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US Senate Panel Subpoenas Documents from Bush Administration on Wiretap Program

A U.S. Senate panel has issued subpoenas to the White House, Vice President Dick Cheney's office, the Justice Department and the National Security Council for documents relating to a controversial wiretapping program. VOA's Deborah Tate reports from Capitol Hill.

Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, issued the subpoenas after his panel made repeated requests for the documents, to no avail.

"We have made nine formal requests over the past year and a half, both with Republicans and Democrats, to the Department of Justice and the White House seeking information and documents about legal justification," he said. "We have gotten no responses. There has been a consistent pattern of evasion and misdirection."

At issue is a surveillance program, set up after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, that allows the National Security Agency to monitor, without court warrants, phone calls and e-mails between suspected terrorists overseas and people in the United States.

President Bush defended the program, but many in Congress argued it violated the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, which requires warrants.

Earlier this year, the administration agreed to have the program subject to review by a special court, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance court, and sought revisions to the FISA law. Majority Democrats in Congress believe the proposed revisions to the law would give the executive branch unprecedented power not enshrined in the U.S. Constitution.

The Bush administration has three weeks to respond to the subpoenas.

A spokesman said administration officials would respond appropriately, and added that it is unfortunate that congressional Democrats continue to choose the route of confrontation.

The showdown between the White House and Congress could ultimately be resolved in the U.S. court system.