Amid the public relations din, a patriotic voice

Feingold asks openness as senate tackles the Patriot Act renewal


There’s a good reason for U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold’s stand against secrecy in the debate to renew portions of the PATRIOT Act:  the Administration has disregarded congressional limits on federal police action in the War on Terror and arrogantly refuses to discuss it in public congressional hearings or before the United States Supreme Court.

“Any bill to reauthorize, fix, or expand the PATRIOT Act, which has caused such controversy around the country almost from the day it was enacted in 2001, should be debated in the light of day, not behind closed doors,” Feingold (D-Wis.), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in a May 19 statement released by his office.

Feingold’s comments came one day after the U.S. Supreme Court was asked in an “extraordinary motion” to order the Administration to respond to claims that in July 2003, the attorney general increased police powers to fight the war on terror by secretly and illegally amending the treasury regulations in violation of a presidential order and congressional mandates to protect taxpayers, according to the Petition for Writ of Certiorari in Payne v. USA, U.S. Supreme Court case No. 04-1370. The attorney general’s objective is to use the unlimited authority of the IRS police to investigate American citizens – even without a crime being committed, the petition claims.


On May 11, the Administration bluntly told the Supreme Court it would not respond to the claims, leaving the Congress and the public to guess whether the Administration has violated the rule of law in taking away individual rights to fight terrorism.

Yet the attorney general asks congress to trust him with renewal of the PATRIOT Act.

“The Senate must respect the principle of open government, so deeply rooted in my own state of Wisconsin, because this bill directly implicates the civil liberties of all Americans,” Feingold said.

Ironically, U.S. attorneys, who have been drafted into the Administration’s public relations spin, are publicly urging the same openness on the opinion pages of the nation’s newspapers. In city after city, federal prosecutors are urging Americans to trust the Administration and consider all the facts as the attorney general asks congress to renew 16 provisions of the Patriot Act.


In the Tampa Tribune, for example, Paul I. Perez, the U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Florida, wrote on April 30 that “at all times, the government is subject to the jurisdiction and supervision of a federal judge,” and that “[i]n the fight for the freedom of every American — whether that fight is against terrorism or against crime — the Patriot Act is a critical tool for protecting our liberties in the 21st century.”


On April 17, Mary Beth Buchanan, the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania, wrote in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that the Patriot Act “was passed with overwhelming bipartisan support . . . .”


“In the coming weeks, Congress and the American people will be discussing the need to re-authorize these critical laws. It is very important that this nationwide debate be based on fact, not fiction.”


And U.S. Attorney Stephen J. Murphy, of the Eastern District of Michigan, wrote in the Detroit News on April 27, that as Congress considers whether to renew parts of the Patriot Act, “accurate information is essential to the debate . . . .”


If the PATRIOT Act were the only document setting forth the arsenal with which this country protects itself in the post 9/11 world, the arguments of Mr. Murphy, Mr. Perez and Ms. Buchanan could be taken at face value.


But it is not.


Despite this chorus of cries for accurate information and debate, the attorney general has decided to not respond to the claim before the Supreme Court that former Attorney General John Ashcroft illegally and surreptitiously altered treasury department regulations to make wider use of the IRS police in the War on Terror.


If U.S. Attorney Murphy and the others believe what they say, they should help create awareness of how treasury regulation 301.6103(k)(6)-1 was voided, in violation of the rule of law and despite the requirements of Executive Order 12866, which requires “regulatory assessment” if an amendment is “significant.”


The “significant” change in the amended treasury regulation, according to the petition before the Supreme Court, is that the amended regulation stripped all Americans of congressional protection from injury caused by IRS police, disclosures of the citizen being under investigation, even when the taxpayer is cooperating completely.


When the attorney general appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee last month, he did not provide the “accurate information” about amended treasury regulations essential to the senate’s consideration of the issue.


Sen. Feingold, why not ask U.S. Attorney Perez which federal judge was supervising?