It’s not often that the Rocky Mountain News editorial board takes President Bush to task. Today it does just that, over his complaints about the House of Representatives’ balking at the extension of his warrantless wiretapping program and his threat to veto any bill that does not include retroactive immunity for telecoms who cooperated with the National Security Agency.

The Rocky does not mince words:

Earlier this week, President Bush actually suggested that al-Qaida operatives are watching the calendar, poised to plot new attacks freely with Congress absent – and U.S. intelligence officials will be largely powerless to stop them.

Don’t insult the American public, Mr. President. You’ll still have the ability to wiretap suspected terrorists – and the warrantless surveillance powers in the bill are valid until August.

It also opines that we need the lawsuits against the telecoms to go forward so the public can see whether privacy rights were trampled.

If immunity is in the final legislation – and Bush has said he’d veto any bill that doesn’t include it – it would kill the 40-plus lawsuits that have been filed against telecoms in federal court. The litigation challenges the legality of the program and the actions of telecoms that cooperated with the government.

If the lawsuits don’t move forward, we may never learn if some telecoms compromised the privacy of innocent Americans. A grant of immunity could also set a dangerous precedent for other businesses when federal agents or local cops who don’t have a court order demand private or confidential information about their customers.

Both Senators Allard and Salazar voted with the Bush Administration in favor of maintaining telecom immunity in the proposed legislation.

The editorial discusses the possible role of Joseph Nacchio and Qwest in the telecom issue and says:

Court documents released in October revealed that Nacchio first met with national security officials in February 2001 – six months before the 9/11 attacks. “Nacchio’s account,”The Washington Post reported, “suggests that the Bush administration was seeking to enlist telecommunications firms in programs without court oversight before the terrorist attacks on New York and the Pentagon.”

Letting this litigation proceed would not, as Bush said Wednesday, punish companies that want to “help America.” Businesses that want to help America need to be mindful of the Constitution – and so should the government.

(cross-posted on