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Specter of a Backbone

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  • Ram Lau
    Specter proves to be another loyal Republican, just like McCain. Writing an angry letter is perhaps as outrageous a thing as possible for a gutless Republican
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 8, 2006
      Specter proves to be another loyal Republican, just like McCain.
      Writing an angry letter is perhaps as outrageous a thing as possible
      for a "gutless Republican worm" to do as Jack Cafferty called him.


      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.' . . .

      "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

      "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.

      "I'm not accusing anybody of anything. And I'm not saying the vice
      president acted in bad faith," he said.

      "This is nothing personal between Arlen Specter or Vice President
      Cheney. This is a matter of civil liberties. It's a matter of
      separation of power. And it's a matter of important congressional
      oversight. And, so far, we're not getting there. And that's why I
      prepared a fairly strong letter. . . .

      "I don't think the president has acted in bad faith here. I think he
      is functioning on something which he thinks needs to be done to
      protect the country. But he doesn't have a blank check. He's not the
      final word. We have a Constitution. The Constitution says that the
      Congress has oversight. And, on a constitutional issue, that's the
      Judiciary Committee."
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