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Specter of a Backbone

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"In an interview, Mr. Specter described his relationship with Mr. Cheney as generally friendly and cordial. But he was clearly put out by the vice president's handling of the issue and his failure to pull Mr. Specter aside as he made several trips to the buffet for tuna salad and hard-boiled egg, salad dressing and fruit."

Katherine Shrader writes for the Associated Press: "Cheney's spokeswoman Lea Anne McBride said the vice president had not yet studied Specter's letter. In an e-mail, she also reiterated the administration's position that no new legislation is needed to carry out the terrorist surveillance program.

" 'We will continue to work with Congress in good faith and listen to ideas of legislators,' including Specter and Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, McBride said. 'We will ultimately have to make a decision as an administration on whether any particular legislation would enhance our ability to protect Americans against terrorists.' "

The Letter

CNN Web-published the Specter letter .

"It is neither pleasant nor easy to raise these issues with the administration of my own party, but I do so because of their importance," Specter wrote.

"On March 16, 2006, I introduced legislation to authorize the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to rule on the constitutionality of the Administration's electronic surveillance program. . . . Notwithstanding my repeated efforts to get the Administration's position on this legislation, I have been unable to get any response, including a 'no.' . . .

"I was advised yesterday that you had called Republican members of the Judiciary Committee lobbying them to oppose any Judiciary Committee hearing, even a closed one, with the telephone companies. I was further advised that you told those Republican members that the telephone companies had been instructed not to provide any information to the Committee as they were prohibited from disclosing classified information.

"I was surprised, to say the least, that you sought to influence, really determine, the action of the Committee without calling me first, or at least calling me at some point. This was especially perplexing since we both attended the Republican Senators caucus lunch yesterday and I walked directly in front of you on at least two occasions enroute from the buffet to my table. . . .

"There is no doubt that the NSA program violates the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act which sets forth the exclusive procedure for domestic wiretaps which requires the approval of the FISA Court. It may be that the President has inherent authority under Article II to trump that statute but the President does not have a blank check and the determination on whether the President has such Article II power calls for a balancing test which requires knowing what the surveillance program constitutes."

And Specter noted that this is not exactly the only example of the Bush administration's expansion of executive power.

"We press this issue in the context of repeated stances by the Administration on expansion of Article II power, frequently at the expense of Congress's Article I authority. There are the Presidential signing statements where the President seeks to cherry-pick which parts of the statute he will follow. There has been the refusal of the Department of Justice to provide the necessary clearances to permit its Office of Professional Responsibility to determine the propriety of the legal advice given by the Department of Justice on the electronic surveillance program. There is the recent Executive Branch search and seizure of Congressman Jefferson's office. There are recent and repeated assertions by the Department of Justice that it has the authority to criminally prosecute newspapers and reporters under highly questionable criminal statutes."

On CNN

Wolf Blitzer interviewed Specter on CNN, and in person, the senator was unemotional.


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