Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Americans! Congress Will Fight To Protect Your Rights, Wait. Was This Cleared By Cheney?

Congress appeared ready to launch an investigation into the Bush administration's warrantless spying program last week, but vice president Cheney dramatically slowed the effort and may kill it, key republican and democratic sources said.

"Look. We get the point," said one unnamed republican. Rove was bad enough, but no one wants to get shot for being against a little eavesdropping."

They attributed the shift to closed briefings given by top administration officials to the full House and Senate intelligence committees, and to private appeals to wavering GOP senators by officials, including Vice President Cheney. "He just came in, opened his coat and showed everyone a 9mm, then walked out," said one staffer who asked not to be identified.

"All we want to do is get reelected a few times and go to some meetings You know, put in our time, collect our retirement and get out of here," said one democrat on the committee. "If people want their rights protected, let them stand up to Cheney."

Lawmakers cite senators such as Olympia J. Snowe (R-Token) to illustrate the administration's success in cooling congressional zeal for an investigation. "She's got a big family," said one aide to the vice president. "Things can happen."

In an interview yesterday, Snowe, reading from a statement prepared by the Cheney's office, said, "I'm not sure it's going to be essential or necessary" to conduct an inquiry.

The White House characterized last week's closed-door briefings to the full committees as a meaningless concession and a sign of the administration's disdain for Congress and its oversight responsibilities. Many Democrats dismissed the briefings as virtually useless, but senators said yesterday they had changed their minds after being told fighting to uphold the role of Congress and protect the rights of voters would cut into their fundraising time.

John D. Rockefeller IV (D-I Need This Job), the Senate intelligence committee's vice chairman, has drafted a motion calling for a wide-ranging inquiry into the surveillance program, according to congressional sources who have seen it. Rockefeller declined to be interviewed yesterday. In fact, Rockerfeller's whereabouts were unknown at press time.

Senate intelligence committee member Mike DeWine (R-Suck Up), also reading a statement for the vice president's office, said that he supports the NSA program and would oppose a congressional investigation. He said he is drafting legislation that would "specifically authorize this program" by excluding it from the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which established a secret court to consider government requests for wiretap warrants in anti-terrorist investigations. "We can't let the law get in the way of allowing the administration to do a job on us...I mean for us, its job for us."

Snowe was told she is inclined to support DeWine's plan. Senator Chuck Hagel (R-Got My Mind Right Boss), who also signed the Dec. 20 letter seeking an inquiry, said yesterday that the FISA law should be amended to include whatever Cheney wants. "Laws just gum up the works. Besides, Americans have a lot of rights. We don't really need them all, do we?"

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