Subpoenas target administration's wiretapping program
The Senate Judiciary Committee wants the legal justification for the contentious antiterror effort.
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The administration has proposed several changes to a 1978 law (PL 95-511) governing electronic surveillance for counterintelligence and counterterrorism purposes outside of criminal statutes. Among them is a liability shield for companies that cooperated with the government on its surveillance programs after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Telecommunications companies have already been targeted in lawsuits for their alleged role in the surveillance.Skip to next paragraph
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In January, the Justice Department announced that the administration had secured the approval of the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court established under the 1978 law for certain counterterrorism electronic surveillance. Leahy has subpoenaed "orders, decisions or opinions" of that court related to the surveillance. The committee also is seeking documents related to President Bush's periodic reauthorization of the program.
Former Deputy Attorney General James B. Comey's dramatic testimony last month has been a driving force behind the subpoenas, reports The Washington Post. Mr. Comey recounted an argument he'd heard between then-Attorney General John Ashcroft and then-White House counsel Alberto Gonzales while Ashcroft was hospitalized. Gonzales allegedly wanted Ashcroft to recertify a controversial part of the program.
Ashcroft refused to abandon his objections, which have not been disclosed, and the White House initially recertified the part of the program at issue without obtaining a routine affirmation of its legality from the Justice Department. Bush backed down, however, when Ashcroft, Comey and other Justice officials threatened to resign, and some changes were made to obtain the Justice Department's approval.
"After we learned from Jim Comey about the late-night hospital visit to John Ashcroft's bedside, it was even more imperative that we find out the who, what, how and why surrounding the wiretapping of Americans without warrants," said Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.).
The Independent in Britain reports that the ensuing legal drama may particularly damage Vice President Dick Cheney.
There is a storm gathering over Mr Cheney in particular, with increasingly vocal demands for his impeachment for "political crimes against the nation".
An increasingly aggressive Congress is now focused on Mr Cheney. He is identified as the driving influence over President Bush in America's war on terror -- blamed for allowing the US military to torture terror suspects in their custody and for sweeping away a longstanding ban on assassinations.
In what may perhaps serve as an indicator of the administration's pending response to the subpoena, on Thursday President Bush exercised his executive privilege and rejected another subpoena from the Judiciary Committee demanding documents about the firing of federal prosecutors, reports The Associated Press.
Thursday was the deadline for surrendering the documents. The White House also made clear that (former presidential counsel Harriet) Miers and (former political director Sara) Taylor would not testify next month, as directed by the subpoenas, which were issued June 13. The stalemate could end up with House and Senate contempt citations and a battle in federal court over separation of powers.
"Increasingly, the president and vice president feel they are above the law," said Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. He portrayed the president's actions as "Nixonian stonewalling."
The Denver Post's cartoonist editorialized on Cheney's position, commenting on his relationship to the nation's checks and balances.