- The Washington Times - Monday, January 9, 2006


The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday said he has asked Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales to testify during open hearings on the legality of the Bush administration’s domestic surveillance program.

Sen. Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republican and Judiciary chairman, said Mr. Gonzales’ testimony is being sought for the hearings, scheduled for early February, because he is the principal spokesman for the administration’s position.

The attorney general was White House counsel when Mr. Bush initiated the program, a role that could raise issues of attorney-client privilege in seeking his testimony. A message left with the Justice Department yesterday was not immediately returned.

Asked on CBS’ “Face the Nation” whether Mr. Gonzales had agreed to appear, Mr. Specter said, “Well, I didn’t ask him if he had agreed. I told him we were holding the hearings, and he didn’t object. I don’t think he has a whole lot of choice on testifying.”

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, called for former Attorney General John Ashcroft and former Deputy Attorney General James B. Comey to testify at the hearings.

“It would render these hearings useless and prevent the American people from getting to the bottom of this if the administration invoked executive privilege,” Mr. Schumer, a Judiciary Committee member, said in a statement.

Academics and others will be asked to appear, part of a list of witnesses “who think the president was right and people who think the president was wrong,” Mr. Specter said.

Slightly more than half of Americans, 56 percent, want the administration to obtain court approval before tapping into conversations inside the United States even if suspected terrorists are involved, according to an AP-Ipsos poll conducted last week. About four out of 10 agreed with the White House that court approval isn’t necessary.

Sen. Sam Brownback, Kansas Republican and a member of the Senate intelligence committee, said on ABC’s “This Week” that his panel also will hold hearings — closed to the public — on the National Security Agency program.

“I think this is something that bears looking into and us to be able to establish a policy within constitutional frameworks of what a president can or cannot do,” said Mr. Brownback.

He also said he was “troubled by what the basis for the grounds that the administration says that they did these on, the legal basis, and I think we need to look at that far more broadly and understand it a great deal.”

After the secret program was reported in the New York Times, Mr. Bush said he had authorized the NSA to eavesdrop on conversations involving terrorism suspects in the months after the September 11 attacks. He contended that his constitutional powers and the prewar resolution gave him that legal authority.

The NSA program bypassed the special court that Congress established in 1978 to approve or reject secret surveillance or searches of foreigners and U.S. citizens suspected of terrorism or espionage.



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