I am increasingly fascinated by the backbone shown by Republican Senator Arlen Specter as he stands up to the Bush Administration. Most recently, he has been calling Vice-President Dick Cheney to task as Cheney blocks the Senate Judiciary Committee investigation of the National Security Administration's warrantless surveillance of thousands (millions?) of citizen telephone and e-mail conversations.
Most recently, on June 9, 2006, the excellent website from the Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press, Behind the Homefront link , had a note, with links embedded:
Jun. 9, 2006
SPECTER AND CHENEY LOCK HEADS. After announcing Tuesday that his committee will not subpoena telephone company executives to testify about reports that their companies gave customer call records to the National Security Agency (NSA), Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Penn.) sent Vice President Cheney a stinging letter yesterday accusing him of interfering with his committee behind his back, papers report. Specter's anger was triggered by a deal Cheney made with other Republicans on the committee to block the phone companies' testimony. "I'm not looking for courtesy," Specter told CNN. "What I'm looking for is judicial review of wiretaps, which is the tradition in America." Cheney responded by letter today, saying that his conversations with the committee members was not unusual - "I have frequent contact with senators, both at their initiative and mine."
Before that, the NY Times had a more in-depth report than the AP story that ran in most papers link
"Specter's Uneasy Relationship With White House Is Revealed in a Letter to Cheney,"
By CARL HULSE and JIM RUTENBERG, published June 8, 2006. Here are some snippets of their article, which is worth reading in its entirety:
The trigger for Mr. Specter's anger was a deal made by Mr. Cheney with the other Republicans on the committee to block testimony from phone companies that reportedly cooperated in providing call records to the National Security Agency.
Mr. Specter, who had been considering issuing subpoenas to compel telephone company executives to testify, learned of Mr. Cheney's actions only when he went into a closed meeting of the committee's Republicans on Tuesday afternoon, shortly after encountering the vice president at a weekly luncheon of all Senate Republicans.
Mr. Specter's tone in the letter was restrained, but he made no effort to hide his displeasure at having been outmaneuvered and, in his view, undermined, by Mr. Cheney.
"I was surprised, to say the least, that you sought to influence, really determine, the action of the committee without calling me first, or at least calling me at some point," Mr. Specter wrote. "This was especially perplexing since we both attended the Republican senators caucus lunch yesterday and I walked directly in front of you on at least two occasions en route from the buffet to my table." (snip)
Mr. Specter has been the leading Republican voice raising questions about the legal underpinnings of the surveillance programs.
In his letter, Mr. Specter told Mr. Cheney that events were unfolding in a "context where the administration is continuing warrantless wiretaps in violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and is preventing the Senate Judiciary Committee from carrying out its constitutional responsibility for Congressional oversight."
Mr. Cheney, by contrast, has led the White House's effort to defend the surveillance programs on legal and national security grounds.
The vice president has also been the primary force behind the administration's efforts to expand executive power in a wide variety of areas, a stance that has at times put him in direct conflict with Mr. Specter. (snip)
The full text of the letter finally shows up at CNN's excelent story about this link. Chastising the administration of repeated infringements of Congressional power to enlarge the executive's power, Specter warned of constitutional dimensions to this conflict over the Judiciary Committee's investigation:
Specter wants the administration to submit the National Security Agency's no-warrant domestic surveillance program to a review by a secret federal court.
He called the program a "flat violation" of the 1978 law that set up that court. But Specter said he was willing to hear out the administration's argument that President Bush has the authority as commander in chief of the military to authorize wiretaps to prevent terrorism.
Here is CNN's link to the full text of Senator Specter's three page letter to Vice-President Cheney: link.
Time Magazine, which ordinarily drives me around the bend, has an interesting brief portrait of Specter link, featuring this issue, from April, 2006, in its list of the Ten Best Senators in the U.S. One of the things they mention that I did not know is that the man has Hodgkins Disease, a lyphoma cancer. You have to go to the Time article to see the list of best and yes, who they list as worst, too!