Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, standing firmly with the White House on the administration’s eavesdropping program, said Sunday he doesn’t think new or updated legislation is needed to govern domestic surveillance to foil terrorists.
"I don’t think that it does need to be rewritten, but we are holding hearings in the Judiciary Committee right now," Frist said on CBS’ "Face the Nation."
Frist also said he didn’t think a court order is needed before eavesdropping, under the program, occurs. "Does it have to be thrown over to the courts? I don’t think so. I personally don’t think so," he said.
Critics argue the program, run by the National Security Agency, sidesteps the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which prohibits domestic eavesdropping without a warrant from a special intelligence court.
"This NSA program _ it has to comply with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, and it has to comply with the Fourth Amendment," which guarantees protection against unreasonable searches, California Rep. Jane Harman, ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said on CNN’s "Late Edition."
Some lawmakers are drafting legislation to change FISA, and Sen. Pat Roberts, the Republican chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, says he has worked out an agreement with the White House to consider legislation and provide more information to Congress on the eavesdropping program.
While insisting the program is legal and setting the bar high on any possible legislative changes, White House officials recently signaled they are willing to work with Congress if it feels that further "codification" of the law is needed. A White House spokesman declined to comment further on the issue on Sunday.
White House officials are discussing a proposal by Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, that would more specifically OK warrantless domestic surveillance, but give lawmakers more oversight.
Speaking on "Fox News Sunday," Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said there is bipartisan consensus on Congress to make FISA, which was written in the 1970s, more flexible, establish more congressional oversight into such surveillance and preserve judicial review, or the need for a warrant in certain cases.
"I do believe we can provide oversight in a meaningful way without compromising the program, and I am adamant that the courts have some role when it comes to warrants," Graham said. "If you’re going to follow an American citizen around for an extended period of time believing they’re collaborating with the enemy, at some point in time, you need to get some judicial review, because mistakes can be made."
Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., told Fox that it’s in the Bush administration’s interest to make sure there is a neutral party overseeing the program. "Otherwise, you’re going to have a number of Americans out there who incorrectly think that (former FBI Director) J. Edgar Hoover has been brought back to life and that there could be abuses taking place."