By Charles Babington
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 9, 2006
In a sharply worded letter, the Republican chairman of the House intelligence committee has told President Bush that the administration is angering lawmakers, and possibly violating the law, by giving Congress too little information about domestic surveillance programs.
Rep. Peter Hoekstra (Mich.) has been a staunch defender of the administration's anti-terrorism tactics. But seven weeks ago, he wrote to Bush to report that he had heard of "alleged Intelligence Community activities" not outlined to committee members in classified briefings.
"If these allegations are true," he wrote, "they may represent a breach of responsibility by the Administration, a violation of law and . . . a direct affront to me and the Members of this committee."
Hoekstra's four-page letter of May 18 was posted yesterday on the New York Times' Web site. His staff confirmed the letter's authenticity but said it was meant to remain private. Spokesman Jamal D. Ware said Hoekstra "has raised these concerns, and they are being addressed. He will continue to push for full disclosure so the committee can conduct vigorous oversight."
The letter is significant because few congressional Republicans have complained publicly about Bush's surveillance programs, which include warrantless wiretaps of some Americans' international phone calls and e-mails as well as the massive collection of telephone records involving U.S. homes and businesses.
Heretofore, the sharpest GOP concerns have been raised by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (Pa.). On May 26, Specter voted against Michael V. Hayden's confirmation as CIA director to protest what he called "the administration's policy of not informing the Congress . . . in a way which enables the Congress and the Judiciary Committee to do our constitutional job on oversight."
In his letter, Hoekstra complained of unspecified alleged surveillance operations that had not become public at the time and that, perhaps, remain undisclosed. It was written five weeks before newspapers divulged that the administration has been secretly tapping into a vast global database of confidential financial transactions for nearly five years. It was unclear yesterday whether Hoekstra and other top-ranking lawmakers had been briefed on that program by the date of the letter.
Hoekstra has differed with the White House in recent weeks over the significance of 500 chemical munitions shells uncovered in Iraq near the Iranian border in 2004. The shells were buried by Iraqi troops, and then apparently forgotten, during Iraq's eight-year war with Iran, which ended in 1988.
Last month, Hoekstra highlighted the findings in a Capitol Hill news conference. But administration officials played them down, saying the old shells did not point to a bid by Saddam Hussein to develop weapons of mass destruction.
Much of Hoekstra's letter to Bush outlined the chairman's objections -- which were widely known -- to the appointment of Stephen R. Kappes as CIA deputy director under Hayden. Kappes quit the CIA in 2004 in a dispute with then-Director Porter J. Goss. Goss preceded Hoekstra as House intelligence committee chairman, and many Republicans remain loyal to him.
"Regrettably," Hoekstra wrote Bush, "the appointment of Mr. Kappes sends a clear signal that the days of collaborative reform between the White House and this committee may be over." He defended Goss for responding to Kappes's "demonstrated contempt for Congress."
In imploring Bush to brief top lawmakers on surveillance operations, Hoekstra wrote that Congress "should not have to play 'Twenty Questions' to get the information that it deserves under our Constitution."
"I want to reemphasize," he wrote, "that the Administration has the legal responsibility to 'fully and currently' inform the House and Senate Intelligence Committees of its intelligence and intelligence-related activities."
He said Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) shared his concerns.
Asked for a comment on the letter, White House spokesman Peter Watkins said the administration "will continue to work closely" with Hoekstra and other congressional leaders on intelligence matters.