From both sides of the aisle, a call to investigate

Republicans join Democrats in expressing "profound concern" over Bush's secret spying program.

Published December 20, 2005 5:14PM (EST)

During his press conference Monday, George W. Bush suggested that congressional hearings into his secret spying program would only serve to aid al-Qaida. "Any public hearings on programs will say to the enemy, here's what they do; adjust," Bush said. Even if his syntax was broken, his meaning was clear: "This is war," he said.

Today, it's clear that even some members of the president's party aren't taking his claims seriously. Senate Judiciary Committee Arlen Specter, a Republican, has already said he will hold hearings on Bush's secret program early next year. And now two Republicans -- Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Olympia Snowe of Maine -- are joining Democrats in calling for a joint investigation by the Senate Judiciary and Intelligence committees. In a letter to the chairmen and ranking members of the two committees, Hagel and Snowe join Democrats Dianne Feinstein, Ron Wyden and Carl Levin in expressing "profound concern" that the Bush administration "may have engaged in domestic surveillance without appropriate legal authority." The five senators, all members of the Intelligence Committee, say that the allegations, "which the president, at least in part, confirmed this weekend, require immediate inquiry and action by the Senate."

The senators say the Senate must determine, "as quickly as possible, exactly what collection activities were authorized, what were actually undertaken, how many names and numbers were involved over what period, and what was the asserted legal authority for such activities." "In sum," they say, "we must determine the facts."

Although Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Pat Roberts has indicated that he believes that Bush acted properly in authorizing the secret spying program, he may not be able to avoid addressing the subject further. According to Feinstein's office, the Intelligence Committee's rules allow five senators to call a meeting of their committee on their own if the chairman fails to act on their request for one.

Still, when push comes to shove, there will be plenty of Republicans lining up behind the president, even as conservatives like George Will say that he has finally gone too far. Texas Sen. John Cornyn has already blamed the New York Times for making America less safe, and now the office of Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum says he has no qualms about Bush's spying program. "The senator recognizes that in times of war, the president has the constitutional oversight or the constitutional ability to do whatever is necessary to protect the American people," Santorum spokesman Robert L. Traynham tells the Philadelphia Inquirer.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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