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With a government eavesdropping law about to expire, Washington is awash in accusations over who's to blame. President Bush said Friday that "our country is in more danger of an attack" because of Congress' failure to adopt a Senate bill that would have renewed a law that made it easier for the government to spy on foreign phone calls and e-mails that pass through the United States.

That bill also would have shielded from lawsuits telecommunications companies that helped the government wiretap U.S. computer and phone lines after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks without clearance from a secret court that was established specifically to oversee such activities. In its competing version of the legislation, the House intentionally left out that feature.

"American citizens must understand, clearly understand that there's still a threat on the homeland. There's still an enemy which would like to do us harm," Bush said. "We've got to give our professionals the tools they need, to be able to figure out what the enemy is up to so we can stop it."

"By blocking this piece of legislation, our country is more in danger of an attack," he said.

Democrats, in turn, accused Bush of fear-mongering and misrepresenting the facts.

"This is not about protecting Americans. The president just wants to protect American telephone companies," Rep. Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, head of the House Democratic Caucus, said Friday.

Beyond the rhetoric, the central issue is what the government can and can't do come midnight Saturday, when a temporary eavesdropping law adopted by Congress last August expires.

That law let the government initiate wiretaps for up to one year against a wide range of targets. It also explicitly compelled telecommunications companies to comply with the orders, and protected them from civil lawsuits that may be filed against them for doing so.


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