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Bush administration was divided on legality of warrantless wiretaps: Ashcroft

[JURIST] Former US Attorney General John Ashcroft [official profile] said Thursday at a closed-door hearing held by the US House Intelligence Committee [official website] that there had been divisions between members of the Bush administration as to whether the president's warrantless wiretapping program [JURIST news archive] was legal. The House Intelligence Committee and its Senate counterpart are reviewing the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act [text], and its relation to the domestic eavesdropping program. AP has more.

Also on Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee [official website] voted 13-3 to authorize Committee Chairman Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) [official website] to issue subpoenas for documents relating to the legal basis [press release] of the wiretapping program. Leahy cited a lack of cooperation by the Bush administration in seeking the subpoena power. Both Leahy and Republican ranking member Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA) [official website] repeatedly sought the release of the documentation [JURIST report], but to no avail. Controversy over the program grew drastically [JURIST report] after it was discovered that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales [official profile], then White House counsel, attempted to persuade Ashcroft to reauthorize the warrantless wiretapping program while Ashcroft was incapacitated in the hospital, critically ill with pancreatitis [JURIST report]. NPR has more.

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