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Senior House Republican wants answers on wiretap program

John Byrne
Published: February 8, 2006

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SensenbrennerThe Republican Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee F. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) has issued 51 questions to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales on President Bush's warrantless wiretap program.

The letter, issued to Gonzales today and acquired by RAW STORY, demands answers to myriad legal questions on the program, which involved eavesdropping on Americans' calls overseas. Sensenbrenner has given Gonzales a Mar. 2 deadline to respond.

Combined with a move by the chairman of a House subcommittee on intelligence, and hearings in the Senate, the move may signal that Republicans are not going to swallow the President's justification for the surveillance, and may be a precursor to hearings in the House. Still, Sensenbrenner seems to leave room for accepting the taps, at one point referring to them as "terrorist surveillance," the Administration phrase for the program.

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Strikingly, the letter to Gonzales quotes Harvard University professor Lawrence Tribe, a constitutional scholar who testified at unofficial hearings held by ranking Judiciary Democrat John Conyers (D-MI). In a letter to Conyers, Tribe wrote that the taps "far from being authorized by Congress, [fly] in the face of an explicit congressional prohibition and [are] therefore unconstitutional."

Writes Sensenbrenner: "Do you agree that FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) 'expressly prohibits' the specific activities under this program?"

Sensenbrenner also questions the program's authorization under FISA.

"What is the rationale for authorizing a program to conduct surveillance in a manner that does not require prior judicial review by the FISA court?"

"Have past United States Presidents employed signals intelligence of the kind authorized by President Bush after 9/11 to protect the nation during wartime? Please explain."

"What legal precedents, if any, support the Administration's position that the September 14, 2001 AUMF directive to the President to use "all necessary and appropriate force" against al Qaeda included the ability to authorize NSA intercepts of al Qaeda-related communications into and out of the United States?"

Sensenbrenner also asks Bush whether he intends to seek an amendment to FISA that would allow him to conduct warrantless surveillance, and asks about the Justice Department probe which is seeking to root out who leaked the program's existence to the New York Times.

The full PDF of Sensenbrenner's letter is now available here.

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