Justice’s watchdog resists probe of warrantless domestic eavesdropping | VailDaily.com

Justice’s watchdog resists probe of warrantless domestic eavesdropping

Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON – Rejecting Democratic requests, the Justice Department’s independent watchdog says it does not have jurisdiction to open an investigation into the legality of the Bush administration’s domestic eavesdropping program.In a three-paragraph letter circulated Tuesday, Inspector General Glenn Fine instead forwarded the request to Justice’s Office of Professional Responsibility, which reviews allegations of misconduct involving employees’ actions when providing legal advice.President Bush’s decision to authorize the nation’s largest spy agency to monitor – without warrants – people inside the United States has sparked a flurry of questions about the program’s legal justification.Bush and his top aides say the activities of the National Security Agency were narrowly targeted to intercept calls and e-mails of Americans and others inside the United States with suspected ties to al-Qaida.But a growing chorus of legal experts from both parties are raising doubts about Bush’s authority to order such monitoring on U.S. soil and questioning whether the White House should have sought changes in law.Over three dozen House Democrats, led by Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., a member of the Judiciary and Homeland Security committees, requested separate investigations by Fine, the Pentagon’s inspector general and Congress’ watchdogs at the Government Accountability Office.A senior Defense Department official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the information was not yet public, said the Pentagon’s watchdog will not do a review because the NSA’s inspector general is “actively reviewing aspects of that program.”Lofgren said she thought the Pentagon’s watchdog was best suited for the work.She and a number of her colleagues also wrote to Fine on Monday, saying his decision not to open an inquiry was wrong. Under the Patriot Act, the Democrats said, his office is designated as the “one entity responsible for the review of information and complaints regarding civil rights and civil liberties violations” by Justice officials.Deputy Inspector General Paul Martin said neither the Patriot Act nor the law that governs all inspectors general gives Fine jurisdiction to look into the attorney general’s actions concerning the electronic surveillance program. Issues dealing with that legal authority are “jurisdiction of the department’s Office of Professional Responsibility,” Martin said.Since the monitoring program was disclosed by The New York Times last month, the administration has launched an unusually public defense of a highly classified program.Bush administration officials said the president based his authority to approve the eavesdropping on his inherent constitutional powers and a September 2001 congressional authorization to use military force in the war on terror.In a memo prepared for the House Intelligence Committee and obtained by The Associated Press, former CIA general counsel Jeffrey Smith said the president could make a weak argument to justify the program based on his constitutional authorities.”Should the president’s view be sustained, it would be a dramatic expansion of presidential authority affecting the rights of our fellow citizens that undermines the checks and balances of our system,” wrote Smith, who served as the CIA’s top lawyer from 1995 to 1996.

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