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US Lawmaker Threatens to Hold White House Officials in Contempt


The Democratic chairman of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, has threatened to hold members of the Bush administration in contempt for withholding documents subpoenaed by his panel. The administration did not meet a Monday deadline for handing over information about the legal justification for its wiretapping program, as VOA's Deborah Tate reports from Capitol Hill.

Senator Leahy says he may seek contempt citations against members of the Bush administration, whom he did not name, if the requested documents are not handed over by the time Congress returns from its recess early next month.

"I will have no hesitation voting for contempt, if that is what it takes," said Senator Leahy.

The Judiciary Committee on June 27 sent subpoenas to the Justice Department, the National Security Council and the offices of the president and vice president for documents relating to the legal justification for the National Security Agency's surveillance program.

In a letter to Leahy, White House lawyer Fred Fielding said the administration needed more time, but expressed hope that Congress and the White House could reach an accommodation.

Leahy said his panel had waited long enough.

"There has been noncompliance," said Patrick Leahy. "There has been dilatory unresponsiveness. It has been almost two months since the service of the subpoenas, three weeks since the time they asked for additional time, and still we have nothing at all."

Leahy said the information his panel is seeking is especially important for lawmakers as they decide whether to make permanent revisions in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA.

Just before its month-long recess, the Congress approved a temporary overhaul of the law to allow the government to monitor e-mails and phone calls of suspected terrorists overseas and people in the United States without first getting court warrants. The revisions expire in six months.

Leahy said if the administration wants Congress to make the changes permanent, it will have to provide more information about the program.

"For Congress to legislate effectively in this area, it has to have full information about the executive branch's interpretations of FISA," he said. "We should not legislate in the dark while the administration hides behind a fictitious veil of secrecy."

The surveillance program was established after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States.

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