Four Amigos to Telecom Firms’ Rescue

Posted on November 3, 2007 - 10:14am.

from: Wall Street Journal

Four Amigos to Telecom Firms’ Rescue

November 1, 2007

Four former Justice Department officials – considered heroes by some for standing up to the Bush White House – weighed in on the debate over granting legal immunity to telecommunications companies for any help they’ve given to government surveillance.

They endorsed immunity. In a letter (PDF) to the top members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, former Attorney General John Ashcroft, his deputy, James Comey, former head of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel, Jack Goldsmith, and his deputy, Patrick Philbin, said that granting immunity “is simply the right thing to do.”

“Protecting carriers who allegedly responded to the government’s call for assistance in the wake of the devastating attacks of September 11, 2001 and during the continuing threat of further attacks is simply the right thing to do,” they wrote. “When corporations are asked to assist the intelligence community based on a program authorized by the President himself and based on assurances that the program has been determined to be lawful at the highest levels of the Executive Branch, they should be able to rely on those representations and accept the determinations of the Government as to the legality of their actions.”

The letter doesn’t mention that Ashcroft’s Washington firm is a lobbyist for AT&T Inc., or that Philbin, now at Kirkland & Ellis, has served as Verizon Communication Inc.’s top outside lawyer. Comey is now general counsel at Lockheed Martin, and Goldsmith is a professor at Harvard Law School.

Congress is debating the immunity provision as part of legislation to update the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The prospect of legal immunity for the companies has raised hackles of civil liberties groups and many Democrats–and some Republicans, too.

A spokeswoman for Ashcroft Group LLC said Ashcroft signed the letter in the capacity as former attorney general.

“He has done no work on the federal level for AT&T,” only state work, an AT&T spokeswoman said.