Specter of a Backbone

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Thursday, June 8, 2006; 11:24 AM

Infuriated by Vice President Cheney's stealth campaign to subvert his embryonic attempts at oversight into the administration's domestic spying program, Senate Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter yesterday did something very rare inside Republican circles: He went public.

In a blistering, three-page letter, Specter shed light on a modus operandi that is normally obscured in secrecy: The way Cheney bends Congress to his will -- and ignores those who dare defy him.

Greg Miller writes in the Los Angeles Times: "The Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee lashed out at Vice President Dick Cheney on Wednesday, accusing the vice president of secretly lobbying other GOP members of the committee to block hearings on the administration's domestic surveillance program.

"In an unusually sharp attack, Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) said Cheney had gone behind his back in an effort to persuade other committee members to derail his plans to require telecommunications companies to testify on whether they secretly gave U.S. spy agencies vast quantities of data on customer phone calls. . . .

"His decision to confront Cheney represents an unusually public rupture between a senior GOP lawmaker and the White House. It also provides a rare public glimpse of the tactics employed by a vice president who prefers to operate behind the scenes."

James Kuhnhenn writes for Knight Ridder Newspapers: "In a delicious bit of detail that underscores the intimacy of this high-powered relationship, Specter complained in his letter that Cheney did not even raise the subject during Tuesday's closed-door Senate Republican policy lunch, which Specter and the vice president both attended.

" 'I walked directly in front of you on at least two occasions en route from the buffet to my table,' Specter wrote."

Carl Hulse and Jim Rutenberg write in the New York Times: "One Republican with close ties to the administration, who was granted anonymity to discuss the thinking at the White House, said Mr. Specter had been increasingly nettlesome to the administration with his persistent criticism, especially of the surveillance programs.

"Noting that the White House was ultimately pleased with Mr. Specter's help in securing the confirmations of Mr. Bush's Supreme Court nominees, this Republican said, 'All of that good will he's built up has really been dissipated because he keeps smacking them around.'

"A senior White House official, granted anonymity to discuss internal deliberations, said the president's chief of staff, Joshua B. Bolten, had reached out to Mr. Specter on Friday to press the administration's case for how to handle the phone companies.

"The official described the conversation as 'cordial but not productive.'

" 'That's when we started reaching out to other members,' the official said. 'It was not out of disrespect.' . . .

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