Patriot Act Really a Rubber Stamp?

This is a partial transcript of Special Report with Brit Hume, Jan. 22, that has been edited for clarity.

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PRESIDENT BUSH: Key provisions of the Patriot Act (search) are set to expire next year.


BUSH: The terrorist threat...


BUSH: The terrorist threat will not expire on that schedule.



BRIAN WILSON, GUEST-HOST: Well, that was President Bush during his State of the Union address Tuesday night, applauded by Democrats when he said some of the provisions of the Patriot Act will expire next year, and by Republicans when he called on Congress to renew them.

The Patriot Act, signed into law in October of 2001, obviously brings up some strong feelings, especially on Capitol Hill. Mark Carallo is the Justice Department spokesman.

WILSON: Mark, thanks for coming in to talk about this.


WILSON: Well, you know, some of this stuff doesn't expire into 2005. Senator Charles Grassley, who is the key member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, says hey, it's about a year too early. Why are you bringing this up now?

CAROLLO: You know, Brian, the president obviously cares about this piece of legislation because this is a man who sees the threats every day. He knows how important this legislation has been in our capacity to prevent terrorist attacks. And so, I think the president has a personal stake in this. I think we all do.

And I think it is important for the American people to know that this president cares about their safety more than anything. And we have got to have those tools for law enforcement, and the intelligence community to prevent terrorist attacks. Look, before the Patriot Act, we couldn't connect those dots. We didn't have the ability for law enforcement and the intelligence community to talk. Now we do. And it's because of the Patriot Act, and that's what's so important.

WILSON: Let me play devil's advocate because...


WILSON: ... I have researched some of these provisions that are set to expire in 2005. Section 2:18; now, we have to tell people there is a secret court in this country that I can't go and sit in and watch. It's called the FISA Court; it's not done in public view. It used to be that to get a search warrant or a wiretap, or something, you had to go in and assert, not prove, but assert to the FISA judge that the primary purpose was to gain foreign intelligence.

Now that's been changed somewhat to significant purpose. And it also used to be that you couldn't use this in a court of law. Now you can.

CAROLLO: Now you can.

WILSON: Tell me why you think it's important for that to be renewed?

CAROLLO: Brian, that is the most important piece of the Patriot Act. As a matter of fact, when you think about it, it makes all the sense in the world. If we can't allow our intelligence folks to pass on the information about people they're watching, terrorists that they are following, that we may be able to get on crimes, so that we can take them off the streets before they can fulfill their terrorist plots -- you know, it's not worth prosecuting somebody after they've blown up 3,000 citizens.

This gives us the ability to go in at the earliest point. That particular provision allows us to go in at the earliest point. And you mentioned something very important. We have to go to a federal judge.

WILSON: Yes, but...

CAROLLO: We have to go to judges...

WILSON: It's really mostly a rubber stamp, isn't it?

CAROLLO: It is not a rubber stamp. As matter of fact, very often, these judges -- if we don't meet the standard -- and let me tell you, the lawyers who have to go in front of the FISA Court will tell you it's no easy thing. It is a lot harder than, for instance, for getting grant jury subpoena where you don't have to go to a judge.

You have to go to a judge and you have to convince him that this investigation is to protect against international terrorism or foreign spying. Now that's -- that's not a low standard; it is a very high standard. And it's a standard that we have to meet to protect the American people, but also protect their liberties. These judges are trained to be respectful and protective of civil liberties.

WILSON: Fair enough. Section 2:15, now this is the one that really gets a lot of people riled up. This is the one that says if I believe that I can -- that there's significant reason for me to think that a terrorist attack is taking place, or that I might gain information that would stop a terrorist attack, I can go just about anywhere and ask for information. I basically notify the judge in this particular case, I don't even have to get his permission. It's basically, in that a case, it is a rubber stamp, isn't?

CAROLLO: No. Actually, you do have to have the judge's permission. And unlike the regular, criminal justice system, where you just go to a grand jury.

And if I want to get Brian Wilson's business records or bank records, all I have to say to the grand jury is, well, we have a hunch that Brian Wilson may be involved in something. The grand jury's standard is what may be relevant to their inquiry, there's no probable cause involved.

Here you have to convince the judge that you are either involved in foreign -- in international terrorism or you're a foreign spy.

WILSON: Yes, but you can get thing like library records, airline records, you can go to Las Vegas where they like to say that "What happens in Las Vegas, stays in Las Vegas."


WILSON: You can get guest records. You can ask about anything under this provision, can't you?

CAROLLO: You can. And the thing is though, again, you have to convince a federal judge and you're also subject to congressional oversight. This is something that doesn't exist in the regular criminal justice system and it is really important to understand. I mean think about it this way. If you have got a terrorist who may be -- you know, using a public library -- public library computer, to communicate with their confederates in other countries, plotting and planning and researching their plots for our demise. I don't think any library or any place should be a safe haven for terrorists.

Patriot Act, Section 2:15 allows us, with judicial authorization and a very high standard, to go in when we need to. And you know, I think as the attorney general (search) noted back in September, he declassified that information. We'd never used it. We've shown incredible responsibility. And even Senators Dianne Feinstein and Joe Biden have said -- have praised the Justice Department for our implementation of the act.

WILSON: All out of time. Mark Corallo, a spokesman for the Justice Department.

Thank you, good to see you.

CAROLLO: Thanks, Brian.

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