Senators Subpoena The White House
Thursday, June 28, 2007
A Senate committee investigating the National Security Agency's warrantless wiretapping program issued subpoenas yesterday ordering the White House to turn over documents related to the eavesdropping effort, escalating a legal showdown between Congress and the Bush administration.
The Judiciary Committee's subpoenas were delivered to the offices of President Bush, Vice President Cheney and the national security adviser and to the Justice Department. They demanded copies of internal documents about the program's legality and agreements with telecommunications companies that participated in the program.
Lawmakers said their aim is to understand and reconstruct the administration's internal debate about the program's legality, an aim White House officials have resisted.
"This committee has made no fewer than nine formal requests to the Department of Justice and to the White House, seeking information and documents about the authorization of and legal justification for this program," Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, wrote in letters delivered with the subpoenas. "All requests have been rebuffed."
The White House offered no word on whether it will turn over the documents by the July 18 deadline. "We're aware of the committee's action, and will respond appropriately," spokesman Tony Fratto said. "It's unfortunate that congressional Democrats continue to choose the route of confrontation."
Leahy also formally asked Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales yesterday to investigate whether Brett M. Kavanaugh made false statements under oath last year, during his confirmation hearing for a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
Kavanaugh, who was an associate counsel at the White House when legal arguments were raised to defend the administration's response to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, told the Judiciary Committee that he "was not involved and am not involved in the questions about the rules governing detention of combatants."
Leahy cited details from The Washington Post's series this week on Cheney's influence in the West Wing. Included was an anecdote about Kavanaugh's discussing a pending court challenge to the detention of a U.S. citizen accused of being a combatant, and whether Kavanaugh's legal mentor, Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, would uphold the constitutionality of the detention.
"I don't believe that he was truthful with us. . . . I don't think that the answers were truthful. And I'm just sending out the notice that, if answers are not truthful, we'll send it to the U.S. attorney and the attorney general and ask them what's going on," Leahy said.
Kavanaugh, reached last night, declined to comment. A Court of Appeals spokesperson for Kavanaugh said in a statement that "Judge Kavanaugh's testimony was accurate."
The subpoenas and Leahy's criminal referral come two weeks after other congressional panels subpoenaed two former White House aides in connection with the Justice Department's firing of nine U.S. attorneys. The subpoenas -- which are likely to be resolved in court -- are a clear sign of the Democrats' willingness to pursue protracted litigation as they conduct aggressive probes of administration policies.
Bush secretly launched the eavesdropping program after the Sept. 11 attacks. According to Bush's eventual public description, the program allowed monitoring without a warrant of telephone calls, e-mails and other communication into or out of the Unitd States when one of the parties was suspected of terrorist ties.