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U.S.: Senior Legislator May Thwart Bush Spying Program

U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales during his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on 6 February (file photo) (epa) The administration of U.S. President George W. Bush has expanded the number of legislators it will brief on its program to monitor communications in the country suspected to involve terrorists. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, requires the government to seek a warrant from a special court before any such monitoring can be conducted within U.S. borders, and members of Congress -- including members of Bush's Republican Party – have expressed concern about the constitutionality of Bush’s program. Bush says they would agree if they knew more about it, so now he's trying to keep more of them informed. But one influential Republican senator is keeping the pressure on the White House.

WASHINGTON, 9 February 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Bush says monitoring domestic communications without a court warrant is legal under his constitutional authority. He also cites the Senate resolution that authorized him to use what it calls "all necessary and appropriate force" in the war against Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan after the attacks of 11 September 2001.

At a 6 February U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the program, several members -- including the chairman and other Republicans -- expressed skepticism about the practice.

One of those was Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who argued that Congress probably would have expanded the president's authority under the surveillance law if only he had asked it to do so.

Graham said that Bush cut Congress out of the decision-making process and thereby upset the delicate balance of power between the presidency, Congress, and the judiciary.

Allowing The Court To Decide

On 8 February, the White House made a move to include Congress by holding a briefing on operational details of the domestic surveillance program for all members of the Intelligence Committee of the House of Representatives. A similar session with the full Senate Intelligence Committee was set for 9 February.

Now that the administration is informing Congress more thoroughly about the program, Republican Senator Arlen Specter wants the courts involved, too.

Specter, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, also has expressed concern about domestic surveillance without warrants.

During the hearing on 6 February, U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales expressed unshaken confidence in the legality of the program. At one point, Specter asked Gonzales if he was confident enough to put the matter before the special court set up under the FISA law.

"You think you're right, but there are a lot of people who think you're wrong. As a matter of public confidence, why not take it to the FISA court? What do you have to lose if you're right?" Specter asked.

Gonzales replied that such a ruling would be unnecessary. On 8 February, Specter took action to make it necessary. He said he was writing a bill requiring the special court to rule on the constitutionality of the program.

This could be bad news for the Bush administration. Reportedly among those who -- according to Specter -- think Gonzales is wrong is the chief of the special court, Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, and her predecessor, Judge Royce Lamberth.