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Another Stab at the Truth

A Spectral Compromise

Here are some of the aspects of the deal negotiated between Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) and the White House over the administration's warrantless domestic wiretapping program, as best I can tell:

* Bush voluntarily will request a ruling from a secret court the function of which historically has been to approve individual wiretap warrants, not assess the constitutionality of a massive, warrantless wiretapping program.

* It's not clear if the court actually will hear arguments from anyone outside the administration.

* The court's decision could be kept secret, and if the court decided to strike down the program, the administration could resubmit it for approval over and over again.

* In return, Congress would ban any other legal action on the issue; would relax eavesdropping rules generally; would recognize officially Bush's dubious assertion of expanded presidential power, and would gut the law that made Bush's program illegal in the first place.

One could argue that the big-talking Specter has been outfoxed again by the wily White House. But a press corps so used to the White House completely and utterly refusing to agree to anything is seeing this as a historic concession.

David E. Sanger writes in a New York Times news analysis that, just as the detainee tribunals might end up very similar to the ones Bush proposed, when all is said and done "American spy agencies might still have as much latitude to listen in on calls that originate or end in American territory."

But that's not the point, because "in both cases something dramatically different will have happened: Congress will have played a major role in setting the rules."

Charles Babington and Peter Baker write in The Washington Post that "the accord is a reversal of Bush's position that he would not submit his program to court review. . . .

"Although the deal represented a clear retreat by Bush, White House aides traveling with him in Germany put an upbeat face on the move. . . .

"'The bill recognizes the president's constitutional authority and modernizes FISA to meet the threats we face from an enemy that kills with abandon and hides as they plot attacks,' said spokeswoman Dana M. Perino. . . .

"The White House balked at an early draft that would have mandated the president submit the NSA program to the FISA court for review. Specter agreed to make it voluntary as long as Bush promised to submit the program if Congress passes the bill. Aides privately acknowledged it was a big concession by a president who until now has resisted judicial interference in how he wages war against terrorists."

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