White House says phone wiretaps back on "for now"
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Bush administration said on Saturday U.S. telecommunications companies have agreed to cooperate "for the time being" with spy agencies' wiretaps, despite an ongoing battle between the White House and Congress over new terrorism surveillance legislation.
The Justice Department and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence issued a joint statement saying wiretaps will resume under the current law "at least for now."
"Although our private partners are cooperating for the time being, they have expressed understandable misgivings about doing so in light of the ongoing uncertainty and have indicated they may well discontinue cooperation if the uncertainty persists," the statement said.
On Friday U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey and Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell said telecommunications firms have been reluctant to cooperate with new wiretaps since six-month temporary legislation expired last weekend. As a result, they told Congress, spy agencies have missed intelligence.
Democrats accused the Bush administration of fear-mongering and blamed it for any gaps.
President George W. Bush has said he would not compromise with the Democratic-led Congress on his demand that phone companies be shielded from lawsuits for taking part in his warrantless domestic spying program.
The measure passed by the Senate would provide retroactive lawsuit immunity to firms which cooperated with warrantless wiretaps that Bush authorized after the September 11 attacks. But the House of Representatives has opposed it, and Democratic leaders of both chambers said they would try to find a compromise.
Democratic leaders of congressional intelligence and judiciary committees issued a statement on Friday saying they were committed to passing new legislation and urged Bush to support an extension of the temporary law. Bush has said he would hold out for a permanent overhaul of the 1978 surveillance law.
(Editing by Stuart Grudgings)
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