Tue, Jan 17, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Specter questions legality of bugging approved by Bush

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , WASHINGTON

US Republican Senator Arlen Specter said on Sunday that Republicans would not grant US President George W. Bush "a blank check" in seeking to determine whether the domestic eavesdropping program Bush authorized after the Sept. 11 attacks violated the law.

"Just because we're of the same party doesn't mean we're not going to look at this closely," Specter said during an appearance on This Week on ABC.

Specter is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which plans hearings on the matter next month, with witnesses to include Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

The program authorized by Bush bypassed a special federal court whose approval is required under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act for domestic eavesdropping operations. Specter has said he does not agree with the White House view that Congress effectively authorized the surveillance, which was carried out by the National Security Agency in a resolution passed shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Specter said on Sunday that he was still considering the question of whether a president might possess special powers under wartime conditions that would have allowed Bush to circumvent the surveillance act. He said that if Bush were found to have acted illegally, he would most likely face "a political price" rather than a more severe sanction, in part, because of broad support of the administration's anti-terrorism efforts.

"I don't see any talk about impeachment here," Specter said. "I don't think anybody doubts that the president is making a good faith effort here, that he sees a real problem, as we all do, and he's acting in a way that he feels he must."

The timing and scope for any congressional inquiry into the eavesdropping remains unclear. Specter is the only chairman who has publicly pledged to hold hearings, but he has said his panel would focus on legal questions, not the more highly classified details of the operation.

A date for the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings has not yet been set. In both the Senate and House, the intelligence committees are also considering whether to call witnesses.

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