Don't count Cheney out: Under pressure, senators waffle on spying probe

With the vice president on the point, the White House is turning Congress against an investigation of Bush's warrantless surveillance program.

Published February 15, 2006 3:24PM (EST)

Just last week, Congress seemed ready to launch a full investigation into the president's warrantless spying program. You'd think the Dick Cheney hunting story, with all its unpleasant overtones of secrecy and deception, would give members of Congress even more room to maneuver on the issue. And if that didn't do the trick, you'd think that the latest Gallup poll would: A 49 percent plurality of the public thinks George W. Bush either "definitely" or "probably" broke the law by ordering warrantless spying.

But here's a little lesson: Never underestimate the power of Cheney.

As the Washington Post reports this morning, an all-out White House effort seems to be turning around votes among members of the Senate Judiciary Committee who will vote Thursday on a possible investigation. At the center of that effort, of course, sits the vice president himself.

Democrats on the committee tell the Post that briefings for the House and Senate intelligence committees have helped make the difference -- as have "private appeals" by Cheney. The vice president was on Capitol Hill for a closed-door intelligence session with Republicans Tuesday when he was told that hospital officials in Texas were about to announce news about his victim's worsening condition that he'd received hours earlier. Cheney raced back to the White House to watch events unfold in private.

If Cheney and the White House can keep Congress from nosing around the spying program, they'll have wafflers like Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe to thank. As the Post notes, Snowe signed a letter in December calling for the Senate Intelligence and Judiciary committees to "jointly undertake an inquiry into the facts and law surrounding these allegations." Now she says she's "not sure" such an investigation is "essential or necessary."

By Tim Grieve

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

MORE FROM Tim Grieve

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

War Room