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Ashcroft Urges Swift Passage of Anti-Terrorism Bill

Ashcroft told CNN’s Larry King last night, ”Frankly, I have been disappointed with the pace [of Congressional action]. We have talked about the process and we have talked about our cooperation for several weeks now.”

“Talk won’t prevail against terrorism.”

The proposed legislation offers federal law enforcement officials sweeping new powers to conduct wiretapping, track Internet communications, and apprehend and prosecute suspected terrorists.

Some Senate Democrats have expressed concern about balancing the efforts to increase security with the need to protect civil liberties.

“Our history has taught us that in times of national crisis, we must cherish our constitutional freedoms all the more,” Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy told a hearing on Wednesday. “We should bring that perspective to the ongoing negotiations over anti-terrorism legislation.”

According to media reports, one of the remaining issues between the White House and the Democrat-controlled Senate involves the ability of the FBI to share wiretap and grand jury information with the CIA, National Security Agency and other intelligence agencies.

White House and Judiciary committee staff reportedly forged a deal under which the FBI could share the information in a time of national emergency and with a court order. The Washington Post, citing Democrats involved in the talks, said White House negotiators backed away from the compromise this morning.

Meanwhile in the House, the Judiciary Committee neared passage of a compromise bill hammered out by the the chairman, James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), and ranking Democrat John Conyers (D-CA). The proposal is slightly narrower than the White House had hoped.

“I thought the original Justice Department proposal went far too far. It was a wish list of a lot of things they always wanted but hadn’t gotten in the past,” Sensenbrenner told his home state paper The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “I basically told the attorney general that if that’s the position the administration took, they would be lucky to get a bill.”