President Bush’s call for new antiterrorism legislation, which critics are dubbing Patriot Act II, seeks broad new authority to allow federal agents to demand private records and compel testimony without the approval of judges or prosecutors, the New York Times says. The administration also wants to expand use of the death penalty in crimes like terrorist financing, and tougher for defendants to be freed on bail before trial.
Republican Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, who is sponsoring the measure to broaden the death penalty, told the Times that he was troubled by the plan’s other elements. Specter wants to hold hearings on the president’s call for strengthening the Justice Department’s subpoena power “because I’m concerned that it may be too sweeping.” The no-bail proposal concerns him too, the senator said, because “the Justice Department has gone too far. You have to have a reason to detain.”
Bush wants to let agents demand records through administrative subpoenas to move quickly without waiting for a judge. The government now can use such subpoenas to catch “crooked doctors” in health care fraud cases, Bush said. The Times notes that Bush did not mention that administrative subpoenas are used in health care cases because they often begin as civil cases, where grand jury subpoenas cannot be issued.
On expanding the death penalty, Specter, who worked on the issue for months before the White House asked him to sponsor legislation, said his measure would allow execution for “gateway” crimes like terrorist financing, even if the defendant does not carry out the attack. “The financiers are really the principal culprits,” he said.