Attorney General Alberto Gonzales tells Congress that he will hand over some legal documents describing the Bush administration's domestic surveillance program. The pledge ends a two-week standoff between Congress and the White House.
Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Arlen Specter (R-PA), the senior members on the panel, asked for more details about documents including a secret court's decision to approve the program — a decision that Gonzales announced two weeks ago.
At that hearing, Gonzales said the National Security Agency's controversial domestic surveillance program would henceforth have court oversight. The move was meant to appease lawmakers, who had been demanding court oversight of the program for the last year.
But when Congress asked to see the court paperwork and the Justice Department resisted, many — including Specter — were not happy. Specter called today's announcement a significant step forward for civil liberties.
"My own view is that there ought to be the maximum disclosure to the public consistent with national security procedures," Specter said.
Speaking on the Senate floor, Leahy said, "I believe in this case the president has taken the right first step, and I commend him for it."
Attorney General Gonzales says the documents contain classified information that cannot be released to the public. He told reporters, "It's never been the case where we said we would never provide access." He added, "We obviously would be concerned about how the public disclosure may jeopardize the national security of our country, but we're working with Congress to provide the information that it needs."
Congress is going to get copies of the Justice Department's warrant applications to the court, along with copies of the judge's opinion that let the spying program go forward.
Privacy advocates hope that the documents can begin to answer some of the questions that they've had. The one most often brought up: Did the court grant blanket authorization for the wiretapping program as a whole, or did it grant permission to wiretap specific individuals?