressional advocate of Bush's proposed wiretapping 'reforms,' the participation of telecommunication companies in government spying was not described as an allegation at all.
"These are companies who were doing the patriotic thing," said Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-MI), Ranking Republican on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, in an interview with Paul Gigot for Fox News Journal Editorial Report on Saturday night. "They were helping the U.S. government, the American people, get the information that we believe we needed to keep us safe. They voluntarily participated, and now that the program is exposed, they've been open to all kinds of lawsuits."
Meanwhile, pundits were already building the case for expanding liability protections for telecommunications companies that help the government spy.