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Senate plans no probe of NSA spy program

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Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has argued that the NSA domestic spying program is legal.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- For now, the Senate Intelligence Committee won't investigate the Bush administration's domestic surveillance program, its chairman said.

"An investigation at this point basically would be detrimental to this highly classified program and our efforts to reach some accommodation with the administration," said Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kansas.

Roberts said he was arranging a deal with the White House to modify the 1978 law governing electronic surveillance and to provide members of Congress with more extensive briefings on the closely guarded National Security Agency program.

Many Democrats and some Republicans have disagreed with President Bush's authorization of the program to spy on international communications to the United States without a court warrant, as required by the 1978 law.

Bush and other administration officials contend his constitutional powers as commander in chief and a congressional resolution passed after the September 11, 2001, attacks provide the legal authority for the surveillance without a warrant.

Ranking committee Democrat Sen. Jay Rockefeller said the decision was influenced by the Bush administration.

"It is ... more than apparent to me that the White House has applied heavy pressure in recent days and recent weeks to prevent the committee from doing its job." (Full story)

He said the committee is slipping into irrelevance because it's not providing oversight of the program.

Roberts said the White House isn't pressuring him to prevent an investigation.

The Senate Judiciary Committee already has begun probing the program and a federal judge ordered the Bush administration on Thursday to release documents about the program or spell out what it is withholding. (Full story)

On his way into a meeting of the Intelligence Committee on Thursday, Roberts said he was working out a deal with the White House to modify the 1978 law governing electronic surveillance and provide members of Congress with more extensive briefings on the closely guarded National Security Agency program.

Rockefeller said no committee vote was taken on his request to investigate the program, and any signs of compromise from the White House "are entirely unknown or unheard of by me."

"The very independence of this committee is called into question as we are continually prevented from having a full accounting of prewar intelligence on Iraq; the CIA's detention, interrogation and rendition program; and now, the NSA's warrantless surveillance and eavesdropping program," said Rockefeller. "If we are prevented from fully understanding and evaluating the NSA program, our committee will continue its slide toward irrelevance."

CNN's Ed Henry contributed to this report.

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