The Republican chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee said Thursday he had worked out an agreement with the White House to consider legislation and provide more information to Congress on its warrantless surveillance program. The panel's top Democrat, who has requested a full-scale investigation, immediately objected to what he called an abdication of the committee's responsibilities.
At the same time, to release documents about the eavesdropping program or spell out what it is withholding, a setback to efforts to keep the program under wraps.
Lawmakers have also been seeking more information about the president's program that allowed the National Security Agency to eavesdrop — without court warrants — on Americans whose international calls and e-mails it believed might be linked to al Qaeda.
After a two-hour closed-door session, Senate Intelligence Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said the committee adjourned without voting on whether to open an investigation. Instead, he and the White House confirmed that they had an agreement to give lawmakers more information on the nature of the program. The White House also has committed to make changes to the current law, according to Roberts and White House deputy press secretary Dana Perino.
"I believe that such an investigation at this point ... would be detrimental to this highly classified program and efforts to reach some accommodation with the administration," Roberts said.
Still, he promised to consider the Democratic request for a vote in a March 7 meeting.
Earlier, Bush spokesman Scott McClellan reiterated that the president does not need Congress' approval to authorize the warrantless eavesdropping and that Mr. Bush would resist any legislation that might compromise the program.
West Virginia Sen. Jay Rockefeller, the Intelligence Committee's top Democrat, said the White House had applied heavy pressure to Republicans to prevent them from conducting thorough oversight. He complained that Roberts didn't even allow a vote on a proposal for a 13-point investigation that would include the program's origin and operation, technical aspects and questions raised by federal judges.
Rockefeller said the Senate cannot consider legislation because lawmakers don't have enough information. "No member of the Senate can cast an informed vote on legislation authorizing or conversely restricting the NSA's warrantless surveillance program, when they fundamentally do not know what they are authorizing or restricting," he said.
It remains unclear what changes in law may look like. Roberts indicated it may be possible "to fix" the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to authorize the president's program. Perino said the White House considers suggestions put forward by Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, the starting point, particularly his proposal to create a special subcommittee on Capitol Hill that would regularly review the program.
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