- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 18, 2006

1:18 p.m.

Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales said today that President Bush personally blocked Justice Department lawyers from pursuing an internal probe of the warrantless eavesdropping program that monitors Americans’ international calls and e-mails when terrorism is suspected.

The department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) announced earlier this year that it could not pursue an investigation into the role of Justice Department lawyers in crafting the program, under which the National Security Agency (NSA) intercepts some telephone calls and e-mail without court approval.

At the time, the office said it could not obtain security clearance to examine the classified program.

Under sharp questioning from Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, Mr. Gonzales said Mr. Bush would not grant the access needed to allow the probe to move forward.

“It was highly classified, very important, and many other lawyers had access. Why not OPR?” asked Mr. Specter, Pennsylvania Republican.

“The president of the United States makes the decision,” Mr. Gonzales told the committee members at the hearing, during which he was strongly criticized on a range of national security issues by Mr. Specter and Vermont Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, the panel’s senior Democrat.

Under a deal with Mr. Specter, the president last week agreed conditionally to a court review of his anti-terror eavesdropping operations.

When the program was disclosed in December, it outraged Democrats and civil libertarians, who said Mr. Bush had overstepped his authority.

The president’s 2001 directive authorized the NSA to monitor — without court warrants — the international communications of people on U.S. soil when terrorism is suspected. The administration initially resisted efforts to write a new law, contending that no legal changes were needed. After months of pressure, however, officials have grown more open to legislation.

Under the deal with Mr. Specter, the president agreed to support a bill that could submit the program to the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court for a constitutional review.

Mr. Gonzales said last week that the bill gives the president the option of submitting the NSA program to the intelligence court rather than requiring the review.

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