Thursday, June 08, 2006

Specter of a constitutional crisis

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter -- a maddening figure to righties, lefites and in-betweenies alike -- finds himself in some seriously high dudgeon over the sneaky actions of Vice President Darth Vader Cheney, who went behind Specter's back to prevent the testimony of telecom executives at Specter's hearing on the extensive spying by the National Security Agency (NSA) on the telephone traffic of virtually every American citizen.

[Note that the NSA's mission is to focus on foreign threats to U.S. security; the American people are supposed to be protected from its prying eyes by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).]

Specter, a vocal opponent of the NSA's domestic spying at the administration's behest, has backed down in the past after rounds of ferocious-sounding barks, but this time your blogstress has some hope that there's bite behind the bark.

The Associated Press (AP) reports:

Specter is the most vocal Republican to oppose the White House’s directive that allows the NSA to monitor the calls and e-mails of Americans without court approval. Bush administration officials have said the program requires that one party to the communication must be overseas, and terrorism must be suspected.

Specter wants legislation to compel a secretive federal court to examine the constitutionality of the program, and he has expressed displeasure that the White House won’t give him any feedback on his bill.
Cheney's stealthy show of disrespect appears to have reminded the Pennsylvania senator of a recent raft of issues addressed unsatisfactorily by the administration. The AP summarizes the Judiciary Chairman's letter this way:
Specter said he wants to work with the White House on a number of issues dealing with the expansion of presidential power. Among them:

* The Justice Department’s search of the office of Rep. William Jefferson, D-La., as part of a months-long bribery investigation.

* The department’s assertions that newspapers and reporters can be criminally prosecuted for publishing classified information.

* Presidential statements that are attached to new legislation, suggesting to Specter that the White House is cherry-picking which parts of the law it wants to follow.
Your Webwench's main bone to pick with Darth and his empire, however, is old Helmet Head's total defiance of the U.S. Constitution, so the closing graf of Specter's letter is the one that turned the the pretty little head of your net-tĂȘte:
All of this is occurring in the 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 on constitutional issues. I am available to try to work this out with the Administration without the necessity of a constitutional confrontation between Congress and the President. [Emphasis added by cybertrix.]
Think Progress has the text of the letter; click on the words "en route from the buffet to my table." Apparently Cheney failed to avail himself of the opportunity, at a luncheon attended by both, to inform Specter of the former's machinations regarding the telecom execs. On a brighter note, your Ă©crivaine is pleased to note Specter's improved health, as evidenced by trips to the buffet table, after a bout with cancer.

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