Democrats May Subpoena Documents on NSA Domestic Wiretaps

The Democrats were placed in control of Congress last fall by those of us who wanted to see an end to the war, and to see the Bush administration held accountable for its violations of the law and the Constitution. So far we’ve been disappointed. The Democrats capitulated on financing the war, but there remains hope of a different outcome in September. Some investigations are under way, and some pre-war intelligence demonstrating that Bush ignored warnings of the inevitable outcome in Iraq were released, but we still await further investigations into Bush’s misleading of Congress and the country to get us into the war. In the latest attempts to investigate the actions of the Bush administration, The New York Times reports plans that Democrats may subpoena documents related to the NSA warrantless wiretaps:

Senior House Democrats threatened Thursday to issue subpoenas to obtain secret legal opinions and other documents from the Justice Department related to the National Security Agency’s domestic wiretapping program.

If the Democrats take that step, it would mark the most aggressive action yet by Congress in its oversight of the wiretapping program and could set the stage for a constitutional showdown over the separation of powers.

The subpoena threat came after a senior Justice Department official told a House judiciary subcommittee on Thursday that the department would not turn over the documents because of their confidential nature. But the official, Steven G. Bradbury, principal deputy assistant attorney general and head of the Justice Department’s office of legal counsel, did not assert executive privilege during the hearing.

The potential confrontation over the documents comes in the wake of gripping Senate testimony last month by a former deputy attorney general, James B. Comey, who described a confrontation in March 2004 between Justice Department and White House officials over the wiretapping program that took place in the hospital room of John Ashcroft, then attorney general. Mr. Comey’s testimony, disclosing the sharp disagreements in the Bush administration over the legality of some N.S.A. activities, has increased Congressional interest in scrutinizing the program.

At the same time, the Bush administration is seeking new legislation to expand its wiretapping powers under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Democratic lawmakers in both the House and the Senate have argued that they do not want to vote on the issue without first seeing the administration’s legal opinions on the wiretapping program.

“How can we begin to consider FISA legislation when we don’t know what they are doing?” asked Representative Jerrold Nadler, Democrat of New York, who heads the subcommittee.

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