Specter of a Backbone
- 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.' "
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."
Wolf Blitzer interviewed Specter on CNN, and in person, the senator
"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