White House, Cheney's Office, Subpoenaed
White House, Cheney's Office, Subpoenaed
Jun 27 03:03 PM US/Eastern
By LAURIE KELLMAN
Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) - The Senate Judiciary Committee
subpoenaed the White House and Vice President Dick
Cheney's office Wednesday for documents relating to
President Bush's controversial eavesdropping program
that operated warrant-free for five years.
Also named in subpoenas signed by committee Chairman
Patrick Leahy, D- Vt., were the Justice Department and
the National Security Council. The four parties have
until July 18 to comply, according to a statement by
The committee wants documents that might shed light on
internal disputes within the administration over the
legality of the program, which Bush put under court
review earlier this year.
"Our attempts to obtain information through testimony
of administration witnesses have been met with a
consistent pattern of evasion and misdirection," Leahy
said in his cover letters for the subpoenas. "There is
no legitimate argument for withholding the requested
materials from this committee."
Echoing its response to previous congressional
subpoenas to former administration officials Harriet
Miers and Sara Taylor, the White House gave no
indication that it would comply.
"We're aware of the committee's action and will
respond appropriately," White House spokesman Tony
Fratto said. "It's unfortunate that congressional
Democrats continue to choose the route of
In fact, the Judiciary Committee's three most senior
RepublicansArlen Specter of Pennsylvania, former
chairman Orrin Hatch of Utah and Chuck Grassley of
Iowasided with Democrats on the 13-3 vote last week
to give Leahy the power to issue the subpoenas.
The showdown between the White House and Congress
could land in federal court.
Leahy's committee and its counterpart in the House
have issued the subpoenas as part of a sweeping look
at how much influence the White House exerts over the
Justice Department and its chief, Attorney General
The probe, in its sixth month, began with an
investigation into whether administration officials
ordered the firings of eight federal prosecutors, for
political reasons. The House and Senate Judiciary
committees previously had subpoenaed Miers, one-time
legal counsel, and Taylor, a former political
director, in that probe.
But with senators of both parties already concerned
about the constitutionality of the administration's
efforts to root out terrorism suspects in the United
States, the committee shifted to the broader question
of Gonzales' stewardship of Justice and his
willingness to go along with the wiretapping program.
The Bush administration secretly launched the spy
program, run by the National Security Agency, in 2001
to monitor international phone calls and e-mails to or
from the United States involving people the government
suspected of having terrorist links. The program,
which did not require investigators to seek warrants
before conducting surveillance, was revealed in
After the program was challenged in court, Bush put it
under the supervision of the Foreign Intelligence
Surveillance Court, established in 1978. The president
still claims the power to order warantless spying.
Debate continues over whether the program violates
people's civil liberties, and the administration has
gone to great lengths to keep it running with
extensive presidential discretion.
Piquing the committee's interest was vivid testimony
last month by former Deputy Attorney General James
Comey about the extent of the White House's effort to
override the Justice Department's objections to the
program in 2004.
Comey told the Judiciary Committee that Gonzales,
then-White House counsel, tried to get Attorney
General John Ashcroft to reverse course and recertify
the program. At the time, Ashcroft lay in intensive
care, recovering form gall bladder surgery.
Ashcroft refused, as did Comey, to whom Ashcroft had
temporarily shifted the power of his office during his
The White House recertified the program unilaterally.
Ashcroft, Comey, FBI Director Robert Mueller and their
staffs prepared to resign. Bush ultimately relented
and made changes to the classified program that the
Justice officials had demanded, and the agency
eventually recertified it.
The fight was one of the most bitter disputes of the
Bush presidency and questions remain over whether the
program tramples people's civil liberties. The
administration says the program is crucial to
preventing more terrorist attacks.
Fratto defended the surveillance program as "lawful"
"It's specifically designed to be effective without
infringing Americans' civil liberties," Fratto said.
"The program is classified for a reasonits purpose is
to track down and stop terrorist planning. We remain
steadfast in our commitment to keeping Americans safe
from an enemy determined to use any means
possibleincluding the latest in technologyto attack
Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd said the
subpoena to Gonzales is under review and that the
department recognizes Congress' oversight role.
"We must also give appropriate weight to the
confidentiality of internal executive branch
deliberations," he said.
Majority Democrats and some Republicans are skeptical
and have sought to find out more details about the
program and how it has been administered.
Leahy's panel is required to serve the subpoenas to
specific people within the offices named. One is
addressed to Gonzales, while the others are addressed
to: David S. Addington, Cheney's chief of staff; White
House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten, V. Phillip Lago,
executive secretary of the National Security Council -
or "other custodian of records" in their offices.
The subpoenas themselves seek a wide array of
documents on the program from the Sept. 11, 2001
attacks to the present. Among them are any documents
that include analysis or opinions from Justice, the
National Security Agencywhich administers the
programthe Defense Department, the White House, or
"any entity within the Executive Branch" on the
legality of the electronic surveillance program.