- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 9, 2006

A House committee chairman has blasted the Congressional Research Service for purported bias in two reports it produced on the National Security Agency’s program of warrantless counterterrorist surveillance.

Rep. Peter Hoekstra, Michigan Republican, the chairman of the House Permanent Select on Intelligence, said both reports were based on speculation about the program and “clearly advocated and supported a specific position with respect to the legal issues” raised by it.

In two blistering letters to the service’s director, Mr. Hoekstra complained about an analysis of the administration’s legal argument for the president’s authority to conduct the program and about a subsequent report on the legality of the notification process the administration used in briefing Congress about it.

The reports questioned the legal reasoning the administration has employed to justify both the program and the way that only a handful of senior lawmakers from both parties were briefed on it.

Both reports were “flawed and obviously incomplete … seemingly intended to advocate the erroneous conclusion that the president did not comply with the relevant law,” wrote Mr. Hoekstra, who said Tuesday he had yet to receive any response from CRS.

“The plain message people were getting was that ‘The president broke the law,’” he said. “That is wrong. It requires a strong answer.”

Calls to the CRS director’s office were referred to the press office for the Library of Congress, of which the service is a part. The office did not respond to a written request for comment or interview.

CRS insiders say it is not unusual for members of Congress to write or call if they disagree with the conclusion of particular report, and they point out that there is a careful, multilevel review process every analyst’s work goes through before it is published.

“There is a very extensive review process for all that material, and management should and does stand behind it,” said Dennis Roth, president of the Congressional Research Employees’ Association, a labor union that represents the service’s staff.

Mr. Roth said criticism from both sides of the aisle, and from supporters of the institutional prerogatives of different ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, was inevitable.

Others pointed out that arguments from the second report, on congressional notification, had been echoed by GOP Sen. Mike DeWine of Ohio, during his questioning of Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales on the program.

Responding to the release this week of Mr. Hoekstra’s letters, two senior Democrats involved in intelligence oversight wrote to the CRS on Tuesday, rejecting the charges of bias.

Writing that they sought to “correct the record,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Rep. Jane Harman, both of California and both members of their respective chamber’s intelligence committees, wrote that they found the two documents “very helpful in conducting our oversight responsibilities.”

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