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Last week’s report in USA Today that Verizon Communications Inc., AT&T Inc., and BellSouth Corp. had secretly provided the National Security Agency with the phone records of millions of Americans is sure to shine an unwelcome spotlight on the general counsel of those three companies. That’s particularly so since, according to the report, rival Qwest Communications International Inc. chose not to give its customer data to the NSA because its lawyers were uneasy about turning over records unless the government could produce a federal court warrant. The Bush administration would have found close allies atop the legal departments of at least two of the companies that reportedly turned over call logs beginning in 2001. William Barr, Verizon’s general counsel since 2000 and a former attorney general during President George H.W. Bush’s administration, has been outspoken in his support for the most controversial policies of the current White House. After the disclosure of the NSA’s secret warrantless surveillance program in December, Barr leapt to the president’s defense. “The Constitution’s intent when we’re under attack from outside is to place maximum power in the president,” he told The Washington Post. “And the other branches, and especially the courts, don’t act as a check on the president’s authority against the enemy.” During his tenure at Verizon, Barr has also served as an adviser to Americans for Victory Over Terrorism, a group established to do public combat with administration critics, and filed an amicus brief in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld supporting the White House’s system of military tribunals. At AT&T the general counsel (before its merger with SBC Telecom Inc.) was James Cicconi. Cicconi, now the combined company’s top lobbyist, served as deputy chief of staff to the first President Bush and was a senior adviser to Progress for America, which raised and spent millions to support the current president’s 2004 campaign. After the merger, Cicconi was bumped from the top legal job by SBC’s longtime general counsel James Ellis. Neither Barr nor Cicconi would talk, but their corporate spokesmen released statements similar to those issued to other news media saying the phone companies comply with the law but won’t comment on national security matters.
Jason McLure can be contacted at [email protected].

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