Sunday, January 15, 2006

The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee said yesterday that his panel will not give a “blank check” to President Bush in its planned February hearings on the National Security Agency wiretapping program.

“And just because we’re of the same party doesn’t mean we’re not going to look at this very closely,” Sen Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republican, said on ABC’s “This Week.”

When asked by host George Stephanopoulos what the remedy would be if the president did break the law, Mr. Specter suggested impeachment as a theoretical possibility, although he quickly downplayed the practical chance of that.

“Well, the remedy could be a variety of things. … I’m not suggesting remotely that there’s any basis, but you’re asking, really, [in] theory, what’s the remedy? Impeachment is a remedy. After impeachment, you could have a criminal prosecution, but the principal remedy, George, under our society is to pay a political price,” Mr. Specter said.

Mr. Specter is the most important official to use the word “impeachment” in the context of the NSA program, but he said he did not see it as the conclusion to his hearings.

“I don’t see any talk about impeachment here. 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,” Mr. Specter said.

The furor over the wiretap program erupted last month after the New York Times reported that Mr. Bush had authorized the NSA to monitor al Qaeda suspects’ telephone calls and e-mails from abroad to people living in the United States.

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