After putting up with months of stonewalling by President Bush, Vice President Cheney and their aides, the Senate Judiciary Committee has issued subpoenas seeking information about internal debates regarding the legality of warrantless wiretapping programs that were promoted by the vice president and authorized by the president.
Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy today issued subpoenas to the White House and, in particular, to Cheney’s office demanding documents relating to the National Security Agency’s spying program.
The fact that a primary target of the subpoenas is Cheney’s office confirms that the focus of the committee’s investigation of White House collaboration with embattled Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has expanded to include a sharp focus on the role that the vice president played in promoting lawless actions and in pressuring others in the administration to go along with him.
Subpoenas have also been dispatched to the Justice Department and the National Security Council.
All must be answered by July 18, according to Leahy, who wrote in the cover letters for the subpoenas, "Our attempts to obtain information through testimony of administration witnesses have been met with a consistent pattern of evasion and misdirection. There is no legitimate argument for withholding the requested materials from this committee."
If Cheney’s office and the other targeted agencies do not comply by the 18th, Leahy can take the matter to the courts — provoking a conflict like that seen when the Nixon administration when it refused to comply in the 1970s with Congressional investigators of the Watergate scandal.
By expanding the Gonzales inquiry to include consideration of the warrantless wiretapping program, Leahy has brought to a head a simmering conflict between the executive and legislative branches that is more than a year old.
Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold, who last year proposed censuring President Bush for authorizing the illegal spying program, hailed the move.
"It has been more than a year and a half since it was first disclosed that the President authorized an illegal warrantless wiretapping program," he said. "After a year and a half of stonewalling by the Administration, the Judiciary Committee is finally taking appropriate action by issuing subpoenas for information that will tell us how and why high-ranking officials authorized this illegal program."
Specifically, the Judiciary Committee is seeking information about when high-ranking members of the administration were made aware of the fact that even their own appointees and allies believed the warrantless wiretapping program was in conflict both with specific laws and privacy protections outlined in the Constitution.
The decision to issue the subpoenas has bipartisan support, as the committee voted 13-3 to authorize Leahy to dispatch them. The ranking Republican on the committee, Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter, has consistently sided with Leahy on this issue.