Gonzales Gets Bipartisan Scolding; Leahy, Specter Seek Justification of Surveillance

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Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy and the panel's ranking Republican, Sen. Arlen Specter, yesterday again asked Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales to justify the Bush administration's domestic terrorist surveillance program.

In a letter, Mr. Leahy of Vermont and Mr. Specter of Pennsylvania said their renewed interest in asking for new information comes in the wake of testimony last week by former Deputy Attorney General James Comey, who said the Justice Department had concerns about the legal basis for the program and refused to certify it for a period of time in 2004.

"This committee has made no fewer than eight formal requests over the past 18 months - to the White House, the attorney general, or other Department of Justice officials - seeking documents and information related to this surveillance program," they said.

"These requests have sought the executive branch legal analysis of this program and documents reflecting its authorization by the president," they said. "You have rebuffed all requests for documents and your answers to our questions have been wholly inadequate and, at times, misleading."

The lawmakers described the information as "crucial" before the committee begins consideration of any of the administration's proposed changes to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. They set a deadline of June 5 for the Justice Department to respond.

The surveillance program, begun in 2001 after the September 11 attacks, gave law-enforcement authorities the ability to monitor telephone calls and e-mails to and from the United States involving people suspected by the government of having terrorist links.

The Bush administration vigorously defended the legality of the program, saying it would be impossible to obtain warrants in time to intercept phone calls of those suspected of belonging to al Qaeda. …