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Graham quiet about his role on Patriot Act

On the campaign trail, he isn't bringing up that he co-wrote the controversial bill in the Senate.

By BILL ADAIR, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published June 14, 2003

WASHINGTON - When Sen. Bob Graham campaigned in Iowa last weekend, at least two Democratic activists complained that the USA Patriot Act threatened civil liberties. They asked what he planned to do about it.

The Florida senator replied that he was unhappy with Attorney General John Ashcroft's implementation of the antiterrorism law, but Graham neglected to mention an important fact: He co-wrote it.

The controversial law puts Graham in a difficult spot.

As the former chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, he wrote sections of the bill dealing with foreign intelligence. But as a presidential candidate, he doesn't want to alienate supporters.

"For some people, the Patriot Act will be a major issue," said Dr. Julianne Thomas, a Cedar Rapids pediatrician who is vice chairman of the Iowa Democratic Party. "There are groups where that could be a problem for Sen. Graham."

He has avoided the political quicksand by saying little about his role.

Graham has not mentioned it in his speeches and he does not include it in his campaign biography. But it is mentioned in his official Senate biography.

Graham isn't alone in facing questions about the law. The other senators in the Democratic presidential race - John Edwards, John Kerry and Joe Lieberman - voted for the legislation.

"The issue is kind of tricky," said political analyst Stuart Rothenberg. "On the one hand, it's terrific to take on Ashcroft and complain about government intrusion and excessive police powers. On the other hand, you don't want to be defending terrorists' rights. It's kind of awkward."

Edwards, Kerry and Lieberman, like Graham, have not emphasized their support of the Patriot Act. But two candidates who oppose it, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean and Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, are using the issue to set themselves apart.

Dean says portions of the Patriot Act are unconstitutional.

"It can't be constitutional to hold an American citizen without access to a lawyer," he told the political journal Truthout.com. "Secondly, it can't be constitutional for the FBI to be able to go through your files at the library or the local video store, to see what you've taken out in the last week, without a warrant."

Kucinich, who voted against the bill, says on his campaign Web site, "We should not let the actions of terrorists cause us to reject our American system of justice. The ultimate terror in a democracy is the destruction of constitutional principles."

As Graham travels the country for his campaign, he hears criticism of the law, which gave the government expanded powers to intercept telephone conversations, examine e-mail and obtain library records. The Democratic activists, who seem unaware of Graham's role, say the law invades privacy and gives the government too much authority to see what innocent people are reading and watching.

The law, passed shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, was intended to be an aggressive response to terrorism. It gives the FBI new authority to follow someone's Internet usage and e-mail. It makes it easier for the government to retrieve credit, medical and student records. It eases the restrictions on "sneak and peek" searches, which can be done without notifying the person who is targeted. And it makes it easier for the FBI to conduct "roving surveillance" when people use multiple telephones and computers.

The bill passed with overwhelming support: 98-1 in the Senate (Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wis., was the lone vote against it) and 357-66 in the House.

But there is growing opposition to it.

Several city councils have passed resolutions against it. Civil liberties groups want the provisions on library and book store records revised.

Judith Krug, director of the office for intellectual freedom for the American Library Association, said the law gives the FBI unprecedented powers.

"Everybody has aspects of their lives that really are nobody's business," Krug said. "I don't want anybody delving into my reading."

A spokesman for Graham said he wrote portions of the law that have not been controversial, such as sections that require criminal investigators to share information about possible terrorists with foreign intelligence analysts. Graham also wrote sections that are designed to improve the sharing of information among federal, state and local agencies.

Graham said this week that he is concerned about the implementation of other sections of the law. "I think the attorney general has gone beyond what the Congress intended, particularly in areas such as disparate treatment and what amounts to a form of racial profiling against Americans of Islamic background."

Graham said Congress should conduct "a serious review of what has happened under this act." He said he opposes an expanded bill dubbed "Patriot 2" and opposes an effort to make the current law permanent. It is due to expire in 2005.

Graham is a moderate who occasionally takes positions that are out of step with rank-and-file Democrats. He supported the line-item veto; he endorses free trade agreements; and he opposed the Clinton administration on keeping a Cuban boy in the United States against his father's wishes.

It's unclear how much the Patriot Act controversy will affect Graham.

Steven V. Aftergood, an intelligence policy analyst for the Federation of American Scientists, said Graham "is one of the co-creators of the law. So he bears some responsibility for overseeing and correcting it when it goes astray."

Thomas, the Iowa Democratic official, said although Graham may lose supporters because of his role in writing the Patriot Act, he could pick up new backers because of his opposition to the Iraq war.

"We're fairly antiwar in Iowa," she said, "so I think he and Dean and Kucinich get points for being against the war. I think that's a bigger issue" than the Patriot Act.

Tom Douglass, a retired Spanish professor in North Liberty, Iowa, said he was disappointed in Graham for his work on the bill.

"Graham, I like him, I could forgive him for doing this stuff with the Patriot Act," said Douglass, who said he is leaning toward supporting Dean or Kucinich. "It does bother me a little bit. But from my standpoint, it's not a candidacy killer. Everybody makes mistakes."

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