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Lawmaker hits wiretap memo
Question of the Day
Another House Republican committee chairman has joined criticism of the Congressional Research Service for its legal analysis of the administration’s program of counterterrorist electronic surveillance.
Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., Wisconsin Republican and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, wrote to the service’s director, Daniel P. Mulhollan, earlier this month.
In the letter, Mr. Sensenbrenner says he asked two legal scholars to review the 44-page Jan. 5 CRS memorandum on the surveillance program — which analyzed the administration’s legal rationale for the program as laid out at that time and found it wanting.
Mr. Sensenbrenner said the scholars, both of whom have reputations as conservative, “expressed concerns that the memorandum is based on an incomplete analysis of the law.”
Members of Congress, he wrote, rely on CRS for “objective analysis of legislative and legal matters. In doing so, I believe it is imperative that the various positions on an issue be fully discussed, which is why I am forwarding you the attached letters for your review and comment.”
Last month, Peter Hoekstra, Michigan Republican and chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, also complained about the service’s analysis of the surveillance program.
The memorandum examines the arguments of Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and others that the surveillance program run by the National Security Agency was given a legislative basis by Congress’ enactment of the Authorization for the Use of Military Force, passed in September 2001.
“It appears unlikely,” the memorandum concludes, “that a court would hold that Congress has expressly or impliedly authorized the NSA electronic surveillance operations here under discussion.”
The Bush administration’s legal argument for the program “does not seem to be as well-grounded as the tenor of” their comment would suggest, the authors finish.
No one at the CRS could be reached for comment yesterday, but in the past, officials there have said the service does not comment on its correspondence with members of Congress.
Steven Aftergood, who runs the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists, accused Mr. Sensenbrenner and his Republican allies of engaging in a campaign to stifle dissent.
“There is a big difference between allegations of errors and claims of bias,” Mr. Aftergood said.
“Everyone makes mistakes,” he said, adding that there might well be errors or omissions in the memo. “But it is a huge leap from that to say that the service or its researchers are biased.”
He said such a leap is “subversive in its consequences because it says that you have twisted the facts for malicious motives.”
The fact that Mr. Sensenbrenner had to turn to two “avowedly conservative” legal scholars for his analysis “suggests that the bias is on his end,” Mr. Aftergood said.
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