An unwarranted deal

March 09, 2006

Republicans on the Senate Intelligence Committee have struck a deal with the White House that is supposed to bring more oversight and scrutiny to the Bush administration's warrantless wiretap program. But the deal smacks of partisan accommodation, and Democrats are right to fight it. Too bad there aren't a few Republicans with enough backbone to join them.

The White House has conducted its warrantless monitoring of people on American soil and known or suspected terrorists abroad while giving minimal information to anyone outside the executive branch and thumbing its nose at almost any suggestion of limits on its powers. Democrats and at least two Republicans on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Olympia J. Snowe of Maine, were pushing for an investigation to determine how the monitoring has operated and help inform congressional efforts to clarify proper authority for it.

But, in a disappointing turn, Senators Hagel and Snowe seem satisfied with this week's announcement by committee Chairman Pat Roberts of Kansas that the need for an investigation has been negated by the Bush administration's willingness to allow a seven-member "terrorist surveillance subcommittee" to have access to the program's operational details.

At the same time, the White House has apparently conceded to a legislative proposal that would allow warrantless wiretapping to go on for 45 days before the administration would have to seek a warrant, explain to appropriate members of Congress why it was not seeking one or certify that the surveillance was a matter of national security.

That's not good enough. The country deserves an investigation, not a subcommittee. The reluctance of congressional Republicans to stand up to the White House on this issue is unacceptable, even dangerous.

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