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.
"The bipartisan support for issuing these subpoenas demonstrates that both Democrats and Republicans are fed up with the misleading statements from the Attorney General and the Administration about this illegal program," explained Feingold, who chairs the Judiciary Committee's subcommittee on the Constitution.
And the committee has a good sense of what it wants. The authoritative Center on Democracy & Technology has prepared a list of the seven "most wanted surveillance documents."
1. Memorandum prepared by former Deputy Attorney General James Comey which, according to Comey, was sent to the White House shortly after March 10, 2004. The memorandum followed a review of the classified surveillance program (to which Comey referred in his May 15, 2007 testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee) and it apparently explained why the Department of Justice in 2004 would not certify the surveillance program as lawful.
2. Memorandum from Department of Justice former Assistant Attorney General Jack Goldsmith, who participated in the DOJ's review of the classified surveillance program. This memorandum was attached to the Comey memorandum and was prepared in the same time frame as that document.
3. Department of Justice Office of Intelligence Policy and Review legal memorandum discussing the classified surveillance program, and drafts of that document. The final document was probably prepared in early March, 2004.
4. Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) memorandum prepared in early 2004 -- by Comey's account -- laying out OLC's legal concerns about the classified program.
5. Memorandum from then-White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales received by Comey shortly after March 10, 2004 that responded to the determination by the Department of Justice not to certify the lawfulness of the classified surveillance program.
6. January 10, 2007 orders of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court authorizing what the warrantless surveillance program the Administration calls the Terrorist Surveillance Program.
7. Court order applications related to the FISC authorization of the Terrorist Surveillance Program.
John Nichols's book The Rise and Rise of Richard B. Cheney: Unlocking the Mysteries of the Most Powerful Vice President in American History (The New Press) is available nationwide at independent bookstores and at www.amazon.com. Publisher's Weekly describes it as "a Fahrenheit 9/11 for Cheney" and Esquire magazine says it "reveals the inner Cheney." The London Review of Books says The Rise and Rise of Richard B. Cheney "makes a persuasive case…that the vice-presidency is the real locus of power in the current administration: Cheney runs the show."