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Gonzales to testify on domestic spying

Senate hearing to focus on program's legal aspects

From Terry Frieden
CNN Washington Bureau

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales says the White House has the authority for the eavesdropping program.


White House
National Security Agency (NSA)
Justice Department

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said Friday that he will testify in a Senate hearing on the National Security Agency's recently revealed domestic eavesdropping program.

No date has been set for the hearing, but senior Justice Department officials said they expect Gonzales to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee in early February.

The hearing will be open to the press and public. It will address the program's legal aspects -- not how the highly classified program is administered, Gonzales said at a news conference Friday.

"The absolute worst thing that we could do is to talk about the operational aspects of a highly classified program that has been very successful in protecting America and divulge all that information to the enemy," he said.

Democrat and Republican senators have expressed support for congressional hearings to review the program, which President Bush has acknowledged he secretly authorized after the September 11, 2001, attacks. (Read how a top Democrat says the White House broke the law)

The program reportedly allows the NSA to intercept the communications of U.S. citizens without a warrant, as long as one party is outside the United States. In comments to reporters on New Year's Day, Bush said the program was used only to monitor calls involving al Qaeda members or their affiliates.

Asked if the eavesdropping violated civil liberties, the president responded, "If somebody from al Qaeda is calling you, we'd like to know why."

Bush has said the program is integral to protecting Americans, but some lawmakers have questioned its legality in light of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

The act designates a special, secret court to authorize any necessary wiretaps on American soil.

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-New York, has said Bush should've sought congressional approval if he needed to spy on U.S. citizens.

"Unilaterally changing the law because the vice president or president thinks it's wrong, without discussion or change -- that's not the American way," Schumer told "Fox News Sunday" earlier this month.

The White House has said Article II of the Constitution and a post-9/11 law allowing the president to use force against al Qaeda gave Bush license to circumvent the secret court and approve the program.

Gonzales said Friday that numerous administration lawyers have reviewed the program and that the White House believes it has the justification to maintain it.

"We believe the legal authorities are there," he said.

The Justice Department has launched an investigation into how information about the program was leaked to media outlets, including The New York Times, which first reported its existence in December. (Full story)

Gonzalez told reporters Friday that his testimony was requested by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pennsylvania.

The attorney general added that Specter assured him only legal questions would be raised.

Specter had disclosed on a talk show Sunday that he was seeking Gonzales' testimony.

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