- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 21, 2002

A top House Republican is threatening to subpoena John Ashcroft over accusations that the attorney general is withholding information on how the post-September 11 Patriot Act is being implemented.
Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. of Wisconsin, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said he will "start blowing a fuse" if answers to 50 questions are not provided by Labor Day.
"I've never signed a subpoena in my 5 years as chairman. I guess there's a first time for everything," Mr. Sensenbrenner said Monday during a meeting with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Mr. Sensenbrenner was not available for comment yesterday; however, his spokesman in Washington confirmed the report and said the committee expects to receive full answers by the deadline.
"The Justice Department is well aware of the committee's determination to get complete answers to the oversight questions that we sent," spokesman Jeff Lungren said.
"These are legitimate oversight questions, and the chairman and committee will be answered [to] appropriately," Mr. Lungren said.
The Patriot Act created new investigative tools to combat terrorism, and was sharply scrutinized as it moved through Congress to ensure it did not infringe on civil liberties.
After intense negotiations with the White House, a sunset provision allowing the legislation to expire automatically after five years proved key in getting the bipartisan support needed for the bill's final passage.
Mr. Sensenbrenner told the paper he told Mr. Ashcroft he was prepared to use the sunset provision to kill the law if the Justice Department did not cooperate.
"If you want to play 'I've got a secret,' good luck getting the Patriot Act extended," Mr. Sensenbrenner said. "Because if you've got a bipartisan anger in the Congress, the sunset will come and go and the Patriot Act disappears."
Mr. Sensenbrenner and Rep. John Conyers Jr. of Michigan, the panel's ranking Democrat, sent the questions June 13 asking for answers by July 9, but only 28 were answered by July 26.
Answering the questions, which are very detailed with multiple subparts "required extensive gathering of information that is quite labor-intensive on our end," said Barbara Comstock, Justice Department spokeswoman.
"We have literally had armies of lawyers collating, gathering and evaluating information to provide answers to questions and we are very committed to being as responsive as quickly as we can," she said.
"We respect their role in oversight," she said.
At issue are six answers that were given instead to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. Miss Comstock said it is "normal procedure" to direct classified information to that committee, "where it is reviewed in an entirely secure environment."
The questions ask for details on roving surveillance orders, tracking phone numbers called or being called in foreign investigations, how records from libraries, bookstores or newspapers are being used, and how many citizens have been subjected to new surveillance orders.
The remaining unanswered questions will be answered before the deadline, Miss Comstock said.
This isn't the first time the two Republicans have locked horns. Mr. Sensenbrenner canceled a May committee hearing because Mr. Ashcroft's testimony was not received two days in advance, but e-mailed the night before, a violation of committee protocol.


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