July 18, 2006

Bush blocked review of spy program: Gonzales

By Thomas Ferraro

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Bush prevented a review
earlier this year by Justice Department lawyers of his
warrantless domestic spying program, Attorney General Alberto
Gonzales testified on Tuesday.

Gonzales told the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, however,
that he was confident the program's constitutionality would be
upheld by a proposed review of it by a secret federal court.

Gonzales said Bush refused to give the Justice Department's
Office of Professional Responsibility access to the classified
program begun shortly after the September 11 attacks and
disclosed in December by The New York Times.

The office announced in May it was unable to conduct an
investigation into the role department lawyers had in
developing the National Security Agency's eavesdropping
program, which targets overseas telephone calls and e-mails of
Americans with suspected terrorists ties.

Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania
Republican, asked Gonzales why Bush declined access, saying,
"Many other lawyers in the Department of Justice had clearance.
Why not OPR?"

Noting the importance of the program, Gonzales said: "The
president of the United States makes decisions about who is
ultimately given access."

Specter and other lawmakers have questioned the legality of
the program, and have pushed for a court review of it.

The 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act requires
warrants from the court for intelligence-related eavesdropping
inside the United States. Bush has defended the program, saying
he had the power in wartime to protect the nation.

Specter announced last week he had negotiated a deal with
the White House to clear the way for the FISA court review.

He said Bush has promised to submit the program to the
court for such an overall review, provided the U.S. Congress
approves a bill to update electronic surveillance laws.

Sen. Edward Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat, asked
Gonzales if the proposed review was adequate without a
case-by-case review.

Gonzales said, "We have confidence that the court will find
that, in fact, this is a program that is constitutional."

The administration is also working with Congress on how to
try terrorism suspects after the U.S. Supreme Court ruling last
month that struck down its military tribunals.

Gonzales, in a prepared statement, said "We all have a
common goal: to provide flexible but fair procedures that will
enable us to try al Qaeda terrorists ... without compromising
our nation's values or the safety of the American people."