July 19, 2006 in Nation/World

Bush blocked probe of eavesdropping

Mark Sherman Associated Press
 

WASHINGTON – President Bush personally blocked a Justice Department investigation of the anti-terror eavesdropping program that intercepts Americans’ international calls and e-mails, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said Tuesday.

Bush refused to grant security clearances for department investigators who were looking into the role Justice lawyers played in crafting the program, under which the National Security Agency listens in on telephone calls and reads e-mail without court approval, Gonzales told the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Without access to the sensitive program, the department’s Office of Professional Responsibility closed its investigation in April.

“It was highly classified, very important and many other lawyers had access. Why not OPR?” Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., the committee chairman, asked Gonzales.

“The president of the United States makes the decision,” Gonzales replied.

Later, at the White House, spokesman Tony Snow said the eavesdropping program is reviewed every 45 days by senior officials, including Gonzales. The president did not consider the Justice unit that functions as a legal ethics watchdog to be the “proper venue,” Snow said.

“What he was saying is that in the case of a highly classified program, you need to keep the number of people exposed to it tight for reasons of national security, and that’s what he did,” Snow said.

Yet, according to OPR chief Marshall Jarrett, “a large team” of prosecutors and FBI agents was granted security clearance to pursue an investigation into leaks of information that resulted in the program’s disclosure in December. Justice Department Inspector General Glenn Fine and two of his aides were among other department officials who were granted clearances, Jarrett said in an April memo explaining the end of his probe. That memo was released by the Justice Department on Tuesday.

Gonzales insisted Tuesday that the president “has the inherent authority under the Constitution to engage in electronic surveillance without a warrant.”

Still last week, under a deal with Specter, Bush agreed conditionally to a court review of the warrantless eavesdropping operations.

© Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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