Senate Committee Issues Subpoenas to White House
By Michael A. Fletcher
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 27, 2007; 4:24 PM
A Senate committee investigating the National Security Agency's warrantless wiretapping program issued subpoenas to the Bush administration this afternoon for documents related to the authorization and legal justification for the eavesdropping.
The Judiciary Committee subpoenas were delivered to the offices of the president, vice president, national security adviser and the Justice Department, escalating a simmering legal battle between Congress and the Bush administration.
"This committee has made no fewer than nine formal requests to the Department of Justice and to the White House, seeking information and documents about the authorization of and legal justification for this program," Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, wrote in letters delivered with the subpoenas. "All requests have been rebuffed. Our attempts to obtain information through testimony of administration witnesses have been met with a consistent pattern of evasion and misdirection."
The White House offered no word on whether it would comply with the orders to turn over the documents by the committee's July 18 deadline.
"We're aware of the committee's action, and will respond appropriately," said White House spokesman Tony Fratto. "It's unfortunate that congressional Democrats continue to choose the route of confrontation."
President Bush launched the eavesdropping program in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The once-secret program allowed monitoring without a warrant of telephone calls, emails and other communication into or out of the U.S. when one of the parties was suspected of terrorist ties.
Existence of the classified program was revealed in media reports in December 2005, outraging many lawmakers and civil liberties advocates who called the program an illegal infringement on civil liberties. The Bush administration, however, defended it as crucial to protecting the nation from further attacks.
The Judiciary Committee, frustrated by what Leahy called "stonewalling" of its requests for information about the program by the Bush administration, approved the subpoenas last week. In a sign of the bipartisan concern surrounding the issue, three Republicans joined Democrats in the 13 to 3 vote to authorize the subpoenas.
"The bipartisan support for issuing these subpoenas demonstrates that both Democrats and Republicans are fed up with the misleading statements from the attorney general and the administration about this illegal program," said Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.), a member of the Judiciary Committee.
Last month, former Deputy Attorney General James Comey told the Judiciary Committee that in 2004, Alberto Gonzales, who was then White House counsel, tried to pressure then-Attorney General John D. Ashcroft to recertify the program while Ashcroft was in the hospital recovering from gall bladder surgery.
Ashcroft stuck to his objections to the program, which have not been disclosed, and the White House recertified the program without a signature from a Justice Department official. Officials backed down, however, when Ashcroft, Comey and other Justice officials threatened to resign over the issue. Some changes were subsequently made to the program to obtain the Justice Department's approval.
"After we learned from Jim Comey about the late night hospital visit to John Ashcroft's bedside, it was even more imperative that we find out the who, what, how and why surrounding the wiretapping of Americans without warrants," said Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.). "We hope the White House doesn't stonewall on this issue that's vitally important to what America is all about."
In January, Bush announced that the original eavesdropping program had been replaced with one that would be supervised by a secret intelligence court.