2003 Newt: Rein in the Patriot Act

What would 1976 Newt say about the Patriot Act? Robin Nelson/Zuma

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Newt Gingrich opened tonight’s CNN debate by saying he would support strengthening the Patriot Act, the controversial law that vastly expanded the reach of America’s intelligence and law enforcement agencies in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. 

“I think you want to use every tool you can possibly use,” the former Speaker of the House said.

That doesn’t exactly square with what Gingrich wrote in an op-ed for the San Francisco Chronicle in 2003:

While I applaud the great successes of the Patriot Act in aiding law enforcement and intelligence agencies, agencies that have successfully disrupted terrorist plots and cells within the United States, I strongly believe the Patriot Act was not created to be used in crimes unrelated to terrorism. . . .

We must demonstrate to the world that America is the best example of what a solid Constitution with properly enforced laws can bring to those who desire freedom and safety. If we become hypocrites about our own legal system, how can we sell it abroad or question legal systems different than our own?

I strongly believe Congress must act now to rein in the Patriot Act, limit its use to national security concerns and prevent it from developing “mission creep” into areas outside of national security.

2011 Newt wants a robust Patriot Act; the lily-livered, 2003 Newt didn’t seem so committed. Views can change. But Gingrich’s inconsistency on one of the central civil liberties questions of the post-9/11 era should give primary and caucus voters serious pause. 

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