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Bush says it's vital to make Patriot Act permanent

San Francisco Chronicle| April 20 2004

Hershey, Pa. -- President Bush said Monday that he considered it vital for Congress to pass a permanent version of the USA Patriot Act, which has been criticized by some liberals and conservatives for giving the federal government too much power in the name of fighting terrorism.

Bush told a convention of Pennsylvania township officials that those concerned about the expanded wiretapping and surveillance powers provided by the act were laboring under a false hope about safety from terrorism.

"The Patriot Act defends our liberty," Bush said, repeatedly thumping the podium. "The Patriot Act makes it able for those of us in positions of responsibility to defend the liberty of the American people. It's essential law."

Bush made the case during his 27th visit to a swing state he lost in 2000 but is laboring to capture in 2004.

The purpose of the trip was twofold as Bush, for the first time this year, was raising cash for another candidate -- four-term Republican Sen. Arlen Specter, who is trying to fend off a primary challenge from conservative GOP Rep. Pat Toomey. The primary is April 27.

Bush's message on the Patriot Act didn't mesh with Specter, who is among 18 co-sponsors of legislation that would amend the law. Specter, a moderate, has questioned the administration's use of the Patriot Act and has said the Justice Department needs more congressional oversight.

Key provisions of the Patriot Act aren't set to expire until the end of 2005, but Bush argued that the law was critical for keeping tabs on terrorists and should be renewed. He mentioned the Sept. 11, 2001, crash of a hijacked airliner 140 miles away in Shanksville, Pa.

Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, the presumptive Democratic nominee, voted for the measure but now says the law needs to be fixed. He has said the administration has "used the Patriot Act in ways that were never intended and for reasons that have nothing to do with terrorism."

In an ad, the Bush campaign has already attacked Kerry for questioning the Patriot Act. Republican officials said that Bush planned to make the Patriot Act a central theme of his campaign to show his plan to combat terrorism and that he had taken specific action after the attacks.

Bush has also used the vote to portray Kerry as a waffler. At the Specter fund-raiser, Bush said of Kerry: "If he could find a third side to an issue, I'm confident he'd take it."

Lawmakers of both parties, including Kerry, said at the time the Patriot Act passed that the sunset provision would allow Congress to ensure that the administration did not abuse its new power. But Bush asserted that by including an expiration date, Congress was saying that "maybe the war on terror won't go on very long." He called on lawmakers to renew the Patriot Act and to make all of its provisions permanent.

Under the law, the government's expanded ability to monitor and search the belongings of people targeted in terrorism investigations includes conducting secret searches and seizing records from banks, libraries and other businesses without disclosing that it has done so.

Bush said the Patriot Act had solved an important problem identified last week by the commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks: that intelligence and criminal investigators believed they were prohibited from sharing some information, causing missed opportunities to unravel the plot.

"Different people had a piece of the puzzle, but because of law, they couldn't get all the pieces in the same place," he said.

Kerry's campaign said Bush was trying to "rewrite history to show that the Patriot Act has been a cure-all for the intelligence failures that were exposed by the 9/11 attacks."

When Bush arrived in Pennsylvania, aides hustled Specter up the steps at the back of Air Force One so that he could pop out atop the front stairs next to the president. The two men stood side by side, waving at a bank of cameras. They did it again when Bush arrived in Pittsburgh.

The Specter fund-raising reception generated $400,000. Republican officials said that because of the importance of independent voters in Pennsylvania, Bush would have a better chance on a ticket with Specter than with Toomey.

Toomey said Bush's appearance showed Specter's weakness, because he needed the president "to carry him over the goal line."

Bush's support for Specter has engendered grumbling among some conservatives. Karl Rove, Bush's senior adviser, traveled on Air Force One on Monday and said, "We're supporting the Senate Republican majority. We're a big party."

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911:  The Road to Tyranny