This is a partial transcript of Special Report with Brit Hume, September 11, that has been edited for clarity.
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BRIT HUME, HOST: One response to the September 11 (search) attacks was the enactment of the Patriot Act (search), a controversial law expanding police powers to help law enforcement fight terror. Opponents insist the measure violates civil rights and the debate has spilled over into Democratic presidential politics.
FOX News Sunday anchor, Tony Snow spoke to Attorney General John Ashcroft today about the Patriot Act, specifically what the federal government can and cannot do.
TONY SNOW, HOST, FOX NEWS SUNDAY: So, what is it that you have to do before you're able to do wiretaps or other kinds of surveillance on people on American soil?
JOHN ASHCROFT, ATTORNEY GENERAL: Well, we have to go before a federal judge, for example, and we have to make a showing of probable cause. We have to then live with the supervision of the federal judge in that case- specific matter. So, this is not something we do on a whim.
SNOW: The most common complaint is that you do have the power, do you not, to go in and look at library records, to take a look at people's computer records and so on, again, after you've gone to this court? You still do have that ability?
ASHCROFT: Well, only if a federal judge orders it. You know, business records have long been a part of investigative procedures. The Zodiac Killer in New York, the Unabomber; these were all cases where subpoenas were used to get library records. But in those cases, it didn't require a federal judge to oversee it because in the normal criminal law, you simply have to have a grand jury subpoena to get business records, which might include library records.
SNOW: All right. Let's talk about some of the things the president wants to do. He wants to expand the Patriot Act to do a number of things. No. 1 is to expand the death penalty. Now, as I understand it, and you can correct me, this would be to expand the death penalty to people who are involved in operations where they target certain sites and results in the death of American citizens.
ASHCROFT: That's correct.
SNOW: Well, wouldn't they already be eligible for the death penalty?
ASHCROFT: Well, not all killings of Americans make a person eligible for the federal death penalty. And while we have a number of areas in which people are eligible for the death penalty, there are certain assaults against federal facilities and the like. Which if they result in the deaths of Americans, should be eligible for the death penalty and currently would not be.
SNOW: Secondly, and more controversial is the administration of subpoenas. This means that you don't have to go constantly before judges and ask for subpoenas. How do you respond to critics?
ASHCROFT: Shortly after 9/11, we went to some hotels we'd like to get…seeking evidence who had been there and what the records were. We were delayed. We would certainly be able to get them ultimately either with…through court orders or the subpoenas that flow from a grand jury. But we needed to be able to…and they wanted to cooperate. They simply felt like they needed an appropriate demand from government.
Now, in 300 and some other areas of the law, administrative subpoenas work. It seems to me that somewhere in the top 300 priorities of most Americans, thwarting and disrupting terrorists makes the list.
SNOW: Do you know of cases or do you believe there are cases right now in which you're actively working that the changes the president has recommended will actually make it easier to bring folks in? Or are these merely theoretical discussions about loopholes you see in the law?
ASHCROFT: Well, I think if you wait until you have a specific case before you go to Congress, you've not served the people well. Now, I already gave an example of how we saw in the post 9/11 time frames the need to be able to get records quickly. Records we were going to be able to get with grand jury subpoenas or other investigative tools that would have been more promptly provided and more valuable to us with the use of an administrative subpoena.
And those kinds of tools, the need to be a part of our arsenal in the war against terror, they don't change the overall balance of whether we get the record or not, but whether you get it in time. My dad said only three things are important in life: timing…and timing. And in terrorism, that's pretty good judgment.
HUME: Thank you, Tony.
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