NEW ORLEANS -- Spurred by the bombing at the Atlanta Olympics, President Clinton yesterday called on Congress to pass expanded measures against terrorism -- including new federal wiretapping authority -- that were dropped from the anti-terrorism bill passed this spring.
Clinton summoned the congressional leadership from both parties to join him and the director of the FBI, Louis J. Freeh, at the White House today to discuss additional steps the government might take to combat terrorism. House Speaker Newt Gingrich expressed willingness to consider such measures and said he believed some agreement could be worked out.
"As Americans, we can and must join together to defeat terrorism wherever it strikes and whoever practices it," Clinton told the Disabled American Veterans 75th national convention.
Among other things, he asked Congress to require chemical markers, or taggants, to be placed in the most common kinds of explosives, black and smokeless powder. Such markers create a chemical "fingerprint" that make the source of explosives easier to trace after a blast.
Clinton originally proposed such markers, and expanded authority to let the FBI wiretap suspected terrorists or groups that move from place to place, after the Oklahoma City bombing in April 1995, but the measures were among those that fell out of the final bill. In an unusual alliance, civil liberties groups and advocates of gun rights joined forces to argue that the wiretapping expansion would violate constitutional rights of privacy and free association.
Just as he moved swiftly to dominate the public debate after the Oklahoma City bombing, Clinton used the occasion of a speech in the highly patriotic setting of a disabled veterans convention to renew his call for such measures. He said he was "very encouraged to hear" supportive comments from Gingrich about that prospect yesterday.
Speaking yesterday morning on the NBC News program, "Meet the Press," Gingrich said there was "a possibility" of reaching an agreement on both issues, given the bombing in Atlanta and the suspicions that a bomb may have brought down Trans World Airlines Flight 800.
He said that he thought Congress should "re-approach" the issue of wiretapping, and that questions concerning the chemical markers were "going to be negotiated." The Olympic bomb, he said, "shows you why people are looking at that particular solution."
"I believe that the more there is terrorism, the more pressure we're under to find systematic ways to solve it," said Gingrich, who had opposed the proposals on chemical markers and wiretapping when the administration made them.
Gingrich, a Georgia Republican, was invited to today's meeting, along with Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, a Mississippi Republican, Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, a South Dakota Democrat, and House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, a Missouri Democrat. All were expected to attend, White House Deputy Press Secretary David Johnson said.
Clinton said he hoped the administration and congressional leaders could quickly "agree on a package that will provide these additional protections against terrorism and any other measures we need to take."
"We will continue to do whatever is necessary to give law enforcement the tools they need to find terrorists before they strike and to bring them swiftly to justice when they do," Clinton said.
White House aides said Clinton had decided to alter his remarks here after the pipe-bomb attack in Atlanta. He spoke by telephone with Gingrich and other congressional leaders Saturday to brief them, but David Johnson, a White House spokesman, said the president had not spoken to the speaker since Gingrich made his comments on television yesterday.
Clinton said the additional anti-terrorism measures, together with stepped-up airline safety requirements he announced last week, and efforts by the leading industrialized nations to crack down on terrorists within their borders would be part of "three fronts against terrorism."
"We have seen now over many, many years, from the struggles of our allies, as well as from those we have faced recently, that this is a long, hard fight," Clinton said. "But if we work together, this is a challenge we can and will meet."
Pub Date: 7/29/96