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