Top Dem to Bush: ‘You broke the law’


    The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee told President
    Bush Wednesday that the White House broke the law by withholding
    information from the full congressional oversight committees about a
    new domestic surveillance program.

    In a letter to Bush, Rep. Jane
    Harman, D-Calif., said the National Security Act requires the heads of
    the various intelligence agencies to keep the entire House and Senate
    intelligence committees “fully and currently informed of the
    intelligence activities of the United States.”

    Only in the case
    of a highly classified covert action can the president choose to inform
    a narrower group of Congress members about his decision, Harman said.
    That action is defined in the law as an operation to influence
    political, economic or military conditions of another country.

    “The NSA program does not qualify as a ‘covert action,'” Harman wrote.

    Bush
    and his senior national security aides have said that appropriate
    members of Congress were briefed more than a dozen times about the
    National Security Agency’s domestic surveillance operations, which Bush
    first approved the month after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

    The
    highly classified sessions are known to include the “Gang of Eight,”
    which is made up of the top Republican and Democrat in the House and
    Senate and on the House and Senate Intelligence Committees.

    “We
    believe that Congress was briefed appropriately,” White House
    spokeswoman Dana Perino said Wednesday in response to Harman’s letter.

    Responding
    in writing to Harman, House Intelligence Chairman Peter Hoekstra,
    R-Mich., said Harman had never previously raised concerns about the
    number of people briefed on the program.

    “In the past, you have
    been fully supportive of this program and the practice by which we have
    overseen it,” he wrote. “I find your position now completely
    incongruent.”

    Many details about the scope of electronic
    surveillance program remain unknown. However, Bush and his aides have
    asserted the monitoring _ without court warrants _ is narrowly targeted
    to eavesdrop on calls and e-mails of people who are inside the United
    States and suspected of communicating with al-Qaida or its affiliates.

    Vice
    President Dick Cheney said Wednesday that the program helped to prevent
    possible terrorist attacks against the American people: “This program
    is critical to the national security of United States.”

    Democrats
    who have been briefed on the program have raised serious concerns about
    its legality, but not called for its immediate halt. Republicans and
    Democrats alike have called for hearings this year.

    © 2006 The Associated Press