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Judiciary Dems Call On Specter To Urge Ashcroft, Comey, Others To Testify At Hearings On Secret Domestic Spying Program

Gonzales Will Defend Administrations Program at Hearing, But Americans Need to Hear from Those in the Administration Who Had Misgivings, Like Former A.G. Ashcroft and Deputy A.G. Comey, about Secret Wiretapping Program

Senators Also Urge that Administrations Executive Privilege Not Be Invoked So that the American People Can Get the Full Story on the Secret Spying Program

Today all eight Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee sent a letter to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter urging him to call on more current and former high level Bush Administration officials including former Attorney General John Ashcroft, Deputy Attorneys General Jim Comey and Larry Thompson, and White House Chief of Staff Andy Card. Schumer and Feingold had previously sent a letter calling on Chairman Specter to expand and diversify the witness list so that the American public can get the full story on the secret domestic spying program. They also agreed that no witnesses from the Administration should invoke executive privilege.

The letter to Specter follows:

February 3, 2006 Senator Arlen Specter Chairman Committee on the Judiciary

Dear Senator Specter:

We fully support all lawful measures to protect the safety and freedom of our country and our citizens. Accordingly, in the interest of both national security and restoring faith in government, we must get to the bottom of the legal questions surrounding the National Security Agencys domestic spying program. The American people must trust that the Administration has been candid and the Senate thorough in its investigation. And if laws must be reviewed or changed to ensure a robust fight against terrorism and a strict adherence to the rule of law, we need full information in order to make those changes quickly.

We therefore very much appreciate your decision to hold a hearing on this issue next week, and we trust that this will be merely the first of several such hearings. We also appreciate your public commitment to pursue this issue thoroughly and fairly. At the same time, however, all of us are concerned that the only Administration witness who has so far committed to attend any hearings is Attorney General Gonzales. These concerns have been heightened by continuing news reports detailing the depth and breadth of dissent within the Administration over the legality of the program.

It is our understanding that your staff may have reached out to other Administration officials, both past and present, but we write to ask for additional efforts in this regard. First, we urge you to request that the other Administration officials involved in the review and authorization of this program appear before the Committee. Their testimony is vital.

Second, we understand that some of these officials claim they would be prohibited by executive privilege from offering useful testimony at the hearing. We urge you, therefore, to join us in requesting, in the strongest possible terms, that the Administration not assert executive privilege for the following individuals so that they might help the Committee conduct full, thorough, and fair hearings:

" Former Attorney General John Ashcroft, who reportedly personally approved the program;

" Former Deputy Attorney General James B. Comey, who reportedly expressed grave reservations about the program;

" Former Assistant Attorney General Jack Goldsmith, who reportedly objected to the program repeatedly;

" Former National Security Aide to the Deputy Attorney General Patrick Philbin, who reportedly shared Mr. Goldsmiths concerns;

" Director of the Office of Intelligence and Policy Review, James Baker, who testified previously before the Senate that the Bush Administration did not support a proposal by Senator DeWine to amend FISA;

" Vice President Cheneys former Counsel, now his Chief of Staff, David Addington, who reportedly played a lead role in advocating for the program; and

" Former Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson, who was Mr. Comeys predecessor.

The trust of the American people in their government is central to our national well being and safety; unfortunately, it has been severely challenged by allegations that the Administration has been less than forthcoming with Senators and citizens alike. That trust may be impossible to restore if these officials are not permitted to testify, or if the excuse of executive privilege is used to shield them from providing frank answers.

Charles E. Schumer
Patrick J. Leahy
Richard J. Durbin
Russell D. Feingold
Herbert Kohl
Edward M. Kennedy
Joseph R. Biden, Jr.
Dianne Feinstein