Saturday, February 11, 2006

Republican Speaks Up, Leading Others to Challenge Wiretaps

WASHINGTON, Feb. 10 — When Representative Heather A. Wilson broke ranks with President Bush on Tuesday to declare her "serious concerns" about domestic eavesdropping, she gave voice to what some fellow Republicans were thinking, if not saying.

Now they are speaking up — and growing louder.

In interviews over several days, Congressional Republicans have expressed growing doubts about the National Security Agency program to intercept international communications inside the United States without court warrants. A growing number of Republicans say the program appears to violate the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the 1978 law that created a court to oversee such surveillance, and are calling for revamping the FISA law.

Ms. Wilson and at least six other Republican lawmakers are openly skeptical about Mr. Bush's assertion that he has the inherent authority to order the wiretaps and that Congress gave him the power to do so when it authorized him to use military force after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

The White House, in a turnabout, briefed the full House and Senate Intelligence Committee on the program this week, after Ms. Wilson, chairwoman of the subcommittee that oversees the N.S.A., had called for a full-scale Congressional investigation. But some Republicans say that is not enough.

"I don't think that's sufficient," Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, said. "There is considerable concern about the administration's just citing the president's inherent authority or the authorization to go to war with Iraq as grounds for conducting this program. It's a stretch."

The criticism became apparent on Monday, when Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales was the sole witness before the Senate Judiciary Committee in a hearing on the legality of the eavesdropping. Mr. Gonzales faced tough questioning from 4 of the 10 Republicans on the panel, including its chairman, Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania.

By week's end, after Ms. Wilson became the first Republican on either the House or the Senate Intelligence Committees to call for a Congressional inquiry, the critics had become a chorus. Senator Lisa Murkowski, Republican of Alaska, said the more she learned about the program, the more its "gray areas" concerned her.

Mr. Specter said he would draft legislation to put the issue in the hands of the intelligence surveillance court by having its judges rule on the constitutionality of the program.

Even Senator Orrin G. Hatch, the Utah Republican and Judiciary Committee member who has been a staunch supporter of the eavesdropping, said that although he did not think the law needed revising, Congress had to have more oversight.

Read On

Seems the Republicans are hearing growly noises from their Libertarian wing.

All I can say is; It is about damned time!


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