The chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, breaking ranks with
the president on domestic eavesdropping, says he wants a special court
to oversee the program.
But less than a day later, a top aide to Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., sought to clarify his position.
Roberts told The New York Times that he is concerned that
the secret court established by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance
Act could not issue warrants as quickly as the monitoring program
requires. But he is optimistic that the problem could be worked out.
“You don’t want to have a situation where you have capability that
doesn’t work well with the FISA court, in terms of speed and agility
and hot pursuit,” Roberts said Friday.
While he didn’t know how such a process would work, Roberts also
said the much-discussed National Security Agency program “should come
before the FISA court.”
Roberts was not available on Saturday. The Senate Intelligence
Committee’s majority staff director, Bill Duhnke, said the Times story
did not reflect “the tenor and status” of the negotiations between
Congress and the White House, as well as within Congress.
Duhnke said Roberts is looking at changes within the federal law but not necessarily involving the approval of the court.
“The senator remains open to a number of legislative and oversight
options,” Duhnke said Saturday. “His preference is always that the
entire (intelligence) committee be briefed and involved in oversight
issues. He also realizes that, as you negotiate between the branches,
that isn’t always possible.”
Duhnke said Roberts hopes that during this negotiation process that all sides can be accommodated.
Roberts told the Times that he does not believe much support exists
among lawmakers for exempting the program from the control of the FISA
court. That is the approach Bush has favored and one that would be
established under a bill proposed by Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio.
White House officials have said their bar for agreeing to any
legislative changes would be high. They have signaled they are open
only to legislation that would “further codify” in law the authority
the president insists he already has without Congress’ approval,
something officials believe would be accomplished with DeWine’s
Bush also has been cool to expansive debate about the program,
saying Friday that the discussion going on now is “too bad, because
guess who listens to the discussion? The enemy.”
Roberts has defended Bush’s program, which was revealed by the Times
in a story in December. Bush says the program to monitor electronic
communication between the United States and international sites
involving suspected al-Qaida operatives is vital to anti-terrorism
On Thursday, Roberts said he and the White House had agreed to give
lawmakers more information on the nature of the program and that the
administration had committed to making changes to the FISA law. At the
same time, he delayed a Democratic effort to call for an investigation
of the program.