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White House Rejects Special Counsel


By KATHERINE SHRADER, Associated Press Writer


The White House on Monday rejected the call by more
than a dozen House Democrats for a special counsel to
investigate the Bush administration's eavesdropping
program.

President Bush's spokesman Scott McClellan said those
Democrats should instead spend their time
investigating the source of the unauthorized
disclosure of the classified program, which "has given
the enemy some of our playbook."

"I really don't think there's any basis for a special
counsel," McClellan also said.

In a letter released Monday, 18 House Democrats told
Bush that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales should
appoint a special counsel. They said the surveillance
of terrorists must be done within the bounds of U.S.
law, but complained that their efforts to get answers
to legal and factual questions about the program have
been stymied "generally based on the feeblest of
excuses."

"If the effort to prevent vigorous and appropriate
investigation succeeds, we fear the inexorable
conclusion will be that these executive branch
agencies hold themselves above the law and accountable
to no one," wrote the lawmakers, led by Rep. Zoe
Lofgren (news, bio, voting record), D-Calif., a member
of the Judiciary and Homeland Security committees.

The lawmakers initially asked the independent
watchdogs at the Justice and Defense departments to
open inquiries. Both declined.

Justice's inspector general Glenn Fine said he lacked
authority, and deferred to the department's Office of
Professional Responsibility. That office has said it
is investigating the conduct of the department's
lawyers, but not the program's lawfulness.

Congress' investigative arm, the General
Accountability Office, similarly declined to open a
review, noting the administration would be expected to
designate the necessary documents as foreign
intelligence materials and limit access to them.

The Democrats see "ample precedent" for a special
counsel, citing the Justice Department's appointment
of U.S. attorney Patrick Fitzgerald to investigate the
leak of the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame.

After 22 months of investigation, Fitzgerald indicted
the vice president's chief of staff, I. Lewis
"Scooter" Libby, for allegedly lying about his role in
the disclosure.

"Indeed, the allegation of a secret NSA spying program
conducting warrantless domestic surveillance of U.S.
persons is at least as serious" as the matter
Fitzgerald investigated, the Democrats wrote.

In their six-page letter, the Democrats said the
special counsel should investigate any possible
violation of federal criminal law, noting that the
Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act says the
monitoring of U.S. citizens and residents without a
warrant is punishable by imprisonment.

Bush administration officials have argued the program
does not fall within that law. They say Bush was
exercising his constitutional authority as commander
in chief when he allowed the National Security Agency
to monitor without court approval the
international calls and e-mails of people inside the
U.S. when one party may be linked to terrorism.

The administration also maintains the president had
the power to order the surveillance under a broad 2001
authorization to use military force in the war on
terror.

The 18 lawmakers also want the special counsel to
consider any crimes that may be committed to interfere
with the investigation, including perjury, obstruction
of justice, destruction of evidence and witness
intimidation.

The request harkens back to Libby, who was not
indicted specifically for leaking Plame's name, but
for an alleged cover-up that included five counts of
obstruction of justice, perjury and making false
statements to FBI agents.