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Bush Blocked Eavesdropping Program Probe

Gonzales insisted Tuesday that the president "has the inherent authority under the Constitution to engage in electronic surveillance without a warrant."

Still last week, under a deal with Specter, Bush agreed conditionally to a court review of the warrantless eavesdropping operations.

In the House, Rep. Heather Wilson, R-N.M., introduced a bill Tuesday to update the 26-year-old Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act that would include allowing the government to monitor the suspected terrorists' communications without a court order for up to 45 days after an attack.

Wilson chairs the Intelligence subcommittee that oversees the NSA and has the support of Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., making her bill a leading proposal in the Republican-controlled House.

Bush's 2001 directive authorized the National Security Agency to monitor _ without court warrants _ the international communications of people on U.S. soil when terrorism is suspected. The administration initially resisted efforts to write a new law, contending that no legal changes were needed. But after months of pressure, officials have grown more open to legislation.

Under the deal with Specter, the president agreed to support a bill that could submit the program to the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court for a constitutional review.

Last week, Gonzales said the bill gives Bush the option of submitting the NSA program to the intelligence court, rather than requiring the review. Specter said Tuesday Bush assured him he will seek the court review if the legislation passes without significant amendment.

Critics of the legislation have called it a fig leaf that would give congressional blessing to a legally suspect program. "The so-called compromise reached by Senator Specter and the White House does nothing to establish a check over the administration's warrantless surveillance program," said Bruce Fein, a former Justice Department official in the Reagan administration.


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