The Senate Judiciary Committee subpoenaed the White House and Vice President Dick Cheney's office yesterday for documents relating to President Bush's eavesdropping program that operated warrant-free for five years.
Also named in subpoenas signed by committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, were the Justice Department and the National Security Council. The four parties have until July 18 to comply, according to a statement from Mr. Leahy's office.
"Our attempts to obtain information through testimony of administration witnesses have been met with a consistent pattern of evasion and misdirection," Mr. Leahy said in his cover letters for the subpoenas. "There is no legitimate argument for withholding the requested materials from this committee."
The committee wants documents that might shed light on disputes within the administration over the legality of the program, which Mr. Bush put under court review earlier this year.
"We're aware of the committee's action and will respond appropriately," White House spokesman Tony Fratto said. "It's unfortunate that congressional Democrats continue to choose the route of confrontation."
The Judiciary Committee's three most senior Republicans — former chairman Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, Orrin G. Hatch of Utah and Charles E. Grassley of Iowa — sided with Democrats on the 13-3 vote last week to give Mr. Leahy the power to issue the subpoenas.
Mr. Leahy's committee and its counterpart in the House have issued the subpoenas as part of a sweeping look at how much influence the White House exerts over the Justice Department and its chief, Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales.
The probe, in its sixth month, began with an investigation into whether administration officials ordered the firings of eight federal prosecutors for political reasons. The House and Senate Judiciary committees previously had subpoenaed former White House legal counsel Harriet Miers and Sara Taylor, a former White House political director, in that probe.
But with senators of both parties already concerned about the constitutionality of the administration's efforts to root out terrorism suspects in the United States, the committee shifted to the broader question of Mr. Gonzales' stewardship of the Justice Department and his willingness to go along with the wiretapping program.
The Bush administration secretly began the spy program, run by the National Security Agency, in 2001 to monitor international phone calls and e-mails to or from the United States involving people the government suspected of having links to terrorists. The program, which did not require investigators to seek warrants before conducting surveillance, was revealed in December 2005.
After the program was challenged in court, Mr. Bush put it under the supervision of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, established in 1978. The president still claims the power to order warantless spying.
The subpoenas seek a wide array of documents on the program from the September 11, 2001, attacks to the present. Among them are any documents that include analysis or opinions from Justice, the National Security Agency, the Defense Department, the White House, or "any entity within the Executive Branch" on the legality of the electronic surveillance program.