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Republican Senator John Sununu Tells Hannity A Thing Or Two About The USA Patriot Act

Reported by Ellen - December 17, 2005

I'll probably never agree with Senator John Sununu (R-N.H.) on anything again but he earned my lifelong respect yesterday - first, for having had the guts and the integrity to stand up to his party's leadership and block the re-authorization of the USA Patriot Act and second, for going on FOX News and showing up Sean Hannity's ignorant posturing.

Sununu was one of four Republican senators who broke ranks yesterday to block the reauthorization of the Patriot Act. (Comment: Majority Leader Bill Frist, once he knew he didn't have the votes to overcome the filibuster, also voted against cloture as a procedural move that allows him to call another vote.)

Sununu said he has been speaking with the Attorney General for more than a year in an effort to reform some of the provisions of the Patriot Act. Emphasizing that he supports the majority of the Act, he said his concerns are about a person's right to have a judicial review of the "very powerful subpoena powers" and the standard used to get one of those subpoenas. "We want to make sure there are specific, clear standards for getting access to business records and the like."

Alan Colmes said that under Section 215 of the Act, the government can obtain a court order for business records upon the mere assertion that they are relevant to a terrorism investigation and that you don't have to inform the person their records are being investigated. Comment: Colmes didn't mention that one's library and medical records are also fair game and that a librarian or business person could go to jail for merely informing their customer that his or her records were being searched.

Sununu said the most important problem is that the standard of relevance is too broad and that the target of an investigation should be notified. "I believe you should show a connection to a targeted terrorist or a spy" (i.e. not just "relevant" to an investigation) because that's less prone to abuse. He also expressed concern that there is no review of the Section 215 gag order, no way to take it before a judge, no way to have it overturned. "I think taking your case before a judge is the American way and it doesn't threaten law enforcement's ability to do their job to have their case heard."

That idea bothered Sean Hannity so much, he didn't let Sununu finish his sentence before interrupting. "That's not what law enforcement officers say."

"That is NOT true."

Waving pieces of paper like Joe McCarthy and being just as coy about his sources, Hannity's voice rose as he began his attack. "I've spoken to law enforcement, Senator, and that's what they're telling me and this will greatly hinder - and remember you are one of three Republicans who voted against this. So obviously, the majority..."

Sununu cut him off. "Let's talk substance. Numbers don't matter."

Hannity waved the papers at Sununu again and insisted that numbers DO matter because most of his fellow Republicans disagreed with him.

Sununu cut him off again. "How does having a gag-order request heard before a judge undermine an investigation?"

Hannity, using the bullying tone he normally reserves for Democrats, demanded, "Is there or is there not judicial review in the current Patriot Act?"

"Not of the 215 gag order."

I would have thought that even an egoist like Sean Hannity would recognize that the Chairman of the Senate's Foreign Relations Subcommittee on International Operations and Terrorism would probably be more knowledgable about the provisions of the Patriot Act than himself. But he insisted, without citing any source or section of the Act, "There IS judicial review. There IS. You're acting as if there is none."

Sununu's voice rose with obvious annoyance. "Not of the gag order. That is misleading... You cannot have a serious debate if you're going to misstate the facts."

Rather than cite sources, Hannity tried to change the subject. "I'm not misstating the facts. I've read the White House (sic) and they put out a list of actual terror attacks that were prevented because of the Patriot Act that's not going to be re-authorized because of YOU."

Sununu said the list showed why the Act is an important piece of legislation that should be reauthorized, that he doesn't oppose any of the provisions used in any of the cases Hannity read. Refusing to be outtalked by Hannity, Sununu added, "They haven't provided any substantive example of how that judicial review would weaken law enforcement's ability... I support an extension - three months, six months, so that we can work out these differences... We should deal with this like adults."

Colmes broke in to end the segment by saying that he applauded Sununu for standing up for the American way and our judicial system.

Sununu said, pointedly, "Thank you very much."

Hannity could be heard muttering, in an annoyed tone, something about "Alan on your side."

I hope all readers will join me in applauding Sununu as well by sending him an email.

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