By Charles Babington
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 3, 2006
Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales told a key House Democrat yesterday that the administration is not conducting any warrantless domestic surveillance programs beyond the one that President Bush has acknowledged, the Democrat said in an interview.
Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) said Gonzales was responding to a fax she sent him Wednesday after she read a news account of his Feb. 28 letter to two senators. In the letter, Gonzales appeared to suggest there might be domestic wiretap operations that extend beyond the outlines Bush acknowledged in December. Gonzales asked to clarify his Feb. 6 testimony that the president's acknowledged use of the National Security Agency for domestic surveillance "is all that he has authorized." "I did not and could not address . . . any other classified intelligence activities," Gonzales wrote to the senators.
Harman, the ranking Democrat on the House intelligence committee, said she sent Gonzales a fax "seeking clarification about his written testimony, which has left room for the possibility of an additional program or a broader program" of surveillance without court approval.
White House counsel Harriet Miers called Harman on Wednesday, and Gonzales phoned yesterday, Harman said. She said both of them "assured me that there is not a broader program or an additional program out there involving surveillance of U.S. persons."
"It is inappropriate to discuss the private conversations between the attorney general and members of Congress, especially on matters of classified intelligence programs," Justice spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said in a statement.
Meanwhile yesterday, Harman and Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.), chairman of the House intelligence committee, said they will press the White House to have one of the panel's subcommittees "fully briefed on the NSA program to expand and increase oversight of this critical terrorism prevention tool." Membership on the four subcommittees ranges from eight to 12.
To date, the administration has given extensive briefings to only eight lawmakers: the House speaker and minority leader, the Senate majority and minority leader, and the top Republican and top Democrat on the House and Senate intelligence committees.
In a statement, Hoekstra and Harman also said their committee will hold hearings on the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, "with an eye toward modernizing it to account for current and future technological advances." The act established a secret court to handle warrant requests for wiretaps of U.S. residents, but Bush says he has constitutional authority to authorize the NSA program without warrants.