- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 2, 2006

Senate Republicans defended President Bush’s warrantless spying program yesterday, days before the Judiciary Committee holds public hearings on the matter.

“The president is acting within his authority; he was legitimate in what he did,” Sen. Jeff Sessions, Alabama Republican, said yesterday. “What he did was legal and reasonable and necessary.”

They also warned that members of the committee should not politicize a sensitive issue that has outraged both liberals and conservatives.

“Congress and the president should be partners, not adversaries, when it comes to protecting the American people,” said Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, noting that some have even mentioned impeachment. “Clearly, they are trying to use this national security matter for partisan political purposes.”

Democrats yesterday sent a second letter to Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, who will testify at Monday’s hearings, asking for responses to a list of questions beforehand.

“Your lack of cooperation is at odds with your testimony at your confirmation hearing in January 2005, when you indicated that you would respond to our letters and that you ‘respect’ and ‘understand’ the oversight responsibilities of the Judiciary Committee,” Democrats on the committee wrote. “You have had time to make numerous television appearances and speeches on this subject. It would have been more helpful if you would have complied with our request for information in a timely fashion.”

Some Republicans — including some White House officials — also have expressed reservations about having the public hearings, which were called by committee Chairman Arlen Specter, the Pennsylvania Republican known for his streak of independence.

Last month, Mr. Specter was asked on ABC’s “This Week” what the remedy would be if Mr. Bush were found to have violated the law in conducting the surveillance.

“Impeachment is a remedy,” he said. “After impeachment, you could have a criminal prosecution, but the principal remedy … is to pay a political price.”

Mr. Specter, however, was quick to say he didn’t think there is any basis for impeachment in this situation.

“I don’t see any talk about impeachment here,” he said. “I don’t think anybody doubts that the president is making a good-faith effort, that he sees a real problem as we all do, and he’s acting in a way that he feels he must.”

At a press conference yesterday, Republicans said Democrats have little to criticize because both sides have been briefed on the National Security Agency program by the Bush administration for years. The Republicans were asked about a 2003 letter by Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV, a West Virginia Democrat who expressed concern about the program to Vice President Dick Cheney.

“It’s pretty obvious what that letter is. In politics, we call that a C.Y.A. letter,” said Sen. Saxby Chambliss, Georgia Republican. “That’s all it was.”

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