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Justice releases domestic spying papers
Houston Chronicle
Washington Post
February 1, 2007

WASHINGTON— The Justice Department turned over documents on the government's domestic spying program to select members of Congress on Wednesday, ending a two-week confrontation that included pointed threats of subpoenas from Democrats.

The deal appears to resolve Congress' latest conflict with the administration over the National Security Agency's surveillance effort, and provides new evidence of the administration's more accommodating approach to the Democrats who now control Congress.

The agreement follows the administration's announcement two weeks ago that it was shutting down NSA's warrantless surveillance program and replacing it with a plan approved by the secret court that administers the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The NSA had conducted the domestic spying more than five years without such court oversight.

Under Wednesday's accord, announced by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, more than three dozen lawmakers will have access to the secret court orders governing the program, which were issued Jan. 10, and the applications from the Justice Department that preceded them.

The lawmakers include the House and Senate leadership, the two intelligence panels and the heads of the two judiciary committees, officials said.

But Gonzales and other Bush administration officials also indicated they had no intention of making the orders and related documents available to the public. The lawmakers and staff who view the records will be subject to strict statutes that bar disclosure of classified information. Congressional aides said it was unclear how much new information could be made public.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said the documents would help determine "what further oversight or legislative action is necessary."

Gonzales — in remarks to reporters at an event announcing the formation of a human trafficking unit at Justice — played down any conflict with lawmakers. He said: "It's never been the case where we've said we would never provide access."

Gonzales said the "highly classified" orders cannot be released publicly.

One Justice official said Gonzales had decided two weeks ago that both the intelligence panels, along with Leahy and Arlen Specter, R-Pa., ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, should have access.

But several congressional aides who declined to be identified, because they were not authorized to discuss the details of the negotiations, described a tense two-week standoff between the administration and lawmakers from both parties.

Staffers said the push for access was driven by Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-El Paso, and Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va. — the heads of the House and Senate intelligence panels, respectively — who warned Justice Department officials they would face congressional subpoenas if they did not turn over the records.

Reyes and other lawmakers said they would push for other documents the administration has refused to turn over, including the order creating the NSA program in October 2001.

Shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, President Bush authorized the NSA to monitor telephone calls between the U.S. and overseas without warrants if one party was believed to be linked to al-Qaida or related groups. The program's existence was disclosed in media reports in December 2005.

Many lawmakers and civil liberties advocates called the program illegal, and a federal judge in Michigan ruled in August that it was unconstitutional and should be halted.

Original Text