Republican Senate Chairman backs Bush’s spying

    Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Pat Roberts said Friday the
    Bush administration’s domestic spying is within the president’s
    inherent power under the Constitution, and he rejected criticism that
    Congress was kept in the dark about it.

    The program is “legal,
    necessary and reasonable,” the Kansas Republican wrote in a 19-page
    letter, taking a particularly expansive view of the president’s
    authority for the warrantless surveillance.

    “Congress, by statute, cannot extinguish a core constitutional authority of the president,” Roberts wrote.

    from George Washington to George W. Bush have intercepted
    communications to ascertain enemy threats to national security, Roberts
    told the chairman and ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary
    Committee. Roberts’ letter came just three days before that panel was
    to question Attorney General Alberto Gonzales about the surveillance.

    eight Judiciary Committee Democrats urged Chairman Arlen Specter,
    R-Pa., to call more top Bush administration in for questioning,
    including former Attorney General John Ashcroft and ex-Deputy Attorney
    General Jim Comey. Comey reportedly objected to parts of the program.

    said the Bush administration’s notification of just eight members of
    Congress fulfilled the legal requirement that the legislative branch be
    kept fully and currently informed.

    Roberts has received a dozen
    briefings on the program; the committee’s ranking Democrat, Sen. Jay
    Rockefeller of West Virginia, half that many.

    Rockefeller says he
    has not received enough detailed information about the surveillance to
    make a judgment about its legality, and that the full committee should
    be briefed.

    A closed-door hearing is scheduled for Feb. 9, with
    testimony from Gonzales and Gen. Michael Hayden, the principal deputy
    director of national intelligence and a former National Security Agency

    Committee Democrats are pushing for a vote on whether
    to authorize an investigation. A Feb. 16 business meeting of the
    committee is scheduled.

    With Congress preparing to plunge into a
    hearing focused exclusively on the warrantless wiretapping, Vice
    President Dick Cheney said exposing the effort has done “enormous
    damage to our national security.” The New York Times revealed the
    program’s existence in December.

    “It, obviously, reveals
    techniques and sources and methods that are important to try to
    protect,” Cheney said. “It gives information to our enemies about how
    we go about collecting intelligence against them. It also raises
    questions in the minds of other intelligence services about whether or
    not they can work with the United States intelligence service, with our
    CIA, for example, if we can’t keep a secret.”

    Cheney said he
    agreed with CIA Director Porter Goss, who told a Senate hearing on
    Thursday that such leaks are undercutting U.S. intelligence efforts. “I
    thought Director Goss was rather restrained in his comments, but he was
    absolutely correct,” said Cheney.

    Cheney’s remarks came in a radio interview with conservative talk show host Laura Ingraham.

    © 2006 The Associated Press