- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 13, 2006

ASSOCIATED PRESS

The White House conditionally has agreed to a court review of its eavesdropping program, Senate Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter said yesterday.

Mr. Specter said President Bush has agreed to sign legislation that would authorize the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to review the constitutionality of the National Security Agency’s most high-profile monitoring operations.

“You have here a recognition by the president that he does not have a blank check,” the Pennsylvania Republican told his committee.

Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales said the administration supports Mr. Specter’s bill.

“My understanding from the president is that the legislation could be very helpful,” Mr. Gonzales told reporters. “It would continue to allow the president to gather up information to protect the country.”

Since shortly after the September 11 attacks, the NSA has been eavesdropping on the international calls and e-mails of people inside the United States when terrorism is suspected. Breaking with historic norms, the president authorized the actions without a court warrant.

The disclosure of the program in December sparked outrage among Democrats and civil-liberties advocates who said Mr. Bush overstepped his authority as president.

Mr. Specter said the legislation, which has not been made public, was the result of “tortuous” negotiations with the White House since June.

“If the bill is not changed, the president will submit the terrorist surveillance program to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court,” Mr. Specter said. “That is the president’s commitment.”

Mr. Specter said the court would make a one-time review of the program rather than performing ongoing oversight of it.

An administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity said the bill’s language gives the president the option of submitting the program to the intelligence court, rather than making the review a requirement.

The official said that Mr. Bush will submit to the court review as long the bill is not changed, adding that the legislation preserves the right of future presidents to skip the court review.

Vermont Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, the committee’s senior Democrat, said Mr. Bush could submit the program to the court right now, if he wished. He called the potential legislation “an interesting bargain.”

“He’s saying: ‘If you do every single thing I tell you to do, I’ll do what I should have done anyway,’” Mr. Leahy said.

The Center for National Security Studies and other civil-liberties advocates have consistently faulted Mr. Specter’s proposals.

“They would set up a system of sham judicial review,” said the center’s director Kate Martin.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said the administration still does not think changes in law are necessary but added that it remains willing to work with Congress.

“The key point in the bill is that it recognizes the president’s constitutional authority,” she said.

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