Seven Hours of Doom!

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
May 26 2011 3:24 PM

Seven Hours of Doom!

The Senate voted for cloture on the PATRIOT Act this morning, setting the end of debate for 7 a.m. But the Act expires at midnight. Does that mean that Rand Paul and Pat Leahy will crack open the gates of Mordor for seven hours, during which time the nation will be at risk?

Sorry, it doesn't. The relevant law explaining why i s here , found by Cato's Julian Sanchez.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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Every investigation already in progress at the time of sunset gets to keep using the old powers. Every new investigation where the illegal conduct in question began before the sunset date gets to keep using the old powers. Over the span of a few days or weeks, that’s going to cover almost every actual investigation. For the tiny number that don’t fall into those categories, if there are any at all in the space of a short lapse, investigators will be "limited" to relying on every other incredibly broad tool in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act arsenal—with, of course, the option to use plain old criminal investigative authorities as well.

If anyone claims that the lapse is a serious problem, he's full of it. After the first vote today, Sen. Mark Kirk, a Republican who's also a Naval Reserve intelligence officer, was asked by reporters what would happen if the bill wasn't passed by midnight.

"It would lapse for a couple of hours," he said, "which I don't think, from an intelligence point of view, is anything big."

Sen. Patrick Leahy, who at the time was hoping for his amendment to make it through, was just as sanguine about the importance of the deadline.

"No, nobody's talking to me about the lapse," he said. "If there is a lapse, I'm sure they'll [Republicans] blame it on us."

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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